"It's high time they put Paris somewhere else!"
The looks such a proposal recently earned from friends at work were deserved, since it came out of the blue while I gazed through the Factory's huge window wall. But I've become more content with the city where it is. Spring remains a way off, but many trees hint at its approach and the air feels easier to breath. Commuters are starting to look less wearily wan and withdrawn in the Métro.
The winter mid-term school vacation has been and gone. Afterwards, you tend to see more tanned faces and the clothes begin to brighten. I don't understand why the majority wear black and mournful colours at this time of year on top of everything else. I never shall; the season is dismal enough. Still, those tans are rarer than usual this time round because more and more people have little money for ski holidays and distant travel. The French economy is in deep shit. Even I know that, though I'm no financial wizard. But what bugs us most is damp, heavy weather and the blasted bugs themselves!
Paris remains a river port, one reason why the French decided to make it their capital, but when those ancestors built the place up in the middle of a basin, it's unlikely their worries extended to global warming. Parisians now endure effects of this unseemly lack of foresight and we all contribute to it every day.
Sometimes I wonder if my odd notions about the basin's increasingly humid and cloudy winters and highly polluted summers would mean much to Arnaud Baur, who does the weather page in 'Le Parisien'. It's a tendentious but lively tabloid and thus one of few mainstream newspapers I ever read any more, though usually Monsieur Baur's page suffices. The weatherman is a wizard, in craft and language. He is witty, has a tongue in his cheek, waxes poetic when his pen hand's so inclined, and keeps mythological and literary tricks up his sleeve. Often, he even gets his five-day forecasts uncannily right.
While Baur seems totally at ease with changing seasons, the best I manage is adapting in tune with them. Maybe the man would pull the plug out of my basin theories. No expert in anything is likely to agree that my bizarre viral notion holds water. Nevertheless, this winter some bugs seem even less able to jump beyond the basin than much sunlight has managed usually to get in. Tiny trapped particles circulate endlessly among inhabitants.
The tummy viruses can be vicious. People go down with one for a little while and a few days after they're up again, the bugger seems to come back and wallop them harder. This has happened to several of my family, buddies and people in my neighbourhood and the suburbs ringed by the hills around the Parisian basin. The chemists tell me nasty infections persisted for two months mainly from around Christmas, but mine never went completely away. I took a week off in February and nearly went to Morocco with my former wife, Catherine. She was keen to sweep me away for some sun and the temptation was strong. I didn't though. Few people would look after the cat that once lived with her and Marianne, and now me. Nor was I a legal resident. When French law on valid identity papers recently changed to abolish the obligatory renewal of a dog-eared Carte de sejour (my residence permit), I thought "Sod it! My passport doesn't run out until the end of February." I just remembered the year wrong. It expired in 2006.
Everyone agreed, though, that my original plan was better. I had taken no breaks since my return to work after last year's illness. The routines going back have been good for me, helping to restore my skills in and outside the Factory, my confidence and most of my health. By last month, life was going so well that I felt the scariest prospect was ditching the routines for a while. So that's what I did. The weather was lousy all week and I was adjusting to a change of medication, so I feared a tough time, but had a wonderful week and even enjoyed chores I had postponed. I listened to little music and wrote about none of it -- there was a different story I wanted to get on with instead -- and went out often to catch up with friends.
People were reassured by being able to having a good and easy time with somebody no longer radiating fear vibes among the better ones. Sheer terror of being alone possessed me late last summer. It dissipated gradually as my confidence grew, but while my creative side remained blocked, there were bad moments. A week seemed a long time. In the end, I had so much still to do, I was granted a couple more days.
This has become a second such week, but rather different. I took a few days off at short notice when somebody I love went into hospital for essential if relatively minor surgery, to be summarily thrown out that very day to convalesce. I wanted to be around sometimes, help out and provide company after a perfectly successful but very tiring operation.
We reckoned without bugs. My insides went into free fall on Sunday and me little peace except for most of Tuesday, a deceptive reprieve. I've been nowhere, let alone to see my friend. I couldn't. The Métro became impossible, even a supermarket queue that stalls proved risky, a pleasant stroll to the relatively nearby tax office was almost a catastrophe. The Eiffel Tower* might as well have been be as distant as the reach of its powerful beacon, sweeping round the basin on clear nights.
