New York, July 2017.
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.
The heat is overwhelming. A blanket of scorching air thrown over the city. The dogs wilt, I pretend it’s just like Malibu but… it’s not. Southern Spain. I’m driving to Nice this week, then on to Paris and Chamonix to pick up my stuff. I managed to leave things all over the place. Ditching supurflous stuff along the way. Lightening the load. Occasionally I look at Dude and wonder if I should ditch him… poor crippled Dude. His back legs giving in, he wants to catch up but he just can’t. I can’t. I can’t leave him behind.
At 5am, I took my coffee cup and the Little Dog. We sat quietly looking out at the wide open plain, great fields of sunflowers, traffic snaking here and there. Sitting outside the Cordoba Gate. What dramas happened here? Who was allowed in and who was kept out? The two large fortified towers flanking a Roman arch were built around the 1st century A.D., with Renaissance and Neoclassical renovations. It was designed to protect and reflect the great wealth Carmona enjoyed for hundreds of years.
A man arrives with his chestnut gelding. As the horse drinks from the stone trough he drenches the beast with a plastic bucket. How welcome that trough must have been to those who arrived (for hundreds of years) on horseback over this arid plain. Waiting for the great doors to swing open, waiting outside the Cordoba gate, waiting to be let in or not.
I am going to stay the weekend in Italy with Rachel. Near Pisa. She has a donkey and two beloved cats. At night Carmona is over run with scavenging cats. Hundreds of them, like rats in New York. They are too confident to be scared by me or the Little Dog even though he makes an occasional and pathetic attempt at charging them. Their backs arch, they hiss and show their claws. He stops a couple of feet away and makes his strange whimper.
Last night my friend Jose and I explored the ancient part of the city. At 10.30 it was still very hot. Then suddenly the wind comes from Cadiz, from the ocean… 60 miles away. You can taste the salt. We turn a corner and the welcome breeze fills our shirts and closes our eyes.
We were chronicling abandoned houses, with or with out se vende signs written on them. Taking note of the location of each. “Everything is for sale in Spain.” The realtor says. There are palaces and broken shacks, old towers and ancient islamic, crenelated walls formerly part of the old city fortification that crash into very ordinary houses and quite by accident these medieval battlements, parapets and mouldings are consumed and preserved.
Everything in Spain is for sale. They see me coming: the friend of the rich celebrity. The price of everything jumps $40k. They show me the same houses they showed other friends two years ago. Unlocking ancient doors, we wander through huge homes once occupied by many families. There are slim balconies, stone steps leading to terraces looking down on secret courtyards. There is pigeon shit and kittens mewing in every room in every house we saw. Abandoned lives: a simple chair, a faience pot, a richly embroidered matador’s jacket hanging on the wall. Left behind, like my luggage in Paris and Chamonix.
Jose asks me why I want to live in Carmona. They asked me about Tivoli and Malibu before. Why does anyone want to live anywhere? I don’t know. I could live anywhere and nowhere. I am transient. I am free of possession or need for possessions. I go where I am safe. It is safe here. I lived in so much fear in the USA. Fear of being caught without my papers. Fear of the state. I was not rich or powerful enough not to live in fear.
We wake at 4.30am. We siesta after lunch. The streets fill, the shops and bars open after 9pm. During the day Dude will not leave my friend, he hides under their garden furniture. I keep the dogs out of the heat as much as I can. The Little Dog is gradually (slowly) recovering from his facial paralysis. He’s still very droopy but he’s coping. He’s doing the best he can. I’m doing the best I can. I am covered with sweat and dust. My nose is crusty, my eyes exhausted. I am recovering my optimism.
Since leaving the USA I am not plagued with ideas of death, with dark thoughts, with hopelessness. I am not hurting myself by investing in old traumas. Not here. I don’t want to die. Not where there has been so much life for hundreds of thousands of years. I am a smear soon to be forgotten. My unpopular views on social media but dust. It’s incumbent on me to stay alive. To rejoice. America makes a man vulnerable. It destroys ones trust in humanity. I came to loathe so many people in the USA but I hated gay white men more than any other. They are vile and crude. They espouse ideas of love and acceptance but practiced hate and exclusivity.
Today we are having lunch in Seville with Spanish gays. I am excited. The gay men I meet here are so generous. They touch my shoulder, they embrace me warmly. At first I shrank from their kindness. I learned not to trust white gay men. But, I’ve warmed to them here. They understand. They understand what horrors I endured in the USA.
