In the surreal genre of girl-you’ll-be-woman-soon-but-not-before-going-off-the-deep-end—think Alice in Wonderland, Patty Hearst, Dorothy Gale, and Atonement—Errol Morris, the documentary filmmaker of The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War, adds a new heroine: Joanna Harcourt-Smith-“Leary,” the tortured subject of My Psychedelic Love Story, his latest doc for Showtime. The film’s elevator pitch could easily be shelved as a cautionary tale: the privileged Avenue Foch socialite who fell for America’s bad-boy Timothy Leary, and jumped headfirst into the ’70s counter-everything scene. But there is nothing cliché about Morris’s work. Morris loathes spoon-feeding; he demands that we do the work with him, connect the dots, and very much arrive at distinctively different but always mind-blowing conclusions.
Joanna could have stayed confined to society’s upper echelons, but the moment she got into Leary’s canary yellow Porsche—he was a U.S. fugitive at the time—everything changed. Free-loving, philosophy, LSD, cheap hotels, and prisons interject frivolity amidst high drama; in a pivotal turn, the couple takes a trip to Kabul, where they are arrested by U.S. agents and flown back to California. Joanna’s flirting smile at Morris’s camera, coupled with the documentary’s hallucinatory graphics, make you wonder: “Have I lived enough?” Not even close.
After Leary’s arrest, Jonna’s unconditional love becomes her downfall: colluding with authorities to free him, trafficking LSD into prison by gluing it onto her belly-button, setting up lawyers, and getting vilified by both the government and the counter-culture. (Allen Ginsberg: “Is she a sex spy, agent provocateuse, double-agent or CIA hysteric?”) Eventually, she finds her way into a witness protection program. In the documentary, we hear Joanna’s last words and we see her grand exit—she passed on in October. She doesn’t settle scores here; she doesn’t seem to bother. What Joanna cares about is the emotional impact of her narrative arc, as well as its telling bridges and lubricants. At one point, after getting arrested and confined in an empty terminal, the couple was “pushed” into a flight to L.A. “First class,” she points out. “Gunther Sachs happened to be there”—the international man of mystery who set up a convoluted offshore arrangement that kept his wealth untouched by authorities forever. “We drank champagne, we talked, we played. Tim packed a deal with the agents.” She speaks in code. Her seduction of the camera is the perfect bait for a director who is fascinated by both the truth and the falsehoods that become it. Always in the business of parables, Morris, via Joanna, warns us that My Psychedelic Love Story is itself a collection of alluring falsehoods. In that sense, Joanna is Morris’s best subject so far. She is his alter ego.
Biden vs Trump: O Tραμπ έβγαλε τους βρώμικους σκελετούς από την ντουλάπα
November 4, 2020
Ο Τραμπ δεν δημιούργησε το χάσμα, ούτε τον φόβο. Τα έφερε όμως στο φως, και τώρα, όποιος και αν κερδίσει τις εκλογές (και όποιος και αν κέρδιζε το χρίσμα των Δημοκρατικών) δεν θα μπορέσει να το επουλώσει.
Oποιος και αν είναι ο επόμενος πρόεδρος, ο Τραμπ άλλαξε την Αμερική για πάντα. Αλλά σε αυτό τον βοήθησε και ο Μπάιντεν με την “παλιοπαρέα” του. Ο Τραμπ ξεγύμνωσε την Αμερική ως το κράτος που οι “έχοντες” φοβούνται τους “μη έχοντες”: λευκοί-πλούσιοι-συντηρητικοί φοβούνται τα καινούρια United Colors of Benetton. Σπουδαγμένοι-φιλελεύθεροι-ελίτ των πόλεων φοβούνται τα trailer parks. Κάτι τέτοιο είναι όχι μόνον από τους πιο βρώμικους σκελετούς στην ντουλάπα (καθώς σαπίζει εκεί για δεκαετίες), αλλά και από τους πιο επικίνδυνους σκελετούς (όταν αυτοί που «έχουν» φοβούνται αυτούς που «δεν έχουν», τότε πάντα κάτι σπάει). Ο Τραμπ δεν δημιούργησε το παραπάνω χάσμα, ούτε τον φόβο. Τα έφερε όμως στο φως και τώρα, όποιος και αν κερδίσει τις εκλογές (και όποιος και αν κέρδιζε το χρίσμα των Δημοκρατικών) δεν θα μπορέσει να το επουλώσει.
Η ανισότητα σε όλα τα επίπεδα έφτασε τον κόμπο στο χτένι… Μας έφτασε στον Τραμπ. Εδώ είναι που ο Μπάιντεν και η φρουρά των Δημοκρατικών που αρνείται να «πεθάνει» (οι Κλίντον, Πελόσι, Σούμερ… και λίγο αργότερα οι κατ’ εικόνα και ομοίωση Ομπάμα) έχουν την υπόγεια ευθύνη για τον ερχομό του τραμπισμού, όπως π.χ. τις ευθύνες για το πώς ετοιμάστηκε νομικά η κρίση του 2008 (στα 90s επί Κλίντον) και για το πώς «κουκουλώθηκε» και ποιος τελικά την πλήρωσε επί οκταετίας Ομπάμα (τον Μπους δεν τον είδαμε στην Αμερική, «κυβερνούσε» το Αφγανιστάν και το Ιράκ με βόμβες).
Αρα, τι γίνεται τώρα; Τέσσερα ακόμα χρόνια με τον Τραμπ είναι τέσσερα χρόνια στην “εντατική”. Μπορεί η Αμερική να μην τα καταφέρει: ο ανταγωνισμός πυρηνικών όπλων με τη Ρωσία, η πιθανή σύγκρουση με την Κίνα, οι επεμβάσεις στο ποιος ψηφίζει (όπως οι ανακοινώσεις του Τραμπ πριν από λίγες ώρες), η κανονικοποίηση της μυθοπλασίας (άρνηση σε δεδομένα, σε ειδικούς, στην επιστήμη…) με αποτελέσματα σαν την ανεξέλεγκτη επιδημία που ζούμε και οικολογικές καταστροφές.
Από την άλλη, νίκη του Μπάιντεν και των Δημοκρατικών που ξέρουμε και που έχουν αλλάξει σοκαριστικά ελάχιστα, καλλιεργεί την ανισότητα που έφτασε στον τραμπισμό, άρα στη δημιουργία φασισμού. Ο ίδιος ο Μπάιντεν ως αντιπρόεδρος (2008-2016) μας “έδωσε” τον Τραμπ κυριολεκτικά. Με άλλα λόγια, στην Αμερική έχουμε μπει σε συνεχή επανάληψη, λες και ξαναβλέπουμε τα ζαχαρωμένα, καρα-άσπρα, ανεξήγητα προνομιούχα “Φιλαράκια” από τα 90s. Οι περισσότεροι από εμάς δεν θα ζήσουμε αρκετά για να δούμε μια Αμερική μεσαίας τάξης».
Tasos zigzaged through washed down rocks and once again I shut my eyes. When I opened them, a show had begun. White stones sparkled after the rain, and greens jumped out of fallen walls. Gypsy women’s silk frocks swept the mud as they sat on white plastic chairs breastfeeding infants. We slalomed the street ponds raising walls of water. Kids threw stones at us, and dogs chased us.
The New Engagement, issue 17
My last day at Souvli the thunderstorm brought me to life. Water gushed down the roof, pounding my raki soaked brain in this refrigerator I shared with my brother, a corridor with two beds and a strip of tiles between us. Yawning and shivering, I reached for the pack of Marlboros on our bed stand. Pressed around, but fingered no smokes. I raised the empty thing above my head and saw the fifty-euro I’d stashed in it gone. This was shit. Crumpled up the piece of toss and whacked it at my brother who, passed-out, drooled on his arm in the other bed. “Γαμιόλη!”—“Motherfuck!”
Sat on the edge of my bed to get my brain straight. Pushed my piss hard-on back in my drawers and scratched my armpit right where my father scarred me when he caught me stealing his wine. My arms and neck filled the mirror at the back of our door. Tried to fix my hair, which was harder than my fucking dick; I looked like a Viking clown. Blonder than wheat, I was the first to burn on the crops. ‘Σαρακατσάνος!’—‘Sarakatsanos!’—my army pals called me. Drunk, the rest. “Σκανδιναβεζα”—“Scandinavian pussy”—“who likes to party from behind, just like his father,” the Sergeant howled me once during basic training, those forty days of drill, of skipping rope like a girl and waking up at four in the morning. The army can kill you. Soldiers will set your bed on fire. They’ll piss on you; on me twice when I wouldn’t wake up from tsipouro; plenty of booze in the camp if you had cash or willing to clean the johns, and I did, the stink not worse than our dung back home. “Αντερεγαμησου!”—“Gofuckyourself!”—I mumbled at the Sergeant’s back.
He gave me a week’s detention. I wanted to break his neck for trashing my father, but then I’ve been wanting to break my father’s drunken neck since I can remember. At Souvli being a drunk was being a man. We grew up to drink. It was expected, required. You didn’t even have to grow up, like my brother, not sixteen yet, blacked out, practically naked with mucus all over his face, snuffling away. I stood up, leaned over and slapped him. “Get up, malaka! Where’s my fucking money you piece of shit?” Half-choking, Dimitris clogged to the wall. Slim, skinny as a stick, he looked nothing like us. I pulled down my briefs and my thick bucked out ready to fire its morning piss all over the little prick’s girl-pretty face. But pee-shyness or a change of heart, or just the thought that it’d follow us the rest of our lives, made me lose it and I slapped him again. “Punk!” I yelled and picked up his blanket from the floor to cover his ass so pneumonia wouldn’t kill him.
