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O Magazine

Things I do while you work,

by Diana Aller.

I find inspiration
in a museum.


Idle life is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I realise this is a secret that should be kept, because the minute people grasp that one can live earning and spending very little and have lots of free time, gyms, central markets and the stock exchange will go burst, as well as expensive restaurants, psychologists, capitalism and petrol stations. It would all go to hell if citizens suddenly became happy and conscious, lived according to their own inner rhythms and not to those of their working life.

Today I woke up at 10:42, after a ten-hour sleep. Ten, yep, a savage deed indeed. My skin has never looked better, I can assure you. I always thought sleeping was a waste of time. When we reach 75, we’ve spent 25 hours sleeping! I used to think that in those 25 years I could learn Russian, get my driver’s license, build a four-storey house of cards, read all of Tolkien’s books and collect ginger head lovers. You can do all sorts of things in 25 years. However, if I spend the other 50 years that I’m awake oppressed by empty and disheartening endeavours, who cares how much I sleep?

Today, I wake up and could start reading Tolkien or going to driving lessons, but… Do I really want to do that? The thing about life is that it is fleeting and so it’s worth filling it up with experiences that really mean something.

I decide to resolve this dilemma under the shower, a slow, restoring, and almost baptismal shower.

Momentáneamente, me planteo ver una serie. Es una actividad fácil y pasiva, que no requiere de nada por mi parte. Decido que no. Primero porque lo puedo hacer en cualquier momento y, segundo, porque me pasé tanto tiempo anhelando poder ver las series de las que hablaban mis amigos y compañeros de trabajo que fácilmente me decepcionan. Cuando yo estaba teniendo hijos y combinaba extenuantes trabajos y horarios, pensaba que ver series era un paraíso al que yo jamás tendría acceso. Ahora (cuando aquella gente está procreando y dándose a la precariedad laboral con denuedo), las ficciones audiovisuales me parecen algo simplemente entretenido y también un pelín vulgar. Pospongo la idea para más tarde.
For a moment, I think of watching a series. It’s an easy and passive activity, doesn’t require any effort. But I decide I won’t. First because I can do that any other time and second because I spent so much time longing to have enough time to be able to watch all the series my friends and colleagues talked to me about that when I finally do watch them they invariably disappoint me. When I was having kids and combined extenuating jobs and schedules, I thought watching series was a paradise I would never have access to. Now (when those people are procreating and giving themselves to work precariousness), audiovisual fiction seems to me something merely entertaining and also a tad vulgar. I postpone the idea.

I think about visiting the Thyssen Museum. I don’t know it because I’ve been waiting my whole life for someone from abroad to visit me so I can show him or her. I always looked for an excuse, but I no longer need it. I’m a free and courageous woman. I feel independent, strong, and invincible while I vigorously dry myself with the towel and imagine myself walking by formidable and well-restored works by Albrecht Dürer or Domenico Ghirlandaio.

This can’t be true. I see that the day ticket for someone like me (I’m not a student, nor retired, nor a “Friend of the Museum,” nor a group of more than 7 people, nor am I disabled in more than 33% -that I know of-, nor under-aged) is 12€. 12€ is 4 beers in a terrace. Beer bottles are my favourite measurement unit for everything, even the most unthinkable things, believe me.

Then I decide to check on the Internet museums in Madrid with free entrance. Without thinking too much, I see that at four minutes from my house I have the Museo de Historia de Madrid. And it’s free.

So I put on a thick coat and with my hair still wet I arrive at the building of Madrid’s old hospice. I know it well because I walk by it every day and because in my “History of Art” A-level exam I had to comment its entrance (and also Picasso’s Les demoiselles d’Avignon). How strange is our memory! I can remember the contents of exams taken long ago but I’m unable to recall what I ate yesterday…

The museum offers a complete itinerary through the history of Madrid since it was declared the capital city of Spain in the 16th century. There are tapestries, fans, paintings, and very interesting maps of Madrid from when it was a village going from Atocha to the Bilbao roundabout…

The best thing are the big format paintings with scenes from a costumbrist and pleasant Madrid: La puerta de Alcalá, prairies, religious pilgrimages, bullfighting, people walking on the Retiro or carts at La Puerta del Sol. I’m less interested in portraits of kings and queens. I would highlight the ugliness of both Habsburgs and Bourbons, which was probably even more atrocious in real life, since in a painting the painter usually tries to aesthetically favour the subject. Now we have Photoshop, because we have photographs, but back then, it all went together: the Valencia filter, the stylization of features, and contrast. All in the hands of a painter who better made the monarch look good or else…

When I’ve been immersed in Madrid’s past as village and court for 12 minutes, I notice the museum’s finishings: lots of light wood, well-distributed natural light, cosy staircases… I like it.

There aren’t many people, and no one looks like me. I cross seventy-year-old men, women who didn’t bother too much with what they would wear today, an Asian tourist and people who seem to have been lost in a space-time hole and walk very slowly, as if looking for a way out among the walls and glass cabinets.

The workers of the museum watching and contemplating the emptiness (because they no longer see the paintings, in the same way we no longer see those in our own house) are grey and quiet, as befits their job. They have a halo that is between elegant and mysterious and plain boring, something that makes me admire their profession.

There’s a woman sitting on a wooden bench that is around four beer bottles wide. A bench that crosses the second floor, from one glass cabinet to the one on the other end. She’s a small, light woman, quite dull. She’s bended like Gollum protecting his treasure. When I get near her I realise she’s holding a notebook and a pen and writes every now and then. She looks up, seems to concentrate and then bends down again to write the words one would think God himself is dictating. 

