Big sur, the world is never the same again

“From the ocean depths there issued strange formations, contours unique and seductive. As if the Titans of the deep had labored for aeons to shape and mold the earth. Even millennia ago the great land birds were startled by the abrupt aspect of these risen shapes.
There are no ruins or relicts to speak of. No history worth re-counting. What was not speaks more eloquently than what was.
Here the redwood made its last stand.
At dawn its majesty is almost painful to behold. That same prehistoric look. The look of always. Nature smiling at herself in the mirror of eternity.”
That’s what Henry Miller said in his “Big Sur and The Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch”.

Whatever I’d add, nature would still be smiling at herself in the mirror of eternity and Hieronymus Bosch remains as natural as ever.

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Karaoke, to fantasize, to laugh

It was my friend J’ birthday, and after Mexican meal and esoteric goodbye rituals at their old home – also, my old home, the one that left a striking mark on my first experience in America, as this was were I landed with my suitcase at the very first place – we ended up in a local Karaoke bar, here at the border of Oakland and Berkeley. No shit I have never seen a bar like that. J immediately hanged me a big book of thousands of possible songs we all have a chance to present now. No joke it had all the punk and rock’n’roll in it as well as good oldies so classic to the Karaoke culture.

I have seen a bunch of Karaoke around the world, it is a phenomena of the global, but nothing simply homogenous in it – it’s as specific to its localities as it could get! Estonian-Finnish ferries used to be infamous for their Karaoke sessions – good way to get drunk and nostalgic at the borderlands of sea. It was specially heart-warming to see the elder ladies with berets singing soulfully their favorites in small bars scattered around Russia. It was weird to hear that in Indonesia you can book a karaoke room which already consists some cute chicks for a sing-along (and possibly a lap dance).

Karaoke seems to have it’s definite space within our transnational leisure-scape, drawing on the cultural capital of the latter part of the 20th century, and growing wider, getting viral, making it into business, because… we, people like it and maybe, maybe realy somewhere deep inside we all just wanna be a star (sounds such a clishée, and no way it’s deep inside! But it definitely feels like it.). Put in better ways, we would perhaps all enjoy occasional disidentification (see José Muñoz, this piece is also in memory of him) with a star, an artist or a memory deeply engrained in our personal history. It’s a strategic identification by the marginal with the dominant – here, we simple people around the globe  who like singing, and the glorious stardom, unreachable memories of nostalgic aura, or it’s a drag, liberating laughter in a mask. And the last is surely not the least. It can be so much fun to go through old time favorites, dress them in drag, laugh at them and make the best out of them.

photoHe painted his lips dark and we all laid down on our knees to sing about love, in tight vibration with H. and N. in the lead.

I personally made Never Let Me Down happening…

Sweet vagary of the San Francisco weekend

San Francisco has historically, of course, been one of the major centers of sexual subcultures. We could only imagine, how queer folks from the smaller towns and villages around the wider area were heading up to the city once they could, to seek for those who thought and felt likewise, to step on for a self-realization on different grounds that small-town rigid morals and tight eye of the “big brother” would perhaps allow. It was not before the 1980s when Castro became the well-known gay-neighborhood, but don’t think that there weren’t any beforehand. I’ve heard it was then around Polk, but I’ve also seen some maps with dots referring to the gay bars of the 1950s, and there were so many all around the city.
I ended up having a drink in Castro already on the very first weeks I got here . Well, I kind of enjoyed it – Lady Gaga and big boys with big muscles on the LCD screens around the blink-blink shaded bar, and cheap tequila. But nonetheless it hasn’t really been an arena where I would rush back into. They say, Castro has become a tourist attraction in itself, and has been even criticized for that by some from the local gay scene here. Interesting. However much critique against tourism, consumerism or homonormativity I could possibly think of, I still feel proud passing the huge rainbow flag when riding up the Market street through Castro. This flag is huge!

