Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

Côte d’Azur diaries

21 August, Sunday
On the plane from Vienna to Nice

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to commence our in-flight service. You will receive KitKat and peanuts from us at an extra discount, and pay only 5 euros 50 cents. Gosh, I have to wear over-ear headphones on top of earbuds just to cancel out this insufferable nonsense. The apotheosis of Western lukewarm consumerism. Men around looking so content, clean shaven, wearing polo shirts, they must be so proud of their career achievements. Women seeking to hide signs of ageing in their Dior totes and Bottega slides. The epitome of indifference.

Landing at Nice airport. A bookstore with a few dozen pathetic fiction novels. Always attracting significant curiosity. Non-fiction too. The future of workplace, the power of branding, the psychology of money. How to build self-confidence. Learn to forgive yourself. Now in bite-sized, easy-to-digest format. Time management for mortals. Master your mind. Push past pain, reach your full potential. The power of habits, the 5am club. Become more effective at selling your soul to the corporations.

Cheap therapy. How to survive among narcissists. Being so clean and comfortable, having resolved all childhood traumas in therapy sessions. ‘I’m not psychologically comfortable in this situation’. Well, I’m not comfortable in the world that places such stake on comfort. The world where best people are set ablaze with explosive devices installed and detonated from under the trunks of their cars. And women in Bottega Veneta keep being bored at airport lounges with their petty fiction books.

Baggage carousel area. LV luggage bags. Flawless curls. Creased fabric co-ords. Plush suits of perfect crème shade. You need to have certain confidence to dare wearing such shades to the airport. Perfect indifference. Avoiding suffering. What a strange motivation to have. Pleasure isn’t even correlated with happiness. A true artist must seek suffering. Going to disaster zones, searching for belongings of those perished in earthquakes, documenting riots in refugee camps. Live dangerously, they said. Authentic Dasein is invariably coupled with deadly threat.

So far Nice looks nice. Sounds redundant, but that’s indeed the most accurate adjective to describe it. Not classy, not posh. Just nice. And that’s the type of a tranquil bliss you seek after a sleepless night spent being crushed by something traumatic. After all catastrophes, calamities and tragedies the only thing one seeks is a place that’s merely nice. Hemingway’s clean, well-lighted place. A piece of literature defined by what it doesn’t contain. A refuge for those who have gone through the 9 circles of death and terror and came out alive. Out of Arctic, on the bygone Terror and the forgotten Erebus. Through Phobos and Deimos. While the humankind is colonizing Mars, I’ll be colonizing its solemn dismal moons.

I’m at Avenue des Fleures. Girls wearing rompers and floral sundresses. Guys in brand new sneakers. Couples on scooters. People are proportionate. No large annoying families, thanks God they cannot afford it. It’s not one of those large coastal towns with multi-level highways and sea as a nice bonus, an attachment. No, here it’s actually town that’s attached to the seaside and it shows. It’s very quiet, like a Japanese airport, and it’s made out of white stone.

The most striking feature of Nice is that it lacks any marginality whatsoever. It’s not about something it has, it’s about something it’s lacking. Absence can be equally defining as presence.

22 August, Monday
On a train to Cap d’Ail

Seems like all young and stylish people of Europe got a ticket to Nice this August. People without taste are turned around at the customs control. Everyone on this tram looks good. Breath out. These people around are not even rich or anything. But they definitely have leisure time in order to research what’s currently trendy. Their snickers are white and so are their perfect cotton t-shirts. Girls in floral tea dresses and Nikes, little bags on golden chains. Perfect curls, round Ray-bans.

It’s clear that a city cannot have a population that consists only of people who would look good on Instagram. Where are the essential workers, supermarket employees, migrant families relocated here for construction work projects. It’s like an utopian city of Ayn Rand, where all talented high-profile people go to live somewhere in a secluded mountain valley. A funny thing: readers including me are so used to the socialist inclinations of book writers that it’s kind of expected to now hear something like: Such society will never work! I’ll rather live among migrants and prostitutes because they’re are genuine and honest people! Ah no. I’ll never say anything like that. The absence of marginality is definitive for me. Nice is a perfect utopian place. No wonder people want to come here again and again. It’s a myth that Côte d’Azur is expensive, my bet is that this myth is designed to scare all the loud and uncultured people away.