One thousand 800 miles. Driving. I began this adventure a little ways outside of Turin in a drowsy hamlet called Cinaglio, an ancient place clinging to the side of a steep hill. During this haphazard journey I planned to revisit old friends. Old friends and familiar locations.
I’ve already written how I left the USA, visiting my sister in Canada. I’ve written about arriving in Paris and staying with Mary in Sevres, I touched upon my time in Chamonix and driving under Mont Blanc but I haven’t published any of that. I’m sure it answers questions some want answering. I’ll publish when I feel comfortable.
Cinaglio, I stayed in a magnificent 17th Century farm-house set in the glorious Piedmont countryside. The house belongs to my friend Maria. We are all about the same age. We have lines on our faces and odd blemishes. I met Maria 20 years ago with her cousin Xavier. I was on the jury of the Turin film festival. They invited the jurors to her house and even though we spent only a few hours there, both Maria and her house stayed vibrant in my memory. She latterly visited my home in Whitstable and ate crab.
We arrived… nothing had changed. Not in 20 years. It was just as I had remembered it. The unused, dusty chapel, the tumbledown brick barn. The views over vineyards and sweeping lawns. It was formerly Maria’s mother’s house and really hasn’t been touched for 50 or so years. There is no internet or little else to prove the 21st Century was 17 years in. The Little Dog and Dude immediately set to exploring the gardens, digging under fallen trees and hunting lizards. Maria left the house for us and stayed else where, she filled the fridge with local delicacies. Ham and apricots, hazelnut cake and coffee. The night we arrived Maria and her fiance very kindly treated us to dinner. We ate in the waiting room of an abandoned railway station. There were endless courses, pasta, raw meat with truffles and braised donkey. I looked at them enviously drinking red wine and wanted to join in… but didn’t. Yet, I’ve never been more curious.
Did I mention I stopped going to AA meetings? Several months ago? The problem with AA? AA claims all your successes and blames you for all your failings. ‘I stopped going to meetings,’ is the number one excuse people give who start drinking after long-term sobriety. But why did they stop going to meetings? After 20 years I can tell you. I was bored. Bored with the same stories, the same faces, the 12 steps, the bumptious newcomers and… the ghastly old timers trapped between their arrogance and their low self-esteem. Of course not all of them were like that. But mostly they were. And what’s more? I hated who I was becoming. I loathed the fights and the resentment only AA afforded me.
Leaving a cult after so many years is bloody hard. A good cult will own your life then blame you for turning your back on it.
I stayed with Maria in Cinaglio for 4 wonderful nights. The second night she threw a lavish dinner at the house for 12 of her friends. They drank desert wine. It smelled delicious. We ate chicken and pork.
The following day we had lunch in Turin. Turin is a magical city and scores high on the list of places I would consider for my next home. I’m sure if the Romans who planned the city of Turin returned at any time they would still recognize it. The snowy alps in the distance, the River Po and the Beverly type hills overlooking Turin’s orderly grid would have perfectly oriented a time traveling Roman. The apartments I saw for sale on-line are lavish and well priced. The streets are crammed with interesting people and after lunch we were entertained with a boisterous ‘decriminalize cannabis’ march headed by a charismatic drum major who filled the street with a vibrant drum display that cracked through us like thunder.
I discovered Zara Home. My dirty little secret. I love this store.
The little dog is less wobbly but not as confident. He thinks twice before jumping into the car or onto the bed. His face is still squiffy. He can’t close his eye, he has solutions… ingeniously wedging his face between two pillows forcing the droopy lid to cover his exposed eye. The week before last he was a young dog and today he is an old dog. It comes on quite suddenly… old age. I suppose I thought he would be the same until the end. Just himself. But he’s not himself. That’s a painful thing to see. We seem just one step ahead of death.
My US phone ceased functioning after my first few days in France. Rather than call AT&T I decided not to have a phone… or rather I would wait for text messages and emails whenever I could log onto the internet. It forced me to look at the landscape, I listened to music. Massive Attack reminded me of Gulshan and Bournemouth Film School and the beach. It reminded me that I hadn’t smoked weed for nearly 21 years.
The road from Turin to Monaco was empty and the tolls were expensive. The Italian Riviera looked very interesting and certainly worth a closer inspection.
