Monday, February 28, 2011

The LGBT Center of New York: A Limited Understanding of Liberation

Text of my letter to Glennda Testone, Director of the LGBT Center of New York, February 24, 2011:
I write as a 70-year-old Jewish lesbian activist to tell you that I am very sorry that the Center gave in to those who label all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. To critique Zionism as a form of extreme nationalism is not anti-Semitic; it is a valid analytical response to a nation state that acts with great power in its part of the world. The Center has tragically failed in its mission by this censoring of queer people who want to announce their position on a social injustice that affects other gay people in another part of the world. I am as you may know, co-founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, author, teacher and part of the New York activist scene for many years. [What I should have said here, the one thing I am not, is wealthy.] Many like me would have stood with you if you had not given in to this bullying. Now you are just another place where courage failed.
                                                                Joan Nestle

At the Brighton Conference, I attended a session where two women spoke about the need for intersectionality when looking at LGBT history and issues. Here is a perfect example of that fancy word. When Michael Lucas literally got on his high horse and called in his gay chips--do this or I will issue a call to my influential friends to cut off their donations to the Center--he stood at the intersection of two identities, Jewish and queer and enacted them as if one was the same as the other--support Israel and you are a good gay person, support the right of a group with many gay and Jewish people in it to educate about the B,D and S of Israel movement, you are a bad gay person, to be exiled from the community home. The further irony is of course that he threatened a boycott of the center for its allowing such a group to use its facilities--boycott is ok for him, but not for other forms of political action. In his congratulatory letter, he crows of his victory: "It took only 8 hours to accomplish our mission" and thanks people for showing their support of Israel. Jewish gay people stand at yet another cross roads, another intersection. We will be and have been called anti-Semites because we believe Israel's occupation is unjust, its treatment of both Arab citizens within its borders and in Gaza and the West Bank, its support of the internationally declared illegal Settlement Movement are crimes against humanity, that racism is a basic underpinning of the national thinking and social policies of Israel--as many in Israel also believe-- and we are queer and want to meet at our queer public home, we want to educate about a movement to unsettle this regime, much like we did in our anti-apartheid campaign against South Africa. Again, we are not Jewish enough, not queer enough to be allowed to do this.

I want to add another moment of intersection for me. Some in anger at the actions and assumptions of Michael Lucas have prefaced his name with "pornographer" Lucas. I reject this. For so many years, I have tried to talk about what it meant to be a lesbian from the 50s, what it meant to be a pornographic non-citizen for that is how we were seen. Pornography or public sexual images is a complex subject for gay people. That Lucas publishes sexually explicit images is not his failure here. And another irony, one of the libels against Jews for many many years and well into the Nazi period was that we were all pornographers, that we were the obscene people. Again, a moment of intersectionality. Simplistic thinking or name calling does no one any good. It is hard to stand at a place where identities or images of ourselves meet--many times going off in opposite directions, it is hard to think about the richness of our many histories and where they take us and where they leave us and what kind of present do we want to make of this all. It is hard, but oh so fully human.

Judith Butler has written a brilliant reply to the director and to the community at large and more and more of us Jewish and other queers I hope will stand at this intersection and try to see what this all means--the play of wealth, the demand for one view of a complex issue, the fear to take on dissension by one of our only major public institutions that we all have supported through the years. The rainbow is shattered.  Fear and panic will do this every time. I suggest to the Director that a public meeting be called to look this dilemma full in the face, that Lucas attend and the members of the Smash Apartheid group attend and let us see who are we now in this February of 2011--what does the word queer or lesbian or gay or transgender mean or does not. For now.  

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Welcome to Buckle and Thistle, #1

"Good morning, Thistle."
"Good morning, Buckle. Where are you off to looking so bright?"
"Thank you Thistle," hitching up his pants. "Oh what a day, what a day."
"Yes, Buckle, the sun is shining, almost as rare as seening you well dressed."
 "Thank you Thistle," Buckle beams. "I am off to an important rally in
Trafalagar Square
"Really, Buckle—I am proud of you. I know good things happen in old Trafalgar." 
"Yes, Thistle, we are gathering for world peace." Another hitch of his pants. "The world is in a terrible state, you know Thistle.
"Good on you, Buckle."
Buckle starts to strut away. "Wait a minute, Buckle, what is that sticking out of your back pocket?"
"Oh just a piece of paper."
"Looks like quite a formal piece of paper for you, Buckle. I know you, Buckle, what is this all about."
"I met a new mate in the pub last night..."
"Oh no, Buckle, oh no—"
"It’s alright, Thistle—in fact I am doing my global duty."
"Your global duty, Buckle—that sounds high and mighty."
"You would have liked him, Thistle. He was very well dressed and drinking a good brand of Scotch."
Thistle shakes his head
"I told him I was going to see the PM at Trafalgar Square today and he asked me if I would give him this envelope, the PM, he told me in a very low voice, was a very good friend of his."
"How much had you drunk, Buckle?"
"Now Thistle, just a drop."
"Oh Buckle, you better give me that envelope."
"Here it is, Thistle, but I have to be on my way, Peace waits for no man, Thistle—"
Thistle opens up the envelope. "Oh Buckle, do you know what this is?"
"No Thistle, a gentleman never reads his friends mail."
"It's a shopping list."
"A shopping list for the PM—tomatoes, liver, kidneys-- I know he has a new cat."
"No, Buckle." Thistle begins to read: "300 heavily armored riot vans, 6000 tear gas canisters, 5,000 heavy machine guns, 2000 grenades." 
"No cabbages," says Buckle in a low voice.
Thistle tears up the formal document and throws the pieces into the gray London air.
"But Thistle, he was so well dressed." 

Note: I discovered BuckleThistle while listening to the reports of the scores of British soccer leagues. This team, now forever dear to me, plays in Clyesdale League, those wonderful dear big headed, big footed horses who used to .do the heavy work of rural farming. In the spirit of Langston Hughes' Jess B. Semple, I offer the voices of these two new friends.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

While Great Forces...

