I’ll never recover from my love of LA. However badly it treated me. I will never forget our ill-fated house in Malibu. The restaurant at the end of the pier. The Jacaranda, the delicate pepper trees, those tall palms glistening like cellophane when the rains finally came. Have you seen Pharrell’s video for his song Happy? That’s how I’ll remember LA. The light, the streets, down town Los Angeles, the fat and the thin. Looking heavenward, remembering why we moved there armed only with dreams. Pleading for security, good traffic, and a god who loves us even if the dream slips further from our grasp…
When I left LA I earned more money than I ever earned. What foolishness made me give it up? Fear. The same fear I had in NY and no longer feel here in Europe. Fear of the speeding bullet, the rogue cop, fear of mud slides, wild fires… and me.
Last week I purged almost all the white, American gay men from my Facebook friends list. When I announced I was doing so… Facebook banned me for a week. Thank you Big Brother, no Facebook means no compulsive checking. I didn’t recognize any of the gay white American men who claimed to know me, or I had friended because I am weak and colluded with the notion the gays gather as many other gays around them as we possibly can so we may perpetuate the myth of gay solidarity.
According to Facebook, this declaration to purge unknown faces from my FB page was hate speak.
I was an unwilling participant in an anonymous gay web. I don’t know the 50 people we have in common. I don’t want to know the 28 mutual friends. The 42 people who don’t know each other more than passing their clone on Robertson, Old Compton St, Commercial Street or Ocean Walk. Lives as the gays chose to document on FB, so utterly boring, so stultifyingly limited. Haunting the same locations, using exactly the same language we used 50 years ago… and on… the perpetual hunt, the same miserable polemic. One hundred thousand likes for a shirtless picture. A million Instagram followers for the most perfectly honed of them.
Recently a young gay man, beset by righteous indignation, complained to his 5 thousand followers his profile pic had been stolen and used on a well-known dating app. I wondered out loud (amongst the commiseration) why they had bothered stealing the image? The picture they appropriated was so utterly boring, so drearily identical to any number of equally dull gay men. There was nothing distinguished or vaguely fascinating about the stolen photograph. My comment caused OUTRAGE.
Their outrage is misplaced. The gays are so often angry but unwilling to take action. Emboldened by changing laws: each new generation of gays relive their very own glasnost, embracing ersatz activism. Their muscle drag and occasional militancy leads nowhere. Built like warriors, Spartans… fucking not fighting. Marching in the gay parade, holding their radical (campy) signs high above their heads then… a few hours later it’s back to the soupy hot tub for more identically built/identically aged/undressed… perpetual strangers. Cock first, talk later.
I seemed, during my time in the USA, to know two types of (repugnant) white gay men:
1. Semi aquatic gays who hang out in hot tubs and swimming pools. Boasting on-line about their open relationships, their poly amorous lives, one assumes they are ok smelling the stench of other men’s cum over their husband’s perfectly sculpted bodies.
2. Then there are gays like John Derian, the fay New York based purveyor of knickknacks. Publishing pictures of their grand houses, their grand friends, their holidays in equally magnificent surroundings. They need me to know what they eat, how they dress their surrogate children, how they arrange flowers and prepare the canape. These gays have open relationships built on mergers and acquisitions. Choosing men as they choose tuba roses at the farmers market. As far from love and monogamy as one can get.
The purge is complete. The result of this time-consuming exercise? My feed as dictated by Big Brother’s algorithms is now more representative of who I am. People I know in the world posting pictures of things I want to look at, asking questions I can answer, engaging meaningfully with me.
Good God! I knew so many white, American gays, fledgling proto fascists. Echoing fake news, convincing one after another what they want to us all to believe… amplifying easily digestible myths then greedily consuming them like protein bars. Post by post confirming their collective denial of what the gay community has become and where the community is headed.
During the election the noise of the myth makers in the pink echo chamber became deafening. Everyone, of course, claimed to know Robby Mook, Clinton’s gay campaign manager. Armed with their exclusive Robby Mook whispers they convinced themselves and others Hillary Clinton was unassailable. They believed everyone was thinking just like them. The violence I suffered at their hands when I told them bluntly they were wrong… was worse than any abuse I had ever suffered from any heterosexual homophobe. As it turned out, my take on the gay community was right… they were indeed wrong. Trump won.
I heard, via my own sources, Clinton beat Mook on the chest, crying and wailing…
Now the gays are right behind the liberal ‘reds in the bed’ narrative. Unquestioningly wedded to the dream of impeachment. Telling each other it’s only a matter of time before Trump is gone for good. They shyly, foolishly ask their friends on Facebook if another election will take place? After all, they bleat, we won the popular vote… even if the Russians lost Clinton the election. Their muddled polemic evolved amongst their good-looking selves on social media. Like in needle point class they stitch the narrative of their dreams as if it were true. Trump will be impeached they chant, Trump… is not my President!