In Monaco I struggled onto a train with my luggage and two dogs. The train to Nice was easy. I found a delightful hotel in the old quarter where I spent the next four nights. From Nice it was convenient to catch up with old friends and revisit the Cannes film festival. The last train from Cannes to Nice leaves at 10.41pm so I had no option but to leave the festivities and do dog duties. In Nice I had lunch with Tim Fountain and saw Cassian Elwes, meeting his new girlfriend. I hung out with a bunch or errant Brits and Irishmen. We found a comfortable lounge and drank grapefruit cocktails and I met actor Laurie Calvert who is very sexy indeed.
The final day was a little frustrating as the credit card company decided to block my credit card. I had failed to tell them I was going to France. It took 8 hours to unblock. I finally picked up my rental car a day later than expected and started my drive to Carmona.
A few miles outside of Cannes I stopped at a service station and standing outside were M and S, a pair of German engineering students hitch hiking from Munich to Barcelona for charity. They had to perform certain stunts along the way for which they were compensated.
I’m sure we all remember the moment Aschenbach lays eyes on Tadsio in the film Death in Venice and is immediately consumed by the young man’s beauty. Well, I have to tell you when I first saw M and they asked for a lift and I said yes… I rather hoped they might have found a better ride whilst I was in the service station buying provisions. I knew having him sitting beside me for 4 hours was going to be excruciating. What’s more… one of their stunts was to drive without pants in the car. So, I had a semi naked German god sitting next to me pantless in the car. He was very well aware of his exquisite beauty and how he was affecting his driver… me.
Then, at his behest, we started telling each other our stories. I told mine. Then he started his. His father had recently committed suicide… his father was my age. A theme was emerging. My sister and I had discussed our enigmatic dead father. The boy’s story… and I was on my way to see a friend whose father had recently died. I was overwhelmed not only with his beauty but his wit, sincerity and strength.
I left the boys in Barcelona. They had to swim and dance and take picture. There was a moment when he was totally naked in front of me, shamelessly changing out of his swim costume. Looking at me, his piercing green eyes. He was gifting me a lifetime of memories. A beautiful 24-year-old with golden hair and heart… a thousand tears he needs to cry.
That night I found a small hotel in Valencia. I lay thinking about the boy and how fathers can deliberately and cruelly leave their loving sons. “Nobody expected it,” he said. I was exhausted. I slept soundly with the dogs and woke refreshed, I ate a hearty breakfast, chiros and thick dark chocolate. Spain lay before me. Soon the industrial North gave way to red earth and olive trees, vineyards and moorish architecture. I sped toward Madrid, Cordoba and Seville.
The Ex of In House in Rhinebeck is an experimental guest house developed directly from the ongoing Explorations of “IN” project at Steven Holl Architects.
Jim Hodges, Gladstone Gallery NYC 2016. I Dreamed a World and Called it Love
Imagining, like millions of others this weekend, how one might spend a billion dollars… I learned something helpful about myself and my life goals.
Recently I met a psychic. She told me my mother would win the lottery. I told my mother to play… she won $50. She was thrilled. I was thrilled for her.
Gripped by Powerball fever, everybody wants a chance at the big money. Everybody wants the Powerball mega bucks payout. I took notice of the rolling stock market jackpot indicator. $700,000,000. I baulked at the tax one would have to pay. You wouldn’t see any more than $300,000,000 if you opted for the one time pay out. Sad face.
Frankly, a crisp $20 would have done the trick.
Everybody wants the jackpot. Rich people were doing it, poor people do it every week. With so much at stake, everyone everywhere in the USA contributed to the largest purse in lottery history.
I surreptitiously bought five tickets at Hannaford supermarket in Kingston. I told the woman who sold them I’d never bought a lottery ticket before. A ghost of disbelief flickered across her white face.
“A psychic told me to buy it.” I lied.
She said, “I’ve sold so many tickets to ‘first timers’ this week.”
“Thank you, thank you for that.” I replied.
I felt better about buying a lottery ticket. I felt relieved. Affluent people don’t buy lottery tickets. Poor, uneducated people buy lottery tickets. It was essential she understood I would never usually gamble in the ghetto.
As I lay in bed that night, my ticket folded neatly in my wallet, I imagined a life with $500, 000, 000 in the bank. What would I do?
We are all limited by our imaginations.
I’ve seen some of my friends earn extraordinary amounts of money. The last time I saw JJ he told me since becoming very rich, very successful… rather than having a huge life his life had… shrunk. The same faces, the same path around the world. Holding onto his position at the top of the pile. Fame and fortune can hamper the inquisitive.
