Sunday, November 06, 2005

Eh Beh Oui, Avec Tout Ma Coeur

Hanging out at Mum's I found an electornic copy of my old statement for Dimia from 2002. thought I'd chuck it online for maximum lovey dovey sigh effect.
Paris has had riots for 10 days and Australia is banning strikes. Despite rampant homophobia of the former - at least they still got democracy. I really wanna emigrate.


I met Anna Nina Belhalfaoui at the Unity Bar, in Rue Saint Martin, in Paris on the 31st July 1998 and spent the night with her at her parents house in Suresnes, and over the next few days fell in love with her.
Anna wanted to drive me to the Normandy coast and take me to the Parisian Flea markets and was surprised that I only wanted to go to Art Galleries. However we both shared interests in philosophy and literature, and I like the fact that she couldn’t play pool, and was amazed that she could speak five languages and had spent eight years at university.
Anna was the first woman I’ve ever picked up in a Lesbian Bar – and the first complete stranger I’ve ever slept with – and yet in so many ways she seems to have been the most perfect love I could have hoped for. I’m, still astounded by the amount of physical desire we share as well as the childlike intensity of our emotional and imaginary worlds. Naturally I adore her intellect and creativity, but I could enjoy that in a friend just as well, so it’s our emotional union that astounds me.
Even though I left Paris four days after meeting Anna, I felt so strongly about my attachment to her, that I promised to write to her, and somehow we would keep in contact. I had never met a woman with her intelligence, sexual appeal or emotional intensity, and I felt even if we never saw each other again, she would be fascinating to write to.
I was the first to write to her, but convinced I had mislaid my letter before posting it, I immediately wrote another. I could hardly believe my eyes when her letter arrived a few weeks later. For the next four months we wrote long letters to each other every week, and made a couple of phone calls.
When Anna announced that she would fly out to Australia in November I could hardly believe it. My feelings were incredibly mixed – part of me was over the moon and impossibly excited but I was terrified that the relationship would interfere with my study, and that a passionate four day fling wasn’t any sort of foundation for a instant de-facto relationship.
Fortunately Anna arrived at the end of the academic year, and I think we spent the first two weeks in bed! I remember my flatmates serenading us in the bath on the first day, and eating Mangos – and losing one on the bus – and I remember taking her on Ferries and then to Bronte Beach – and walking from Bondi to Coogee.
Despite the long walks, ferry rides and social activities - where she was accepted into my social circles – from country high school, Art School and in Sydney, the first three months she was here were hard on us both – especially in January, when I was working full time to save up enough cash to support my studies at Art School the following year.
All my friends met and approved of her, as did my family in the rural NSW. Even my grandfather loved her, and said "We could always do with another girl in the family" but I’m not sure how much he understood our relationship!
Anna spent Christmas with my family in New England, and when Grandfather died in March, she came up north for the funeral, which was held on St. Patrick’s Day. I was really scared of being struck by lightning as we were standing in the front row at the funeral Mass and some of my relatives gave me a filthy looks when I held her hand at the graveside – but My Mum and Brother were both supportive and welcoming of the relationship, and this meant a great deal.
From the first I was convinced that Anna should stay for Mardis Gras – for some reason I was obsessed with the idea that it was my patriotic lesbian duty to show her that Australia had the biggest and best Homosexual festival in the world, however I regarded the fact that Anna hadn’t worked part time while studying as a sign of financial irresponsibility, and I wised I’d met someone more self sufficient, who could ‘mother ‘ me in a way. I think I even asked her to find her own flat and get a job in Australia – so we could have a normal dating relationship.
I now know that I was quite naive in assuming that Anna could get a working Visa and a job and her own flat instantly, and when we investigated things, I realised that if she was going to stay longer than 3 months that we’d both have to make a more serious commitment.
Anna had come to Australia only expecting to stay for 3 months, however somehow she persuaded her parents to lend her enough money to support her stay for another 6 months. I don’t know how I persuaded her to stay – especially once I changed my mind and realised that I’d rather live with her and support her financially than have her go back to France, but she stayed. During those times I lent her my bicycle and paid for her accommodation, phone and food expenses. Anna made a positive contribution to the share houses we lived in, cooking and cleaning and socialising with other housemates, who welcomed her presence.