There was no sign of life in the house. No screaming TV, no snoring from my father’s bedroom, so the old man had to be out drinking, still. Then again who knew if the bastard even survived the rain; roads flooded and boozers drowned in the plains all the time. I hobbled to the kitchen and threw a scorched pan under the faucet and then on the stove. But there were no matches around. Too lazy to go back for my lighter, or too worried I’d beat my brother again, I tore out the cover of a TV guide rotting on the table, rolled it into a pole, and lit it from the Virgin’s oil, which was flanked by the prime minister and Yasser Arafat. As soon as the stove started burning, I threw Aniston into the sink. She gave the room a glow, before she curved herself into a rat black texture. Then the kitchen turned into a disco again from the sky behind the curtains. Clouds so low, you couldn’t tell if it was day or night. The heat would crush you in the summer, but come fall, when water flooded down the plains, everything drowned. Γαμιέται ο Δίας—Zeus gettin’ it up the ass—, a saying about nasty weather I picked up when I joined the army, forty days ago, after I dropped out of school to piss off my father, the cotton farmer whose life was drinking tsipouro, selling working-the-farms to kids, ‘before the army gets them’, and beating his ‘faggot sons’ with the belt. Everything was crazy fucked up with him. He’d slur things he knew shit about, lash out at buyers, cops, women, anyone… then he’d break a chair or a window and finally, thank God, pass the fuck out.
After a few Nescafé sips my father’s truck jerked into a stop at the yard. Betting that the smell of the burnt pot would make him go nuts, anything could, I poured whatever left into the sink and hid the dish in a cupboard. Sat on the kitchen table and, instinctively, held my brother’s Superman mug close to my chest as a shield.
A reek of vomit and tsipouro filled the space. Bailas’ hands, sore and cut, massive, the hands that beat me straight the day I left for the army, clenched on three packs of Marlboros. We hadn’t seen each other for forty days. We kept still, avoiding eye contact. When he finally fixed on me, I remembered how much we looked alike. He was also fair but grey ash blond and wrinkled, all muscle too. I could just see him at the tavern, weathering out the storm, trying to speak during the final rounds of tsipouro, yelling ‘I ain’t poor, you faggots! Never was. Just shortchanged by you right-wingers,’ which was somewhat true, until the socialists took over. A respected drunk at last, Bailas now held some might in the local government’s office, and with EU subsidies pouring in, he felt entitled to non stop drinking.
He pointed at Dimitris’
mess on the table, the empty retsina and Coca-Cola bottles. “Is that what they
teach you at the camp? Retsinococacola?”
I had to throw a decoy
of sorts, distract his anger, but strangely, and for the first time really, a
blow of change filled my lungs. “I’m Air Force,” I said. “And I learned how to
mix retsina with Cola from you.”
“Πούστη”–—“faggot,”—he said and made to move. “Faggot.”
I stood up without shaking, another first. “One more time,” I whispered. I knew he was going to slap me. I clenched my fists. A weird thing happened next. All he did was to slightly push me, barely touch me, and I landed back on the table. He threw a pack of cigarettes on my lap. “Smokes,” he said walking past me. And just like that he was gone.
As the storm died down, I felt even stronger. I thought that Tula, the sexy blonde I got hammered with the night before, would become my girl. I knew of her, but we only met hours ago at that disco-dive where soldiers got destroyed in Volos. I was with Tasos, my buddy from the camp, but he left early. Tula drank and danced with me. Well, she was dancing, I was just moving my legs. She was this loud and beautiful girl. Said she liked my moves on the floor, though I didn’t have any until Greek songs came up. Soon the storm got us trapped there. We didn’t kiss or make out until dawn, when they kicked us out. I said I’d walk her to Kartali, where she said she lived, because Ermou was… Ermou Street. She laughed, said I didn’t need to, I shouldn’t worry about her. But it was still coming down, so I gave her my windbreaker. Outside the disco, I tried to kiss her. ‘Only in the middle of the rain,’ she said.
With no minutes on my cell, I reached for the phone outside my father’s bedroom and, quietly, called Tasos to score a lift to Volos to hang out with my Tula again. I told him that she was it. “We better go find her, Tool,” is all Tasos said.
Half an hour later, he raised hell in the front yard on his GSX, the bike he wouldn’t shut his yap about. Worried that Bailas would wake up and fertilize us, I tried to wave Tasos to quiet down through the kitchen window, but… I threw my jacket on and rushed out.
“Jump on, already!” Tasos yelled full of joy; always, even in the camp, for no reason, stupid if you ask me. Then of course the GSX even with mud-spattered rims was shining brand new. No second-hand there, no sir. I had to pause and take it in. His bike was the dream. “Get on, Tool! The girl’s beautiful,” he said over the running engine. Tell me’bout it. “And if some pimples picks her up before we get there, I’ll do you instead.”
Took me another second to register Tasos in a rider’s jacket. I was not used to him in regular clothes, we met in our uniforms. He looked a bit funny, too young to be riding this big of a bike, but he was still handsome, maybe even more, if that was possible. “I’ll fuck you first,” I said and straddled on. I belted myself around his waist and locked my soles on the foot-pegs. We roared and spread filth all over Bailas’s truck. Soon, Souvli was behind us.
The air was clear. I let my head back and my nostrils filled with oxygen, giving me a sweet Tula headache. You’re surrounded by regulars and soldiers at the disco. You’ve gone all out; the hair, the smells, the works. Sure, you are a hard sell when it comes to freebies, but for some reason you take a liking to us, two army buds: Tasos, the good-looking rider, and Vagos, the Greek with the Swedish looks. “Clutch on me! Tighter. Grab tighter,” Tasos yelled, as we were about to snake through a school of mud holes. We had taken the back road to Volos, a hidden route made of concrete that didn’t merge with the highway. A road that travelers didn’t know, and locals avoided to spare their tires from heat and earthquake cracks, the cracks that broke my ass on the back of the bike. It was no man’s land, but everybody’s land; graffitied factories, hooliganed train-stops, and quarries that doubled as drive-in brothels for Larissa punks at nights. Tasos zigzaged through washed down rocks and once again I shut my eyes. When I opened them, a show had begun. White stones sparkled after the rain, and greens jumped out of fallen walls. Gypsy women’s silk frocks swept the mud as they sat on white plastic chairs breastfeeding infants. We slalomed the street ponds raising walls of water. Kids threw stones at us, and dogs chased us. At the perfect moment, Tasos raised his hand and gave the guard at the entrance of our camp the μούτζα, the finger. I tried to do the same. “What the hell do you think you’re doing!” Tasos shouted amused. “Put your hands around my waist! Malaka! Grab my waist!”
We locked the GSX outside Seychelles. Tasos was smiling, always. That’s when it hit me that asking him for a lift was probably a mistake. Tula would see right through my no-wheels snag. Plus Tasos was the stud, so she’d go for him anyway. Then again, the forty nights we bunk-bedded, Tasos had been solid. He covered up for the smaller guy and even spoke up for me once. I ended up talking to him about the shithole called Souvli, and Bailas’ belt. It just so happened that Tasos was not that different. His father never got it together after he did time for stealing soccer bets, and his mother raised him with this rich creep who showered Tasos with gifts but hit on every single one of his girlfriends. Maybe the handsome would take the high road if we were both into the same girl. Whatever, it was too late. We check our hair at the bike’s mirror and walked in.
You were seated on a sofa by some dark mirrors stirring your drink with its umbrella. I looked away, I had to, you were my Britney Spears. Barflies cursed at the PAOK-AEK game on the TV at the bar. From the corner of my eye I caught the lowlife with the hearing aid that delivered the meats to our kitchens giving us a look. He talked for hours with the Sergeant (yes, the motherfucker who got a boner by making our lives hell), and I knew that I’d come to regret this night. But I had a whole week of leave ahead of me, which seemed like a year, so, fuck the butcher, the Sergeant, and the army too.
“Hi,” you said, chewing gum.
“You remember my army bud, Tasos?”
“Airforce,” Tasos threw. I gave him the what-the-fuck.
You watched Tasos like you had forgotten meeting him the night before, or how good he looked. You handshaked. Then no one spoke, which was weird. Finally Tasos asked if we were ready for Screwdrivers. You had a drink in front of you, but sure. He walked to the bar as a waitress approached, a Tula lookalike but without your class. When you pointed at the bar, she rolled her eyes and left.
So there we were. “Αιντε!, καλο χμωνα!”—“Hey!, happy winter!”—the classic cheer, but something wasn’t clicking. This two-on-one was not taking off. To start with I sucked at banters. You picked up on that and got in the driver’s seat before Tasos could hijack us to his stupid bike brag. You complained about the storm, the humidity on your hair, and about how for some reason you couldn’t leave your home. You went on about the 2004 Games, PAOK’s coach on TV, while the whole time you focused on me. “Don’t you agree, Vagos?” your big eyes telling me to pay attention, to pass the test.
Raki shots arrived. “Dance with me,” you said. “Only if Tasos claps on his knees,” I replied. You winked at the dj and a zeibekiko came up. I did a shot, then another, and began my moves under Loizos’ tune. It was a solo dance. Tasos clapped bended on one knee, encouraging me, giving me right to boast, and I did until your laugh gave me permission to get silly. I picked up a chair and tried the glass on my head. You dug “my funk,” you said, and my pendant that “snaked from shoulder to nipple.” You looked happy. Then, swear God, you told Tasos to fetch your brand of cigarettes all the way from the docks. You dropped that casually like asking for another drink. He froze. Tasos studied me, telling me how hard I was suddenly fucking him. But within seconds he found the ridiculous request funny, a boot camp joke that he’d be rewarded for down the road. He even threw a cool why-not shrug which made my knee shake. I was scared to be alone with you, but Tasos was already walking.