My current best friend is very rich. Very, very rich. He lives well but has worked the same job the past twenty years. His money and his job are unconnected. He has a nice life. I found myself wanting to ape him. A lovely apartment in the city, a house in the country, a dependable car. He gives money to charity, he is generous with his friends.
But… with his kind of cash, where would I want to live? To my surprise, I knew immediately that I didn’t want to live in the USA. I started my search for a dream home in Paris. I found a sweet apartment in the 7th for 1.5 million euros. I looked for a country house in the french countryside and quickly settled for something that cost 500,000 euros.
After I’d made myself and my family comfortable… which charity might I patronize? I decided to set up a foundation for poor British kids who can’t get into drama school. I gave money to a bat charity and another that supports country skills and farming practices. I gave money to beautify Whitstable, my home town. I concluded that with the bulk of the money I wanted to help the motivated, stuck in poverty or prejudice, achieve their goals… to break through their own glass ceiling and… fly.
As I lay there I realized I didn’t need $1.5 billion to achieve my rather humble aims. Everything I wanted to achieve was within reach. I could already buy a place in Paris. I could determine to raise money for all of the charities I wanted to help. Maybe winning the lottery, for some one like me would be a curse? Untold millions would merely inflame the disease of more that seems to blight me… blight us all?
Today I walked home with half a baguette in my pocket. This simple action gave me so much pleasure.
The first week yielded no winner. I wanted to see this through. The Powerball lottery and I have a relationship now. I could have gone elsewhere to have a second go. Instead, I went back to the reassuring woman in the supermarket.
“Didn’t win?” She smiled.
I bought ten more.
I didn’t win that week either but three people did. The jackpot divided into three paltry $300,000,000 increments. I found myself wondering, what would THAT buy you in the modern world?
Hudson, NY 2015 winter. I moved into the Princess Beatrix House, owned by Tanja Grunert and Klemens Gasser. The ice so thick on their un-ploughed drive it’s almost impossible for the tiny Mexican movers from sunny California to negotiate the heavier items from the pantechnicon to the house. They wear my Knole sofa like a huge hat. It is bitterly cold yet these foolhardy boys brave the day dressed only in thin, grubby tee shirts and flimsy, cheap sneakers, skidding up and down the icy drive. They are totally unprepared for the winter delivery.
Before I arrived in Hudson, NY I had never heard of Eric Galloway, Eleanor Ambos, Tim Dunleavy, Warren Street, Modern Farmer, Anne Marie Gardner, the Bonfiglio bakery… or the slew of slippery realtors wheeling and dealing all over town.
I didn’t know the Basilica or Helsinki or Etsy. I didn’t know the darker side of hipster culture, the craving of desperate, lonely females and the clawing misery of gay men trapped upstate in search of a better, freer life.
The only person I knew ahead of my 9 months in Hudson was Marina Abramovic. And it was she who piqued my interest the very first time my friend Tom Taylor showed me the building Marina had acquired, the building Rem Koolhas had been charged with transforming into a ‘laboratory devoted to performance art’ funded by 12 million crowd sourced dollars.
The Old Tennis Court on the corner of North 7th Street and Columbia Street in Hudson, NY owned by Marina Abramovic, stands forlorn, peeling and abandoned. The windows boarded, trash blown under the grand portico. It waits, warehoused like so many building in Hudson, for it’s owner to come renovate, repair or make good the myth of Marina Abramovic transforming this imposing building into her performance art institute.
Tom Taylor, stopped his beaten truck outside the building. After several weeks of heavy snow and bitterly cold nights a wall of ice stood between us and the building. He was excited to show me, telling a story I would hear many, many times from equally excited local people.
Upstate New York . Cheap, fertile land… derelict 18th and 19th century houses desperate for attention. Abandoned red brick factories. The promise of space and sanctuary.
My first visit to Woodstock, with cabaret star Lady Rizo three Christmases ago, my first real taste of life beyond NYC. The thick white, blindingly white snow, the mountains, rivers and forests a welcome respite from 12 years of endless summer in Southern California.
I returned the following winter to the same charming stone house and started looking for a home to buy. Property prices were very low. As usual I was tempted by obscure, isolated locations but did not give in to that melancholic fantasy.
It was an invitation from Tom Taylor to Eleanor Ambos’s huge Victorian pile in Philmont that finally ignited my passion. I’d met him on some dating app in the city when I spent that mad winter in the Captains House in Brooklyn. After months of asking me to visit I finally bundled me and the dogs into the rental car and headed north.
Tom is the right hand man and beneficiary of Eleanor Ambos’s valuable real estate portfolio. Her notable possessions: the Pocket Book factory in Hudson and The Metropolitan Building on Long Island.