And all of a sudden that vision becomes a revelation. I want to know what she’s writing; I want to read it… I want to be that tiny and mystic woman.

The museum has lost all its charm and interest. The museum is all of a sudden that woman and only her. I try to guess her age or what she might be writing… I get closer to get more details. She’s got discrete wrinkles on her face: she could be a well-preserved older woman or a rugged young woman. Her handwriting is nimble and arty, but I can’t glimpse much more than a few prepositions.

As in a film, the background gets blurred and the woman writing is the only thing I can see properly. I perceive the image as a chiaroscuro typical of tenebrism in which she’s all light. Then, something distracts her, something inside. She closes the notebook, puts the pen in her bag, sighs, grabs the coat from her side, stands up and leaves. I notice she’s shorter than me (that means she’s very short). She hasn’t even noticed me. Doesn’t even look at me.

And there I am, looking at the romantic space an unknown woman has left on a museum bench. I know nothing about her, and will never know.

Without thinking I take her place and sit down where she was barely forty seconds ago. The seat is still warm and I feel slightly disgusted by this transference of heat from her bum to mine.

I look forward. There’s a painting by Ginés de Andrés Aguirre of La Puerta de Alcalá and La Cibeles fountain from 1785. All the characters have their heads covered, a horse drinks from the Cibeles fountain, there are ugly kids pompously dressed and even a dog playing with one of them. It reminds me of the first scenes that Goya painted in his early years: the light, the clothes, the composition even… But it’s not exactly an inspiring painting.

The woman I’m replacing must have found the atmosphere of the museum more suggesting than the one of the painting I have in front of me, no doubt. I think about inspiration, that abstract concept, so passionate and so untrue… I think that this is the perfect moment and the perfect place to invoke the muses and write a love letter. It has to be a difficult kind of love, almost tortured; but bathed in ecstasy and madness.

I have no notebook, so I grab my mobile phone, and set to writing a digital letter to an invented love. I decide the person I write to should be a woman. And to make things even more complicated, a married one, to a man. I call her “Alegría”. I type this from the Museo de Historia de Madrid:
I can tolerate gravity, people wearing Crocs and even Argentinians, but in no way can I endure not seeing you in a week.

Should I be so good at writing songs as my idols, I would tell you through music how happy and lost I am; how flattered I feel when you look at me. If we hadn’t a secret relationship and had all the time in the world, I would devote hours to drawing kisses on your body, to learning each centimetre of your skin as though I read Braille. If you or me were a boy, we would have centuries of tradition to back us up and defining what a couple should be and how to behave. If we lived alone and didn’t have kids and a husband to worry about, freedom would be our only guide to get lost in a sentimental spiral.

But the only thing I’m quite good at, my dear (yes, dear) Alegría, is words. And there isn’t a single one to define all this disturbing experience. I can’t find the way to weave a sentence to determine the nature of what we feel.

Ideas pile up in my head now I don’t have you. Because you are the only object of my obsessive thoughts. You smiling, you kissing me with your eyes closed, you walking hunched with monkey long arms. You hoarse. You shouting, insolent, in bars. You and all the time you. You, you fucking squatter in my head.

Used as I am to fleeting illusions, to self-imposed sexual interests and lovers consumed following the laws of capitalism, your entrance in my life, violent and wild, has supposed an unexpected and blooming spring. 

There’s no longer a horizon, no one else exists, you have no rivals, you never had them. It’s only you, up there, in the golden podium. Only you. You’re my owner, my day and my night. You. Alegría. All of you. You at times. All of me.

I desire no other thing than to jump over you, take your clothes off, cover you with hugs and kisses, inhale you. There’s something between your body and my brain that I can’t define, a sick obsession, a silvery and perpetual union that is turning into a monster that demands more and more food each day.

My dear, I feel true devotion and sexual obsession for you, for your eager cunt, your solemn face, almost in a trance, of a hurtful beauty.

I want to burst you, to hear you gasping, I want you to scream. I want to live there, in that aesthetic instant in which you get lost and I find myself.

I like you, fuck, I really like you. I like having you between my legs, drinking orange juice for breakfast and walking around Malasaña with you. I like you as much as a Taj Mahal made out of 472,000 beer bottles. I like you so much that I can’t endure a whole week without seeing you.

I know this is going nowhere. I won’t introduce you to my mum and we will never live together. I know fate doesn’t work in our favour. But, shit, I want to take advantage of the time we have to be together in this life. I want to smoke joints with you. Wake up with you. Laugh with you. Fuck with you. With you, Alegría. WITH YOU.

With you.

PS: This relationship might be going nowhere, but are the rest going anywhere anyway?

I re-read what I’ve written. I would gladly send this letter to the addressee should she exist. However, what takes me back to reality is the time I see on the screen of my mobile, which although it was there all the time, I hadn’t noticed: twenty to one. How long have I been absorbed in this bench of the Museo de Historia de Madrid? I think that more or less what I take to drink two beers.

I look at the painting in front of me. It’s not inspiring at all. Or maybe it is, I no longer know… I stand up and go, maybe to leave my place to someone else looking for inspiration.

Right now I don’t want to learn Russian, nor get my driver’s license, nor build houses of cards, but I might watch a series.

I walk around my dry and wasted neighbourhood. And once again I admire myself for not having to work. And I decide that writing a love letter in a free-entrance museum is a lot more profitable than any job, no matter how you look at it.