My most violent confrontations on social media seems to erupt when I challenge American gay white men to explain how, as they claim, if they were hypothetically living in Nazi Germany would they take on Nazis? Contrary to their stringency most of the white gays I know would have willingly signed up to become Nazis… like most Germans did, to save their scrawny asses and of course wear the fabulous black and gold Gestapo uniforms.
My friend Bettina’s father, he lived in Germany during the war, told me he only heard about the concentration camps from annoying conspiracy theorists. The sort of people one didn’t want to believe. He was genuinely shocked, at the end of the war, to see the truth.
Few people are brave enough to challenge the regime under which they live. Most American white gays are incredibly comfortable. What would motivate any them to up sticks… unless forced to? Until the knock on the door. The stench of unwashed policemen in the kitchen demanding ‘papers’. Looking for evidence of homosexuality. The gays would hang on ’til the last-minute… until the authorities came looking for them.
The dumbest gays think in 1930 they would still enjoy the connectivity they enjoy today… their mobile phones and the internet. They think they would have access to a large group of similarly minded people, their mutual friends on Facebook. They do not understand the isolation of the activist. Activists in 1930 constantly wondered if they were the only human alive who thought the system… the regime was wrong. They were scared to articulate thoughts and ideas with others for fear of being arrested. Even gay or lesbian friends could not be trusted… lgbt friends regularly turned acquaintances over to the party for punishment.
Activists are often annoying, their message difficult to hear.
The pink triangle worn by gay men in the German concentration camps was the worst of all the badges… because it so often lead to violent and unexpected death from both guards and other inmates, the Jews in the camps would kill a gay wearing a pink triangle as easily as the Nazi. The Pink Triangle became something to aim at by bored soldiers looking for something to kill. Alan Davies the well-known and well-loved British comedian, lived in Whitstable whilst at Kent and Canterbury University. We knew each other but we were not particularly friendly. He wore a pink triangle badge into The Neptune pub in solidarity with the gays… yet continually indulged in casual and not so casual homophobia. He enjoyed his white heterosexual entitlement and when I challenged him to take off the badge he angrily determined it was his right to wear the triangle regardless of a gay man telling him he had not earned the privilege.
In the Neptune Pub I was told with sneering contempt marriage equality would never happen in my life time. Sadly, I believed them. However hard I fight, I thought, I’ll never live in a fair and equitable world.
When I made a fuss others insisted it didn’t matter. Making a fuss = activism.
Physically and verbally attacked for articulating (complaining) the iniquity and injustice gays endured every day. Made my friends feel uncomfortable.
Complaining = Activism
I wore pale blue overalls in LA County to determine I am gay. For all the world to see. There can be no mistaking what you are. They like to know exactly what they are dealing with… the authorities. Making me wear a pale blue uniform taught me a huge lesson. It flagged to the others: I am what you see me to be. I no longer enjoy invisibility. You will never let me forget my vulnerability. I am at your mercy. I learned what it was to be black in the USA wearing those overalls. My human rights lawyers assigned by the ACLU… Barry Litt and Lindsay Battles, perhaps the most ghastly people I ever met, never really understood how egregious the uniform was. They didn’t understand much other than their own egos. I hated them. I hated being around them.
I left the USA because I could no longer excuse how many innocent black men were murdered by the police paid by my tax dollars… and I asked myself: what would it take for me to think enough is enough and the first plane away? How could I justify living in a country that exploits vulnerability in all? All Americans I know, republican, democrat or progressive, buy into this version of capitalism: VULNERABILITY equals OPPORTUNITY. It is their DNA, add this to their inability to own up to uncomfortable historical facts about race and the people they displaced to live in the USA… and you have Donald Trump’s America, no different from how it always was but now the mask has gone.
Trump is going to be here for a long time. Get used to it. Nobody cares about the Russians, nobody cares if Trump is a fucking idiot. Everybody is now fully committed to the drama, the intensity of his high-octane reality TV style presidency. And get this, after his second term you’ll be voting for Ivanka who I assure you will be the first female american president.
Of course, not all gay white men believe we live in an unfair society. Since the wobbly supreme court equal marriage determination (so easily overturned) some white gay men think they are equal… the fight has been won. Even with Trump as president they convince themselves they are no longer vulnerable to exploitation. They are wrong. I am the annoying activist you don’t want to hear… to remind white American gays the battle is never won, the freedom you think you have is being eroded at this very moment in some back room at the Whitehouse in a deal between rabid Christians and some crazy Trumpista. We must always stay vigilant. Our battles fought honestly, not forged in the Supreme Court but in Congress and the Senate for all the world to see.
We spoke after getting our numbers for showers. I was number 87 and you was 86. Later that night I got out of the truck and smoked and you asked me something and then you got out and we talked for a bit. You are one nice guy and very sexy. I wish I would have been brave and asked you. If you read this what did you ask before getting out of your town? Would like to talk more and see if anything could happen.