“It is as if she doesn’t hear the same music that everyone else is hearing,” says director Andrew Michael Ellis of 89-year-old Eleanor Ambos. In his documentary short Ellis follows the eccentric aesthete as she loses her eyesight to macular degeneration.
Eleanor bought the dilapidated Metropolitan Building on Long Island in 1980 as a cheap alternative to the area’s warehouses to store her vast and growing collection of salvaged antiques. The octogenarian owner caught Ellis’ eye while he was shooting there. “She had no intention of being a subject in a film at first, but eventually I became her friend, therapist, practically her lover. It was impossible to be a fly on the wall.”
The month I met her she had bought a 72,000 square foot mid century modern school in Claverack. The day I arrived to see it she was laying a delicate floral carpet in the hallway. “I like playing house.” she purred. And that, my dear friends, is what attracts people to her and repels people from her. I introduce her to the thin lipped owners of the Gilded Owl in Hudson, a most pretentious ‘gallery’ curated by interior fluffer Andy Goldsworthy and down and dirty art trader Elizabeth Moore.
THE GILDED OWL is an online journal exploring craftsmanship in modern and contemporary design, fine art, fashion, and music. Inspired by authenticity, ingenuity, and above all, quality, Andy and Elizabeth Moore continually investigate subjects of fascination and enlighten their readers as to what makes the beautiful beautiful.
And if that description isn’t enough to make you puke… Elizabeth, Andy and I visited an Ambos property (they were both eager to see) namely the magical Summit Mill in Philmont with Eleanor and Tom. After the visit Andy and Elizabeth couldn’t wait to kick the snow off their moon boots and rip into Eleanor’s aesthetic, her hoarding and wonder how other people could find her so fascinating.
Hudson has a rich history of despair. The ghosts of a thousand hookers, gamblers and dismembered whales join those native American souls murdered here for their land. Something very bad happened in Hudson, something catastrophic… something that has scarred its psyche, blighted the land and poisoned the air. Those who spend a weekend in Hudson seldom notice it, those who live there become irradiated… toxic.
Resentment and vitriol. The Hudson cancer… is much reserved for one successful Hudson businessman: Eric Galloway.
I visit Hudson only occasionally. I walk Warren Street, much of it owned, to the chagrin of those impoverished white people who live there, by the stately Eric Galloway and his billionaire boyfriend Henry Van Ameringen.
At the very heart of the contempt for these acquisitive gentleman is racism. Eric Galloway is an angular, elegant black man and the despair white people have (who are not benefiting from his patronage) often descends into barely concealed racism.
‘Educated’ white folk who think they know better about architecture, who keep tabs on each purchase Galloway and Van Ameringen make all over the world. Tanja Grunert and others could barely contain themselves when Galloway bought much loved and recently deceased (owner of the fanciful store Rural Residence) Tim Dunlevey’s iconic Union Street home.
“That disgusting man bought Tim’s house.” She said.
Yet, who was Tim’s ex boyfriend meant to sell? The poor white people who couldn’t afford it? Or, the contentious black man who could?
This past year Hudson’s ‘revival’ (one of so many) has continued with renewed vigor. The expensive, beautifully designed River Town Lodge opened at the top of Warren Street. Farmer’s restaurant on Front Street spared no expense on its warm and elegant interior, bravely situated in a less salubrious part of Hudson and lastly the airy bar Or on 3rd and Union Street enjoys enormous success in a beautifully renovated 1930’s garage. All quality establishments, some owned by Eric and Henry.
These small businesses are the future of Hudson. Other larger businesses are sniffing around. Soho House are discussing the possibility of opening in Eleanor Ambos’s Pocketbook Factory. A whirl of invesment and optimism… yet, The Old Tennis Courts on the corner of North 7th Street and Columbia Street in Hudson, NY owned by Marina Abramovic remains forlorn and empty.
As painful as it is, it’s time for everyone in Hudson, NY to accept the truth: Marina Abramovic isn’t coming.
The rain, interminable. Cats and dogs. Great lakes puddle over the marshy back land. Ominous clouds scud over the Hudson Valley. Tom the gardener ploughs trenches down hill, unplugging the dams. Thirty years of fallen oak leaves dredged from soggy trench and damned culvert. Branches thrown over the fence into the once vacant lot by lazy neighbours, removed. A scribble of dead bramble, removed. Now, on the northern perimeter, a pile of rotting vegetation – we might have burned on November 5th if we lived somewhere sensible.