While great forces take on the nights of a crazed regime and another buckles the earth in the great curve of fire that sweeps from northern to the southern hemisphere, I walk slowly in the streets of Bloomsbury, the Guardian tucked under my arm so I can read of the foolishness of arms dealers going on peace missions. Not our fault, the exultant business men say, that the tears gas canisters and armed police vans, that the bullets and high powered rifles, the new old machine guns, are being used against peaceful protesters, we just sell, sell, sell: grown men holding portfolios of state play at the arms fair in Abu Dhabi, exchanging killing machines for wealth, part of Cameron's, the new Prime Minister here, glowing belief in prosperity and security as the two pillars of good governance. Money taken for almost anything, while huge cuts take the ground out from under the poor and the working poor, from single mothers and desperate youth with no jobs and the fees for education rising above their heads, and banks, the arrogant reckless ones, reap greater profits then ever while the people look to their counter parts in those dark streets for hope, for an idea of how to say no. I walk slowly, have cups of tea with an old dear friend in a small cafe around the corner from our flat, while great forces pour into the night and the earth buckles beneath us.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Janet's Poem

I met Janet at the Brighton Conference, as I have written. Bodies and their challenges were a main concern for both of us. We didn't have time for a long conversation, but Janet said she would send me some of her writings about her journey.

You know you've reached middle age
when you just don't come like you did in your twenties.

Younger friends bustle through their thirty something's with kids and houses
and friendships, solid with time and sharing, or so I dream for them.

I'm racing uphill empty handed,
No treasures or ties to carry proudly along
Careful cache in the dresser drawers and jeans pocket of my world.

Books of poetry sometimes call--you can't read your won--timeless teller of
your story--but I hear it well enough from the page.

If you had a daughter would it be me?
Wizened word-smith, speaking wisdom from the tree stumps of your water
retentive thighs.

My body like a bomb damaged building
water main pulsing gently into disfigured ground,

Back stairway to basements no longer passable,
no chance to leap the broken step,
too far-gone, a route I'll never scramble down again.

I'm in the old girl's club at last, fitting in, knowing the language, something that means something to say, my own fractured concrete that was and counts for something.

The route romantic pathways traversed, you can't get through, it would take a bulldozer to move that fallen tree and no point anyway, nothing down there to see, no need for that old line, a new bypass carved up the edges.

Freezing to death in the snow, lie still long enough not to know you can't move that leg any more.

Sometimes I do that in bed in the morning, 2 or 3 seconds of no sensation but warmth, before consciousness wades in.

The Courage in the Streets

"People here are actually articulating: 'They said we were divided, extreme, ignorant, fanatic--well here are: diverse, inclusive, hospitable, generous, sophisticated, creative and witty'....This enormous revolution that is happening in our streets and our homes is the Egyptian people reclaiming their state, their heritage, their voice, their personality. Be with us." Ahdaf Soueif, from "Protesters Reclaim the Spirit of Egypt," BBC News, 21/2/11

All we do here is against the backdrop of the forefront of the people's courage in the streets of Libya. In the morning after writing this, I turn on BBC news and see the flickering images of the protesters pushing forward in the darkness of night, flames lighting up the streets, the people surging forward, the sounds of gun shots, the cries of pain, history once again carried on the unarmed body against the armed state. Soueif's words makes me realize how the demonization of the Arabic collective self for so many years had become standard public discourse and how these collective dismissals of peoples is another kind of warfare, another face of tenacious colonizations, that eats into the soul, into the imagined possibilities of  peoples, of the young who must make a life out of the thin gruel of Western caricatures. I question myself--when I write about Israel and its population or about American Jews, I must never forget those who stand in opposition, the many groups formed to monitor and to intercede, to expose and announce the cruelties of the State, so effective that the Israeli government has launched a campaign to harass and eventually silence the Israeli human rights organizations in its midst. Out of the horrors of the Libyan nights of State violence, we must seize the other light, those bodies surging forward, many to their own death, demanding new air to  breath. Here in London, Libyan students climb to the balconies of the Libyan Embassy and tear down the old flag and fly a new one, unmolested by the embassy officials. How long before the UN steps in to end the killings? How long before all those States that have profited from the oil of Libya, shaking the hand of a madman, take the behind the scenes action to put an end to the suffering? Quick to embrace a dictator for profit, slow to embrace a people's dreaming, this is what makes for historical disgrace.

Last night two young women we met at the Brighton conference, one from Sydney, the other from New York, Astoria in her roots, come to our flat bearing flowers and home cooked lemon slices. We go across the street, the night soft but cold, to our Italian restaurant and talk and talk. La Professoressa has these glories of intergenerational exchanges every day because of her university life, but to me now they are the rare gifts of moving around the world. On the corner of Tavistock Place and Merchant Street, in the warmth of a neighborhood eating place, we talk of many things--the need to keep feminism alive in the romance with queerness, A. speaks of her love for the work of Adrienne Rich and I tell them stories of my encounters with the great poet, I can hear my voice, the voice of age, dusting off and offering my tales of other times, friendships that have become
historical. They lean into the table, beautiful lesbian women in their early 20s, far from homes as so many of the younger people I meet now are, working on their idea horde. A. is leaving for Sydney on the morrow, another year of separation, sadness marks their faces, but the ideas still pour forth. I think this is what is owed our young of all nations, the openness of change, of movement, of difference, freedoms of the heart and mind and good stories from a still living but more humble past.

I have tales to tell of my visit to the Treasure Room of the British Library and our visit to "Threads of Feeling," an exhibit at the Foundling Hospital, an exhibit growing out of the extreme histories of the poor women of London, prostitutes, servant girls, women who had been raped, women who brought their babies or young children to the gates of this two and half centuries old institution of social charity. From the catalog: "The charity has, from the beginning, endeavored to keep the fullest possible records of the children in its care. Its archive is consequently vast...Yet even in so large an archive it comes as a surprise to discover 5,000 small textile items dating from the middle decades of the 18th century, pinned to the registration documents that recorded the entry of each baby to the Hospital." Each child marked by a textile tag, most made by the mothers, using what scraps of fabric they had, some cut from the diaper or swaddling cloth, some mothers included a token woven into the fabric, a coin or a button, as their last touch, bits of fabric and ribbons, each different, each bearing the history of loss, of the economic realities of a woman's life and the history of the intimate relationship between textiles and human experience. Many women standing in front of the exhibits, the actual pages with the fabric tokens pinned into the corner, sometimes the ribbons falling over the hand written document, "girl, three months old," many 2011 women weeping in front of the letters of mothers explaining why so long ago in the grips of women's destitution, they had to relinquish their children: "Tommy, I will be back when I can,"; "Please keep Ruth on the breast."

