Stories & Reflections
Sometimes readers complain that I say very little about my private life in this column. I do talk a lot – mostly about my questionings in the imaginary world. They insist: “but what’s your life like?” Well, then, for a whole week I went out with a notebook and jotted down more or less what happens in seven days:
Sunday: 1] In silence, I drive the 540 kilometers from Paris to Geneva. Six hours and no important conclusion, no extraordinary revelation. Since I love my work, I swore never to think about it on Sundays, so I try to control myself.
2] Filling station: I see a very interesting collection of metal maquettes. I think about buying them all, but then I reckon that further ahead I will have excess baggage, and many of them could break on the journey. I will use the Internet to do that.
3] Bath. Nap. Dinner with a friend. She tells me that the man she is interested in just wants to make love, nothing else. I don’t know what to answer.
Monday: 1] the alarm clock goes off at 10:15, and – Plan B (those born under Virgo always have a Plan B) – the hotel telephone operator also calls the room. I am here as a member of the board of a prestigious foundation, and hesitate whether or not to wear the cowboy boots worked in red, white and black leather. I decide to put them on – certain things are tolerated in artists.
2] A quick breakfast with a friend who works in a bank. I ask what he thinks of the current crisis – and he gives a series of answers that he himself does not believe in. I show him today’s newspaper: a bankers’ conference to resolve the crisis. One of them declares that they do not really know the “financial products” they are selling. It’s great that I have my money in savings: Virgos do not run any risks in this area.
3] Lunch with the board of directors. I asked what they thought of the situation in Georgia. Nobody wanted to talk about that, but they did love my cowboy boots.
4] The meeting is very good, without any stress at all. I learn a lot. When it’s over, I place some documents on the roof of the car.
5] When I leave, all the documents fly into the middle of the street. I spend half an hour gathering everything, with cars honking their horns and cursing me. A member of the board passes by, stops further up the street and asks if I want any help. I say no, it is enough for one of us to risk his life for something so stupid.
6] Today I can telephone using the “free hands” system while I drive. I ask Mí´nica, my agent, to cancel Prague and Berlin (the more I travel, the less desire I have to travel). She says that we need to get together before the Frankfurt Book Fair to “get some details right”. Paris or Barcelona? Paris, she decides. I call Paula, my assistant, to ask why my blog had few comments yesterday – she explains that they changed the configuration, and have just approved a hundred comments.
7] I reach Paris at eleven o’clock at night. I expected to have a stack of things waiting for me, but there were only two packets of books to sign, and a couple of letters. But I traveled! I was in another country! I realize that I traveled a little over 24 hours.
8] Dinner. I leave the computer turned on to download “American History X”. I go to sleep about two in the morning, after reading some pages of “My year inside radical Islam”, by Daveed Gartstenstein-Ross. The book is excellent, but I can’t really get into it.
Tuesday: 1] Breakfast at 10 with coffee and milk, orange juice, bread with oil – always the same, even when I am in hotels, which is the biggest part of the year. Three Echinacea pills, a herb that is said to fortify the organism against the flu and has proved faithful to its reputation (even if there is no scientific basis for this).
2] Internet: read readers’ e-mails. Read work e-mails (my office filters the most relevant), read clippings, visit a site in Brazil and one in the United States for the news of the day. I see that it is all more or less the same business as always: permission (always given) to quote some extract of mine in books, invitations to conferences (always refused). Today I have an interview with a Finnish newspaper that is going to publish these columns. I spend an hour in front of the computer.
3] Walk non-stop for an hour – no matter where I am, I rarely miss doing this. Today I invite my assistant to join me; she has just come back from holidays in Brazil and is going to get married in October. We talk about the holidays.
4] Back to the computer. Update the blog, read an interview with the stupid actor David Thewlis, who says that his role in “Veronika decides to die” (which opens next year) was “just another two weeks of work”. This irritates me. I read the rest of the interview and see that he complains about everything he has done in his life. My irritation goes away.
5] Archery. Bath. Computer again. I ask them to check again that there is no problem with Sunday’s flight to Brazil. In principle there is none.