“There’ll be no bonfires in the village.” She said. The woman at the Mayor’s office. So. No wood smoke drifting over sparkling, frosty fields, no Guy Fawkes. No baked potatoes wrapped in scalding tin foil found amongst the dying embers.
I call friends in Los Angeles, they ask smugly if I’m prepared for the winter. They have no idea. Windows, insulation, boiler… thick curtains thankfully saved from other draughty, Victorian mansions. The winter months do not scare me. Come winter, come freeze the air, let the first snow fall.
How many pairs of gloves will I lose this year?
I am happy in Tivoli, so are the dogs. They chase squirrels, rabbits and deer.
The Little Dog has been skunked twice. Good God! The second time I took him to the vet, where they washed him with some magical solution. Better than being savaged by coyote or bitten by a rattlesnake… I suppose, cheaper to remedy. He’s such a brave, curious, foolhardy Little Dog.
Dude hasn’t been skunked once, he hangs back from anything mildly threatening. He learned to climb the steep stair in the new house, laboring one step at a time he finds us in bed then dances on two legs until I fetch him up.
I drive my old Mercedes into Hudson once a week. It’s a lovely town to visit but I hated living there. I hated it. Frighteningly, I can’t remember the name of the road where I lived. Let me remember. Bellview, Fairview… PROSPECT! Prospect Avenue, Hudson, NY.
So many irrelevant details scrubbed from the hard drive. I will never forget that house. That vile, ‘English Tudor’ house on the optimistically named Prospect Avenue. Overlooking the hospital; and a busy, dirty road. The worst place (by far) I ever lived. Badly designed, badly renovated, so badly insulated: incapable of keeping heat in the winter or cool in the summer.
The house was haunted, not by angry ghosts moving things around or waiting in the corner… but melancholy, lonely women, dragging themselves up and down the stairs. Most evident, the ghost of an elderly school teacher who spent twenty years peering from the sitting room window, equally scaring and delighting passing school children like a Halloween ghoul.
The house attracts lonely women.
Tanja Grunert, the current owner, is the last of a long line.
So, I dedicate this blog post to her. To lonely Tanja whose life is more treacherous than a Hudson pavement in mid January.
The night I met Tanja she was wearing a huge black and white fur coat. Like a skunk.
A short, stocky woman, she wears baggy jeans and tailored jackets. Her cropped, gray/mauve hair… cut hard around her masculine, pudgy face. A smear of red lipstick, the only evidence she might be a heterosexual woman.
The night we met (by accident over steaming bowls of Asian broth) I should have run away.
Sadly, I have never had the resolve to run from a catastrophe. As the towers came down I ran toward them. There is something immediately alluring about Tanja, something fascinating. From the moment we met I was hooked. Some people are. I’ll not be the first and I won’t be the last. She crafted a first class art world career from a scintillating first impression.
That night Tanja focused her all on me, seducing and melting… gasping and fluttering, roaring her huge laugh. After dinner she invited us to the house… that house.
Much later I understood the only time she threw back her head, roaring that infectious laugh, was used as part of a sinister, well rehearsed routine. A carefully constructed formula.
We discovered we had many people in common, Jay Jopling, Samia Saouma and Benedict Taschen.
She told me how beautiful I was. Told me I was her ‘type’. I was clear about my sexuality, “I am a gay man.” I said, as she coquettishly batted her eyelashes, grabbed hold of my hand, inviting us back to her cold, empty house. “Oh I’m so sorry.” She bows deeply into every apology. She is a committed apologist. “English is my second language.” During our cohabitation I must have heard her say a million times, “Excuse me if I don’t understand.”
It was a lie. I knew from the beginning she understood everything very well. Yet, I chose to ignore her lies. I chose to ignore, that cold winter, her lies, her homophobia, her racism, her alcoholism and her delusion.
Tanja is an alcoholic. She is the kind of binging alcoholic who convinces herself that because she doesn’t drink in the morning she doesn’t have a drinking problem…. but she drinks in the morning. She is the kind of alcoholic who convinces herself that because she doesn’t drink alone she isn’t an alcoholic… yet, she drinks alone. She is the kind of alcoholic who convinces herself that she isn’t an alcoholic because she doesn’t black out and wet the bed…
She drank wine by the bottle, chain-smoked cigarettes; listened to opera so loudly on her record player that good conversation became impossible. Drowning in Wagner, drowning not waving, into misery.