“Too pretty. Plus, he’d ruin our night. Whatever you do, don’t bore me,” you said back at the sofa. A yellow Chiclets box appeared. You were already chewing, but popped another. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept reading and rereading your name at your gold bracelet: “T-u-l-a.” You pointed at my palm, its lines, talked about life length and a sharp turn, and two pieces of gum on my hand; you were a magician. The Suzuki coughed outside; starting and dying, starting and dying. This made no sense, it was a new bike. Maybe Tasos was Morse-coding me ‘F-U, F-U’ like we did at the camp. In my panic I saw myself running out, chasing him for a lift back, anywhere, but your eyes got warmer. “Oh, just relax will you? I like you. You wear a corduroy jacket. You have green eyes, like my brother. A German face.”
Shockingly, “I got no money,” escaped from my mouth.
You took your time. “Drinks are on me as long as we disco-dance,” you said. Tasos drove off. “More shots,” you shouted to the waitress who was resting with her elbows on the bar. She pretended that she didn’t hear you, but you were oblivious to stuff like that. “Have you been to Saloniki?” you asked me.
“Yes! For my army papers.”
“Have you been to Athens?”
“Twice. To see my
The shots arrived but the waitress refused to leave, so you opened your purse. I spotted a bunch of Bic pens hooped together with a rubber next to a fifty-euro bill. When you realized I saw that, you bit your lip. So, this was the bet: I’d fuck you, you sweet thief, come hell and high water. “I only dance zeibekiko,” I said, adjusting my crotch.
“You need to grow up,” you fired back. To the waitress: “My change!” But Springfield was blasting in the empty room, and the waitress made an I-can’t-hear-you gesture.
The dj adds some extra beat, and you begin to dirty dance me. The floor is open. For a solid guy, apparently I have moves. I crack you up. I am confused and drunk on your sweet perfumed sweat, soaked deep into the fur scurf you wrap around my neck. Take my fucking wallet, I don’t care. Steal my money. Choke me, kill me, just fuck me first you thief. Then flashes of me slapping Dimitri make me lose my rhythm, but a zeibe-disco comes up, so I swing flying above a stool, which makes you giggle, and me hard. I lean in and lick your skin, I’m practically raiding you as you mount the sofa to escape. You wear no underwear and your skirt bares your shaved loosened spot on my face. You try to pull down the cloth, always laughing, my cue to march on, but you cover your pussy, my pussy, so I strap my hands around your ass to lock you on the sofa. I can hear the barflies clapping on, and I want to get you wet, lick you and drink you in and out and every way. You slap my face, which turns my dick olivewood and I have to fuck you right then and there because I’m gonna cum no matter what in my fucking pants. Then you slap me again harder, and I lose my first shots. “Stop!” you yell, and I do cause I’m loving this, you, so fucking much.
You pulled yourself together and glimpsed at the barflies like expecting them to tell you what to do next. I didn’t give a fuck about those losers. They were the ones calling you the go-to-lay for film crews from Athens, always there, always hoping for the fuck that would land you on the screen, while you kept company to us, soldiers, got us drunk, got us off, got us to be generous, or tipped us how to break into fur stores that you modeled for in Larissa. These guys didn’t get you, they didn’t deserve you, although you probably had fucked every single one of them, but that was what I liked about you: you were all out. You were the fuck-you-and-what-you-think-of-me daredevil in this quicksand. You were who you were. And I wanted to do something to settle everything, and give you your respect. So I grabbed the ashtray from the table and held it above my head like a crown, slowly, replaying you getting crowned Miss Thessaly at that disco beauty pageant in Larissa, the crown that earned you the right to speak your mind to all the valley goons. I saw a flash in your eyes as you weighed on this, on me. And then your husky laugh was back, and the tension was over. With the ashtray balanced on my chest, I slouched next to you on the sofa relieved, and the bar went back to watching the game.
The dj pointed at me, You’re in the army now / Oh, oh you’re in the army / now. All smug, I turned sideways but you were no longer there. Don’t know why, I looked back at the bar and saw the meat guy sign-talking our way, his index finger tapping on his watch. You were behind me by the bathroom door. You looked at him calmly, reassuringly. Then you gave me an air kiss.
Maybe out of guilt for stealing my cash the night before, or maybe cause you liked me, you kept buying, until—drunk, hungry, and horny—we threw ourselves into your Fiat. I needed to eat something before your pussy, so how about the gyros kiosk on the highway. No, you had different plans. “One more stop before souvlaki,” you said while your face wondered if you had said the right thing. But you didn’t change you mind. You cranked up Marinela on the radio, singing along. I joined and we both laughed. “Maybe you do need food,” you said softly, and I fell in love.
Right where the Velestino road cuts through the gas station with the caged wolves, you found an opening into the fields. I had seen that dirt path before but never paid attention, taking it as someone’s access to the crops. Your sharp right made the wolves growl. We were in the middle of the black now, the only rattled light was the Fiat struggling in the mud. I almost opened the door to push. “Sit tight!” you called, and I got instantly hard again. I cracked the window to ease things some, but it was too cold and I rolled it back up. We didn’t need to hide farther, really, I could have fucked you right there in the car.
“The hells’re we going,”
“I said, one more stop before gyro.”
Behind the bushes and the dead sunflowers, a low brick house appeared. A shack with no windows but a small opening above the door, letting out a spot into the dark. “Get this,” I muttered.
We joined the cars parked around the shed. An old man seated on a tub at the lot was half asleep under his coat. No one else in sight. “I told you I ain’t paying,” I said. “Let’s just drive to the pit.”
“Who asked you to pay? Don’t be a bad drunk.”
“Fuck it,” I whispered and scratched my crotch, a habit stronger than my drinking. Stumbling out of the car, the thunder and lightning made my spine and knee bite. The storm was coming back.
You walked past the old man, who, suddenly, stood by the door. I followed you and he followed us into a puke-green room. David Bowie shouted on a screen above a bead curtain that hid a second room where some kind of commotion was underway, like a security alarm was off, or flashing cameras. The smell of bleach made me quiver with rush and repulsion.
“What’s a Boy Scout doing here?” the old man said. He had this big Macedonian, I’ve seen it all face.
“Oh, I brought a friend…” you tried to play things down, but he wasn’t buying. “Come on… he’s twenty one, and thick,” you said. I wasn’t sure what you were talking up: my age, size… Still, the old man kept reading me.
“How about I just take you out in the fields and—”
“Shut up, Vagos!”
The man fixed two shots on a makeshift ticket-booth next to some poker chips. “To our new friend then,” he cheered warily. There was something fishy going on, but Greek Scotch was in front of me, and I was drunk. So I did both shots, ‘With Gasoline’ filling up the stinking air.
“No names, and no one touches the bags,” the old man said seriously.
“Let’s see what shakes!” You jiggled and crossed the bead curtain to the back room.
In the center there were three people naked on all fours with burlaps over their heads, facing each other like livestock eating from the same trough. People around them seemed to move forward or backward in slow motion, or not move at all, depending on the speed of the strobe, one second they were fucking the human animals and the next they were not, like everything was and wasn’t happening at once. Then you took out of your bag the bunch of Bic pens tied together with the rubber band and, in slow motion, rammed them in a single push a quarter of the way into one of the holes. “Fu— it!” your lips ordered me. I caught myself undoing my fly, but fear and confusion kept me soft. With your pens halfway in, you reached over for a quick hand-job. Once hard and inside one of the bagged men, I started fucking. Bowie and the moaning and crying made me go harder and faster. I was steady now, going at it. I was part of the club; the lights, the screams, God was taking photos of us. Then the speed of the flashes slowed down again and I felt the beast I was pounding with a shivering sense of familiarity. I reached forward and pulled the bag off my father’s head.
After the ’08 meltdown, the city was pulled together, just like 9/11, against clear and present dangers: Wall St, Sandy, Dubya… There was rage. But my drug-fueled brain-fog saw the fury subsiding in slow motion. ‘Occupy’ fizzled before shaping into the anti-Tea party, Obama’s transparency platform bounced on NSA’s one-way mirror, much like the sun on the new glass condos that kept popping up all over Manhattan. I did a line and by the time I was sober half the stores on Bleecker went either corporate or vacant. Money and labor commodification across finance, high tech, and real estate propelled New York into a new Gotham: hospitals converted to pied-à-terres, and the homeless in my hood quadrupled. We got back to Tama Janowitz 1980s, only this time black Lamborghinis (when not parked by the fireplace inside apartments’ playrooms) screeched down Seventh Avenue confusing traffic with a Batman movie promotion, a Google robot demo, and the NYPD homeless-Flickr-stalking squad. Walking by 432 Park, I had my first skyscraper dizzy rush. I looked up, all the way up—my friends buzzing “Murdoch bought a real estate website for a billion dollars” sounding trivia, nothing spectacular or suspicious about it—“and? next?” Finally post-recession-inequality had given birth to my embarrassing fetish of social darkness.
Ioannis Pappos, Elliman Magazine
I moved to New York to get away from the sun. The places I spent my summers in rural Greece were so bare, I felt that there was nowhere to hide. No shades, no preface, no margin for error or the slightest digression, just the sun’s reflection on the Aegean scrutinizing me. At grad school, in California, my Stanford frisbee days were full of longings for bleak winters. I wanted to vanish into indifferent, dark worlds; Blade Runner’s noir and Varda’s Vagabond road trip. I couldn’t stop obsessing over outsiders: Phoenix, Depp, Cobain, at the time, defined antihero-cool. Palo Alto suffocated me. I talked my roommates into San Francisco trips in search of underground bars. Right where Columbus turned into Montgomery and old bank buildings swallowed traffic within their gorge, I would get a rush. “This is my favorite part of town,” I mumbled once. “Man, you’ll love New York,” my roommate said.