Reached the sea. Southern France in August, perfect summer days. To finally have enough time to think about depression and death, about political activism and a way too tangible danger of being blown up for your beliefs. Outside is Mediterranean. Inside is… What’s inside doesn’t matter – as Bret Easton Ellis had famously devised. But inside of me is Xibalba, the lakes of sorrow, the mixture of blood and tears, red rooms by Anish Kapoor. The copper wires from a high-rise collapsed in an earthquake disaster. My love is a bloody installation by Anish Kapoor, Mount Moriah at the Gate of the Ghetto. Symphony for a Beloved Sun. Internal Object in Three Parts.

My least favorite part about beach vacations are marginal families with screaming children invariable present on every beach. Shapeless overweight women and hairy (yet bold) men. Portable fridges, foldable chairs, speakers. Not here. Seems like people come to Nice just to be surrounded by other people like them. Cultured, young, middle-class, well-behaving. Just to see proportionate people around. Young couples, guys with long hair, girls in baseball hats and pastel bikinis. Delicate jewelry on the neck and even more delicate tattoos on the ribs. One piece suits from Weekday, straw bags, bucket hats. The combinations of colors please me. Striped cotton shirts from Gap, gold-trimmed Ray-bans. Reading paperbacks.

Mon chérie, regarde, il y a une tortue! The most marginal people at Côte d’Azur happen to be Italians for some reason. Yesterday a little overweight girl was rocking pebbles so ferociously as if she wanted to rediscover fire. Sparrows nests on the cliff. Observing those while floating in the water. Isn’t it a remarkable feature of human bodies that we float? As if hollow inside, like turtles (did you know that turtles are hollow inside?). Consisting of salty blood, salty water, and yet repellent from our natural substrate, so harshly rejecting us as something no longer belonging. I’ve stumbled upon some Russians 20 meters away from the shore. Hey guys, what an encounter, have you heard that political activists are now blown up and set aflame in their cars, just a few kilometers from Moscow? Nice to meet you guys, have a wonderful afternoon.

How long can one stay in the salty water until it completely dissolves their body? The black color on my toe nails is already dissolved. I’m 15% less goth now. But the true darkness is always within. If I float here for sufficient time, will I reach an enlightenment? Or will I be sucked into the engine of a docked boat?

A thin layer of sunscreen. Is allegedly supposed to protect us from the deadly rays of the open thermonuclear reactor that out planet happens to rotate around. I don’t buy it.

A couple nearby is eating a Caesar wrap from McDonald’s. So what? Places like this only prove that people attracted to luxuries must have some deep internal insecurities, a need for validation stemming from some past trauma. A healthy happy person doesn’t see anything wrong in eating fries on a striped towel, at a pebble beach of Côte d’Azur. We all came here by the same coastal train from the Nice central station anyway. The age of golden chains, brand logos, and big cars is over. Nonchalance is the new luxury. And it doesn’t require much to prove. Simplicity is its language. The minimalism of hot-lava pebbles and azure waters, and little boats still at the haven and large chalky cliffs with pines and giant agave, and colorful umbrellas, white and blue. And an all-encompassing stillness.

23 August, Tuesday
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

If you do not obey, we will terminate you. Said an average looking man talking over the phone next to a cafe called Pizza du Terroir. France makes me concerned. A restaurant nearby offers a special selection of today’s Specialities de poisson. Indeed, what can be better than a fresh selection of poisons in the morning? French people scare me. Do you return from here dead or alive? And have you seen the animated neon crosses they put on their pharmacies?

On the way home, a supermarket. They sell croissants and baguettes in the department called Pain. And I’m a forever-resident of that department.

Back at the beach, people playing ping-pong in the water. He took her for a ride on a paddle board and she’s excited as if it was a sport car. Women floating in pink inflatable flamingos in the perfectly transparent azure waters. Older people with their well-behaving children jumping from the docked boats to snorkel. A 60-year-old woman with skinny figure and flawless blonde hair sunbathing topless (perfect definition of a GILF).

Have I died and gone to heaven? Now, I’m just at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat haven, it’s shaped like a crescent and it distorts acoustics. I see the sea bottom just a meter away from me and yet it’s at least three times deeper. I won’t be upset to get drowned here. Assuming heaven’s awaiting, I won’t see much difference between it and this place.

24 August, Wednesday
On a train to Monte-Carlo

Woke up to a message of a movie director from Bangladesh that the author I’m reading is responsible for the genocide that happened in 1973 in his country. Oh well. He’s short listed for a documentary festival in Czech Republic, so I might pay it a visit. Kissinger, dirty bastard.