Oscar Wilde reminds us ‘Youth is wasted on the young’. But… that was before the selfie, and the advent of the age of terminal narcissism. Thousands of American children arrest their own development by killing themselves with guns and drugs. They remain forever young on social media, perfectly pimped and pouting, biceps glistening, shirts lifted to reveal hairless abs… before the lethal opioid injection. I didn’t bother killing myself when I was young because I genuinely thought somebody else would do it for me. A bullet speeding through my brains.
Did you share a moment with yourself when you were young? A moment when you caught a glimpse, accidentally saw yourself in the mirror, a beautiful stranger looking back at you? Momentarily recognising your own youth and beauty? Has that happened to you?
I am 22, I’d been swimming in the Balham community swimming pool. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My black, wet hair stuck to my forehead, beads of water on my face, a slight blush on my cheeks. I knew I’d never be as young or as beautiful ever again. I never forgot his face, that… hopeful young man. I think I fell in love. I hanker for him… a chance encounter… a missed connection with the man I would always love above all others.
Recently I felt angry about the past. Something I couldn’t change… but it changed me. I felt angry our generation of gay men had not been allowed to flourish in the same way this generation has. I felt angry because I didn’t take relationships between men seriously, after all… what could a relationship with another man possibly lead to? Then AIDS came. Those haunted faces. Was I just meant to ignore the possibility of a gruesome death? The loathing I have for most entitled, white gay man had its genesis there… if I cannot love you I must hate you. Born out of shit covered sheets and young men begging not to die.
You were in the men’s dressing room at Balham Community Swimming Pool. Tuesday, round 2pm. July, 1982. Do you remember? You caught a glimpse of me in the mirror and smiled. You have a beautiful smile. We exchanged the briefest moment. I knew instantly you are the man for me. When I turned around… you vanished. I am from out-of-town. I have never returned to the pool but I often look in the mirror, wondering if you will be there. I wish I had been brave and asked you. Will you marry me?
All through my early 20’s I was convinced I had AIDS, I refused to believe the doctors when they told me I was not infected. I thought there was a conspiracy, doctors and nurses unwilling to tell me the truth. I had HIV test after test even though I was not having sex with anyone. I was so convinced I was dying of AIDS I ended up in hospital for my crazy obsession with death. One day a therapist asked me about my mother and the trauma of being handed over for adoption. “It’s life or death.” She said. Taken from your mother. Will you live or will you die? Fighting for life. Nothing else matters… but living. I wanted to live so badly. Yet the fear of death gripped me, driving me, defining the man I would become.
I must be safe, I must have a roof over my head, I must eat. Nothing else matters.
There’s an english baby called Charlie Gard, he’s on a life support machine. There are many people who don’t accept his doctor’s grim prognosis, they want him to have experimental treatment in the USA. The experts say it’s no use. The Charlie Gard Army they call themselves, emboldened by shoddy science and encouraged by Donald Trump they are fighting for his life in the courts. These people are much like Americans who hang around abortion clinics intimidating women having abortions. They are frail like a baby, they are powerlessness like an unborn child, they are mortally injured by contemporary life, they are fighting the establishment the only way they know how. They are oblivious, in denial that Charlie Gard is already dead… much like themselves.
The dawns early light tip toeing over the mountain tops here in Chamonix. I am contemplating David’s funeral this Thursday and pondering my journey home to say a poignant au revoir when I discovered (by Facebook messenger) from our cousin Andy Roy my careless brothers Stuart and Martin Roy had jumped the gun and buried our father yesterday… two days ahead of the planned cremation, therefore robbing his friends and family of their opportunity to say goodbye.
Wreaths will go undelivered, his name spelt in white carnations and chrysanthemum. Days taken off work will be spent elsewhere.
Stuart and Martin, this was a desperate act of self sabotage.
The following was written before the fateful message…
My father David Roy, even if he merely adopted me to save my Mother’s blushes, even if he was a violent family man from whom our mother failed to rescue herself or… us. Do we need to punish him in death? My brothers Martin and Stuart Roy seem to think so. Who are they punishing? They cannot hurt him. They merely seek to injure the living.
This picture of David on the left with his brothers Jimmy and Alec taken in 1964.
As he lay dying they were emptying his home.
My father was a social man, an avid sportsman, surrounded every night by his friends… described by my unsocial Mother as his ‘cronies’. This week, after he heard I had spoken to my father’s best friend Don, Martin Roy called Don and screamed at him, told him he could not come to the funeral, to stay ‘out of his family’. Don said no one had ever spoken to him like that. I remember Martin screaming at me… when I told the truth about our abusive father in my film AKA. Screaming, screaming to quiet the noise in his own head. Martin needs help… help to forgive, help letting go.
Martin Roy, I suggest you spend your meagre inheritance seeking answers before you destroy your son Oscar with your toxic nature. You think he’s oblivious to these rank shenanigans? You think sensitive little Oscar brought up by our mother in your home is… oblivious? Amazingly, you think our mother is going to succeed with Oscar when she failed so miserably with us?
