duminică, 30 aprilie 2017

Civil War

Paul Gauguin - Bowl of fruit and
tankard before a window, 1890
‘That was a good night. Heavy. Came home late with this girl, but she had something to do in the morning – don’t remember exactly. So she left kind of early. Don’t know actually, I didn’t wake up nor feel her leaving. Kudos to her for not stealing anything though. Miriam I think her name was… not sure. Anyway…  So I woke up early afternoon, 1 or 2 must’ve been, and the sun was up and I could see the city from the window, such a sunny day… ah, beautiful! I sat on the window sill for some 10-15 minutes til I was like ‘Ok, time to face the day’. But God, I was feeling so …lascivious of sorts, and found the tankard half full of Jack. I must’ve filled it the night before. We probably intended to eat some of the fruits the night before, hence the mess, though I don’t think we ever got round to it in the end. So I drank some of the stale whisky, the tankard holds just under a full bottle. And the canvas was just to the left; all laid out, with the brushes at the side, I must’ve wanted to draw something the day before. Grabbed a brush and went for it. I didn’t really plan it, I started out without knowing what’s gonna come out on paper and I didn’t imagine anything useful will anyway. I put the mill in the corner first, cause that shiny yellow wall was just jaw-dropping, but then I realized I drew the line too high up, so I was like ‘Hell, I’ll draw the apples’. Didn’t bother arranging them or anything. And I was drinking all the while, I think I got through the half tankard of whisky pretty quick, so just put it back on the table. Only realized it’s there after I drew its contour on canvas. And I was like ‘Hmmm, well I’ll leave it in now’, but the drawing on it is so intricate I wasn’t really feeling up to putting in the work to draw it. So I left it to figure out later, and that’s actually the last thing I drew. If you look at the carvings on the cup, it’s a whole scene, the detail on it is mind blowing, I was never gonna bother with that. So I just mashed up some lines a la Monet, never figured the canvas is gonna make it anywhere further than the rubbish bin anyway.’
‘It’s a beautiful tankard, babba’
‘I know, got it at this art fair eons ago. In a village east, high in the Kashmir. Zebak or Ziak or something. Don’t think it was made there though, looks like it must come from somewhere South.’

I knew Daoud and daddy are going to be sharing stories for hours on end and I wasn’t really listening to them. I only remembered Daoud’s story about the painting last week, when it got into my hands by a completely unexpected and wonderful accident. I remembered Daoud was saying something about an auction house that was gonna take it to Europe and how he was going to get good money for it. Well, I paid 20 quid for it, though the guy in the flea market was only asking for 10. Truth to be told, I could’ve probably talk him down to 5, but not in the state I was. I’d never really buy anything from the flea market, but I’d go every week as it reminded me of… gosh, I don’t even know if ‘home’ is the right word. It reminded me of something that I felt was a part of me. I was surprised when I spotted it. I remember akaa Daoud gave it to the art museum for a while to be part of an exhibition of his paintings, but then got it back as this dealer kept nagging him about how much money he could make off of it. So naturally, I thought the museum made prints of it and somehow, one of them made its way to this Afghan flea market. I grabbed it to look at it then I saw the burn mark on the side from when Daoud’s flat burned down. I tried hard not to cry, but Farid must’ve seen my tears as he asked me if I’m ok. I’m looking at it now and I have no idea if I should put in on display somewhere where I’d see it every day, or just hide it away just like all the horrible memories I’ve carried with me over two continents.

I do remember that specific day well. I was always happy to about visiting Daoud, as I know I’d see Farrah. And dad was all too happy to visit him as it was the only place where he could have a drink without mum nagging him about heaven and hell and The Prophet and Muslim values.  So it was a win-win, and it was like our little ritual. Dad would usually ask me if I want to go out, I’d always say yes, then he’d pretend he had no idea where to go and call to see if Daoud is free. He was always free, and he’d always ask us to come over and ‘take it from there’. We didn’t really take it anywhere. In a household of five, mum would always cook for about 20, so dad would grab the remains of last nights’ dinner and Daoud – huge fan of mum’s cooking - was all too happy to accept that in exchange for a few glasses of alcohol which, as a good Muslim, dad would never buy. He did take care to stop by the market though, to get something for mum, whose anger at the stink of whisky would be quelled by an incense, or a necklace, or some robe. And once we got to Daoud’s studio, I’d be quick to make an excuse to go out, and that was my day done. Sometimes, Farrah’s dad would come over, in which case I didn’t need an excuse to go out at all, we’d be messing about with the canvases and colours while they’d be putting the world to rights over whisky.