Each time Anna renewed her 3-month tourist visa in 1999 was like a huge test of our love. "Do we want this to continue?" "Do we believe our relationship would survive a separation now?" "Could we really bear to live apart?" were the biggest questions. Contrary to my fears, Anna proved to be incredibly resourceful financially, even more frugal than I had ever been. On July 3rd 1999 we moved into subsidised share accommodation, in Alpha House Artists Cooperative, and with flatmates who supported our relationship, our living costs remained low.

However in September 1999, Anna’s ticket was due to expire, and her financial resources were running low, and she wanted to return to France, and see her friends and family. I was in the final months of my Fine Arts Degree, and was looking forward to being able to focus 24 hours a day on my course, and I was sure that I’d somehow raise the cash and travel to see her at the end of the year. I also planned to go on 3-week painting camp to the desert with a group from art school, so I planned to keep busy, and enjoy my solitude rather than pine after her.
Anna and I spent a week before she left, staying in Byron Bay, trying to avoid the last of Sydney winter. It was a tense and nerve-racking time, kind of like trying to sleep in after your alarm clock has rung. I remember feeling so incredibly fragile and scared, and terrified of losing her, that I’d lost her, and all I’d ever have was an awful ache of desire. Our last days were crazily blissful, but we both broke down at the airport, I sobbed all the way home on buses, in parks, and in my room, where I wrote her a 10 page tear stained letter
Anna’s first three months back home were fairly horrible for her I believe. A lot of her friends had left Paris, she couldn’t find work, she was missing me and not enjoying a second successive winter. Returning to financial dependence on her parents, after so much freedom here, was also a strain. We kept writing 10 page letters (so much better than email) to each other, and phoned each other at least once a week too. Hearing her voice was miraculous each time – plus we’d made a tape of each other laughing together – which kept me sane in the gloomiest moments.
Two of my friends, who I’ve known since Pre School, visited France and were treated hospitably by Anna’s family. They soothed Anna’s new found feelings of exile from Australia, but also told me how generous and welcoming her family would be towards me and anyone associated with me.
The end of 1999 was personally catastrophic for me, however. A few weeks after Anna left, my brother died, mysteriously overseas, and a friend from art school also died of a Heroin overdose. When I heard about my brother dying, the first person I called was Anna. The vigil waiting until it was 7 am in France seemed eternal. She just was the most important person to me outside my family. There was no question of that. I remember what she said "I am with you, every moment. Don’t ever forget it" but it was incredibly hard not to sometimes.
Especially as months passed before we saw each other. I remember speaking to her just before Christmas – and maybe I’d just sent her a letter – and she asked "Do you need me there? Just ask me to come and I’ll be there. I’ll borrow money and I’ll come." Even my friends offered to buy a ticket for her to come. In hindsight, I wish I’d accepted their offer but at the time I just thought it was more important to face my problems on my own.
No one can understand how immense grief is until they actually have to go through it, and I was terrified that the gulf of pain between us would put too much strain on the relationship. I had a lot of friends around me and It felt better to keep the memory of the relationship as some kind of perfect fantasy, so I could escape the day to day hell of grief that I was going through just by phoning or writing a letter.
Slowly in 2000 I started to get my life back together. Losing my brother felt like losing a leg, and I really felt that I had to learn to walk again – I was offered a solo exhibition in a Sydney Art Gallery, which was incredible, and I was also exhibiting in a number of group shows, so my artistic career was taking off – but emotionally the pain of being separated from Anna grew worse and worse.
During the nine months that we were apart I felt that sometimes I didn’t want to be reminded of Anna at all. I felt her as an awful knot of tension in my stomach – a horrible dread that I’d never see her again – even in photos of us together she looked impossibly remote – like some fantasy that I’d dreamt up and could never realise. I really feared somewhere that I’d never see her ever again, that she’d forget about me, or find someone better – and this was despite all the phone calls from her, all the letters she kept writing week after week.