This fixation of disappearing into urban abyss finally brought me to Manhattan. But after 9/11, which shook the city to its core, people didn’t run and hide. Terror anxiety kept uniting them. ‘I am not afraid’ was the sticker. ‘Chin up’. ‘Man up and take the subway’. I could not spot any every-man-for-himself anarchy or vulnerability. We were all about sharing. Oversharing; social media, HBO, tipsy brunches with nasal-upspeaking ‘the real size of a man?’ I landed into a silly New York and I was taking it all in. I kept my white-collar gig and started writing frantically. As reality transcended fiction, I had a manuscript for a novel on the absurd pre-meltdown ’00s.
HOTEL LIVING: The lights dimmed as a picture of the High Line was projected onto the fifteen-foot screen of the Wall Street ballroom.
“I have powers of
subpoena, and if you don’t quiet down I’ll cite you,” Eliot Spitzer said from
the podium. The eight hundred attendees of the Friends of the High Line 2006
Benefit laughed. “For me, it is part of what makes Manhattan, Manhattan,” said
the video narrator, identified as “actor, NYC resident,” and people applauded.
forward at the Command-sponsored table. “He’s at the central table in front,”
she whispered to no one in particular, and the ends of her hair dipped into her
risotto. A couple of Junior Associates stretched to catch a look of the movie
“Gawel didn’t make
it?” I asked Andrea, relaxed.
She kept looking at
the screen, enchanted. Rotating pictures of west Chelsea mixed with quotes from
activists, actors, and politicians identified as “High Line supporters.”
“You’re almost on
what I call a flying carpet. It’s a completely different vantage point.”
“It’s up in the
clouds.” “A demiparadise.” “It really works for everybody. Because this is, in
fact, going to be one of the coolest places to live in all of Manhattan.”
“I didn’t invite Analysts,”
Andrea bothered to answer me at the end of the slide show. Then footage from a
public hearing I had attended during one of my New York weekends, back in 2003,
played. It showed an artist sobbing, explaining to Erik’s community board that
the High Line was the first thing she looked at when she woke up in the
morning. In the video’s background I made out Erik, with a microphone,
facilitating the hearing.
Then I spotted
Paul, sitting pretty at the table to my left. When we locked stares he motioned
to the screen—where Erik was still visible—and threw a piece of bread my way,
which I caught before it hit Andrea.
“I hope you do realize that we are here for a number of reasons,” she said with a what-the-hell-do-you-think-you’re-doing face.
“There’s sauce in
your hair,” I said. – HOTEL LIVING
At a tenement building in the West Village. My bed stand was stacked with McGarth and Didion, my iPod with Evanescence and Linkin Park, but the moment I walked out the door I was in marcjacobsland; Democrats on my block hosted twenty-thousand-dollars-a-plate-fundraising-dinners. Light years away from the dystopic fantasy which had brought me to New York, I watched Children of Men insatiably and saved The Scream as my desktop picture. I was becoming a juvenile again, hanging out with the twenty-year-old kids of my neighbors.
HOTEL LIVING: Some nigiri lands in front of me and I’m back to Tatiana. The girls are already off on a “new New York” discussion. How “all these glass condos will bring back Gotham.” They talk about how the “best views look into, not out of, the units,” about bird shit on the glass that will make peeping in on people “like watching old damaged footage.”
“ . . .
spiderweb-looking window cracks . . .” “ . . . most interesting suicides . . .”
– HOTEL LIVING
When the perfect storm finally hit, it was bloody sweeping. Recession shattered the company I worked for, and my lover dropped me—“that hotel living of yours doesn’t really work in a relationship,” he claimed. Having nothing else better to do was my rationalization for acting out with the kids around me; they could have been my children for chrissake. I stopped smiling in photos (“sexy frown, like we do”) and lounged with them at the Beatrice Inn to score.
The drugs make me sit back and gawk from a distance New York’s spirit being pulled together again, just like 9/11, against clear and present dangers: Wall Street, Sandy, Dubya… Moral confusion and ambiguity evaporated. There was rage. But my drug-fueled brain-fog saw the fury subsiding in slow motion. ‘Occupy’ fizzled before shaping into the anti-Tea party, Obama’s transparency platform bounced on NSA’s one-way mirror, much like the sun on the new glass condos that kept popping up all over Manhattan. I did a line and by the time I was sober half the stores on Bleecker went either corporate or vacant. Money and labor commodification across finance, high tech, and real estate propelled New York into a new Gotham: hospitals converted to pied-à-terres, and the homeless in my hood quadrupled. We got back to Tama Janowitz 1980s, only this time black Lamborghinis (when not parked by the fireplace inside apartments’ playrooms) screeched down Seventh Avenue confusing traffic with a Batman movie promotion, a Google robot demo, and the NYPD homeless-Flickr-stalking squad. Walking by 432 Park, I had my first skyscraper dizzy rush. I looked up, all the way up—my friends buzzing “Murdoch bought a real estate website for a billion dollars” sounding trivia, nothing spectacular or suspicious about it—“and? next?” Finally post-recession-inequality had given birth to my embarrassing fetish of social darkness.
HOTEL LIVING: “I saw your chickens jump around your Carabo,” I say to God [Tatiana’s godmother.]
“My beauties,” God chants.
“Do you have a
rooster too?” I ask.
“Oh, I did. But a
coyote killed him, with all my Brahmas. Horrible, horrible!” God jerks her hands away, and through her loose
neckties poncho I see her wrinkled breasts. “He didn’t kill my Houdans, because
they are black and scary.” She turns to Ray: “We are out of gin.”
“I grew up with a
rooster,” I say.
“He was my pasha.”
think chickens aren’t smart,” I coke-talk. Her bloodshot eyes rest on me; God is
“I only care for
the overlooked. Even if it is bad.”
“How bad?” I ask.
“She is talking
fashion genocide,” Teresa yells from the sofa. “She’s shooting Taliban fighters
in Burberry checks.”
“How did you talk
the Taliban into Burberrying up?” I ask God.
“I see beauty and
art where you don’t,” God says. “I see art in Hello! magazine and in the Taliban. I can show people how to
kill brands by association, not by bombing malls.”
“So you are
decadent,” I tell God.
“You confuse art
with education because you are Greek. Greeks obsess with the peak. I’m
interested in maturity. That’s why they call me God.”
I snatch a tequila
shot, but God’s not done with me. “Maturity is sexy,” she says.
“Post-postmodernism, derivatives . . . they are the new peaks. My husband was a
hedge-fund manager; he taught me that. That’s why I’ve made Tatiana so
convertible. She knows how to arbitrage through life. Stay still or next when
she sees a rise,” God says. “I’d rather reinvent than invent. You know that
you’re irrelevant, that you’re extinct, when you follow the trend. And that’s
when it gets interesting.”—HOTEL LIVING
So what now?
David Hockney: «Να θυμάσαι πως δεν μπορούν να καταργήσουν την άνοιξη»
BOOKPRESS. Στην κυρία Κλαρκ ο Χόκνεϊ αποδίδει στο πρόσωπό της, τη σκιά της Τζοκόντας. Για τον Χόκνεϊ η εναλλαγή φωτός και σκιάς στο πρόσωπο της Μόνα Λίζα είναι από τα στοιχεία που τον καθιστούν υποδειγματικό έργο τέχνης. Η σκιά είναι αυτή που φτιάχνει το αινιγματικό χαμόγελο της Τζοκόντας.
«Ξεκίνησα τον χειμώνα να ζωγραφίζω αυτά τα δέντρα, τα οποία σιγά σιγά ανθίζουν – αυτή είναι η φάση στην οποία βρισκόμαστε. Την ίδια στιγμή o ιός ξέφυγε και βρίσκεται παντού, γι’ αυτό και ήταν πολλοί αυτοί που μου είπαν ότι τα σχέδιά μου ήταν γι’ αυτούς ένα διάλειμμα απ’ όλα αυτά που συμβαίνουν γύρω τους» είπε ο Ντέιβιντ Χόκνεϊ στο ΒΒC από τη Νορμανδία όπου βρίσκεται απομονωμένος λόγω της καλπάζουσας COVID-19 πανδημίας.
Καθισμένος στον κήπο του καινούργιου του σπιτιού, μοιράστηκε με τους θεατές του BBC, για πρώτη φορά, εννέα καινούργια έργα, που έφτιαξε τις τελευταίες μέρες στο iPad του, περιμένοντας την άνοιξη. Λίγες μέρες πριν είχε αναρτήσει στον προσωπικό του λογαριασμό στο Instagram ένα έργο του, στο οποίο απεικονιζόταν μια συστάδα κίτρινων νάρκισσων, και είχε γράψει από κάτω: «Να θυμάσαι πως δεν μπορούν να καταργήσουν την άνοιξη».
Ο Ντέιβιντ Χόκνεϊ (Βρετανός, γεν. 1937) εδώ και 60 χρόνια έχει διαγράψει μια μοναδική πορεία στη ζωγραφική, την οποία έχει συνδέσει άρρηκτα με τη ζωή του. Ζωγραφίζει ό,τι του αρέσει, αγαπά ή ποθεί. Παράλληλα, έχει εμμονή με τις οπτικές προκλήσεις της τέχνης του, με τις καινούργιες τεχνολογίες και –πάνω απ’ όλα– με το πώς βλέπουμε τέχνη, με την εμπειρία του να βλέπουμε τέχνη.