My father’s friend Don sobbed on the phone as he described David’s last painful hours. My father begged Don not to leave him at the hospital, he didn’t want to be on his own when he died. He was terrified of being on his own. He called Don.
“Are you at the football club?” he asked.
“No, Dave. It’s 6am.”
Don seemed shocked by my father’s vulnerability, he did not recognise the man laying before him. I think Dave’s confusion… scared him. David did not call on his sons to help him face death. He knew he had ravaged us. He knew he would have to face the truth when he looked into our eyes. David did not want the truth. He called upon his friends who sat beside him as he took his last breath.
David Roy knew what kind of funeral he wanted. David wanted the funeral procession to pass by Cain’s, and linger a few minutes outside the arcade where he worked on Herne Bay seafront. He specified songs and hymns he wanted playing. He wanted, as the mourners left the chapel for a recording of Take That’s A Million Love Songs to remind them he was with them, he would always be with them.
All week I’ve been trying to have David’s last wishes honoured but I was thwarted by my brothers. The lady at the funeral home was very sympathetic. The young man at the crematorium told me my brothers had bought the cheapest funeral on offer. I told the family to ignore my brother’s threats. I encouraged them to go to the funeral and say their last goodbye. I hope the family and friends who loved David attend the funeral in Barham tomorrow. I hope they ignore the protestations of David’s two mortally wounded sons.
How much money could one pay a child to endure a miserable childhood? How much does it cost to beat a boy so badly he loses his way? How much money could one pay an adolescent for an absent father? How much money is it worth to a grown man to have his children ignored by his own father? What inheritance should a man receive for a life he knows his indifferent father thinks worthless?
Did David visit either of his sons in Prison? Martin and Stuart both had stints in prison for drugs and guns. Usual white trash bull shit. Nothing serious.
I’ve been thinking a great deal of my brothers this week. The price they paid for a destroyed family, the tragedy they endured. I thought of my brother Stuart and how much he suffered at his father’s hands and what little he will be paid for that suffering. I know for sure Stuart has never spoken to a therapist. Recently, on his way home from a convivial evening with friends, he was beaten in the street. Two boys took him down and a girl hammered a stiletto into his head, his wife Lucy screaming… pulling them off his frail body. Apparently he has not recovered from the attack. The beating he received as an adult must have reminded him of the beatings he received as a child. And what of crazy Martin? After years of hard-drinking, raving and hallucinogenics his wife falls down dead, his son left crawling over the corpse. What is that worth?
David Roy was not my blood father but he took the time to adopt me, saving my Mother the shame of having to explain her teenage indiscretion. When I found out David was not my father I was relieved… however, whatever happened between us I ended up feeling warmly toward him. Like a stranger in the street. I held no malice. This last thirty years I had written plays and films… I had spoken to therapists and counsellors and psychiatrists. Eventually I understood all I had… was my story and I knew in my heart: I am not my story, I am NOT my story. My forgiveness is real.
I hope Stuart and Martin find peace of mind… I doubt they ever will.
I spent my birthday weekend with friends who live near Lari, Tuscany.
My friend Rachel lives with her husband Rick and their two daughters in a spacious converted barn. They have very territorial cats who immediately attacked poor Dude sinking their claws into his back. The screams were horrible to hear. Poor Dude.
Rachel’s delightful, wiry husband is such a BOY! Rick works as an engineer and loves paragliding, planes, boats and motorbikes all of which litter the huge plot of land they share with goats and their donkey Pablo. Rick was friendly, sympathetic and an incredibly attentive host. He took me to the local communist bar in Lari where we enjoyed wonderful views over vineyards where we smoked rolled cigarettes and drank espresso.
Lari is famous for the pasta company Martelli. And thank God it has this family owned company manufacturing pasta right in the middle of Lari. So many little towns in Tuscany have been affected by the economic disaster of 2007. So many crumbling mansions. So little to look forward to. This hillside fort has everything going for it including a theatre festival which began this week.
Rachel is the kind of Mother I wish I had. Kind, attentive, protective. I watched her parent her children, patiently guiding them… and I felt insulted, aggrieved. Insulted by the lack of love in my own childhood. Aggrieved the love I had for men was, until recently, maligned and devalued. I was not taught to love and the love I had for others dare not speak its name.
We had supper with her friend Steven, an elderly heterosexual english man with a partner 40 years his junior. He took us to a pork sandwich, hole in the wall restaurant… very Tuscan, perfect. We discussed Wilde, he was fascinated and fascinating.
I explored Pisa with their handsome nephew Davide and enjoyed Rick’s beautiful beach home in Castiglioncello on the Tuscan coast, once the home of Marcello Mastroianni. We ate squid ink pasta at a perfect beach side restaurant near the Villa Godilonda. On the way home I enjoyed the Umbrella Pines planted by the Medici. I love Umbrella Pines.
It was a perfect escape. A few hours drive from Chamonix. Thank God for the Mont Blanc tunnel.