‘Are you not worried at all, Daoud?’
‘Waseed, I’m a Christian, not a Communist. I couldn’t care less who’s in power as long as they let me paint. As a matter of fact, I don’t even care if I ever sell another painting again, I’ve been lucky enough to have already made more money than I’ll ever need.’
‘But herein lies the problem, laalaa. Do you think the mujahideens won’t come knocking to your door specifically because you’re a Christian?’
‘Bah, don’t think so. I’m not a threat, I’m an anomaly. Too few Christians around to be any kind of critical mass in the revolution.  And I’ve never said anything either for or against Islam. To be honest, I think Islam is preferable to the Communists, but not the kind that the mujahideens are hoping for.’
‘Communism is good, Daoud! Without the Soviet Union, we’d still be herding goats instead of driving Ladas. No heating, no blocks of flats…’
‘No fucking individual opinion, either. You’ll see, it will be much better with the Americans.’
‘Why would the Americans care?’
‘Oh, the mujahideens  are all American puppets. You see, they don’t like having the Soviets so close to their oil.’

They were always going on like that. I wasn’t really listening to their conversations; it’s surprising therefore how much I can remember after all these years. Anyway, that afternoon I did not make any excuses. It was a sunny day, probably just as sunny as the one that inspired the painting with the tankard, so I went to the window to see if there is indeed any beauty to the mill, as I knew it to be scary and noisy and dusty. And then I saw Farrah playing jozbaazi. Now you see, that is beautiful, not the stupid mill! Oh, God, it was indeed a scorching day, but she shone brighter than sun ever could! I sat still the whole afternoon, just watching her and smiling like the idiot kid I was, with the occasional bouts of jealousy when she’d be touching someone else, quickly subdued by the sight of her smiling.
‘Ali, what’s the matter, mashwm? You ok? Do you wanna go out?’
‘No, I’m good here plaar. Can I get an apple?’

I knew I loved her. I was looking forward to turning 13, the first thing I’d do was ask dad to go to old Waseem and ask him to let Farrah marry me. And then we would move in together and I’d be with her all the time. What more can one ask?

And yet last I saw of Farrah was her big round blue eyes devoid of life, with a mixture of caked dirt and blood covering her beautiful face. I cried for days, and I think I punched dad pretty hard when he forcefully dragged me away from her body. I kept crying the couple of weeks that followed. Leaving Kabul and heading for the border were all a blur. Thinking back, dad’s bravery makes me very proud and I wonder what I would have done under the circumstances. But back then all I could see were Farrah’s beautiful red lips biting the dirt. I was upset we left. I didn’t care about the fighting and the shootings and the militias; all I wanted was to play another game of jozbaazi with Farrah. On our way to the border, I heard dad telling mum old Waseem and his wife stayed. He didn’t know, but they were probably killed shortly after, as the whole neighborhood was razed to the ground. Couple of guys from the mosque tried to help dad get Daoud out of his studio when the building caught fire, but by the time they managed to get in, he was already dead, apparently. I don’t remember seeing the body, even though I was there when they carried him out, rolled in a carpet. Dad wanted to give him a Christian funeral, but he couldn’t find a priest after two days of trying, so in the end they took him to the mosque with the others, thinking that it was better Daoud gets buried with Muslims than all of us staying and risking our lives too. In all honesty, I don’t think he cared all that much. The folks from the mosque also saved all they could from his flat, including some of his paintings, the one with the tankard amongst them, a week before it was due to be taken to an auction in France. Dad joked it will make it to France anyway, though in completely different circumstances. He tried contacting Daoud’s sister in Paris, but the phone lines were cut and it was near impossible to get a message out of the country in those days. Turns out, it was impossible to get Daoud’s paintings out of the country too. They were withheld by the Pakistani police together with most of his and our possessions. So mum, dad and the three of us had to cross the border and got into the tent camp with only one piece of hand luggage each.

And that’s pretty much how we crossed two continents. Well, the three of us did, Mum and Dad never made it to the Mediterranean. After years and years of nightmares and bad news being the only things reaching me from Afghanistan, akaa Daoud’s tankard painting was the symbol of a time when I was a happy careless child in my parents’ house, just as any child should be. How it ended up in my hands three decades later was a miracle that I didn’t intend to inquire too much about. I decided to hang it in the hallway. 