When I am on the arm of my Red Head I can go any where. On Saturday night with Sue, our old friend here in London, we attended the Feminist Library Birthday Benefit, celebrating 35 years of archiving and activism--at the Round Chapel in Clapton. We met with an old friend from my 1988 trip here when Sheba Press brought out an edition of "A Restricted Country," Jean and joined the 200 plus women and men listening to women's music and readings. At the break, I was asked to address the group bringing the congratulations of the Lesbian Herstory Archives to this sister endeavor. As I moved through the packed room, women kept coming up to me, telling me of their visit to LHA in the years past, many to 13A. I had not known we had touched so many. Jean so kindly gave us a ride home through the late night streets, and as she stopped at the lights, she pointed to a bike, painted white, gleaming in the street lamp, leaning against a street railing, "that is a ghost bike, " she said, "marking where a bicyclist had died." A ghost bike, a city creating its own poetry out of its losses. Another kind of fabric.

AS I take leave of you today, and I want to thank all that read these words, my writing now is a lifeline for me, moving me beyond a failing body, I hear the news of the earthquake in New Zealand. The earth itself shaking itself loose. We send our thoughts to those suffering in what is now my part of the world, one of the parts of the world whose beauty I have been privileged to get know.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Shining Suit and More

Dearest Izzy, I did not mean to demean your suit--only to suggest in my writerly way that your life has not been easy but like your stubborn donkey, you refuse to give up the struggle for respect and more. You looked wonderful in your suit.

While there is much I want to say about our time here--and will--I must reflect on the courage of the people in the streets, the round abouts of Libya, Bahrain, Cairo still, Iran and in Gaza and the West Bank. The brutal hypocrisies of my first country, America, and much of the rest of the West, supporting the dictators and ruling families so its military bases and oil interest will be protected, while mouthing platitudes about democracy, chastising the political cultures of many Arab countries--so inferior to the "democratic" impulses of Israel, they say, while making sure the sufferings of the people are never addressed, and now the people have left these governments behind, taking to the streets with a courage the politicians of America have never shown, the people are out distancing all the back room deals and cynical handshakes, the trades of power for power, facing down the guns, the tanks so often supplied by American arms dealers. Convince the American people that Palestinians are barbaric, that Arabs do not understand the more developed political and cultural thinking of the West, and we can continue do whatever it takes to get from corrupt regimes what we need, continue to turn our backs on the desperate situation of the Palestinians and the national arrogances of Israel--this is the American way, and sadly, I say as a Jew, so many American Jews have applauded this cold blooded determination to leave a people to suffer decade after decade in the name of protecting "the only true democracy in the Middle East." Now this myth is crumbling; I sit here in our flat in London, and read that America cast the only vote against a Security Council censure of the Israeli Settlement movement and I think which is the backward culture--Obama and Clinton were supposed to be the best we could hope for in progressive American electoral politics and they do not have the desire or the courage to do what must be done. Behind them is the Tea Party madness, nothing better only worse. Courage is in the streets of towns and cities so many of us have never heard off, and in Washington cowardice and a terrible kind of moral and political stupidity struts its stuff. Empty pants for the future. The body, the real human body, willing to risk all to change history, walks down different streets.

You see I am tender about many things and I still feel the wonder of Brighton on my back; my anger is reserved for the mis use until death of political power, of national delight in tormenting those considered in the way of one hold on history, the self-serving one. Dearest Izzy and your beautiful lover, your suit shines with all the beauty of your lives.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"On Rereading 'Esther's Story'"--for Emma Donahue

From a "Fragile Union:" (1998)

I turned to touch her, but she took my hand away from her breast. "Be a good girl," she said...the words, the language of my people, floated through my head--untouchable, stone butch...
     Whenever I am applauded for having given over so much of my personal living space to house the Lesbian Herstory Archives in the first twenty years of its life, I answer quite truthfully that the archives has given me more than I ever gave it. In periods of illness, it provided endless small tasks that kept me stimulated and productive; the constant stream of materials kept me stimulated and productive; the constant stream of materials kept me current in a complex cultural discussion, and I found long-lasting friends among the many women who came to my home on a search for information or for self. One of the results of this constant interplay between my private life and a river of news and personalities was that I became comfortable with shifting perspectives; in fact, it almost seemed a given that whenever I was sure I knew the only answer to something, someone or some text would force me to rethink or to pull back from a sweeping generalization to arrive at a very specific particular. I thought I would lose all these gifts when the archives, like a daughter come of age, moved from my home to its own. But I was wrong.

In the first four years of life in the Park slope section of Brooklyn, the archives has made new friends, tow of whom are Chelsea Elisabeth Goodwin and her lover, Rusty Mae Moore, both transgendered women. I had spoken to Chelsea several times on the phone about transgender issues and she had sent me copies of several position papers she had written on the transgender struggle for civil rights recognition. I knew that Chelsea had been volunteering at the archives for some months, but I had not yet met her. Then one day, when I was giving a tour of the archives, I led my small group up to the second floor, where all the mail is processed. There, bending over the long table filled with newly arrived newsletters, was a very tall, very thin butch woman who turned to greet us. "Hi, I'm Chelsea," she said with a quick turn of her head.

"Finally we meet," I said, both curious and moved, as I often am when I see a new volunteer giving up her time to do the often tedious work the archives demands. As far as I knew, Chelsea was the first transgendered woman to work with the archives, and I knew she must have felt some trepidation about how she would be welcomed. The archives collective is made up of approximately twenty women who see the world from very different perspectives. While I knew there had been an ongoing discussion about how to define the word woman, the collective had sorted itself out and Chelsea's help was greatly appreciated. Before continuing my tour, I thank her for the material she had sent me and promised we would talk later. We did meet several times more after this first encounter--at speaking events and at archives open houses. More and more, Chelsea revealed herself to be a courtly and caring lover of women. At one archives event, she made a stirring speech about how older fem women such as her lover, Rusty, had brought great beauty into her life. At the close of the evening, she took leave of me by kissing the back of my hand. But still I did not know Chelsea, other than by the complexity of her choices: to be a woman, to love another transgendered woman, to identify herself as butch.

Our relationship deepened one hot summer day in the basement of the new archives. I joined Chelsea at the processing table, and together we waded through the never-ending stacks of periodicals. While we worked, we spoke about sex, about butch-fem relationships, and about the difficulties of organizing a marginalized group. Chelsea spoke as a committed activist who was struggling to keep the transgendered-transsexual movement dynamic and inclusive. She told me about her younger days as a street transsexual, when she was schooled in survival by Sylvia Rivera, the sweet tough queen whose young face had been photographed in front of the Stonewall bar the night of our insurrection in 1969. Left behind by the mainstream respectable Gay liberation movement, Sylvia now lived with Chelsea and Rusty in their collective trans home around the corner from the archives.