A few delightful days in Paris and Barcelona restored my serenity. No more searing heat, the weather more temperate, heavy clouds bursting over us. The rain washing away the last of the red, Andalusian dust. Well dressed men, once again, to look at on the streets. Mary’s spare room, decorated with Honiton lace and embroidered white linen. We walk the length of Parc St Cloud with our dogs wearing gun boots and waxed jackets. The Little Dog is almost fully restored, his eye closes once again, his sagging jowl looks perfectly normal to those who do not know. One evening we helped friends of Mary move house. TV Producer Etienne Alban, recently separated from his wife and kids, moving in with his super cute… yoga instructor girlfriend. Alban and I carried a huge sofa six flights to their huge new attic apartment. After the exercise we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at The Hotel Edgar. Their boudin noir… superb.
The following day I drove from Paris to Chamonix listening to an audio recording of the novel 1984. It is a compellingly joyless book. Because I am a ditz I arrived a day early. So I booked the Hotel Isabelle and slept fitfully thinking about my time in Carmona. More specifically I dreamt about my Carmona host and friend Ana Corbero, the chatelaine of an 11 acre estate called The Pajarita nestled outside the old city walls of Carmona beneath the The Hotel Parador and the Cordoba Gate. I dreamt a huge storm roared as I looked north from Ana’s terrace toward the great plain which was once the sea. I was pointing at something. “Land ahoy!” In the dream the waves returned after a thousand years and swept over the fields of sunflowers. Sea monsters curled out of the petulant waves then crashed into the salty foam.
My time in Carmona with Ana had been stormy, her demeanor quite different from the beautiful girl I chanced upon 35 years ago.
I met Ana Corbero in 1985 or thereabouts introduced by gallerist and curator Celia Lyttleton. Ana was showing a collection of unremarkable paintings at the Albemarle Gallery. Celia introduced her as the daughter of a well-known Spanish sculptor, the girlfriend of a Lord. She was tiny… gamine, scarcely a women. Her queer and marvelous features delicately carved and flocked, her fierce and sparkling black eyes challenging those of us who dared contradict her. She demanded respect. Her flamenco gestures, her delicate collar bones. She was beautiful.
I don’t remember a great deal about the beginning of our friendship other than the first night at the gallery.
Ana had been enjoying a fractious relationship with the absurdly handsome Colin Campbell, 7th Earl Cawdor. I do not remember them visiting me in Whitstable but apparently they did. I do not remember going to Wheelers Oyster Bar and eating crab but apparently we did. I do remember Ana’s invitation to Brooklyn the following summer where I stayed in Colin’s huge apartment, the top floor of an abandoned school he and another had recently bought. It was located just over the Williamsburg Bridge. Brooklyn was very different then. Crack addicts sat on the stoop. The Puerto Rican community had not been replaced by Hasidic Jews and dumb looking hipsters. The sky at night was regularly lit by flaming, abandoned buildings. Some called these arson attacks: Jewish lightning.
The walk into Manhattan over the Williamsburg Bridge felt unnecessary. We stayed close to the apartment. Colin and I had a fairly raucous time. Even then I felt contempt for toffs but they had all the best toys so one tended to accept the invitations whenever they came. It was an eventful trip. I had a brief affair with the artist Paul Benney. I threw a bbq from the roof of Gerard Malanga’s apartment*. We were the only white people at an African-American block party and ended up in a black police captain’s humble house. He looked very uncomfortable. Years later, I understand why. White, english people badly educated about slavery or the history of black people in the USA. We must have seemed very disrespectful.
Ana and Colin’s relationship was passionate and destructive. I blamed Colin for his insensitivity toward Ana. I excused Ana her eccentricities. The last image I have of her at that time: Ana is resting serenely in a nest of pillows, she has written in pen on her forehead one word… SILENCE.
Years passed. Many years. I remembered the word scrawled on her face. Social media reintroduced us. She married Nabil Gholam an arab architect and 18 years ago they had a baby girl. Sadly, their child is badly disabled with a rare genetic disease. Against the odds, the child survives. Ana fought to make her daughter hear and see. She refused to accept the doctor’s bleak prognosis. Ana lived in Beirut during the Israeli bombardment. Breastfeeding on her balcony as the bombs fell. She adopted two more children. A boy and a girl, both Lebanese. The architect became successful. They bought apartments in London, Paris and Seville. When her grandparents who raised her died she bought the Pajarita with a small inheritance. The Pajarita, a modest finca surrounded by acres of scorched, brown earth and rock where the locals dumped their trash. Ana set to transforming this barren place with many gardeners into the paradise she and her family enjoy today.
During the years I suggested to traveling friends I knew to be in Spain… meet Ana. I sent the lazy, derivative Australian furniture designer Charles Wilson who I believed might benefit creatively from a stint in Andalusia. But Charles, another terrible drunk, ended up being thrown out of Xavier Corbero’s house in Barcelona because Ana’s step mother hated him. Charles refused to leave so Ana’s husband threatened him with gypsies (a common, vaguely racist, threat from Nabil) who would break Charles’s legs if he didn’t pack his bag and leave immediately.