sâmbătă, 1 aprilie 2017


Akseli Gallen-Kallela - Lake Keitele, 1905
I enjoy coming here, though I'm not doing it very often. It's like strong medicine. Very good when you really need it, not so good when you abuse it. The sight reminds me of Innisfree. A colder, less rainy Innisfree that I've never been to, just like I've never been to the real Innisfree and I probably never will. It's like the paradise that's within easy reach, but only as long as you don't actually go there. It ain't exactly real, or it's real but it ain't exactly there, just like democracy in Leonard Cohen's understanding. See, this is something I can only properly do here. Sure, my mind goes astray a lot of times and wherever steps might take me, but in here, there's no straying away, just a vast open freedom across the body of water and beyond. And if I want Leonard Cohen to explain me how Jesus was a sailor for walking across the water and to argue the exact contrary with him I only need to say 'I'd like to speak to Leonard...' and through the dark, clouded, thick glass on the bottom of the bottle I see him pulling close in his dark suit, with the hat pulled over his face trying to convince me that he never loved me whilst I'll laugh and tell him it doesn't matter, even though we both know it. And just by sitting here, between two of my best friends, in complete silence, looking at a lake isle that is only Innisfree in our imagination everything that's wrong is being put to rights, everything that's sick is beginning to heal. And boy, do I need a lot of healing after a night like the last one...

Whoosh! A fireball drops across the pale white sky, hitting somewhere behind the hill on the opposite side of the lake with a strong thud and something that, I'm sure, is a bit of an explosion too. by the time the shock wave reaches me I've already rolled my eyes. Of course I enjoy the spectacle of it, it's majestic, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna give him the satisfaction. I know how the conversation is going to play out, I'm well aware of the gloating to ensue and I enjoy that as well, but I also need to concentrate on playing my part well. Otherwise we would not be blending into the rightful order of the kosmos, will we? So what shall it be this time?

There's a huge fireball brightening up the distant sky and a second later I can see it. Oh, wow, that is one majestic beast. I try to take the sight of it in, I know it won't be for long. It's huge, green scales, its gigantic pointy teeth, the yellow armored belly and the immense jaws that could change landscapes in a second... I wish I could see it in a slow, relaxed flight, I wish I could ride it and see the world through the eye of the beast... oh, that will take some convincing. All I see now is an unorderly, fast panic as the dragon is trying to break free. He pulls back flying downwards, spits another scorching jet of fire that I'm sure will destroy the livelihood of a few farmers too poor already, and flies away as fast as he can I a wide circle across the lake. Oh wow... this is it! It's gigantic and scared and for a second it looks like he might've escaped. Of course I know that's not the case and the barely felt whirl of air generated by an object moving at very high speed confirms it for me. Just as the dragon reaches the north side of the lake and his flight is changing into a steadier pace, I hear the hit, reverberating like something a lot stronger than it actually is. The poor animal is thrown backwards all the way back above the lake's surface and before he's got any chance to steady himself Angel is already above him, hitting and pushing with unstoppable force. There's one more flame coming out before they hit the water, less spectacular than the first one despite being so much closer. He must be tired, the poor thing... No effect, of course, but a few treetops on the island catch fire. Then bubbles of air rising to the surface for some time, I think I even saw the water brightening up yellow for half a second from the effort of a flame trying to reach the surface and I cannot help but feel sorry for the poor dragon, even though I'm well aware there's nothing to worry about and he's as safe as it can be. It's all just an act designed to... I don't know. I suppose I should be impressed? I mean, sure, it's great visually, but once you've seen the magic from behind the curtain... Once you realised there's only mortar and bricks behind the eyes of the saints in churches that barbarian hordes tried to pull out, you know for sure the actual saints aren't there. Oh, yes, I know, we've had this conversation so many times, it's all as magic as you allow it to be and yes, I'm fully aware of this too, but I do enjoy calling bullshit on it all. It's like our little game.

It's quite now, so good time for a drink. And while I slurp with the thirst of a dog that's just beaten his own record at running around the lake and quietly thank Mr. Jack for his hell-bringing heavenly nectar I feel him coming. Dusting himself off without really needing to, realising he's completely dry then adding the dew drops at the end of his long black locks and heading towards me with the pride of a child who's just finished his first artwork on the living room wall. I have to pretend I don't see him, of course.

'Did you know that was the Loch Ness monster?'
'Was it?' I mock surprise badly.
'Yeah, but not the lame-ass one in the picture. Daily Mail, what do you expect?'
'Was it really the Daily Mail that published it?'
'Made by them, not only published.'
'Oh, wow... Why am I not surprised?'
'Anyway, this is - or was - the Loch Ness monster. Like for realz.'
'Yeah, stayed there for some 10-15 century, though I'm not sure he was still there when the picture was taken.'
'So what's gonna happen to him now?'
'I locked him up'
'Bottom of the lake?'
'Yeah, there's a double gate with a good locker, he's gonna go live in the center of the earth now. He's fine, he's got his brothers... his whole family is there.'
'What was the show about then?'
'What do you mean?'
'You were trying to impress me, didn't you?'
'What'you on about?'
'Come on... look at you, big muscly angel wiping the floor with the massive dragons whereas I struggled with a silly little demon and you had to come to the rescue...'
'It's different, you know that. That was your demon. It's a hard fight, no matter the size. Though in all fairness he was completely out of shape last night...'
'Yeah, yeah, yeah...'