The light from the naked bulb under which we worked flashed over Chelsea's face, a strong chiseled face, with thin arching eyebrows and a prominent bony nose. As she spoke of her days on the street, when she was always running from the police, and her constant search for a place to spend the night, all the years in between those gritty times and the present seemed to melt away. I listened not only to her words but to the turn of her head, the softness of her demeanor, the passion of her vision. Here I was in my late fifties, witnessing once again the power of memory to inform conviction, the conviction of one's right to survive. Still haunted by the realities of street life, Chelsea had asked not to be left alone at the archives in case the police showed up, as they sometimes did when some door or window left open triggered our building alarm. Chelsea's words poured into the steamy basement, demanding that room be made for yet another layer of lesbian history.

Before the heat drove us upstairs, I responded to Chelsea's concerns about how to best serve a growing movement for liberation with memories of some of my own struggles with the early spokeswomen of the lesbian-feminist movement, my anger at their disdain for the bar community that had given me my first lessons in queer defiance, my fears about the exclusions deemed necessary when a political passion calls for a united front. Feeling like a veteran of a half-won war, I urged Chelsea to learn from our mistakes as well as from our victories. "You have a chance to do things differently," I remember saying. Behind those words was my conviction that if we had done things differently as lesbian-feminist women, as a gay liberation movement in the thirty years since Stonewall, Chelsea and her comrades would not have to be fighting for their most basic rights in the 1990s. But we had been so sure that knew who was a "woman" and who was a "man," what gender meant and what it did not, what embarrassed us and what made us feel, in our own peculiar way, at home. It is one of the complex ironies of liberation movements that often the passion of their certainties creates the need for future, more inclusive visions of emancipation.

My final words to Chelsea that afternoon were to urge her to call me if I could ever be of any help to her.

In August of that summer, 1997, Chelsea took me up on my vague offer. She reminded me of the group she and Rusty had organized, the Metropolitan Gender Network, and asked me to fill in for Leslie Feinberg, who was too ill to speak as scheduled on the following Sunday. My first response was to wonder what could I say to a transgendered group. What qualified me to appear before this forum? Chelsea listened to my fears and then patiently told me that my writings about butch-fem relationships had helped to open up the discussion of gender representation for many communities. What posed as political and cultural modesty on my part was really a lack of understanding of the transgendered, transfolk community and my fear of moving into their world. I was condescending both to my own work and to the members of the Metropolitan Gender Network. But years of work with the archives had taught me that when I was frightened of a new forum, that was exactly the time when history would speak to me, both to my head and to my heart.

I spent the next few days thinking about what my text would be. I decided to look over my work in my first book, "A Restricted Country," to see if I could find a passage that would be a good starting point for discussion. Like a preacher preparing for her Sunday sermon, I searched for my chapter and verse. I found what I was looking for in "Esther's story," a story I wrote about in the 1980s to pay homage to a passing woman whom I had met in the Sea Colony, a 1960s working class lesbian bar in Greenwich Village. Like other pieces in the 1987 book, "Esther's Story" was written (and the events in it re-visioned) from both the perspective of my lesbian feminism and my need to push against lesbian-feminist boundaries of acceptable history. I was determined to keep alive the world of my bar community with its one-night stands and sexually diverse clientele. Esther was a woman in her forties who passed for a man. The story tells of my amazement at her tenderness and describes how her hands shook  when she first held me and how my young woman's body reached out to her for more:
Through my blouse, I could feel her hands like butterflies shaking with respect and need. younger lovers had been harder, more toughened to the joy of touch, but my passing woman trembled with her gentleness. I opened to her, wanting to wrap mu fuller body around her leanness. She was pared down for battle, but in the privacy of our passion she was soft and careful. We kissed for a long time. I pressed my breasts hard into her, wanting her to know that even though I was young, I knew the strength of our need, that I was swollen with it.

But when I reread the story keeping in mind what I had and had not allowed myself to say about Esther's sense of self and gender, I saw clearly (and indeed, I knew this at the time I wrote the story) that I was being simplistic in my description of Esther's desires. I was trying to serve tow histories at once. I knew that if I had written "Esther wanted to be a man," the story would have been dismissed and so would Esther and all I wanted for her in the new world of the 1980s. This balancing act led me to cast Esther's "maleness" in a more womanly way. It was as if I were attempting to slide under a descending iron gate and carry all that was important with me to safety before it crashed to the ground.

She told me how she had left Ponce, Puerto Rico, her grown sons, and her merchant sailor husband, to come to America, to live like she wanted...She enjoyed driving the taxi, and because her customers thought she was a man, they never bothered her. I looked at her, at the woman in a neat white shirt and gray pants, and wondered how her passengers could be so deceived, It was our womanness that rode with us in the car, that filled the night with tense possibilities.

Now I must ask myself who was the deceived one. This forced questioning of what we need to be real or true or right holds for me the deepest importance of liberation movements. If I know the dreams of only my own, then I will never understand where my impulse for freedom impinges on another history, where my interpretation of someone's life is weakened by my own limits of language, imagination or desire. Chelsea's invitation to speak to her group had made me revisit my own text and realize that even when I thought I had been preserving a life, I was perhaps burying it. Esther's story is not finished, and my own understanding of butch-fem, of the drama of gender, of what the mind wants to do with the body and what the body wants to tell the mind, of what societies will do to keep gender certainties in place and of how women will survive all that is both created for them and taken from them must be constantly challenged by new voices demanding attention.

For one moment the Lower East Side was transformed for me: unheard of elegance, a touch of silk had entered my life. Esther's final gift. We never shared another night together. Sometimes I would be walking to work and would hear the beeping of a horn, There would be Esther rounding the corner in her cab with her passenger who thought she was a man.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Stefan Zweig, a Fox and the Chair He Sat In--Lesbian Times in London