I sent Jenna and Stephen Mack’s brother John Jr., son of billionaire Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack. Even though I did not know John Jr. I trusted they would be a great fit. That introduction worked out very well. Now it was my turn to meet Ana. We communicated solely by text message. After the long drive from Nice I called her and, for the first time in 35 years, I heard her voice. The deep and rasping voice of somebody who smokes too many cigarettes or talks too much… or both.
“Why do you want to see me?” She asks over the phone.
I did not have an easy answer.
There was unfinished business between Ana and me. It was not tangible, it was esoteric. I had no expectations of Ana. I simply wanted to see her face. Without the word SILENCE scrawled on it. We might have met that afternoon, had a coffee and left it at that. I would have driven north. I had no idea what to expect but I was compelled to see her, meet her again. We arranged to meet at the small apartment she rented for guests in Carmona.
“How do you like your new digs?” She said as she got out of her huge silver Mercedes.
“Stay as long as you like.”
I gave her a long hug. Her father, Xavier Corbero, had recently died. I sniffed and she thought I was crying. “I’m not crying,” I said, “I’m sniffing.” Ana was back in my life. Her face was not the same as I remembered when I last saw her. She has hidden herself on social media because, I now understood, she could not bear what age had done to her. Almost immediately she complained how old she was, how raddled. She was embarrassed by her face.
“I’ve turned into a middle-aged Swedish woman.” she said. “I hope you’re not disappointed.”
It was true. Middle aged and middle class. Her face, bloated and pale, almost anemic. Her dry hair, she insisted she wanted to dye gray, streaked with sun bleached golden locks. Her eyes were just as fiery but no longer black. There was something stone dried about her, something suspicious. I slowly recognised who she had become. The reason I felt compelled to see her? The reason why so many years ago she left something indelible in me? It was something I recognized in myself. Within a few hours my suspicions were confirmed. Ana Corbero is an alcoholic of the most desperate kind.
We walked up the small cobbled hill from the apartment to the Casa Curro Montoya… her favorite restaurant. She flamboyantly kisses the owners and lavishes us all with praise. We sat in the hot sun and drank white wine and ate greasy jamon. Immediately, without prompting, she started telling me how her marriage was over. Her husband was a liar, she said, and she didn’t know if she could stay married to him.
“He lies about his father and their relationship. I am married to a stranger.”
I was baffled why this should be reason for divorce but Ana, it turns out, is obsessed with her version of the truth. Under the parasol that dreamy afternoon I found her deeply personal over sharing electrifying. I was being inducted into a tortured world of intrigue and family drama… it felt intoxicating. She contemptuously described her adopted children, how her lazy teen son lied and failed at school. Her pre teen daughter stole and refused to respect her Mother’s authority. I ask about their eldest daughter. “Oh, her.” she mused distantly. A slight smile flickered over her face. “She’s an angel.”
I do not remember driving to the Pajarita that afternoon. I drove to her home so many times the next few weeks. It is a dusty, pot holed road to Ana’s home. Red dust gets into everything, into the car, my mouth, my heart. During my stay the sharp red rocks rip into my tyres… twice. Yet, once behind the sliding metal gates of the Pajarita… decorated with dragons and comic strip birds there is… the illusion of calm. Beyond the painted blue iron gate a forest of pepper trees, oleander and citrus. Terracotta pots filled with herbs and lilies. Vines, dripping with grapes grow over pergolas affording shade, respite from the searing heat. Down an exquisitely cobbled path the simple house reveals itself. There are huge windows covered with traditional Spanish blinds made of esparto… woven reeds. Inside, rooms of various sizes at different levels filled with stuff. Ana’s art covers the walls. Piles of art books and catalogues from Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Broken china knickknacks. Buckets of architectural salvage. Most of it inherited from her grand parents. So much stuff.
Many staff run Ana’s estate and life. Annie the housekeeper and general fixer. Three nurses look after the disabled daughter. There are gardeners and flamenco guitarists, a governess for the adopted daughter and a masseur who comes daily. On occasions Ana would marshal the staff and demand they sing songs of her own composition. They did as they were told.
Annie, a simple local woman and (it became apparent) loathed by the son… was Ana’s most trusted servant. As well as dusting, ironing and making beds Annie, Ana told me, was being groomed to write Ana’s autobiography and mix her paints whenever she started painting again. Annie would also run the restaurant whenever Ana got around to opening it. Annie, forced to kiss us all as per the ‘Andalusian way’.
I refused to kiss Ana’s staff.
“I can’t bear lies or exaggeration.” Ana says. “I am never impatient, I am never angry.”
During the first few days of my stay we find a happy routine. I have practical considerations. I apply for my Spanish residency, open a bank account and get a phone. I take the dogs to the vet in Seville. The vet is quite the most handsome man I ever met. I decide to buy a house in Carmona. They are cheap and plentiful. Ana is incredibly helpful. She introduces me to a lawyer, a realtor and makes every effort to ease me into Spanish life. We find a perfectly preserved 16th Century house near the Cordoba Gate. I need an assistant. She introduces me to Jose, her own assistant for five years but curiously tells me he is not welcome at her home.