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For my personal heart-beat, I find more interesting the scenes that rarely get to be explored by random city visitors. Not that the latter would that much matter, but it’s more about the fact that the scene is small, specific, and gets produced by it’s own exclusiveness, that at the same time is inherently a drop-out.
One of the rules about this/these subculture(s) is not to gossip around the big wide web what is going on in those parties and those scenes, so I don’t have intention to do that. Besides, it would be a really hard task, almost impossible, as the writer, or me, who would try to do that, would sooner or later encounter alexithymia, i.e. an inability to describe emotions in a verbal matter.
This is the scene of vagary, full of unpredictable instances, desires, joys, unusual bodies, ideas and action. This is the scene of the drag, that renders productively the very Real, however chaotic and ungraspable.
Perhaps what Felix Guattari has said about the potential political power of the drag might give another glimpse of what I’m trying to say here: “The question is no longer to know whether one will play feminine against masculine or the reverse, but to make bodies, all bodies, break away from the representations and restraints on the “social body”.
And when I come think about my feelings towards the moments I experienced within this scene, I’d lay out another quote:
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” (Oscar Wilde)

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Pyre provides. And we twirl some hula hoop.

Play it out and then read the following.

It’s the same pyre that tries to burn down the man, the MAN representing the machine behind the neoliberal market system, the MAN as the elite, the MAN as the those with evil power, the MAN as the First World ego, the MAN as the sexist asshole, the MAN. At the Burning Man, the pyre provides. It’s the pyre connecting all those wonderful people and that makes things happening. You through a wish towards the universe, and you get what you deserve.

Me, for example, got myself a hula hoop. Never in my life had I twirled a hula hoop like this before. This blond sweet girl taught me a quick lesson and I was in the hula-hoop-mode for the rest of the eternal afternoon at the Burning Man Decompression party in San Francisco – one of the epic parties of the year, as they say. Whenever we stopped to catch up with another friend, I rolled my golden hula wheel around my waist, keeping it tuned with the beat of the band of seven drums.

As I entered the festival, impressed by all the colorful crowd who had certainly taken some time to dress up, acting out a fantasy, a joke or their deepest desire, I immediately remembered a song by Mr Bungle from his album California – Vanity Fair. And it is hella vanity fair here, as we all live it out, embody and FEEL that we’re somewhat awesome today.

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Pics by Jocelyne Hershey

Of course there could be many ways to be critical of the whole commitment around the Burning Man – “it’s just a party scene, it’s all about vanity, drugs and alcohol”, right, that’s what some say. People decide to be part of that scene for various reasons, yet all of these reasons are just reflections of what they had heard or thought about it previously. But once you’re in it – the essence of it all starts suddenly emerging. You might not even get it immediately, but there will be moments when you do, and it will change your life as all the intensive, beautiful, fun, heartily experiences might do.

Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin worked on the concept of carnival describing it as the sphere where our fears and desires, social tension and inner imagination come together and manifest through the carnevalesque. Carnivals have been held around the world for centuries in very different cultures, and no-one doubts their ‘reason’.  Burning Man – the annual artistic event and temporary community held  in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada  is a rather contemporary manifestation of such drive, originating from the hippie movement and artistic circles. No spectators, only participants.

Then the hipsters took over, then the yuppies took over. Well, better that than nothing. Let the yuppie burn his Man.  You already might be a member. And we twirl some hula hoop some more.

The sexual matrix of love

I have been totally  blessed to have lived the first month of my stay in Berkeley with J. He has an awesome girlfriend H, a total reflection of his interests with fit so well with mines. Just couple of days after my arrival she also moved in. So now we’re three. She’s also a reflection of his desires, a fascination for the unexpected. They seem to be sharing love in its purest sense, with no desire for control, no desire for ownership, just pure lust, respect, companionship and joy.

For me they’re almost like an archetypical Oakland couple. Looking really good, mixing up lots of styles from sixties, eighties, nineties, feeling powerful and camp. Secondly they’re open to cross any kind of socially constructed limitations for an institution we call “a couple”. Why monogamy when you could also be polyamorous? Readings of the Ethnical Slut. Thirdly, they’re really having fun with each other and also with other people, being themselves as individuals and partnering when the moment is right. And most importantly, they’re having their crazy love of their life. Sounds like a perfect fit for me.

Hanging out in the city night with them, rocking in the venues, talking on the streets and getting late-night burritos, made me rethink about my formerly raised question about the queer as it’s experienced again. Seems that queer can appear on the heterosexual scale, but it’s good to be aware that this is not a line, but it’s a matrix. Other people can come in, from the same or from the opposite sex. Fantasies can lift you up, no boundaries, only colorful selves. And love. And love. And love.