I write to lift myself from a nest of pain. London at night is just a darker shade of gray. My dear one sleeps on, her days settling into her work at her desk at SOAS, and like at Fitzgibbon Falls, I scramble up our dinner so she will have hot food when she comes home. I have my own lesbian times here--and I say that because walking home from the Charles Dickens Museum yesterday, I thought every thing I do is lesbian because I am. When I am standing in Dicken's old house on Dougherty Street, gazing at the desk on which he wrote "Bleak House," or looking closely at the portrait of his daughter, Mamie, I think her name was, who never married and stayed with her father, standing in this small house with simple exhibits, hand written, nothing of the new archival displays techniques, just creaking old floors from 1802, and a kind and essential volunteer in a well worn oatmeal cardigan, a ginger colored man of a certain age, and small teeth, who shares his vast knowledge with me of simple Dickens' things, sometimes referring to his crib sheet, also written in hand, I stand there as a 70 year old lesbian with all that life behind my eyes saying thank you to the writer who worked and worked both on his pages and in his life to take on the needs of the human heart, with humor and later, in full recognition of the potential darkness of the coming new age. I think of his work for the emancipation of prostitutes, of his recognition of the hurt of a Jewish soul at his depictions of Fagin  and subsequent apology at a dinner party to a Jewish woman friend and his creation of another Jewish characterr in a later novel, an old poor man who befriends the innocent and helpless. What does it mean to stand there as a lesbian, this lesbian. To look for slippages of certainties--to ask about the absence of the portrait of the young actress for whom he left his wife late in his life, the missing counter voice to this preserved scene of his domestic life, the "invisible woman" says my sand haired Beatrice and so she remained, no signs of her anywhere-- to look for nuanced moments of touch and to record their missing, to see where the struggle lay, to find the moments where one kind of survival had to be traded for another, to feel deep love for the risks and wonders of the creative self, whole worlds brought into being with the press of family behind him on those desks, that looked so huge in the old photo I have pinned above my desk back in Melbourne, his last one, on which he lay his pen down before finishing, the simplest of all and to which he never returned, dying as I heard my guide's voice saying to two Japanese women, from hard work at 58 years of age, "heart attacks ran in his family." The door closes on his words and I am out on the street again, back in my own time outside a little four story house with simple windows and a small sign.

In the first week of our life here at 13 Tavistock Place, we walked to Foyle's Bookstore and with no specific author in mind, I browsed the shelves, seeing who would be among my companions here and there he was, Stefan Zweig, and his "The World of Yesterday." He will be with me in these reports from our days in Europe and so for now just some words from his preface to his good-bye to all the richness of life and the sorrows of history; he begins by apologizing for even thinking he should be at the center of any story:"nothing is further from my thought than to take so prominent a place unless it be in the role of a narrator at an illustrated lecture. Time gives the pictures;I merely speak the words which accompany them."  I thought of my moments at Brighton, where I stopped speaking and the faces of those women from several decades ago poured into the room, complex and brave, illustrating lesbian memory and a new cultural politics born for me from the decolonizing writings of thinkers like Albert Memi--which birthed the Lesbian Herstory Archives in the early 70s, of my Sea Colony mates, so deserving to be remembered as historical presences.

Wars and hatred were Zweig's history, the first half of the 20th century an unsurvivable catastrophe: "I know of no pre-eminence that I can claim, in the midst of a multitude, except this: that as an Austrian, a Jew, an author, a humanist and a pacifist, I have always stood at the exact point where these earthquakes were the most violent. Three times they have overthrown my house and my existence, severed me from the past and all that was, and hurled me with dramatic force into the void, into the 'I know now whither' which I know so well. but I do not regret this. The homeless man becomes free in a new sense...And so I belong nowhere, and everywhere am a stranger." He wrote this portrait of creative friends in 1939, the war still had killing years to go. There was no safety from memory. On February 23, 1942, I read, "Stefan Zweig and Elizabeth Charlotte Zweig, his wife, died by their own hands at Petropolis, Brazil. In his last message to this world he wrote: But after one's sixtieth year unusual powers are needed in order to make another wholly new beginning. Those that I possess have been exhausted by long years of homeless wandering. So I think it better to conclude in good time and in erect bearing a life in which intellectual labor meant the purest joy and personal freedom the highest good on earth. I salute all my friends! May ti be granted them yet to see the dawn after the long night! I, all too impatient, go on before." I understand and yet long to know the thoughts of Elizabeth.

And now the fox--our moment of un-London as China Mielville would say. On one of the brief appearances of the sun here, La Professoressa and I made our way Regents Gardens, and there, as we walked among the green fields and shaped gardens with water fountains singing their appreciation of the monarchy, in the middle of the day with some other walkers ahead of us, a most beautiful fox appeared from the hedge in front of us--red-brown, full brush of a tail parallel with the ground, head like a drawing for a children's book, so fox perfect it was, he crossed the road with out a moment's hesitation, leaving us stunned by what we thought we had seen--a fox in full form heading for his other homes.

Before I give my darling her computer back, one more story about my day with the Dickens Museum. I had set off with my tourist map walking in what I thought was the right direction, towards Gray Inn Road, walking, walking and not getting any closer. My legs ached and I needed help. I stopped a professional looking woman and asked her for directions--we stood for a few minutes, no help--and she left--and then a slight young woman came over to me and asked if she could be of help. I told her of my quest and she said, come I will show you--but I walk so slowly I said, showing her my cane. It's ok--and so we set off. I learned she was a student from Thailand studying political science at SOAS, but getting weary of her studies. We walked and walked--finally I said, enough--you have gone so far out of your way. I will go into that bookstore and ask. Sadly she took her leave, apologizing. The women in Persephone Press tried to help and pointed me in the direction of one Rugby Street, by now I was going on sheer determination to find my Dickens and I trudged on, turning more corners and suddenly appeared my friend from Thailand--she had found the museum and set off to find me to take me there. We ran into each other arms like long lost lovers. I am so sorry, she kept saying. I made you walk such a long way, I am so sorry, she said as she held the door to the museum open. My name is Joan I said, and please do not be sorry--you are so generous. I am Chan, she said and I am sorry.    

I Must Let Go of Brighton Now--but Look!

Before I continue saying good-bye to Brighton and all its wonders and challenges, here is a very concrete new moment in lesbian history that has come from the gathering and the amazing work of Clare D, who in the few days since we have been back, tracked down with the help of Polish friends, this 1933 copy of the Well of Loneliness in the National Museum of Poland, the one referred to by the woman whose words I have carried with me for so many years and that I put into the sea- touched Brighton air: 1979: From a conversation around the Lesbian Herstory Archives dinner and work table: The speaker, a Jewish woman in her 60s says, "I had a chance to read the Well of Loneliness" that had been translated into Polish before I was taken into the camps. I was a young girl at the time, around 12 or 13 and one of the ways I survived in the camp was by remembering that book. I wanted to live long enough to kiss a woman."

One of the themes of my text that accompanied the images--and which I will post here--is the need to seek out the counter-narrative of any given time, both in the national setting and sometimes within our own communities of certainties. This is what I tried to do with the excerpts from oral histories and media of the times--and here is one of the strongest examples. Dismissed as too depressive, or trash or irrelevant by many of the lesbian-feminist spokeswomen in the 70s and 80s, I knew from my own Bronx working-class background and my fascinations with many aspect of Hall's novel, that cultural products are complex things, that they take on new lives with almost every generation and every encountered specific moment of class and ethnicity and it would be interesting to explore their resurrections and resonances before we emptied them of value. I knew this only because so often in those so needed time of women's and gay liberation, I sat in darkened rooms with another story buzzing in my head or heart, not ones that denied the critiques of the new times, but that added layers of experiential possibilities, that warned me against new exiles coming into being right before my eyes. For this double vision and the strength to speak about it, I thank my mother, Regina, sometimes a whore, always a worker, always a little lost and always angry at the bosses.

