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.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Joan,

    Have you thought of coming to our London Women in Black vigil? Every Wednesday evening 6 pm till 7 pm around the statue of Edith Cavell, opposite the door of the National Portrait Gallery, St. Martins Place, London WC2, at the bottom end of Charing Cross Road as it enters Trafalgar Square. You would be so welcome. I shall not be there this week but introduce yourself to others. Email me on Cynthia (Cockburn).