That night, my first visit to her house, she lit a fire in the huge, totally empty sitting room. Her husband was gone. He had taken flight that summer. Taking with him the money (his fathers) and the possibility. She told him: “You cannot come to the house in Hudson.” He said, “You can’t have money to furnish it.”
I said: “You have an empty house and I have furniture.” She said “Yes!” immediately.
Listen for a moment. Stand back. Re-read my offer and tell me what could possibly go wrong?
Obviously it was terrible mistake. Half measures avail us nothing. I had no right making a deal with this devil. She started texting and calling all day and all night. She would introduce me to her friends as her boyfriend or her husband. She’d tell everyone who would listen that she loved me. I was living in the East Village. We had dinner in the city. Tanja tried making me pay for her expensive wine habit… I refused.
Instead, I moved in.
So began a slow, interminably slow, head on collision. Two cold, stubborn alcoholics buckling, catastrophically into one another. I spent nearly a year at the house, firstly because I was entranced… then the doors began to slam behind me. The furniture arrived and she took what she wanted from my things. “Each thing more beautiful than the last.” She cooed.
My Gary Hume disappeared.
Because she is an unapologetic racist she made me hide my African art because black people do not interest her. They make her ‘think of slavery’. They ‘make me sad’. “I would never sleep with a black man.”
She buys five tickets for the Bjork concert but can’t find anyone to come with us. Finally she invites people who barely know her. They say, “I don’t know her at all.” At the will call she’s told very clearly that her tickets are being exchanged for better tickets. Tanja starts screaming. Screaming at everyone. Kicking the theatre. I stand back and watch her disgusting spectacle. I take the tickets, tell her to shut the fuck up, lead her into the theatre. We take our excellent seats at the front of the theatre.
Shocked by her behavior we walk in silence back to the car after the event, unable to discuss Bjork like normal people. Like the normal people around us, happy and grateful to have seen Bjork. Her tantrums, her temper, her screaming, her crying fits of righteous outrage and indignation became so regular I learned to ignore them.
The winter was long and hard and cold. Minus 23 degrees. Unheard of upstate New York. I found myself held hostage by the masculine German woman in the unfriendly house.
She refused to fill the oil tanks. The house froze. The pipes burst. The tiles fall from the bathroom walls. I fill the oil tanks myself, ferrying 10 gallon cans from a filling station five miles away.
The chaos, her unmanagability became easier when the sun began to shine.
Spring came suddenly this year. The original deal she reneged. She wanted money. Always desperate for cash. Another good idea blown into a million pieces. I handed it over.
Her grasping, fat fingers. Her solid, bruised, Teutonic arms quaffing wine, passing out, laying naked on her bed until she leaks yellow stinking piss all over herself. Naked on her bed, not sleeping but unconscious. Laying like the dead waiting for the autopsy, naked on her back. Acres of white flesh. “We are always naked.” “We always talk to ourselves.” “We only eat from Fish and Game.”
She tells everyone that an important publisher has commissioned an auto-biography. She says that the money will come.
“We only write in the kitchen.”
“We hate mood lighting.”
She spends hours under the harsh light at the kitchen table tapping on her keyboard, claiming to write a book some grand publisher might (or might not) have commissioned. She says she’s researching but she’s on the internet trying to fill the consuming void her younger husband left when he scarpered last June. Filling the gaping, suppurating wound with Internet dates on match.com, okcupid and other… less salubrious sites. She shows me a thousand pictures of penis she has been sent.
Her less sexually ambitious female friends think she is a pioneer. This old queen knows she is a lonely, sleazy woman on the cusp of suicide. In and out of Belleview. Unable to accept the truth. Popping pills. She is poor, illegal and single.
Gay men seldom share the cache of penis we’ve been sent on line. Maybe the largest or the smallest. Maybe the most beautiful. She indiscriminately shows me every one. She wants me to know she is still relevant, that her menopause hadn’t knocked her through a hoop. (Like Samia before her.) But her boast falls on deaf ears. I look at her poker faced, disguising the pity I have for her.
There’s a young art dealer in town with a cool gallery, I buy art, he delivers the art to the house. He knows who she is. Curious to see where Tanja lives, he is surprised that the house is so clean. He expects to see a mountain of empty bottles. He tells me that she owes everyone money, him included.
“There’s a joke art dealers tell each other. They laugh about how long they’ve been in the art business. They say, I’ve been selling art so long… I remember when Tanja Grunert was hot.”
