Thursday, January 27, 2005

Auschwitz

I've visited Auschwitz twice in my life: the first time with Stephen and Craig early January 1996; the second time I was alone and it was just a few weeks later.

The first time I was struck by the ice cream shop just outside the Arbeit Macht Frei gate as well as the coffee vending machine inside the lobby. I mean, we want your stay at Auschwitz to be ... well, comfortable. After walking from building to building, from exhibit to exhibit, from display of human miscellanea and superfluity--here a room filled with luggage, there a room filled with hair; here a room filled with spectacles, there a room filled with artificial limbs--to display, we stopped for a browse in the gift shop and then snacked before hopping back on the super lux bus headed to Krakow.

I was back in Krakow just a few weeks later. Morgan and I were visiting friends in Zakopane (a gorgeous village in the Tatra mountains). From there, I took a bus to Budapest, where I stayed for just under forty-seven hours, before taking a 12-hour train ride to Krakow, where I would meet up again with Morgan before we headed back to Lublin. I checked my bag at the Krakow train station and got on the super lux bus to Auschwitz. Sleep-deprived, anxious, exhausted, and depressed (both physically as well as emotionally)--I was also most likely undernourished after having lost close to 30 pounds in the previous four months--I stepped off the bus and immediately knew I had made a mistake returning so soon. And alone.

I decided I wasn't going to revisit the main camp but instead venture to Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz II). The cabbies circling the tourists outside Auschwitz hollered out their fares for the short drive to Birkenau. After having lived in Poland since late September, I knew these fares were seriously inflated, so I politely said spadaj ("Drop off.") before heading down the road that followed the train tracks on foot.

Birkenau is eerie and disconcerting in ways that Auschwitz is not: it's a ghost town of suffering. Auschwitz has nice, red-brick buildings, and for god's sake, a vending machine in the lobby that dispenses hot coffee. Birkenau has been left to fend for itself. No artificial smoke stacks dot the horizon around this field in the desolate Polish countryside: they're all real. Wooden shacks that housed the unfortunate camp internees--those that lived in the death camp--have been abandoned to the elements. And history. Many had fallen down, collapsed, since the liberation. They remain where they fell. And it wasn't a small cluster of buildings near the entrance gate. The field stretches out before the eyes that want to shut not just from the freezing wind and blinding snow blanketing this killing field.

I found the memorial after walking much further toward the back, after seeing a deer run through the birch woods, after finding a small cluster of stars of David and crosses dotting the winter landscape and looking not unlike an unlikely Christmas card: broken blocks, fractured, disruptions of form and text. Overwhelming. I began sobbing, walking the perimeter of the memorial, round and round. My tears froze to my face.

Back in Krakow, the sun already low beneath the gray, overcast horizon, I began retracing my steps with Stephen just a few weeks prior: I ate where we ate; I visited sites we visited; I drank coffee where we drank coffee. Anything to feel normal again. Then I saw the kino. A poster advertising the new film by Wim Wenders entitled Lisbon Story. Throughout this film, the music of Madredeus envelopes you. I was transported to sunny Lisbon, to heaven, to anywhere that was qualitatively different from where I actually was. Ah! music, balm of the damaged soul! It was music that saved me from the abuse I suffered as a child, music that saved me from the torments of bad relationships, music that brought me home every time I was a long way from home with no way of returning. And music rescued me again that night.

As if the universe were amusing itself for my benefit, Stephen was listening to Madredeus when I arrived home last night.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

La vie en rose

I'm on Tim Miller's email list. I'm on a lot of email lists, from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchins' to Save the Hubble. But I actually know Tim Miller. Well, we met several years ago. In Dallas. I and Stephen hung out with him, one night, for hours. We ate supper together and had a wonderful conversation. I flattered him by saying, "You're a legend: you're in the history books!" I gushed. And looking back, perhaps that might have been interpreted as an insult. I used to do performance art, and Tim Miller's performance art was always in the news because of Jesse Helms, the NEA, rampant homophobia in Reagan's Amerika, among others.

After meeting him, we would keep in touch fairly regularly via email. But over the years, I've become just one more name on his mass email list, where he announces upcoming shows and other information.

His most recent email regarded the 2004 elections and included a meditation on colors, blending Republican red and Democrat blue* to make his own special hue of queerness:

I always travel with one of my performer's Bibles with me ---the ROSCOLUX theater lighting gel guide. I know when painters mix colors, red and blue make purple. But since I'm a performers when you mix red and blue and add light - it's our secret power, that light- you get PINK. Pink that is in between. Liminal. Interstitial (Okay, I joined word of the day club) Pink that is generous. Queered. Sexy. Think pink. Show pink. For me Rosco 27 and Rosco 83 makes Rosco 339 Broadway Pink! An address I lived at in NYC!

Always with Tim's performance, personal narrative and ritual trump abstraction.

-----
* The colors for the two American political parties came from the ballots in Texas. Illiterate Texans simply could choose a color--most often the color blue because that stood for the party that was not the party of Lincoln. All that changed with Lyndon Johnson, when the blue party took on the color black. And now: viola! Texas is red.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Your Dirty Little Secret / Your Dirty Little Lie

The New York Times > Health > Mental Health & Behavior > The Secret Lives of Just About Everybody

The ability to hold a secret is fundamental to healthy social development.... "In a very deep sense, you don't have a self unless you have a secret, and we all have moments throughout our lives when we feel we're losing ourselves in our social group, or work or marriage, and it feels good to grab for a secret, or some subterfuge, to reassert our identity as somebody apart," said Dr. Daniel M. Wegner, a professor of psychology at Harvard.
I found this article interesting. Anyone care to comment or debate the benefits of keeping up a good lie?

Speaking of lies, one of the highlights of my winter break was watching Mike Nichols' Closer with my closest mate Christmas night. The script was something between Mamet and haiku; how did screenwriter Patrick Marber cram so many wonderful shards of broken poetry between just four characters? Adult themes + adult sexuality--a real treat for adults on this continent.

And speaking of continents, Marber seemed to hit the differences between Europeans and Americans when it comes to sex, fucking, and love right on the head. (Yeah, that sentence was intentionally convoluted.) Clive Owen has been amazing in everything I've seen him in, especially as Max in Bent. Nice to hear Damien Rice in the movies, but that one song was played way too many times.

The strong women who use the truth to keep their lovers at a distance + the broken men who will destroy everyone--including themselves--with the lies they tell. Next on Oprah. (As if.)

If anyone is interested in discussing this film further, please comment. I'd love to keep talking about it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

The Passion of the Grist: "Arbito make flee"

I remember with great nostalgia when I used to live like a celebrity, enjoying only two part-time jobs. Although my jobs were not nearly as exciting as Britney Spears' (teen singing sensation + teen actress), I managed to endure the trials + tribulations of a dual-career existence. But now I'm moving into my 3rd part-time job.

When I lived in Japan, my Baiko girls would always use the phrase "part-time job" in their broken English sentences:

Me: What are your plans for this weekend?

Hiroko: Part-time job.

Me: What did you do last weekend?

Mayumi: Part-time job.

Funny how that one poorly pronounced phrase worked in future + past tenses!

In Japanese, another word used for "job" is "arbito," from the Dutch/German arbeit. Yes, as in "Arbeit macht frei," the ever popular phrase emblazoned above death camps throughout central Europe during the early + mid-1940s. I often imagined my gaggle of gakkusei quacking out the Nazi slogan in their worse English, much like the Aflac duck: "arubaito mekku furi." Work make you free, or, perhaps more insightfully, work make you flee.