I tidy this up and publish it on a day all that will soon be over. How a tide has turned. I've got a few manageable hassles, minor upsets, petty annoyances, a little sadness occasionally. My soul grieves when my thoughts go to permanent loss of people or stuff I should have done now it's too late. But if I bore you with the common lot of humankind, I am no longer mourning my own past the way that happened last year.
It's simply the latest monster bug in the basin. Nothing carrots, rice, some chemical concrete and a few days with proper sleep won't cure. I spent just one partly miserable day feeling I'd let my sick friend down and alarmed I might let down my colleagues as well. But though the cure hurts a lot and I'm still knackered, that will pass.
I've been writing this instead of a music piece for two reasons, the second very musical. The first -- and perhaps more important -- is to acknowledge that I wrote a lot last year about being mentally ill and how that was, didn't I? I went deep into the nature of manic-depression and alarmingly far inside myself. Then I left it, hanging in the air. No more story. I shouldn't have done, since that worried other people! This Log remains divided like I was, uneasily so, very public only up front, while the more personal stuff went into The Orchard out back. Where did that kind of writing go?
Well it's gone, good readers, where it should be. Into a healthier perspective. Boring for many, fascinating for a few and becoming clearer in my own mind. Heavens, I even realised I'd found Lilith in a sense, eventually. My own, who means more to me than the chosen patron of women musicians. She certainly isn't -- as a few friends speculated with some justification given what I've started to tell them of a long suppressed past -- my mother. However, quite apart from aspects of somebody I have yet to introduce, I suspect the mythical Lilith could be a dual-natured woman archetype inside myself, a man like any other. I believe in that goddess, in my way, as a strong and fertile symbol, neither good nor evil, leaving it to other music writers and the mythologists to argue the toss about which she is, angel or demon. Indeed they do. For me, that Lilith is somehow beyond good and evil, she's a life force. Nature doesn't speculate in such terms. Nature kills to live, destroys to create ... and soon it will be spring.
I can write precious little about priceless music. There's a growing list of singers for a next such post, but names include discoveries so new and wonderful that I have adapted Marianne's method of listening often to very few albums. The people around me matter far too much to rush when I'd rather do things well. Three of them were given Songlines in one form or another too.
They included Catherine, whose birthday was last month. I wanted to give her Songline CDs. It was very hard but great fun to pick thematic material on three different themes for her from a suddenly daunting musical collection -- so much choice -- and burn the CDs, making those look as beautiful as I could. I'm glad she likes them. But the process mostly took me back rather than forwards to new voices, because I also wanted to make themes with variations from as many singers as I could, most of whom were new to Catherine but not me or people who read this site and others more often.
Vienna Teng (at home) really bugs me. She does so in the best way a singer possibly could, rain or shine, heavy weather or light heart. That's why she's here, but I won't write her up until I've listened to her latest album more than I have. She's a phenomenon. I was excited on discovering her music, in which splendid piano playing is a launch pad for much more, and her very beautiful voice, like I have been by An Pierlé, whose name has come up several times. Of Pierlé, I've written no more yet since she will be in Paris later this month with her man and I must be there. But when I tried to select a song of Teng's for my compilations I simply couldn't. I gave up and offered Catherine the whole album instead. I'll post this with no unwise promises.
Vienna will move up a notch on my budding profile at Last.fm too. That site has ideas I want to write plenty more about, I like it a lot, and the internet radio channels you can pick with it. Now I really need to get out on the streets for a quick late shopping bout before it starts to piss down and listen to Vienna's earlier music on my iPod. What's my favourite song, for now, on her new album 'Dreaming Through The Noise'?
I think it's 'I Don't Feel So Well'. I bet she does really. Rather like me, deeper inside than my guts. Nobody can feel too bad when they write a tune that takes a Latin turn in the middle, includes a kind of gypsy violin flavour and seems to go all over the place yet remains a wonderful whole. It's only my favourite for the moment. There's some smooth jazz, some folk-flavoured music and many twists and turns, including lyrically, that I need to sort out. They're stories as well. As for the album title, that's something I do frequently. Don't you?