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Househunting – endless

There’s one thing that supposedly works out best, but often turns out to be full of shit. It is Craigslist. You’ll have a view over hundreds of vacant rooms and houses in the desired areas, but most of them sound creepy or weird. Some are really good, but ask a lot of money and seem to be either much community oriented or very strictly ruled. I don’t wanna live obeying the rules! My parents lived most of their life under Soviet rules and there’s too many rules around our lives anyway. I understand some principles which could be argued under further explanation and mutual understandings. As long as you have your own room where no-body can disturb you. I like the idea of a community houses, but my life has to come first. Home is a place for relaxing and concentration after daily running around with hella people (yes, it’s very Bay area slang, and it got me, as it seems).
Then you find these five or six seemingly normal households, with plenty of socialization but also space for privacy and I wrote them nice letter. I wait. No response. The same thing goes again – I go through Craigslist, I might send up to 20 letters, and two responses. One of them spam.

I encountered spam-mails several times. Once there was a retired piano teacher, who has apartment here but he himself is residing somewhere in Houston. Very god-fearing. And stresses how much good care I have to take for his apartment. With the next e-mail he sends me photos of nice modern apartment and with another one application form. With the next one details for transaction – three months rent. 1500 dollars. Then he would post me the keys and documents.
Then it was a 40s lady, disabled, couldn’t make it to give me the keys, as she has difficult time to travel and his brother is very sick there. Then it was an independent artist opening a new venture in Manila, Philippines. Well, at least I have had good time reading their stories.

I still got to see some places, eventually. But they have been pretty scary. With none of them I have felt the secure feeling that this is IT. I don’t want to pay a lot, I need very little. But the least would be a sunny little room where I could sleep and write, and a hang-out kitchen or garden to meet socialize, as much or as little as we need.
In Oakland/Berkely area it’s also important to consider the issue of security. Oakland is considered to be the no. 4 most dangerous city in U.S. After Detroit. But Detroit is really messy, but we’re here in the flourishing sunshine. In a hippie paradise. But life has changed a lot here after the hippie movement, although it is very clearly still there. Gentrification is the keyword that people talk a lot here. Prices are high. Fringe people are being pushed on the margins. And I have proved to be a victim of it for not finding any? Are we being eaten out of the city? But how do all the local students, writers, radicals and vagabonds do then? Where do they earn their 800-900 dollars for a room in a shared house? I just need a place to liiveeeee!
IMG_8997People dancing salsa on the streets of Berkeley, how sweet is that!

Flowers in your hair and in your head, body walking in space

IMG_8956I have arrived. I am in America. All these dreams, illusions, memories and hopes for the big America start folding out in front of me through each and every second I walk on this earth, in the city of San Francisco, where you must go with flowers in your hair. I like to add here also flowers in your head. And your body walking in space. It has been wonderful to enter the country right on the spot, never leaving the airplane, rather floating on the yellow submarine.

When me and Berit were 20 and having our first bigger social experiment in life – that was when we decided to move to London, just for the excitement of it, just for the sake of the social experiment and fun – the idea of San Francisco sneaked in. Probably the overall materialistic attitude and class society of London was eating our brains the way that we started longing for the left-liberal dream.  San Francisco – the good old hippie capital – must be the right place to be. We were singing the “if you’re going to San Francisco” song and tried to figure out the visa case. Settling in in London was not a big deal, why would it be different in Frisco, we were wondering. But soon we started to realize that Europe and America are two different things and hippies in San Francisco have died out long ago.

It was not before I moved together with Monica in Indonesia while working on my fieldwork research in Yogyakarta. I spent the days with warias and working out my stuff, and in the evenings we had a lot to talk about with Monica. It seemed to be rather miraculous how similar we were when it came to the music, films, political attitude or thoughts on gender and (post-)colonial situation. Yet we had grown up each on different sides of the globe, but I wanted to pay her a visit in San Francisco.

Thank god that Susan Stryker, again her, as we met at the conference in Sweden, told me as the first thing: “Bay area would definitely be the right place for you to be!” One thing led to another, I was gifted with Fulbright scholarship, and when I now come to think about it, then I didn’t pick San Francisco, San Francisco picked me.