6] I forgot to write down where I had dinner. I watch “Welcome to Sarajevo”. I read the Herald Tribune from front to back. I pick up “My year inside radical Islam”, but don’t get beyond a few pages.
Wednesday: 1] The same as 1, 2 and 3 above, except that this time my walking companion is called Maarit, a reader whom I met in the social community Myspace. She is studying to be a nun. We talk a lot about the situation of the Catholic Church, and promise that we will keep in touch.
2] Mí´nica arrives. We talk from 3 in the afternoon until 2 o’clock the next morning, discussing the program for launching the new book, what I should say in Frankfurt, and where her birthday party will be held (she will be 40 in November). I suggest that she throws the party in her house in Barcelona, but she says that they have put up some scaffolding, so the view of the city is spoiled. I answer that at night all city views are alike – a bunch of lights flashing on and off. Even so, she is not convinced. She says that I must hold more interviews. We spend all this time locked inside the apartment, since Mí´nica simply hates to walk. Chris prepared dinner and has been asleep for some time already.
3] At 2:15 in the morning I say that I am tired, I want to sleep, but she seems as lively as if she had just woken up. And she is the one who today went through the torture chambers they call “airports”!
4] I manage to convince her to go to bed at 2:30 in the morning. We still have a whole lot of pending business to see to. No Herald Tribune today, no “My year inside radical Islam” either.
Thursday: 1] Breakfast with Mí´nica, my agent and friend, who spent less than a day in Paris and 10 hours talking to me (in the same place, for she hates walking, despite the beautiful autumn day). She goes off to Barcelona, and I go to the computer to check my e-mails, requests for authorization, invitations (all already duly filtered by the office). Reading the e-mails sent by my readers.
2] The idiotic part of the day is thanks to Frei Betto, a Brazilian religious man who up to a few minutes ago I considered my friend, but who is the author of a column published in a newspaper in the interior of the country, where he attacks me gratuitously – or rather, attacks everything that means “popular culture”. With the Internet, we know everything. I send an e-mail to him cutting off any bond of friendship. For the sake of precaution, I send copies to all the friends we have in common so as to be sure that it will reach him.
3] Juliette arrives to borrow a sound system I was given when I was in St. Moritz, in Switzerland. It’s for her husband’s surprise party (he’s turning 40 – everyone around me seems to be turning 40). The sound system looks like an electric toaster, but it really emits digital impulses, which allows the music to be heard with the same intensity and volume in a room filled with 200 people. I have never used it, but at least it is coming in handy for a friend.
4] Walk for an hour, as usual. Practice some archery, as usual. Write my weekly column (which you are reading right now).
5] Dinner with Chris in a Japanese restaurant. I ask for the same dish as always. I don’t know why, but whenever I go to a new restaurant and like what I eat, I end up ordering the same food the next time. Lack of imagination, I guess.
Friday: 1] Breakfast, computer, walk. Update the daily blog.
2] I take my newspaper and go for a walk in the Champ de Mars, near my apartment in Paris. I look at people getting ready for the winter: most of them are taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower or talking on the cell phone. I pass a museum (the Branly), see that there is no queue and decide to go in. An exhibit of the Indian art of several continents – I begin to imagine that there is something wrong with our civilization, for these tribes and people are capable of doing far more interesting and striking work than what we see today in the art world. But it does no good to complain or write about this – there are theses and more theses on contemporary “artistic concepts”, including a cow soaked in formol (sold for 30 million dollars) and two walls made of rusty iron (at a price of around 5 million dollars). I think that Frei Betto, in his new incarnation as an avant-garde intellectual, probably also has a thesis defending this.
3] I go back home, the bags are packed, the driver waiting, and the car heads for Charles de Gaulle airport. The flight is scheduled for 22:15, but the modern torture chambers known as “airports” demand that we be there ages before take-off.
4] Take-off at 23:50 (a one-hour delay). I am going to spend twenty days in Brazil before going to Frankfurt. But as usual I won’t go to any of the “in” restaurants, which means that soon I’ll be hearing the same old question: “when are you coming to your country?”
As far as I can understand, if you don’t go to “in” restaurants, you just don’t exist.