I reserved the most sympathy for her children who instinctively knew how selfish, self-obsessed and self pitying she and her ex husband are. Both so eager to flee from her, like the men she meets on-line. A French man meets with her and tells me “Within a few minutes of phone conversation she offers to lick my ass.” to be his toilet. When he meets with her he says he could not fuck her because fucking her would be like “Fucking grandma.”
After meeting him she text messages twenty times an hour. She sobs, howls… when it becomes apparent that he is not interested in her. She wrings her hands and bangs her head into the wall, she blames everyone for her distress.
She meets another man and calls at 1am to ask where they can find a woman for some three way. I terminate the call.
Her teenage daughter watches as every man her mother meets on the internet lets her down. Steals what little she has left. She has learned to keep quiet. She is biding her time, waiting for the day she can turn her back on them all.
Tanja boasts that during her second pregnancy with the girl she was high on cocaine, drunk on alcohol every day for the first trimester.
Her insufferable, precocious, entitled, blue-eyed son lives with us for the summer. He leaves chaos and mountains of trash infested, after a few hot days, with maggots. He said, “You are the room mate, you must clean up after me.” I refuse.
I video the mess and send it to his mother. He is now at an expensive college in SF exploring his homosexuality, thankfully a long way from his gentle, yielding girlfriend who was often heard plaintively asking the teenager why he needed to hurt her to express his love.
The boy barely conceals his contempt for the girl. Like his mother, like his father, like his grandmother. Generational dysfunction. Violence. Violent to others, violent to herself, Tanja told me her husband would beat her in the bedroom. Not because he loved her… because he hated her. The provenance of the son’s fledgling misogyny evident for all to see.
The son drinks until he passes out. Naked on his bed. His father drinks himself into a black out… she wets the bed. I could smell the piss before I saw it.
Her son wants to stay with me at the hotel. I cling to the edge of the bed. As far as I can from his yearning adolescence. Tanja wants to know why he is so interested in me.
For all of her gay friends, she is an unapologetic homophobe. She makes sneering jokes about ‘Your side’ and ‘Your people’ she tells me that I am ‘No use’ to her. They are not jokes, they are evidence of her deep-seated homophobic resentment. For all the extraordinary gay men she surrounds herself, delighting them with her drama… she hates gay men. We are good for loans and art purchases. We loyally turn up at the hospital every time she half-heartedly overdoses.
When I brought that beautiful boy Spencer home, she asked if he was my boyfriend, then slandered me in German. My school boy German catches every word.
Gay men know this: we all know that those determined to kill themselves rarely fail. The rest, like Tanja, merely crave the attention: cosseted in hospital beds, prescribed medicine, given the benefit of the doubt.
The gays around her provide the Greek entertainment. The chorus. Picking up the pieces.
At dawn, when she finally let me sleep. Before she falls into her bed, Tanja became sexually abusive. When we are on our own, if I’m the only person in the house she focuses her sexual violence on me. Keeping me awake until dawn, drinking and smoking. Trying to touch me.
When, at the end, I mention that she is sexually harassing me and I could sue her… she smiles a smile only a torturer could have smiled and I saw very clearly into her rotten, stinking soul. She looked like the devil. I saw the devil smile. I will never forget that smile, for it was quite unlike anything I had seen before.
In the morning, by way of apology, she reminds me again that her mother had abused her. That she had hidden from the Nazis by living in a box under a mill, like a fairy-tale troll. After the war her mother had children and beat them. This was the excuse she gave for abusing me.
The same excuse. Again and again.
Excuses: excuses not to pay her artists, why the house would freeze and the pipes would burst. Excused for not having insurance when Sandy hit Manhattan and filled her Chelsea gallery with raw sewage. Excuses for not paying her taxes, for not bothering to renew her visa. Excuses why she never made a better job of killing herself. Excuses and apologies. One after another. A crocodile of dead infants snaking their way to hell.
After my painful pancreas operation, drowsy on meds she made me drive to the bank, fetch her $3000 and then punches me when I burst into tears. She apologizes immediately; she tells me that she was abused by her mother. It’s too late. The summer is coming to an end. I hate her with such vigor. I hate being near her, I hate her voice, her smell, her proximity.
We drive back to the gallery where an angry artist is waiting for cash. Arms crossed.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.” She pleads with the angry artist.
At the end of August I empty the house of my possessions and I am free. 8 months of hell finally comes to an end. I move to Tivoli.
Even after I am gone she demands money. I have learned not to respond or engage. A good lesson in restraint of pen and tongue.