«Έχουμε χάσει την επαφή με τη φύση, μάλλον ανόητα, καθώς είμαστε κομμάτι της κι όχι έξω από αυτή. Αυτή η φάση θα περάσει με το πέρασμα του χρόνου, κι έπειτα τι; Τι θα έχουμε μάθει; Είμαι 83 χρόνων, θα πεθάνω. Ο λόγος που πεθαίνεις είναι ότι γεννήθηκες».
Τα πρώτα χρόνια
Διάσημος πριν καν αποφοιτήσει από to Royal College of Art, ο Χόκνεϊ ζωγραφίζει ομοερωτικά, κάτι που απαιτούσε θάρρος τη δεκαετία του ‘60, μιας και τότε η ομοφυλοφιλία ήταν ακόμα παράνομη στην Αγγλία. Για τον Χόκνεϊ η αφηρημένη τέχνη («θρησκεία» για τους εικαστικούς στα ‘50s) δεν είναι αρκετή. Την συνδυάζει με αφορισμούς του δρόμου, γκέι προπαγάνδα και καθρέφτες και δημιουργεί ένα ποπ μανιφέστο στα χνάρια του Francis Bacon αλλά πολιτικοποιημένο (“The Cha-Cha That Was Danced Ιn Τhe Early Hours of the 24th March”, 1961, “ Cleaning Teeth, Early Evening (10pm) W11”, 1962).
Μετά την αποφοίτησή του, ο Χόκνεϊ ζωγραφίζει το Λος Άντζελες όπως το φαντάζεται, πριν να το επισκεφτεί. Οι σκούροι τοίχοι των κατοικιών του Λονδίνου γίνονται σπίτια με φως και λουλούδια στο μπάνιο. Δύο άντρες πλένονται κάτω από ντους (“Domestic Scene, Los Angeles”, 1963), ενώ τους περιβάλλει μια οικιακή πολυτέλεια, που δεν υπήρχε στην Αγγλία του ’60. Μικροί καταρράκτες τρέχουν από το κορμί του ενός άντρα και ζωγραφίζονται με όσο το δυνατόν περισσότερα χρώματα, για να αποδοθεί η διάφανη κίνηση του νερού στο σώμα.
Στο δεύτερο μισό της δεκαετίας του ’60, εγκατεστημένος στο Λος Άντζελες πλέον, ο Χόκνεϊ ξαναγίνεται παιδί, βλέπει τα πάντα από την αρχή. Αφήνει το λάδι για τα καθαρά ακρυλικά χρώματα που ταιριάζουν πιο πολύ στα σπίτια που τώρα πια ζωγραφίζει – σχεδιασμένα με τις αρχές του μοντερνισμού. Στον πίνακα “A Bigger Splash” (1967) χρησιμοποιεί ρολό τοίχου βαψίματος για να αποφύγει τις ατέλειες από το ίχνος του πινέλου. Ο πίνακας χαρακτηρίζεται από απόλυτη γεωμετρία, η οποία τονίζεται από το εντυπωσιακό και άναρχο πιτσίλισμα του νερού («φορτωμένο» με πλήθος τεχνικών και αισθητικών αναφορών, μεταξύ αυτών και του Jackson Pollock). Ο βατήρας σε προκαλεί να μπεις στην εικόνα, σου λέει πως θα είσαι ο επόμενος στην πισίνα. Αυτή η πρόσκληση να εμπλακείς, να γίνεις μέρος της εικόνας, να χαθείς στο κόσμο της, θα καθιερώσει τον Χόκνεϊ ως τον πλέον αντιπροσωπευτικό καλλιτέχνη του Λος Άντζελες – μιας πόλης, η οποία είναι στημένη γύρω από την έμπειρα τού να «χάνεσαι» σε εικόνες.
Η πρώτη ανάγνωση βλέπει στους πίνακες του Χόκνεϊ αισιοδοξία. Τα queer σοκάκια της Αγγλίας, έχουν γίνει γρασίδι σε ακριβά σπίτια. Αυτό που ενδιαφέρει τον Χόκνεϊ είναι πώς αποφασίζουμε να δούμε τη ζωή, τόσο σαν διάθεση, όσο και πρακτικά, κυριολεκτικά, σαν να βλέπουμε μέσα από μια κάμερα. «Είμαι αισιόδοξος, αλλά όχι αφελής« δηλώνει. Δημόσια, η ζωή του Χόκνεϊ (και η ζωή αυτων που ζωγραφίζει) παραμένει ταμπού στο Hollywood. Ξέρει ότι τα αντρικά κορμιά πρέπει να βρίσκονται κλεισμένα σε βίλες. Έτσι, φτιάχνει πίνακες με ζευγάρια, τα διπλά πορτρέτα (“Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy” – 1968, “Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy” – 1971) τοποθετώντας τα σε εσωτερικούς χώρους, αφήνοντας όμως, να πέσει το φως του Λος Άντζελες επάνω στα τζάμια και στα γυάλινα τραπέζια.
Κι εδώ η πρώτη ανάγνωση, ίσως τα κατατάξει στο επίπεδο των σκηνικών σχολικής παράστασης. Η αλήθεια είναι όμως ότι συγκεντρώνουν ανεπανάληπτο και σπάνιο συμβολισμό μαζί με υψηλή τεχνική: στην κυρία Κλαρκ ο Χόκνεϊ αποδίδει στο πρόσωπό της, τη σκιά της Τζοκόντας. Για τον Χόκνεϊ η εναλλαγή φωτός και σκιάς στο πρόσωπο της Μόνα Λίζα είναι από τα στοιχεία που τον καθιστούν υποδειγματικό έργο τέχνης. Η σκιά είναι αυτή που φτιάχνει το αινιγματικό χαμόγελο της Τζοκόντας.
Ιδιοφυΐα, σθένος και αισιοδοξία
Το 1973 ο Χόκνεϊ πρωταγωνιστεί στην ταινία ABiggerSplash, ένα φιλμ στα όρια του ντοκιμαντέρ. Σ’ αυτό ο Χόκνεϊ αφηγείται την ιστορία του χωρισμού του από τον σύντροφό του Peter Schlesinger, ενώ ο πόνος και η θλίψη τον έχουν σχεδόν παραλύσει. Αντί να «ξεγελάσει» τη θλίψη του δουλεύοντας ή βγαίνοντας διαρκώς στα μπαρ, αποφασίζει να πενθήσει τη σχέση του και να μας αφηγηθεί στιγμιότυπα αυτής. Η συναισθηματική αφήγηση της προσωπικής ιστορίας του, έρχεται σε αντίθεση με την έλλειψη αφήγησης στα έργα του. Νιώθει να ασφυκτιά με τη στατικότητα, με τη σταθερή οπτική γωνία παρουσίασης των θεμάτων του και εν τέλει με την ψευδαίσθηση του ρεαλισμού στη ζωγραφική, συνθήκη που σύμφωνα με τον Χόκνεϊ δεν επιτρέπει στην ιστορία να προχωρήσει μέσα στον χρόνο.
Φιλοδοξώντας να απαλλαγεί από τον περιορισμό των τριών διαστάσεων, ανακάλυψε μια «αιμομικτική» σχέση μεταξύ ζωγραφικής και ενός είδους φωτογραφίας, που υπήρχε από την Αναγέννηση, κι έτσι αποφάσισε κι αυτός να «ζωγραφίσει» με μια φωτογραφική μηχανή. Πηγαίνει στην έρημο Μοχάβι όπου χρησιμοποιεί 650 ρολά φιλμ και φωτογραφίζει ένα σταυροδρόμι από χιλιάδες διαφορετικές οπτικές γωνιές. Έπειτα, κόβει και κολλάει τις φωτογραφίες, τις συρράπτει (τα περίφημα “joiners”), με αποτέλεσμα να δημιουργήσει μια εικόνα που όταν την κοιτάς νιώθεις ότι βλέπεις το τοπίο, όπως θα το έβλεπες εάν οδηγούσες μέσα στην έρημο (“Pearblossom Hwy.,” – 1986). Από εκείνη τη στιγμή σταματά να χρησιμοποιεί τις λέξεις «ζωγραφική» και «φωτογραφία» και αρχίζει να μιλά για «εικόνες».
Έπειτα από την έρημο, τα πάντα για τον Χόκνεϊ είχαν να κάνουν με το πώς τα μάτια μας κινούνται μέσα στον χωροχρόνο. Όταν χαζεύουμε ένα παρκαρισμένο αυτοκίνητο, το κοιτάμε γύρω-γύρω, από διαφορετικές γωνιές. Η αποτύπωση αυτών των «στιγμών» των ματιών μας –στο καπό, στα φανάρια, στα λάστιχα κ.λπ.–, είναι μια μορφή κυβισμού. Στο έργο “Larger Interior” (1988), είμαστε στο σπίτι του καλλιτέχνη στα Hollywood Hills, μέσα από δεκάδες διαφορετικές γωνιές, σαν να περπατάμε από την καρέκλα προς το τζάκι ή από το τζάκι προς στη βεράντα. Βλέπουμε μικρούς Picasso παντού.