What became clear to me as I attended the sessions at Brighton was that I needed in my 70s new lines of discussion for these times and I found them-- in Sarah Franklin's talk, "Beyond Biology: Queering the Facts of Life," her measured tones bringing into our thinking mix the desentimentalizing facts of the petry dish and how shifting biological terrains should be part of our imaginations and future politics as they will be part of our culture. Whoever this "our" will be. In Sherley Camille Olopherne's "Taken Spaces: Black Lesbians Against White Aesthetics," the old challenge of dislodging white control over almost everything was portrayed in her photographs and videos of liberated spaces for black lesbian lives--the Women of color tarp at the Michigan Women's Music Festival and the Rivers of Honey  nights at the WOW cafe in NYC. As I watched that women of color blue tarp layed on the beaten down grasses of the Michigan site, I kept seeing the tents and make shift sleeping places in Tahrir Square, I kept seeing a line of grassroots liberated spaces so simple in their materials, so huge in their dreaming of different cosmologies. As I listened and watched Sherely, I kept feeling the sounds of place, of my old New York and of all the histories I came to know there, including that of Haiti, a country that has endured all the worst ravages of French and American colonial intervention and dismissals, that is rich in its cultural heritages of literature and art, in social thinking. For many years I taught Masters of the Dew, by Jaques Romain, a novel of the 1930s built on the dream of collectivism and the works of Edwidge Danticat, the not so young now but always beautiful and brave contemporary novelist who kindly spent a day with our students, June Bobb's and mine, in the 1980s, was it?, going over with them their careful reading of her first novel of growing up as a young girl in Haiti. My Haitian students touched me in many ways, the young women and the men. Their having to choose which language will represent their public selves, their battle against economic despair, their sense of beauty. All of this I thought of as Sherely, knowing she was speaking once again in a white governed space, carefully chose her words, her images showing the possibilities of other knowledges born out of claimed spaces.

And the early morning session with Ewa Majewska, speaking of the need for a materialistic critical queer narrative, the story of the poor lesbian, and  Francesca Stella, using the example of "lesbian" identity in urban Russia and the dangers of critical assumptions when there is not enough awareness of the cultural specificities in Western interpretations--I learned a new term of thought, intersectionality, and it makes sense to me. This is how I continue my education, listening to the brave and open thinking of those struggling with ideas of equity and gender and sex and anti nationalisms in a new time. I know I have not mentioned every one whom I met in those three days, and many of the excellent sessions--I appreciated all that was offered that I could get to attend.

Our days ended in Brighton with a wonderful spontaneous dinner with two women from South Africa who waved us in to their restaurant to share dinner with us. Robust, generous women who had been at the conference telling us of their journies in life. I just wanted to stretch out on the wooden table and sleep, work done, in the comfort of new friends and my darling.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Brighton Still

Dear all who have written, thank you for your responses, responses in the real sense of the word. I can feel you there, see your faces still, Janet you will always be with me. You know,. no one has to agree with what I say to be precious to me. I just wanted to write to say I am reading your words. And yes, when we are back in Melbourne, we will come to New Zealand if that is wanted. Now I am beginning to sound like a cult--no,no. I will write more tomorrow at day break--when all is fine shadows and oh so real. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Oh Those Lesbian Lives--Brighton and Revolting Bodies, February 10-13, 2011

Just back from our four days in Brighton and what a gathering it was, this 18th year since its inception Lesbian Lives conference. However tired I was, however worried I was about my place in the new lesbian world, saying yes to this invitation from old Irish lesbian activist friends to dare the gods once again and transverse hemphispheres--always with La Professoressa by my side--proved a most wonderful venture. Now whenever doubt hits, we will look at each other as we do, and just say, "Remember Brighton."

With another history of liberation rolling all around us, in a Square in Cairo, within our Brighton moment, I found once again, the richness of lesbian imaginings, transnational, trans gender, trans borders. New lesbian histories and the old, never old in the lived courage of hard lives and robust spirits, but lined lesbian bodies suited and frocked, well worn with their ssocial struggles for more equitable times--in all the systems that take our lives, economic, gender, racial.

Before I launch into details, which may take several postings, I want to embrace the women, the butches, the fems, the boyz, the gentlemen, the no gender labelled people, whose bodies I held in my arms, whose spirits gave renewed life to mine. As a gray morning light falls into our lounge room here, I see once again, and even more feel the warmth of Marie, her beautiful fem body held close to me, letting her know she will always be my kin, one of the many "daughters" if I may so, that I found in this old town by the sea; The Irish activist circle, Marie, Izzy and Liz and their friends, my new friends and Janet--originally from Wales--and her friend, all of us sitting outside in the pale sun, warming each other with the tales of our lives written in our eyes, in the cut of Izzy's well worn suit,  in the lilt of voices created by Irish struggles, Janet always positioning her wheel chair to bring her body into the stories we were telling. They warmed me, held my body in their love and gave me for those moments, my sense of what kind of family my queer life has made possible. With the red head by my side, I could have sat at that little aluminium round table for the next twenty years, but for activists, the next moment carries movement. I carry with me now the presence of Campbell, tall and dapper and oh so kind who brushed her/his lips to mine, who carries multiple histories, multiple complexities, some created, some of the bone, in her elegance; I carry with me Camel's laughter as she offered her technical support, and I lifted my breasts to her--and always the four Catherines/Katherines and Olu and Ermi who held the workings of our days together in their hands and hearts, to old friends like Sue whom I have known since 1988, and new like Ulrika and Eva from Poland, speaking early in the morning about hard and necessary ideas, her lovely hands running through her hair as she rushed to give us her thinking, so needed. And the young woman sitting in front of me in that session who lives in my heart now--all her histories--Switzerland and Morocco and familial--fierce in her independence from all labels--I must stop now, the day light is pouring in and La Professoressa is walking through the room, waiting for her time on the computer, but to you all, know that you touched me, that my body was yours for those days, and you held it with life giving love.