The evening before was harder than we were both pretending it was, though for reasons that are not yet clear to me. I'm sure the lesson will be presented to me in due time, with a huge slice of humble pie on the side. I didn't notice anything wrong until I actually turned the light on in the room. I didn't see him, I can't really describe how I knew he was there. When there's a mouse in your room, you get to see the mouse. I'm sure I didn't see him, peripheral vision or not. I FELT him.
'Come out! Come out, you asshole!' I shouted immediately. I jumped on the bed and threw my hand underneath, but didn't find him straight away. It actually took me a good few minutes of moving sheets and furniture about and just as I was about to move the bed I saw him trying to run through the wall. He was unlucky, really, they usually bit but this one was scared more than anything. By the time I grabbed his leg it was too late for him, I ducked the bite easily. I grabbed both his feet, grabbed both his hand around his back with my right hand and fixed him on the floor. Then put his feet and hands together and stepped on them with my left foot. I stood up through his loud screechings and wailings and pushed my right foot heavily in his spine a couple of times, in the vain hope he'll stop. I lifted my sole high off the ground and pushed down as hard as I could. I've been told this is how they suffer the most though in all fairness I like the squishing sound they make more than anything. Then, as his horns flew straight into the wall and the organic matter that moments before was making up his head splashed across the floor, I felt a stabbing in the lower back.

'Aaaaargh! There's two of you. You stupid bloody bollocking bastards!'
It was painful as hell, but I knew I had to move fast. I twisted my right and grabbed his neck to bring him around the front. he stayed in the bite, the little bastard, of course they knew how to cause pain much better than I did. his canine tooth came in deep and as I pulled the creature in front of me I felt his teeth grating against my spine, then leaving a deep ridge cut through the skin. It was painful, but it was over. Once I had him in front of me, holding him by the neck, it was easy going. I smashed his head against the wall a couple of times for good measure, but it wasn't really necessary. I have enough experience to deal with the little ones by now, they can only get away if I let them. And I wasn't going to let this one. He screeched and wailed too, of course, though fainter than the first one. 'I must've gave him a good smashing' I thought. For a split second I even felt sorry for him. But no, he won't have it easy. Hands and legs behind the back, down on the floor...

The demon pushed just as my right foot was about to touch the floor. I heard the imp's neck snapping, but by the time I was on the level with him his head was still moving. His eyes were closing and opening very slowly as life was leaving them and I thought he looks somewhat like an aborted fetus. Only lighter. Nevermind that, I had to concentrate on the demon.
The demon was laughing. I haven't seen him that self assured in a very long while. His skin was darker than usual, looking a bit like dark red wines. Rioja, or Bordeaux, all the ones I don't like. He was still in a pretty bad state, I could see the white from two of his ribs, but there were small patches of fur scattered over his body. He pulled head of the imp clear from the body and threw it out the window. Then swallowed the body whole and let out a huge burp. I didn't really mind his awful stinky sulfurous breath. On the contrary, it reminded me of the fights we had. Angel or demon, who doesn't enjoy a good fight? But I was surprised at my inability to fight back. I tried to stand but my body said no. The demon let out a loud, malevolent laugh, took to steps towards me then hoofed me straight up the wall. I felt the bricks moving on the outer face, but that was obviously the last of my worries. The moment I fell down his hoof punctured through my stomach. I tried to stand but his other hoof was already on my neck. Hands were useless in situations like this, I know, so I stopped moving for a moment, trying to figure out his moves and where I can catch a break. He tapped my sternum with his huge pointy nail, then cracked the rib cage open and pulled the heart out. With a foot still in my stomach, he stoop up again and looked at both myself on the floor and my heart in his hand in delight. He started eating it with big bites and long chews and I could do nothing but watch him. When he was about halfway through it he took a small step forward and raised his left hoof.
'Oh no, it's the head smash!' I thought, and closed my eyes in expectation.
'Oh no, not the head smash!' I heard, and suddenly I felt my body being released from pressure. I looked sideways, which was actually looking up as I was laying, and I saw Angel tackling the demon to the ground. Then I must've passed out for a few seconds because when I opened my eyes again the demon was nowhere to be seen. Angel was looming above me. He gave me an arm and helped me stand up, then started running his fingers across my skin to close the wounds.

'Listen, I'm in a bit of a block with my two teen lovers' I said. 'Can you help me with it?'
'I will, of course I will. But we've got some restoration to do first.'