Ο κυβισμός και οι πολλαπλές διαστάσεις του του γίνονται τρόπος ζωής. Οδηγώντας με φίλους στην Καλιφόρνια «χορογραφεί» κρυφά τη διαδρομή. Κανονίζει ώστε στροφές με αποκαλυπτική θέα προς τη θάλασσα να συμπέσουν με δραματικά σημεία στη μουσική του Wagner στο κασετόφωνο του αυτοκίνητου. Είναι η περίοδος που πηγαίνει όλο και πιο συχνά σε κηδείες φίλων του, που έχασαν τη μάχη με το AIDS. Όλα αυτά θα περάσουν και στα έργα του και κάπως έτσι οι γωνίες στις εικόνες του θα μαλακώσουν σε καμπύλες και θα γίνουν στροφές
Στις αρχές του 2000 επιστρέφει στην Αγγλία και φτιάχνει μεγαλύτερα έργα που είναι γεμάτα ηρεμία και σιγουριά (“A Closer Winter Tunnel” – 2006, “Bigger Trees Near Warter” – 2007, με διαστάσεις 4,5 x 12 μέτρα). Τους δίνει μόνο μια οπτική γωνία, αλλά τα κάδρα είναι τόσο μεγάλα, ώστε αυτός που τα κοιτάζει γίνεται η φιγούρα μέσα στους πίνακες. Πειραματίζεται ασταμάτητα με τεχνολογίες και τον ενδιαφέρει η ζωγραφική που δεν έχει ούτε χαρτί ούτε μπογιά, η ζωγραφική που «δεν υπάρχει», γι’ αυτόν, που γίνεται πάνω σε οθόνες – από το πρώτο Quantel Paintbox, 30 χρόνια πριν, μέχρι το τελευταίο iPhone και iPad.
Στην ένατη δεκαετία της ζωής του ο Ντέιβιντ Χόκνεϊ δουλεύει ασταμάτητα. Η πιο παραγωγική ώρα της ημέρας του είναι πριν σηκωθεί από το κρεβάτι, μεταξύ ύπνου και ξύπνιου. Κοιτάζει έξω από το παράθυρο και ζωγραφίζει με τις animation επιλογές του τηλεφώνου του πάνω σε ό,τι βλέπει η κάμερα. «Όταν δουλεύω νιώθω 30 χρόνων» λέει. «Αγαπώ τη ζωή».
An Affair With a Love Letter, ‘Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold’
May 24, 2020
KATHIMERINI. Writer Calvin Trillin said, “Among all the married couples I knew, they were the ones who were almost always together.” This was a Reagan-couple signature trait. Under the cautionary tale prism, and again ironically, Didion crossed swords with Nancy Reagan (someone portrayed as a distant and contentious mother by her daughter) when Didion described the Reagans’ abode in “The White Album,” “it is the kind of house that has a wet bar in the living room,” wrote Didion in 1977. Such associations can cast some skepticism on the cautionary tale position.
US-based Greek writer Ioannis Pappos dives into the highly anticipated and recently launched documentary, “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold,” and discusses with its creator, actor and director Griffin Dunne, this “love letter” to his “Aunt Joan,” how was it growing up within such a zeitgeist-influencing family, and the world today through those Didion dark glasses.
Ioannis Pappos for eKathimerini:
With more than 50 years’ worth of essays, novels, screenplays and criticism, Joan Didion has been the premier chronicler of the ebb and flow of America’s cultural and political tides with observations on upheavals, downturns, life changes and states of mind in epoch-making books, including “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” “Play It as It Lays” and “The White Album.” She wrote about her reckoning with grief after her husband’s death, writer John Gregory Dunne, in “The Year of Magical Thinking” (winner of the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction), and the death of their daughter Quintana Roo, in “Blue Nights.”
Ten minutes into “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” (Netflix) and the viewer already has the key influencers to the character shaping of the film’s subject: Didion’s ancestors’ rough settling roots in Sacramento, California, her subconscious hold on the Donner party (in her first essay, age 5, her heroine dies of cold and/or heat), her real and figurative fear of snakes, her longing for a John Wayne type protector (a figure that will show up as an imaginary husband in her work) as well as an elusive yearning for a Wayne-like American morality.
The film follows Didion’s life as she moves east, into the excess and the literary wannabe circuits of New York City. Then back to California, this time Los Angeles, during the disorder of the late 60s, which turns, as often disorder does, into dystopia in the early 70s. In a possible attempt to cope with the macro-meltdown there is focus on the micro, on some shield from the atomization of society (one of the words Didion uses to depict the era) that is loosely associated with the family’s (Joan, her husband writer John Dunne, and their daughter Quintana) move back to New York.
A human and universal arc, under Dunne’s direction, effortlessly connects the dots between Didion’s work and life milestones. For anyone even remotely familiar with her essays and novels – where her theses are marked with immense precision along juxtaposing, negotiating and even contradicting dimensions – the eloquent silhouette of personal circumstances in “The Center Will Not Hold” is reason enough to watch.
Aesthetically, the film, like its protagonist, is of mesmerizing balance. It mixes scenes of a lost America with a recently interviewed Didion (82), by Dunne, at her respect-commanding yet comfortable Upper East Side apartment. It is a home that allows you to think clearly but does not let you get lost in the deep end; neither the sofas and cashmeres, nor the books behind (there are no surprises in the library) one up Didion.
The outdoors footage shadows Didion’s perceptive observations that have helped her connect illness with sky-colors and nuclear reactors (in “Blue Nights”), and, balance again, the cohabitation of her love and fear of nature. While we see a Hitchcock inspired ocean-looking cliff at Portuguese Bend, she voiceovers how her husband chaperoned her in swimming to a cave near their first home in California: “The tide had to be just right. And you had to be in the water at the very moment the tide changed. We had to be in the water the very moment the tide was right. Each time we did it I was afraid of missing the swell, hanging back, timing it wrong. He never was. You had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He told me that.”
Naturally, the viewer can’t help but crave resolutions in a few of the endless Didion enigmas: insider vs outsider (or both, and how), strength vs vulnerability and, more important, or perhaps most debated, empathy vs detachment. Dunne, who in our discussion avoided the term documentary (he kept referring to his feature as a film or a movie), is the first to acknowledge that this is a family affair. A “love letter,” he told The New York Times. “If I was a more dispassionate, regular documentarian, there would be questions on the clipboard.”
Still, Dunne’s footage and interviews deliver insights. “I don’t know what ‘fall in love’ means,” Didion offers when she discusses her decision to marry John Dunne – Griffin’s uncle. “It’s not part of my world.” Or, “Maria [the famously detached main character in her novel “Play It as It Lays”] was quite a bit of myself,” Didion admits. “The day would start with John getting up and building a fire, and making breakfast for Quintana, and taking her to school. Then I would get up, have a Coca-Cola, and start work. Everybody had their own thing,” Didion demi-rationalizes a somewhat atomized family; this time her own. ‘It was not the way you think of Malibu. It was very out there… It was very Joan,” Amy Robinson, film producer and friend, comments as she describes the atmosphere at the Dunne-Didion Laurel Canyon-in-spirit-but-in-Malibu beach house.
Carefully, if not tenderly, Dunne gets in a few more personal questions. “What was it like to be a journalist in the room when you saw the little kid on acid?” Dunne asked his aunt – part of Didion’s coverage of the Haight-Ashbury hippie movement in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” the book of essays that made Didion a voice.
The first thing you register is that Didion replies with her hands. Not since Jessica Lange had someone used her hands more to speak on screen. The difference is that Lange’s hands turn inwards, towards her face, touching her mouth, giving her some cover or reassurance to complete an argument. Didion’s hands do the opposite. They reach out towards her audience; they bridge, complete her argument, aid in convincing, play with the dimmer-switch on the empathy vs detachment scale, and make up for any gap in her chosen words, or for words missing. They close the deal. “Let me tell you, it was gold,” she says, delivering her latest (already famous) quote. “That’s the long and the short of it is. You live for moments like this, if you are doing a piece.”
Her answer has already created controversy. Reviewers counted the seconds (seven) that it took her to speak, the spot where her eyes rested, the suggestion of a smile. There has been speculation of image-building, and criticism for her matter-of-fact, uncontextualized, unapologetic, I-was-there-doing-my-job response; without the so-others-can-do-theirs disclaimer. Maybe. But there is a footnote. What most viewers, and reviewers, failed to notice, or acknowledge, is a second pause (this time for three seconds) before she adds: “Good or bad.” This is her nod beyond the apparent setting.
Dunne tells me: “When she has a moment like: ‘that’s gold,’ yes, journalistically, that is. But it supports her thesis about the disillusion of families, the center not holding in American society, the death of the Eisenhower years, and going into what she saw before many others, a very dark time. That was written even before Bobby Kennedy was killed, when drugs were glamorized, and everybody thought about hippies, you know, they had their headbands, peace signs and everything was groovy. There is nobody out there writing like that. I think it is a great loss.”
The Haight-Ashbury child scene is so haunting that I cannot help but bring up an image of our own geopolitical disorder that turned the Aegean into a cemetery: Aylan Kurdi, the toddler whose body washed ashore on a Turkish beach. “That little boy on the beach, parallel image,” Dunne says, “A lot has been read about it, but there have been so many other terrible things, the little boy sitting from Syria, shell-shocked, there are images, but the outrage is so off the cuff, from the hip, that it dilutes the overall intent, you know, and it doesn’t have a lasting effect. A very common reaction has been a lament for the essay, for the deep thought, for the contemplative and the reflective train of thought about the world we live in. How many writers out there have written things from 50 years ago that people are still quoting today?”
Bob Silvers, the recently deceased head and founder of The New York Review of Books, who pushed Didion to cover international and domestic politics, found her “immensely knowledgeable, perceptive. A sharp observer.” Many of us learned to read what is behind a headline from Didion. I tell Dunne that this week, 10 years after the biggest financial meltdown, we are celebrating the launch of bitcoin derivatives (futures on a cryptocurrency not backed by any government whatsoever) as hedging opportunities, not as speculation. This same week, the pavements on Ninth Avenue in New York City were filled with tents, most of them occupied by paid line-sitters for the new $999 iPhone X. And just last week, a major Hollywood star responded to allegations of having sexually abused a 14-year-old, including: ‘and I choose now to live as a gay man.’ For the last one, I put my Didion hat on, and tell Dunne that – setting aside the lame and inappropriate association of homosexuality with pedophilia – he does not say: I am gay. Instead, he chooses now to live as a gay man. His words describe a choice. A lifestyle. Not an identity. Not homosexuality. Something almost political he is doing, something that perhaps he should be given credit for. I can see his aunt shredding this line to pieces.