On a train to Monaco. Got a call from a charity that runs hospices. Last help for those who’re dying as well as their relatives. Terminally ill. Palliative care. I have a seat next to the window, on the left – azure waters sparkling like Christmas lights. Over the phone – those confined to their rooms. And we all will be. So I think that a logically-grounded moral obligation of a sort, universal to all of us, is to experience the world as much as we can, as long as we can. Because we won’t be able to do it for too long.

Ne risquez pas votre vie, ne traversez pas les voies. Says a poster with a picture of a smashed soda can. With such illustrations they’re inviting us to use imagination. How would a smashed can of a human carcass look like? Those French, always graphic with their words and imagery. Pour votre securite, utilisez les pasages. I now understand the 19th century Russian writers who filled their books with paragraphs in French. Everything written in French sounds more sophisticated.

Nah, I don’t want to be interviewed as a donor of your charity. Just take my money and do whatever. No one wants to discuss death on a train to Monte Carlo (isn’t it entertaining that the nearest harbor is called Golfe de Saint-Hospice). Our life is just another stochastic process and I might be dead by the moment our interview is over. It’s just one scenario where I’m here looking at the palms and pines, and azure waters. What do other 99 scenarios look like? In one, I’m bounded to the room of a panel house taking a combination of Zoloft and Valium just to stay sane without getting suicidal. In another, I’m crashed like a soda can on the tracks of a French coastal train. Chased, raped, and left in a cellar of abandoned wooden house in my home town that I’ve never ever left. It’s only one single low-probability scenario that has led me here, an anxious migrant with a hybrid identity, no home, no expectations and no regrets. The thing I feel most affinity with is tumbleweed. And where’s the generator of Monte Carlo randomness anyway? Does it run on pure chance or am I in control of at least something? The past, the genes, the competences, talents. It all explains my failures. My achievements – those are mostly explained by pure chance.

What are people even doing in Monte Carlo? It’s crowded. I bet people come to Monaco just to think one thought: tf am I doing in Monaco?

Back at the beach. A guy with SPQR tattoo and his girl on wooden platforms. Wooden platforms on a pebbled beach! Two Afro-French women, skinny as a sugar cane, black as the night (I’m ashamed of my metaphors), wearing perfect electric blue bikinis. French people are proportionate. The most deformed people on the beach are Russians.

25 August, Thursday
Èze-sur-Mer

Spent Thursday in Eze, first on the beach, then in a mountain village where Nietzsche lived from December to April 1884. A village on top of a mountain and yet not a single observation spot apart from an old cemetery. A mountain path Nietzsche used to take: 2,110 meters uphill in the burning sun. No wonder he praised suffering so much.

Reading quotes on the way up to set up the mood. ‘To those human beings in whom I have a stake, I wish suffering, being forsaken, sickness, maltreatment, humiliation – I wish that they shouldn’t remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, and the misery of the vanquished: I have no pity for them because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not – that one endures.’

I didn’t endure and gave up half-way. Yet another modern-day weakling. Profound self-contempt is not too unfamiliar to me.

26 August, Friday
On the way to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

A man sitting at the next table in Starbucks is testing different alarm clock ringtones on his phone at full volume. If this is not the definition of hell, then what is? Petty consumerism. A casual spending of one hundred euros and a massive cold brew latte from Starbucks seem to help against the first signs of depression. Boarded the bus, and the most interesting part of it is a trans girl standing next to the rear door. With those retro 70s sunglasses and notoriously artificial nails, she still looks more feminine than 90% of women around.

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. I came here overflown with words. After 7 days, there’re almost no words left. Just the flow of unstained perception, body floating on the water surface. You get used to great things fast. I’m pure percepts, my mind is all over the green waters and overcast skies, the pines and seagulls. Olives, oleanders, cypress trees. Junipers. The shrubs with little blue flowers. Leadwort. I had to use a plant recognition app to identify them. The power of AI. The stillness of the harbor.

The sun has gone away and everything got frozen. A 60% probability of a thunderstorm: will it come or will it go? People are waiting anxiously in silence unsure what to do next. When no sound waves dare to distort the air, we finally become aware of the presence of others. Beach umbrellas lose meaning in absence of a thing that defines their function and purpose. We should strive not to have any thing which absence would single-handedly defy our purpose.

At this beach I feel very alive. Like pre-Socratics must have felt in the world before the invention of forms and ideas, of otherworldliness, of abstractions and layers on top of the pure existence given in percepts. Before we invented categories to describe the perceived phenomena. The Heideggerian Being manifests itself here with all might. No words, no thoughts – only the skies and pines given in sensations, the flow. No past and no future keep a hold here.