On a cold, rainy Thursday we rolled our small suitcases down the cobblestone streets to St Pancras International Station, boarding the 12:55 to Brighton. Packed deep in my suitcase was a tiny memory stick with a revamped version of the Butch-Fem slide show I traveled far and wide with in the 1980s and 90s and a stack of supporting materials--my new text, the words of Jul Bruno, Sandy Kern, and other moments from "Persistent Desire." I did not read from these excerpts but carried them with me like old friends. So much I want to say about what it meant to once again fill a large auditorium with larger then life faces and bodies, of Carol, my first love who died in 1966, Mabel Hampton and Lillian Foster--an earlier draft--here I became too tired to continue but I will)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Off to Brighton

I carried the Red Head back with me to the Gallery yesterday, to share my trove of beauty and delight. In all the times she has been in this town, she has never been to the Gallery, so busy is she where ever her desk is. Again, the lovely children, this time sitting and drawing on their little pads, Van Gogh's "idea of generosity," those almost bronzed sunflowers which I called a thistle in yesterday's telling.Together we found four large Turner's with storm reddened skies and that most prophetic one, of the early steam train coming out of the mists of gray weather, only its head making clear progress, mist giving way to mist and peering out of it, the face of modernity.  I always think of Dicken's love-hate writings about the relentless coming of the steam trains to London, the pulling down of poor neighborhoods, neighborhoods filled with life and love and struggle, the home of so many of his characters, where eccentricities flourished. Dickens who could be city planner or king of the marshes.

We stopped at five small paintings by Hogarth on the way out--his comments on the vagaries of marriage--each one a novel telling a tale of secret sex, the pox, the foolishness, the doings of the lawyer Silvermouth who is last seen fleeing through a window, the flash of his buttocks, as he leaves the mayhem he has caused behind him.

We had lunch in the gallery's cafe, in a spot of sun and spoke of how these acts of the imagination, the devotion to line and color, to composition and meaning touched our hearts in such times as these. How long did Turner struggle for just that touch of vermillion in his huge sky dreamed world, and now a century later, we gaze at skies and seas we will never see and live his moment of imagined life. The courage, the fanatic belief that such things matter, color and seeing into the heart of things, to offer that vision, without force, without destruction, to the human future. I think of the thousands gathered in Cario's Square, the colors of their mass, the lines of their gathered hope and I can see a never ending canvas filled with this portrait of possibilities.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sun, Lions, Yellow Chairs and Red Squares

Sun greeted us yesterday. I climbed through our living room window out onto our balcony to take it full in the face. My pain is worse in the early morning hours and so I wait for the coming of the day. Today was the day I was to board one of those red lumberers, learning to flash my Oyster card. La Professoressa saw me off, bending low, with a wave, through the window of the 91. I felt like a young child being waved good-bye at her first day of school. Illness has made me unsteady and I appreciate my love's recognition of my undertaking.

Settling in, behind a mother and her lively baby girl, I thought, Joan, this is no different from the 104 careening down Broadway. It is really a short hall from Russell Square where I boarded to Trafalgar Square, my assumed destination. Up the Strand, with its titillating glimpses of the river through narrow side streets, fanciful bridge turrets catching the sun. You wait, I thought. I will come back and find you. The river in the sun is the special promise of London, I thought and then, catching sight of the dome of the National Gallery, I decided to get off at Charing Cross Station. The buses are gracious with their low and even boarding plates. I can easily get on and off. Such a prosaic sentence but now I look at cities not just for their erotic buzz of urbane life but for how kind they are to fallen bodies.

Enough. One of the dangers of writing in the darkness of a new day is that tangents seem so interesting. I am putting off the grandeur of the morning I had once I got off that bus. Opening up before me was the sun filled, leaping water-filled, people filled square. The  lions first greeted me, their huge muscular flanks shining, little people, tourists of all kinds, sitting on their massive paws, cameras clicking. The fountains shooting their waters high into the blue day, spray and fanciful water deities cavorting in the lower waters, arcs of water emanating from mouths and tails. Some visitors like me just positioned themselves against a fountain rim or the white wall that forms the base of the National Gallery and let the sun hit them full in the face, immobilized in our good fortune. This space, this offering to a city's people and its history, the shared glories of the day made me see again the wonders of these stone heavy cities, how they can dance with their own forms of joy, their persistence in time, their free offerings to those who make their way to their open places.

In the Gallery itself, I moved quickly past the Italian religious paintings of the early centuries, found Goya, and then galleries 44 and 45 where first I walked the snowy streets with Pissaro, he who knew the Caribbean light and then I found my Cezanne and Van Gogh. Van Gogh's yellow chair holding in its nest his pipe and tobacco, simple, he said, like him. The next, his yellow-gold-ochre thistle, filling the whole canvas, a gift awaiting Cezanne when he came to visit his old friend, the painting, Van Gogh, said is the idea of generosity. And across the room, enough Cezanne to see his vision, the early realism of his business success father, sitting, legs crossed, heavy in his black suit, light on his large face that is turned away from the painter, then a thickly wooded--but painted lightly--scene with a house hiding behind the verticals, next the beginning of his squares of color forming shapes of hill and vistas and finally one of his Bathers where the forms lounging in their own free form colors of blue guide us to the next moments of Western art. You know, I grew up in a book less, artless world of the working class Bronx of the 1940s. It was the public schools that I attended all my life, from kindergarten through college, that opened the doors to so many other rooms. The very schools that suffer so much neglect these days, particularly here in London where private school connections are riding high. Now I have stood in three countries gazing on the work of artists that rend my heart. I know how lucky I have been.  

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Weight of Empire

Gray, gray days. The Flaming Redhead has started her tenure at SOAS, the School for Oriental and African Studies, not far from Russell Square. This is how our life goes. I follow in her academic footpaths and then take my own detours, fill my days with my own curiosities or negotiations. I walk with her to the student teeming inner courtyard of the University, students from all over the world, buzzing with their ideas, their languages, their sense of what must be talked about--I watch her disappear into the old building, myself an old teacher, but one who never reached such heights, myself always and still loving the swirling courage of young people to think in questions, refusals while their body styles announce their love of new territories. I leave my love in young hands and cane in hand and my constant companion Mousey--another story--tucked away in my Australian student bag, face my first day alone on London streets. I tick tick my way past the Square, having decided to pay a visit to the British Museum, a place I have never visited before. Being able to walk there is a great plus for me. I am building up to mounting the other Red ones.