Maybe there will be more such writing once inspired by a musician, but not now. My social life has picked up, I'm rarely at my computer for long. My sex life has turned private both in an everyday sense and in fantasy -- or Fancy. I prefer that word for fantasies that might well be shared. I wish to enjoy what's left of 2007. If anyone actually liked nonsense I used to write, especially if you're a woman, somebody tipped me off to an 'Always Aroused Girl'. She is, in her way, light family reading. People who have grown up as touchingly disinclined to explicit talk of sex as my daughter -- who has been going steady with a nice lad for more than two years now she's pushing 18 and always locks the bathroom door, even in an empty house -- may steer clear of that AAG's blogroll. I didn't when I added the link and the first I randomly clicked on there was hastily closed. My guts will never take that kind of stuff, but in appropriate company, there's nothing "filthy" about playing Fancy when it makes for harmless fun.
On another front, I'm finally free of the financial troubles that were a huge preoccupation before I had last year's breakdown, along with more work pressure than I could take. Feeling unable to socialise as well meant this Log became not quite an obsession, but one of my few outlets for shared pleasures in a world full of horrible events and ghastly behaviour. I need people far more than I would let them in and was "much too kind" to some -- a frequent reproach from others -- but musicians performed small miracles for me. The good side is when I've found myself able to tell their stories well. The bad one had been that to do this I need to be able to relate so closely to their music and their lyrics, which is fine when angels bring your feet to the ground, but terrible if you unconsciously use their work to plaster over your injuries without healing them.
A huge June 23 column on 'Pretenders - the basics of staying power' is a pivotal chunk of Log and my life. Chrissie Hynde and that band sliced open my mind. It's raw, can be messy! It took me many weeks to digest what I myself wrote and having written that, the only place to go then was deeper yet inside. After an August when being alone became almost unbearable, family and friends gradually came back from holidays. Their physical presence and words of support and love helped someone who could no longer pretend, nor see the bottom. But I couldn't really talk.
When I did hit the bottom, it initially felt disgusting and so slimily obscene that I left it all off the Log, but then the healing began. I used to get miffed at how some people tell you "everything comes down to sex in the end", but my deepest, most painful wounds were indeed sexual ones, inflicted on others as well as myself. The only person who needs to understand as fully as possible has been me. People get so easily hurt in their sexuality from a very early age and the pain it causes can be manifest in numerous ways.
If there's any point in logging parts of this entry, it's to let people who care know how much better I feel and tell you it's an ongoing process. What's new and gives me ground for hope and joy in the future arises partly from friendly help in understanding how I've often used my bipolar disorder as a cover for worse. It was fine to write last year that the first things to go in a manic-depressive's downers are love, trust and a sense of humour. But it was only part of the story since these elements increasingly affect relations with those you love the most.
What do you do when medication doesn't work well, you slowly fall apart and sense there's more to it than the diagnosed disease? I know others who have been or are in the state I was last year, a turn in a bipolar cycle that became such a total breakdown I thought I'd never pull out of it. In the end, help came less from a therapist I now see once a month than from wonderful friends, then nice colleagues. When back at work in October, my love for myself (self-confidence), trust in myself (lack of paranoia) and sense of humour were very shaky. I appreciated being called a "lobster without a shell" since it was accurate and showed how Catherine understood me, after 13 years of divorce.
Others have of late come closer still. My own mind and body took a while to agree what had seemed so loathsome during the phase when horrible memories were hot lava and hard to approach was far less so when seen from the perspective of other people's experience. I have yet to get my physical strength back to where it should be. I'm lazy in winter, apart from walking a lot and will start further exercise come the spring. There have been relapses, but the overall recovery is steady. With a little help from my friends, one day at a time.
*Eiffel Tower picture (detail) by Nick Palmer (200 Strong).
The Last.fm radio on my desktop happened in the shot here to be playing a verdant Fiona Apple song to an equally green Jennifer Lopez. Do you think she's asleep?
Vienna Teng piano picture by Adam Tow (Collected Sounds).
9:43:13 PM link