It’s no longer cheerful. No blue skies. Just the shades of grey and beige in seaweed and pebbles. Two children floating silently in yellow rubber rings. Twins, a boy and a girl. Man folding a deflated crocodile. Bubbles forming quietly around the rock repeatedly covered by waves like a transparent blanket.

Foam on the shore. Four billion years ago, organic life formed in a very similar nearshore foam. Abiogenesis. Wood-Ljungdahl pathway reactions. Latent workings of chemiosmosis. I bet it was equally quiet at that moment. The reflection of primordial eras, when the flow of time was not yet perceived as linear, unquantified by any conscious being, the instruments for its measurement not yet invented. But consciousness was already forming in that dirty salty foam. The point of departure was near. We came from foam, and we’ve become a sentient form of it, and then departed from our own being, got lost in realm of abstract and theoretical, just to reflect on the whole process with an eye of reason and conclude that there’s no road back. Unless…

An ant bit me. There was not a single reason for him to bite me, and yet he did. Nature is pointless. I’ve just attracted a whole colony of ants by leaving a sandwich on a towel for a few minutes. Where they came from is totally unknown. I bet if something dies here, the carcass of it will be eaten by ants in a matter of hours, with no single bone left. Now they’re moving away a little piece of bread, slowly and steadily, step by step. The communal effort is impressive. Collectivists. They scare me.

27 August, Saturday
Place Yves Klein, Old Nice

Went to the MAMAC museum on Saturday. It’s surprising that almost every pop artist at one point of his career decided to reject pop culture and turn to the more dismal parts of human life. Death, catastrophes, assassinations. Accidents produced on a conveyer belt. It’s fascinating how many artists turned to the topic of car crashes in their art. Smashed cars, crashed cars, road accidents. Something the world will mourn about for a couple of minutes and then get over it to focus on something new and more disastrous. Warhol’s death and disaster series. John Chamberlain’s crashed metal pieces. Arman blowing up the White Orchid, then blowing up La Tulipe for the joy of public. César Baldaccini and his Dauphine. Even with deaths of notable people, we forget about them in a matter of weeks. Six portraits of Jackie Kennedy on the day of her husband’s assassination.

Several rooms are devoted to Niki de Saint Phalle. ‘Without any formal education other than her own instinct and a certainty that it was her destiny, Niki de Saint Phalle began painting her fantastic universe…’ Instinct and certainty in own destiny! Can relate to that. Her installation titled Autel OAS. A massive golden altar dedicated to the war in Algeria. Statues of Jesus and gold-plated machine guns. The blood-thirsty bat apparently personifying the Holy Spirit. If the Christian church wanted to be truly genuine, it would have made its altars look somewhat like this.

A great surprise was to see Jean Tinguely here, as well as his macabre automatons. Always featuring burnt wood and deformed metal rods and animal skulls. Mengele dance of death. The upper floor of Tinguely museum in Basel, one of the Top 5 places in Europe. Looking at those machines, I can clearly see the emotion portrayed there. And what else is the purpose of art if not expressing emotions too subtle to fit into conventional words and linear sentences?

The true art is always genreless. Looking at the detailed, almost autistically obsessive paintings of Gianfranco Baruchello. Nello spazio della violenza, 1973. The guy that just invented his own thing, outside of any genres. First saw him in Vienna’s Mumok, so exceptional among other artworks. Or Mario Merz! He just came up with his own idiosyncratic format of sculpture in the igloo shape. December last year, Merz foundation in Turin, lost somewhere in the middle of an old industrial warehouse district. They also showcased some Richard Long over there…

The aesthetic value of trash. I understand William Gibson’s obsession with gomi. Found a newspaper cut with an old advertising of an automated cat feeding device inside the installation of Arman. Something printed in America in the 70s. Next room: trash in video format, ‘found footage’ mix of the old film tapes retrieved somewhere in remains of what used to be an Italian Hollywood. Collage is not well represented in film, unlike in painting and music.

I want to decorate my room with closets full of bones like Daniel Spoerri. Next floor: many artworks either devoted to or inspired by Pasolini. Scenes from the Gospel According to St. Matthew and other Pasolini’s movies projected right on his face. Reminder of where exactly the art comes from. Pasolini was critical of emerging Italian consumerism and petty bourgeoisie. That’s a noble topic for critique, as relevant as ever.