Dunne: “Learning to read like that is really great, because when you learn to read you are learning that what The New York Times is saying is different from The New York Amsterdam News, in Harlem, you know, 50 blocks from where their headquarters are. The different messages, the different narratives, what politicians are trying to sell, and what they really mean, what their agenda is, and once you get into that rhythm of seeing how she sees the world, you cannot un-see it.”
See and un-see have been major paradigms in Didion’s work and life, and sorely soaked in heartbreaking irony. “We always had this theory that if you kept the snake in your eye line the snake wasn’t going to bite you,” Didion says in the film. Part of her interest in social, family, and personal disorder was a protection mechanism: “I, myself, have always found that if I examine something, it’s less scary.” Fair enough. But the snake finally bit Didion. Her daughter, Quintana, who fell dangerously ill right before Didion lost her husband, John Dunne, to heart failure, passed on a year and a half later, at age 39.
“As I was researching,” Dunne tells me, “I was really struck by something I hadn’t been before, which was of the mother-daughter relationships that are consistent throughout her novels, and sometimes in her non-fiction, of a mother who has a very troubled daughter or a handicapped daughter, or a fugitive radicalized daughter, and that she had been running away, on a subconscious level, from the inevitable, as if, she says at some point, the cautionary tale. As if we have control over these things. She ended up writing, charting the disorder, the mayhem in other lives, and she is still with us, she is iconic, legendary and every one of those adjectives, because she did not spare herself when it was her time, she turned the lens on herself, to understand disorder and mayhem and grief. A remarkably brave thing to do.”
In “The Center Will Not Hold,” Didion discloses that Quintana found her “a little remote” as a mother. Didion was concerned about her daughter. What was it you were concerned about? Dunne asks her in the film. “I was concerned because she was drinking too much. That was… the first concern.” What about the rest? There has been criticism of little straight questioning from Dunne to Didion here. Correct and largely expected. But look carefully, and Dunne has allowed footage and interviews (albeit with friends) to do some revealing of the footsteps there. Friends remember Didion coming to her kitchen in the mornings with dark glasses on – no talking. In two of the most seminal photos of the family, one in their living room, the other on the patio, one can easily detect a body language gravitational division between Didion, on one side, and John and Quintana, on the other. During his interview, writer Calvin Trillin says, “Among all the married couples I knew, they were the ones who were almost always together.” This was a Reagan-couple signature trait. Under the cautionary tale prism, and again ironically, Didion crossed swords with Nancy Reagan (someone portrayed as a distant and contentious mother by her daughter) when Didion described the Reagans’ abode in “The White Album,” “it is the kind of house that has a wet bar in the living room,” wrote Didion in 1977. Such associations can cast some skepticism on the cautionary tale position: Could Didion have been picking up some familiar weaknesses in her subjects?
John and Joan had clout, and so did Griffin’s father, Dominick Dunne (John’s brother), who was a film producer, journalist and author of many books. I ask Griffin how did he survive (thrive really) in that era, with the weight of the generation just before him? “I thought about that a lot,” Dunne says, “and I’ve always believed that one generation has a very powerful impact on the future of the next, either negative or positive. And then some of it of course is just genetics. I grew up in a household that, you know, the parents were very very unhappy and pretended they weren’t, so there was a great deal of pretense, that was shaken with their divorce, but the true tragedy was, you know, they lost their daughter, my sister. Particularly on the Dunne side there was suicide and plane crashes, and a world of woe. John and Joan were always there the next morning, to offer their support, to whose ever family had been affected. And they were there, they didn’t leave. They would do the groundwork to make sure who would be invited to [the funeral], who knew about the death, what the funeral was, who would do it. They would always be with Quintana and I remember thinking: Well, tragedy is never going to touch them. I didn’t mean that in an envious way but they just struck me like, well, they are going to be spared all this. Because, you know, if so much had happened in their immediate nuclear families around them, that the odds are so much in their favor. And, well, I could not have been more wrong.”
With Dunne’s prompt, Didion recognizes that writing “Blue Nights” (the book she wrote about her daughter Quintana, after she died) was quite a different experience creatively, but she stops there. It is up to Dunne’s editing and ordering of the remaining scenes and quotes to suggest some insight on why “she did not spare herself when it was her time, she turned the lens on herself.” The two most potent lines that Dunne chooses for the end of the film are: “Yet there is no day in her life that I still do not see her” (from a prose poem in “Blue Nights”) and, the very last line, “Remember what it is to be me, that is always the point.” This order turns the film’s arc into a circle. “Remember what it is to be me, that is always the point” is the portal that takes the viewer back to the John Wayne America, to a character era, not a personality era (John was the personality, Joan the character), and to an early piece she wrote for Vogue about self-respect during her first job. I tell Dunne that thanks to his film, years from now, people may understand Didion better through that pivotal piece at Vogue, of all the places she worked.
Dunne: “‘On Self-Respect,’ that essay, is in there because, as you know, it came under deadline, she came up, and just pulled an all-nighter, and wrote how to live with yourself. By a 23-year-old. And why it’s there, and why it fascinates me is that the woman, the girl who wrote that is the same woman whom I interviewed. That essay, that work ethic, taking responsibility, not taking short cuts in life, diving into the things that are painful to look at in yourself, or at the world around you, the girl who wrote that is the woman, has not changed at all. That is very interesting to me. She is fortunate to have a perspective and a survival with a self-reliance to know that her writing will keep her sane. She doesn’t write for results; she doesn’t write for ‘this is a book that will bring comfort to others as well,’ or ‘this is in my canon of work,’ or any of that. But I think she knows enough about herself, I think she understands her own character, I think she understands her own strength, and if she has weaknesses I think she has the strength to write about them and make them public.”
First Class and Homeless: On the Rootless Life of the Boutique Hotel Set
May 23, 2020
To paraphrase Sigrid Rausing’s point in GRANTA, on the difference between the world as we see it and the world as it actually is, in hotel living perception becomes reality, the map is the territory. Or, at least, it was. When you live in hotels, you change. There are no rules. Or at least, fewer of them than we live by in our everyday lives. You become part of an illusion.
“I spent what seemed to many people I knew an eccentric amount of
time in Honolulu, the particular aspect of which lent me the illusion that I
could any minute order from room service a revisionist theory of my own
history, garnished with a Vanda orchid.” –Joan Didion, The White Album
When you live in hotels, you change. There are no rules. Or at least, fewer of them than we live by in our everyday lives. Things can appear and disappear as if by magic, beyond traditional service or privilege. You become part of an illusion. To paraphrase Sigrid Rausing’s point in GRANTA, on the difference between the world as we see it and the world as it actually is, in hotel living perception becomes reality, the map is the territory. Or, at least, it was.
During the last two decades, hotels have begun competing with
clubs and restaurants to shape urban nightlife. They’ve become a home for
lounges and high-end comfort-food restaurants, some truly fascinating. The
Breslin at the ACE is a first-class but home-cooked-feeling pub. The view from
the Lautner-esque Top of the Standard in New York is stunning. The zigzag
stride through the basements of the Maritime to the (now closed) Hiro Club
offered a Scorsese-esque Goodfellas moment. And now
nightlife culture is imitating that of hotels: Little Italy’s James
Bond-inspired Gold Bar was designed to emulate a hotel lounge.
While working in management consulting, I lived in hotels that had
nothing to do with any of that. Unlike Ian Schrager’s revolution, which turned
South Beach into a testosterone-infused theme park, or iconic time-capsules
like The Pierre and The Waldorf, the properties I stayed at were defined
by a decades-long evolution of architecture, decoration, and service. The
Lancaster in Paris has undergone a steady, subtle, and diverse
transformation: a courtyard anchored by a fountain and filled with teak
furniture merges 1930s lilac and French flea market porphyre with oriental
interiors. The Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles is a similar web of peripatetic
illusion: the bathrooms in its gothic main building feature mid-century,
peach-hued sinks and tubs. Only a humble door separates pastoral,
wooden-floored cottages and English country gardens from the Southern
Californian jungle that surrounds the pool, inviting you to step uphill and
into its 1960s modernist bungalows. When attention has been paid to linking
different eras and styles, there can be continuity within eclecticism. Of
course—let’s be frank—these are places of luxury, but continuity is not always
bound to budget. Whether it is a five-star property or Lucia’s old, gas
station-homey lodge in Big Sur, as long as a hotel is experimenting at a
thoughtful, sustainable pace it can be true to its own arc. Such careful
curation creates a functional theatricality that draws both artists and
beyond sheer Earnings-Per-Share-obsessed business executives as long-term
guests—or “residents,” as the staff called us.
My hotel living softened the way I saw the world, more so than I realized at the time. And I was not alone in being tempered in this way. I was a member of the white-collar tribe of nomads, SVPs and Junior Partners (who hadn’t made it to the top yet, did not own flats around the world yet) that kept running into one another in these homes-away-from-home, socializing and sharing war stories. It was a club with no written rules. There was no policy dictating who could and could not access the premises to mingle. The main courts, the pools, and the lounges were for residents and for the “hotel’s close friends.” Our self-exiled pedigrees positioned us within the circle. It was a camaraderie based on continuity and discretion.