I just follow the old iron rails and around a corner, there she sits, set far back from the footpath, a huge monument to imperial culture or plunder, which is another way to see it. Across from the Scottish shop where pink tartans wink from the windows, and a little street filled with places selling bottled water and postcards, the massive classical edifice announces its hold on other's histories with traditional stone certainty. Again, many people speaking many languages join me as I walk under the banners announcing the Afghanistan Exhibit: Crossroads of the World and right behind it, the more adventuresome of us can take in the "The Egyptian Book of the Dead" exhibit but at an extra cost. I wonder at how prophetic these displays of captured or seduced goods are--one country we--America and Britain for now--are raining bombs down on whatever treasures may be left--as simple as children in a village and the other, where we may extol their imaginative journeys in the after world, while in this real one, we cannot decide which freedoms of life we should allow the Egyptians since we have for so many years, been very clear on which freedoms we will not. I wonder--what kind of exhibits would the old worlds put on of the artifacts of the new ones--here a banner, "The Treasures of War Machines" with carefully preserved tear gas canisters made quaintly in that Quaker territory called Pennsylvania. Enough, when one walks through the lovingly collected cultural bones of so often despised until death peoples, rant comes too easily to the lips.

I leave the fray day behind me, the simple measurements of the footpaths and cafes, and enter a monumental space much more like the great railroad terminals of the past. Modern structures within the old call for our attention but I make my way to one of the original reading and display halls, filled with the collecting imagination of the good Doctor who in 1753 turned over to the Crown his thousands of personally amassed artifacts, divided up into natural and artificial--oh how easy it was all back then--rich wooden cases display a child's slipper from China. Tell me Doctor, natural or artificial. Object after object, huge vases from the Greeks with intertwining swan necks making living garlands for the rim, Roman statues with their crumpled noses and gentle phallusses gaze down on the rest, book cases with treasured works on the history of old India and on and on. I join a tour group for a while until my legs ache too much and then I just sit and think. I too gathered, all my work for the Lesbian Herstory Archives when it was in my apartment, I understand the need to save artifacts but in our own name, in our own time, without armies or national philosophies of the right to cultural and political enslavement of the others. We came close, I have to say, with that regrettable slogan of the 70s, an army of lovers cannot fail.

Along the side of the reading room, there was a replica of the Rosetta Stone with the sign, please touch. And I did. The original is on level four--another day--but I felt wonder as my fingers moved over the inscribed shapes of language. How to see these collected moments of natural and unnatural culture without armies and banners, without ownership and robbery, with out invasion and death to the child who wore those slippers? Here in the vast library of the greed and heartless power of Empire, I listen for the sounds of those who lived in these objects, of those who fell in love with the young man with the crumpled nose, of those who gathered in squares for new freedoms and wrote their dreams on stone.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Here in London

I write you now from our rented flat on Tavistock Place, from a London whose graces I had forgotten and from an England that is under its own kind of seige. Yesterday the Prime Minister announced the end of multiculturalism here, the "experiment" of respect for and welcoming of difference. In his passionate cultured voice with his hand movements under lining his sincerity, he launched an attack on the Muslim citizens of this country. Just as the Arabic diaspora was rejoicing in its rediscovered political dignities, its courage in the face of tanks and American behind- the- scenes might, Cameron hurls the old hatreds, not British enough, he says, revelling in the public use of old fears. He calls for a purer form of Britishiness, while in the streets of Lufton, 2000 extreme British right wingers and their international supporters march in support of organized hatred and uber nationalism. Silence from the private school loving wealthy leader who looks to his own class more and more while seizing on fiscal troubles to narrow the public human heart here.

I want to tell you of our first full day here, when the sun shone and the streets were full of London's people. We walked from our Bloomsbury site across London to the Thames with a stop at Madam Rushka's shop for larger ladies, we walked through Convent Gardens, with its theaters peeping out of narrow streets, past Nelson on his tower, squares of city life with the red buses like ancient mammoths pulling in and out and around, hauling always and still the people of this city to their destinations. I was determined to walk to the river, I told my Professoressa and she went ahead in her own pace, waiting for me every ten minutes to catch up. I always had the flame of her hair ahead of me. To Jubilee Bridge and the lift that allowed me to walk across the Thames, to look back at its city scape, the old still prevailing while the new rises in any free space. I looked up river, saw the Tower Bridge, the waters of old London flowing below me, my Dickens London, where dead bodies surfaced back into the story below the hovels standing with their feet in the swampy tidal flats of the destitute--Dickens who found a way to entice the human heart into kindness, laughter, self reflection, while depicting social cruelties. On across the bridge and walking, walking with stops for me to catch my breath, to rest my legs, until we reached the Tate Modern, a new London site for me. A cavernous space put to the use of the human imagination. School children of all colors standing closely together, not because their teacher barked them into it, but because the space itself spoke of the need for human warmth in the face of the vastness of an old factory space turned to house vast artistic dreams, huge intimacies, the children's faces turned upward to find the building's sky, somewhere the up must end, you could see them thinking.

I gratefully sit in one of the wheelchairs just waiting for those who need them and we proceed into lifts and find the Surrealism exhibit. Not the usual, not a Dali insight but an artist from the Ivory coast working on small squares of cardboard with colored pencils and pen, his own version of national and intimate dreamings. The installation that opens the exhibit is spare--a white wall with black line suggesting an urban landscape and falling into it are the bodies of two large birds, free flyers of the English countryside, pinned to the sky wall with arrows through their hearts. Their bodies seem still lush with life, their wings beating out of the wall but the arrows eternally pinning them to a fallen grace. The artist we are told sees in their prevented flight, the death of the imagination. I will never forget their loss.

Being in a wheel chair proves a virtue when we pause in front of cubistic line drawings of Picasso, drawings done when he is near to death and wants to honor the life force of desire. Women, often with the face of his last lover, spread their legs across the multi- peopled-parts canvas, their vaginal slits centering the drawings, their breasts with dearly loved large dark nipples, in profile, have flung across them the wanting arms of Van Gogh and Picasso himself, drawn several time, his balls swelling the Renaissance pouches of his imagined self. I find it all beautiful and moving, I have always loved the old bull. And now I sit on eye level with those wonderful closed promises of warmth and wetness that I too have known in my life, the promised openings to lush life.

You see, I am writing early in the morning here. Pain awakes me at three or four and I cannot sleep, and so finally after all these years, I write as I should have done all these years without pain as my stimulus but the joy of the life with words on the page, lines of possibilities, of voyages, of hymns to beauty and touch and angers at social failures shaped into meaning. I am having cancer dreams, of Carol in the hospital. dying so many years ago, of surgical procedures that pull back the flesh to reveal the killing things. I work to keep my pain at bay here--each day a negotiation because I have these four months to follow my Professoressa through the streets of London, Paris, New York, Belgrade, to find the rivers of people rich with their differences in all the cities, to refuse the narrowings of political nationalistic leaders who fail the wonders of life at almost every opportunity.