Sitting on the Plage Publique de l’Opera. Thinking that we should all strive to be very thin and very sophisticated. Keeping shoulders straight, chin high. The ribs, the bones, their aesthetics. Elegant like an Air France flight attendant. Reading books on the beach and having a refined style. In a world that’s into Netflix, we should be into gallery art, into Matisse and Yves Klein, into Pasolini, into Italian neorealism. Snack with dry mango and macadamia nuts. Hummus and whole grain bread for dinner. Before we die like Klein did at the age of 34. Being cultured above all else, and finding pleasure in it. That’s the vision to adhere to.

Got a red thread bracelet. The store assistant tied it in two knots so tight that now I cannot remove it. It looks like a bloody cut on my wrist and I love it this way. The thought about returning to the Czech Republic makes me sick. After spending a week among these beautiful people, I’m dreading of return to Prague. It’s not like traveling in space, it’s traveling in time. Somewhere straight to a provincial Soviet town stuck in the 90s. The sanctuary of periphery. Gosh. The streets, the landscape, language, people and their habits. The country where women take pride in blowing their noses in public and men show status by urinating on streets. I don’t want to assimilate into that culture.

28 August, Sunday
Nice, Avenue Thiers. Then Côte d’Azur airport

Moved to a high-rise building facing the train tracks. In the morning there’s a military parade commemorating anniversary of the American landings in Normandy. Or is it V-E day? Or V-J day? Or Victory in the Pacific? August 1945 is so tangible it grips my throat. What exactly happened on the 28th? Battle of Yinji. 3 weeks since Hiroshima. Victory parades in Paris. Kissing the war goodbye. Princess Princess Mafalda of Savoy dies in Buchenwald (she looked exceptionally good). Perhaps I would benefit from a trigger warning sign. Yet another modern-day weakling. Military vehicles, weapons, uniforms. Just look behind the corner, and you’ll see a bottomless pit of void linking human suffering through decades and centuries, liters of blood and oceans of tears and mashed bones and flesh perished in explosions. Look through time and through kilometers, it’s right there, just scratch the surface a tiny bit.

The shadows move and change the groove, and something tells me not to brood, sings Kim Gordon for approximately the 485th time. Fixing my sunglasses frame, tortoiseshell and acetate, wind on the neck, the air is breezy. The task of a writer is to transform the barely noticeable empirical phenomena into text. Focusing on forever-now. That’s the recipe for happiness they keep suggesting. Well, what they strive to be mindful of is unclear. The clouds are dramatic, the sunsets tragic. My mind is not really here. In order to be an artist you should merely dare to claim that your perspective is of some value. People, they’re here just to refine the crude flow of life into art. To push it through the channels of brain synapses and obtain something valuable as an output.

At the airport. People tattoo anchors on their ankles. Why? The ground sucks. Bought a golden pin of Blériot XI. First aircraft to cross the English Channel. Model type: ‘heavier-than-air’. Never something to be proud of. It had three wheels and one propeller in front. Just one hundred years ago we were still pioneering in aviation. Now we see it as annoying and mundane as a bus ride. With a bonus of noise pollution in the form of inescapable in-flight service. The only things I’m willing to spend money on are airplane pins and red threads with little stars. My parents would disapprove.

Got assigned with a Gate A00. The impossible gate. Like the secret stations of Moscow metro, buried deep under the ground. That’s the gate that all planes that perished in the Bermuda Triangle departed from. It’s for planes that do a vertical takeoff, ascend to a 10,000 meter height and are never seen again. That’s for the airplanes with no engine option. That glide and disappear in the clouds.

On the train from Vienna. That was a productive vacation. Wrote more than 5,000 words worth of texts, spent around 20 hours in water, came up with a manifesto for a future political party, devised a plot for a novel, swam topless. There’re way too many things I want to do, and where to find enough energy and persistence for all? Writing, art, political activism, starting a business. What’s now? A lot of work. Pretending I care. New trips. The embassy of America and the embassy of Kosovo. Editing, publishing. No longer having to pretend as I actually do care, even too much. Passing by a refinery. Leaving places that were the epitome of refinement. I’m willing to spend there at least a week each year. One week out of 52. Only 2%. It’s a pity that remaining 98% are spent in a place that lacks any refinement whatsoever. I’ll at least try to surround myself with people who possess it. That’s the quest for this year, so far successful.

Juggling between paperbacks. Plato, Henry Miller & Henry Kissinger, Edelman and Tononi. The world order and the structure of consciousness. Love is a ladder, time is a tumorous cancer. Being overly sensitive, suffering a lot, and having an obsessive urge to write about it – are there any other prerequisites for being an artist? After myself… I’ll leave thousands of thousands of words in mediocre texts. And hundreds of books with pencil notes on the margins.

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