“He needs to pull his head out of his ass.”
Why she makes the introduction to Jose is a mystery. And why is he unwelcome at the Pajarita? Jose is a good man. Friendly and helpful. I confide in Jose. I am shocked by the way Ana treats her children, the contempt she has for her husband. I rant at Jose about Ana. She believes she’s always right, she’s never wrong, the interminable interruptions at dinner so conversations between adults become utterly fruitless and frustrating. Ana interrupts with shrill, ill-informed dissent. Blighted with a remarkable lack of insight and self-awareness Ana’s inability to see her part in any dispute caused me much incredulity.
Jose smiles and listens.
“I don’t have a problem, YOU have a problem.” Ana insists.
Three days into my visit Nabil arrives with their son. They are very pleasant but I have already had my mind poisoned against them. Expecting the worse I’m surprised to find her husband kind and considerate, compensating for his wife’s excesses. He is a gentle man and every day works hard to keep his marriage alive. Nabil shows me his watch collection, explaining how he transports his wealth around the world at times of war. In the evening, when she is at her worse, Nabil makes excuses for her rapidly disintegrating behaviour.
Their son is a perfectly ordinary teenage boy. He has a girlfriend, he has thick black hair, he is interested in sport and fashion and making money trading sneakers… we went to the fashion outlet in Seville but it was closed. He was funny and charming. House hunting one morning I paid him to translate for me. He has a keen understanding of people. He could read between the lines. He enjoys his life at boarding school.
I find him in his room trying to write. Ana has asked him to imagine a fifty year life plan. He looks helpless. An absurd request the teenager knows he must fulfill. When, after several weeks, the 50 year plan arrives Ana is outraged. Why does the plan does not include Spain and by inference… her? Why should it? Ask a boy to map out the next fifty years is abuse enough. But this was just one of many abuses, her plan to punish him for not appreciating how lucky he was that she had taken the time and money to adopt him. He could never be grateful enough. She confided that she planned to take him out of the boarding school he loved and punish him for his lack of sensitivity by sending him to his paternal grandfather… who Ana hated. Nabil, when we are on our own, desperately whispers an appeal to me,
“Please help me, can you make her see sense?”
It was no use, Ana is always hell-bent on revenge, riven by some resentment for some poor sap. Ana reminded both her children how lucky they were to have her as their adopted mother. These scenes pulled straight out of the movie Mommy Dearest. But Joan Crawford, bless her tortured soul, was a saint in comparison.
We drive to Seville for lunch with John Mack Jr. who mocks Ana’s constant, inebriated interruptions. John Mack Jr has his own demons but I wanted to hear everything he had to say. I had been very close with his brother Stephen and worked with his sister Jenna. Both relationships had come to nothing. Of course John claims he knows nothing of his sister’s appalling arrogance… he is his father’s son. He knew everything. He had his own brush with addiction, a failed marriage and traumas only the son of a billionaire would understand. Stephen Mack told me once their father would say of his enemies, “I’ll make them hurt.” His father wasn’t called ‘Mack the Knife’ for no reason. Jenna was very eager for me to meet her parents but I knew it would turn out badly, getting dragged along to events I had no reason to be at. I met Mack senior, who one couldn’t help respecting, several times. I had dinner with Jenna and her father at The Mercer Hotel and again at a High Line charity event. Jenna, Stephen and John’s parents are a great team, they donate millions to charity, they delight in taking pictures of couples in the street who don’t have selfie sticks.
I knew my father was the same as John Mack. Cruel and kind in equal measure.
When I said goodbye to John Mack Jr. after lunch (he cycled off into the hot, congested Seville streets) I knew I would never meet him or any member of his family ever again.
As I grow closer to my assistant Jose it becomes apparent that he doesn’t merely dislike Ana, he hates her. He hates her with a shocking vengeance. It is painful for him to carry such hate in his heart. He warns me to think carefully about staying in Carmona, he cautions if I buy a house in Carmona I will end up hating Ana. He warns me people very close to Ana hate her. The owners of the restaurant hate her, he warns she has fallen out with everyone who lives in Carmona, accusing them of crimes and disappointments, their relationships blighted with unrealistic expectations.
Jose describes Ana’s tantrums, how she would regularly reduce him to tears with her demands and mendacity. His impersonation of her clawing at her own face demanding she wanted what she wanted… NOW! Nothing would placate her. He tried helping her but failed. He still finds it hard to forgive himself for walking away. Walking away from the children he loved and cared for.
I took the adopted girl to meet Jose. They hadn’t seen each other for years. They cried and hugged. We wandered the streets of Carmona until midnight. Jose kept thanking me for bringing her to see him. We ate ice cream and sat in the forum. When we returned to the Pajarita Ana looks quizzically at me. Taking the child to meet Jose could be construed as an act of betrayal. I apologize for bringing her home so late.