Soon, our entrepreneurial curiosity (that perpetual search for the lateral thought, for that aha-silence that follows an executive’s simple, yet profound, comment about a completely different discipline to his or her sector), or maybe the long-repressed wish for more imagination in our lives, led us to the “creatives,” the film producers and directors who lived alongside us in the properties. Their ability to mix fact with fiction, blur the line between real and surreal—again, another form of continuity—fascinated me. The calmness with which they conceived of utterly unstructured ventures—gliding through plans A, B, and C, changing themes or genres based on film actors’ availabilities and budgets—pushed me to look at my tightly constrained projects freely and imaginatively. My recommendations to Fortune 500 clients became more organic, evolving along an innovation axis, as opposed to the traditional advice about aggressive investments on disintermediation and blowing up of established value-chains. I adopted my new friends’ cinematic vision. I built virtual “infinite rooms” of investment assessment methodologies: from modern portfolio theory to game theory, to optionality to what I called “Blicision analysis,” which married Decision Analysis with Malcom Gladwell’s premise in Blink. I began my own arc. And, most importantly, I started questioning my own attitude toward risk.
“My son was born here,” an avant-garde, but
still studio, director told me over a glass of wine in a hotel garden. “We
lived here with my first wife at the time. It’s the only hotel I stay at in
“You can smoke on the premises,” I said, nodding as he lit.
“Right?” he said happily. “A waiter chased me
down the street like I had left without paying when I had a cigarette outside a
restaurant in San Francisco…”
“I am Greek. I grew up with smokers.”
smiled. “I was very young when I visited your country. I was figuring things
you did!” I said with a grin. He had, at least at the box office.
moment of awkward silence followed. Then I told him something that I thought
Gore Vidal had said: People truly relax at dinner parties only when they start
talking about movies. I asked him what the equivalent topic was within the
shook his head. “People don’t talk about movies anymore. There is no common
ground. So much out there. In the 1990s you probably went to a theater five
times a year? Now with streaming, downloading, on demand… so-and-so TV… I can’t
what do people talk about? What breaks the ice today?”
I don’t know, the Kardashians…” he said, and paused. “And books,” he added.
“Inequality is everywhere including intelligence. People talk about celebrities
and rediscover literature.”
sense of stagnation, of rootlessness, at once choked and liberated me. I had to
change. That very night, I started a diary. “I’m homeless but first class,” was
my first sentence.
Dear Reader – Alexander Chee-Curated Series of Letters
May 22, 2020
ten years of my life I moved around Greece and believed in ghosts. The line between the present and the
legend was crossed daily. My aunts and grandmothers
baked wheat for the dead, and placed food at cemeteries to nourish the spirits.
They bought shoes for mummified saints who would wear them out and every
year, at their name-day, needed replacement. They
made stockings to please Kallikantzaroi, ancient demons during the holidays.
All semireligious rituals from pre-Byzantine
times that the Greek Orthodox Church had licensed in, or looked the other way;
breaking rules through small paganistic allowances, kept the regime going. Feed
a bit of forbidden behavior, just, and you rule it.
that world when I moved to California, but never forgot about it. My Greece
stories flickering by then, diminished to anecdotes over Pinot Noir
dinners in Menlo Park and West Hollywood with metaphysical charlatans who used
entanglement and cosmic inflation to flirt and convince me that what I cannot
see doesn’t mean that it’s not there. But when I started hotel living—I spent
years in hotels as a management consultant—ghosts slowly reentered my life.
Cute, at first, the staff showed me the room that Oscar Wilde preferred
at The Lancaster, or gave me the tour of the suite Marlene Dietrich lived
during her late years in Paris, Please don’t touch anything, she hates it when
guests move her lilac chairs. She does?
She walks around at nights. We have footage! I want
to see that. Oh, don’t sign John Belushi for
the room service at the bungalow, it’s gotten old, he gets angry. The maître d? No, John! Folksy. But who cares, I
went ahead and signed J.B. anyway.
And then a ghost found me. I opened my eyes to the light from the New York snow invading my room. It was Sunday. Showered, threw on my gym clothes and went down to the lobby to get the first espresso of the day, where I met him. It. Was in a white wool suit, in February. Slim, youthful, but with a lived, Mick Jagger face. Looked at me and I shivered. We were alone at the counter, and I smiled nervously. He asked me if I still go to church like I used to. I paused, not sure for how long I stared. I have not been for a while, I finally said, and reached for my espresso, took a sip, to make things normal again. And he was gone.
Curated by Alexander Chee.
Peter Hujar: Ο Φωτογράφος Μιας Πόλης Που Φλέγεται
May 21, 2020
ΚΑΘΗΜΕΡΙΝΗ ΤΗΣ ΚΥΡΙΑΚΗΣ–ΝΕΑ ΥΟΡΚΗ–MORGAN LIBRARY. Ορισμένες εποχές είναι τόσο βαθιά ταραγμένες, που ο χρόνος είναι απόλυτα ταυτισμένος με τον χώρο: το Βερολίνο κατά τη δεκαετία του 1930, η Καλιφόρνια τη δεκαετία του ’60. Κάπως ανάλογα, από τα μέσα τις δεκαετίας του 1970 έως τις αρχές τις δεκαετίας του ’80 –με τη μάχη για πολιτικά δικαιώματα κερδισμένη και τη σεξουαλική απελευθέρωση να καλπάζει, πριν από το έιτζ και τον πουριτανισμό του ’80– η Νέα Υόρκη φλεγόταν.
Η ανεξέλεγκτη κρίση και η εγκληματικότητα της πόλης αποτυπώνονται στο πρωτοσέλιδο της Daily News το 1975, «Ο Φορντ προς την Πόλη: Ψόφα» («Ford To City: Drop Dead»), όταν ο Αμερικανός πρόεδρος αρνήθηκε να βοηθήσει τη Νέα Υόρκη που κινδύνευε με χρεοκοπία. Σε αυτό το διάστημα, ’75-’82, το Μανχάταν έζησε τα πιο ριψοκίνδυνα κοινωνικά και καλλιτεχνικά χρόνια. Κανένας φωτογράφος δεν κατέγραψε καλύτερα αυτόν τον παροξυσμό από τον Πίτερ Χιούζαρ (1934-1987).
Τα έργα του είναι γροθιά και γεμάτα από μια ενσυναίσθηση. Εγκαταλελειμμένα σπίτια και μεταχειρισμένα, ταλαιπωρημένα αυτοκίνητα, είναι σα να σου ψιθυρίζουν πως όλοι κάπου, κάπως είμαστε βρώμικοι. Σκουπίδια υπήρχαν και θα υπάρχουν πάντα. Αλλα μέσα σε αυτή τη βρωμιά υπάρχει και η απαραίτητη τραγικωμωδία, που είναι οξυγόνο για να ζήσουμε. Τα παιδιά δεν χαμογελούν (τα μάτια του Τζον Μακέλαν, βρέφους, δείχνουν εξωγήινα, δαιμονισμένα), τα βλέμματα είναι προφητικά, λες και περιμένουν την πολιτική ανορθότητα που έρχεται με την κουλτούρα του ’80, το στίγμα του έιτζ, την ντροπή, και για πολλούς, το τέλος.
Seen—Not Seen: Glass Closets Rarely Just Open. More Often, They Crack, Smash, and Cut
May 20, 2020
Respect our history, we are not Americans, the pseudo-intellectuals claim. “We don’t come out the way you do. In Greece we keep bringing our partners to family events until relatives finally ask: ‘Is George coming to Easter lunch? I need to know for the seating.’” There. Simple. Once underway, you acclimate. You are finally dating a Greek, in Greece, and you are in love. So you make pretexts. Why fight with pluralism?
“What time are you leaving?” my Greek boyfriend asked me. “Because my sister is coming at 7 a.m. tomorrow.” I veiled my Seriously? face with a “6:55” jest. This was an exchange between two middle-aged men—a fact that makes the use of the word “boyfriend” problematic. Manfriend, maybe? Partner? But we didn’t have a partnership. That would require a commitment between two parties as witnessed by—or at least in relation to—other, third parties. We did not have that, or not exactly. Although I had been out for 20 years, my friend had been living his adult life in a glass closet. Everyone could see that he was gay, but neither he nor anyone else would publicly acknowledge his sexuality.
In places where gay rights are not on a par with human rights, glass closets are often justified as a necessary mezzanine. They are even portrayed as progress. Greece, the Baccarat of fine glass closets, with all its cultural centers and beach-cleaning charities, offers an extra clout of social respect to the officially not-out gay men from affluent suburbs. Our society is not ready for more, you hear in Athens. Being able to go to gay bars with friends is a huge step, locals argue. Respect our history, we are not Americans, the pseudo-intellectuals claim. “We don’t come out the way you do. In Greece we keep bringing our partners to family events until relatives finally ask: ‘Is George coming to Easter lunch? I need to know for the seating.’” There. Simple. Once underway, you acclimate. You are finally dating a Greek, in Greece, and you are in love. So you make pretexts. Why fight with pluralism?
There was a circle of friends around us. We went to parties where I was warned that some knew, and some did not. How can they not? “Well, they may speculate.” And I was told that certain co-workers’ birthday dinners were off-limits. I complied. I was a good boyfriend, manfriend, whatever. It was only a matter of time, I thought. At a weekend getaway at my family’s country house on the beach, his mother called. Why was he in Northern Greece again, she asked him. Did he have a girlfriend there? He never had a girlfriend, ever, nor pretended that he did. “This is her way of asking me if I have a boyfriend,” he told me fondly. Her way of telling him that she cared. What he was failing to see, or admit, was that his mother was fortifying her boundaries. By stating “girlfriend” versus “someone,” she was asserting that she would not stomach a non-hetero glossary in case something of substance was in the works.