The following day Ana is screaming at her children, “Why don’t you bring your friends to the Pajarita?” It is obvious why… to those of us who are the children of abusive parents. There’s shame and fear around alcoholism and the unpredictability of an alcoholic parent. Neither child want their friends to meet Ana. Neither want to explain her behaviour. I saw the fear in their eyes when Ana looked as if she was going to lose her temper. The night she couldn’t make the ancient iPod work and began blaming her daughter. The panicking child wrestled with the iPod, willing it to work. Finally she managed to make it play and disaster was averted. I’m sure the little girl didn’t want to be reminded once more why she should be grateful Ana adopted her and how easily she could be sent back to the children’s home.
The daughter dances, she entertains Ana’s guests with gymnastics, endless cartwheels and overtly sexual dance moves she learns from TV shows like Glee. Playing the same track over and over. I was asked to judge endless dance routines. She was desperate to impress. Yet, however hard the child tries to please… it is never good enough.
“Hold your hands like this” Ana demands. “No! Not like that… like this.” Ana lunges beside her daughter and demonstrates what she wants to see. Ana demands we all dance. I dance for a moment then I sit down and watch the scene unfold. The dance with her daughter becomes violent, twirling the child around until finally it is no longer a dance but a fight… Ana body slams the girl onto the floor. The child is crying and Ana falls badly into the television. She mocks the child for crying, mocks her use of a hearing aid. She swears at the child and accuses her of making sexual advances to Nabil. Once, in the pool, Ana tore off the child’s bathing costume, tossing it out of the pool. Ana is laughing like a maniac, the child is pleading. I throw the costume back into the pool. Then I walk away, saving the kid the embarrassment of being seen naked. Jose, when I tell him… is not surprised. There were times when he wanted to report her to the police for child abuse. The following day Ana wonders why her back hurts so badly. I remind her but she doesn’t remember the fight. She has no recollection. How much of the time is she blacked out?
“Time for drinkypoos?” She says.
Like an infirmed english aristocrat the pronouncement comes when Nabil is at home… otherwise she’s opening bottles all day. She’s already stoned long before she starts drinking. I learned not to go near the house until she is drunk or stoned enough not to be a total bitch. Waiting for an invitation to join her. If I stayed at the Pajarita I would slip away before she woke up. When her interest in me cooled her morning emails and text messages were filled with vile insults and personal attacks. By then I was employing every technique Alanon afforded me. Let go with love, they say. Every day I let her go… with love. Soon I would have to let go of her forever.
The night Nabil left for London and Beirut I was sitting by the pool with Ana enjoying a rare, balmy evening. We spent a lot of time talking about her future, her work, galleries and retrospectives. I was convinced she was capable of making the huge changes in her life necessary for her to be recognised as an important artist. We talked about male artists who were commanding huge sums in galleries and at auction. We discussed how women artists have been impoverished by men. After meeting her disabled daughter my understanding of her work swelled. The cute sculptures of girls looking heavenward meant something. Ana has spent years working out her feelings toward her disabled daughter using her art, especially her sculpture. Her work, like so many women… unlike the work of so many men, has never been contextualized. The story is never told. “Your work is beyond the vagina.” I said. She laughed. Ana is not easily complimented. So, we concentrate on her potential. I liked mulling over future possibilities with her.
Without warning she rolled toward me and laid her head on my chest.
She said, “I find you overwhelmingly attractive. I want to grow old with you.”
At that very moment I knew our friendship was over. I shifted in my seat. If I rebuffed Ana I risked her unconscionable wrath. She repeated the words.
“I want to grow old with you.”
Finally, I affected my most affable self and said,”Oh, silly… what would Nabil say?”
She lifted her head. She was not going to be fobbed off with that.
“I don’t put my head on anyone’s chest.” She began, her voice becoming defensive. She continued speaking but I could not hear her… I was in a blind panic. I knew it was over, at that moment I knew my time around Ana had come to an end.
The following days she called me names by text (fat and old) and generally took time to insult and belittle me. She denounced me as a traitor to the Pajarita. I found myself drifting to the house knowing full well what reception I would receive. She warned me, I was no longer ‘drama free’ I was accused of bringing stress and ‘baggage’ into her life. Thankfully, her friend Alfonso and his daughter arrived. Perhaps he would grow old with her? I slipped out of the pre arranged parties to which I was tacitly expected to attend. I had no interest in being around her. It was over. Soon I was packing up the car and headed north. My time in Carmona but not Spain… had come to an end.
Ana Corbero signs all her emails or text messages with ‘Luv and Light A xxx’. It is ironic because she has a dark soul. A monster for whom no cage will ever be built… unless of course she embraces sobriety and thereby solves her chronic addiction to resentment.
*Recently I bumped into Gerard Malanga, frail and limping, in a small French cafe on Warren Street in Hudson, New York and apologised for my drunken indiscretion all those years ago. Although furious at the time he sweetly claimed not to remember the incident.