It took 6 months after my brother’s death before I was in any state to even look for part time work, and despite some sales of artworks, plans for raising money to go to France were looking increasingly shaky. Fortunately I have good friends. Some looked around for the cheapest air tickets, and one dear friend eventually bought me a return ticket to Paris for my birthday. Even though Anna said she’d support me financially, my Mum also gave me some money to live on while I was over there.
On the 6th June 2000 I boarded a plane, crying with relief that such a horrible trial was about to end. I’ll never forget arriving in Paris 18hours later. The plane was early and there was no sign of Anna! Having no idea of either Parisian geography or French, I was a little perplexed, so I decided to sit and write for half and hour and see what would happen. Then I saw her. I guess she’d shrunk and I’d grown, but I remember lifting her onto my lap and us just sitting and kissing and laughing and the unbearable delight of sitting next to her in the car in the traffic jams on the "Periphique" leading into Paris – and then the first sex I’d had for nine months – and every pore of my skin being able to taste the sensation of her skin on mine.
We haven’t spent a single night apart since then. We spent 3 months in France, mostly in Paris. Her friends and family were absolutely lovely and welcoming and patient with my appalling attempts to speak French.
Staying in France was wonderful and terrifying. In a way, I felt I was getting to know a new person. For most of the year Anna had been working two jobs, repaying her parents and saving up to visit Australia, and she had moved out with friends from Uni. and had really become well established in Paris. I was seeing her on her home turf, and also seeing the cultural and social forces that shaped her. This part was terrifying.
On the 27th June 2000, the week after participating in the Parisian Gay Pride March, Anna and I registered as a PACS "Pacte Civil de Solidarite" couple which is the closest thing the French have to recognition of same sex relationships. After visiting the Palais de Justice, and paying for my Birth Certificate to be translated into French, we had a small form signing ceremony in the Tribunal d’Justice of Puteaux. Mum was a bit surprised when I told her that we’d been married. A few friends were also over excited. But to me the ceremony, was such a minor procedure compared to all of the other serious commitments we’ve made each to other, each letter, each phone call over two years has felt like much more of a covenant.
Unfortunately the PACS legally offers little more than a token recognition of same sex relationships. The French immigration authorities and consulates have no recognition of any relationships outside of heterosexual marriage, and to even stay as a tourist in France for longer than 90 days, I’d have to ask Anna’s parents to sponsor me as a family guest.
Anna’s parents were incredibly hospitable towards me, and patient with my very limited French. They offered me free accommodation and food in Paris and invited me to stay at their holiday house on an Island in Brittany. There I was able to see what formed Anna, where she got her sense of security and adventure, what a loving generous family she had. The Island itself was the most magical, healing space I’ve ever seen. I’d traveled through Europe on a landscape excursion, but I’d never dreamed that I’d fall in love with a landscape that wasn’t Australian. However I did, and we spent a month there, with me drawing every day, and eating seafood caught by Anna’s parents. Part of me was jealous that she’d had such a wonderful and secure childhood, compared with mine, but her parents made me feel like part of their family, and I realised that I was living an ideal childhood as an adult.
We stayed for almost a month in Brittany, but we had two weeks to ourselves – which was like our first honeymoon. This included the two-year anniversary since we met – on which Anna took me snorkeling for the first time in my life. We were able to spend 24 uninterrupted hours a day together, with no other company besides each other, and no demands of work or study. Most days we would go for long bicycle rides or walks together along the cliffs, and I would sit and draw as Anna wrote. It was then that I really knew that I could live every day for the rest of my life with Anna. I was really happy to be constantly in her company – as we could both exist in our independent solitary worlds of creativity while in the same space.
In August, Anna and I traveled around France and the Northern Europe where we stayed with friends of Anna and myself, and then we returned to Paris to prepare our departure for Australia in September. We arrived in Sydney on September 1st 2000, and left two weeks later to spend the anniversary of my brother’s death with Mum in the country.
September and Christmas, were still really hard for Mum and I emotionally, and it was really good to have Anna’s support this time around. Both times we stayed at Nambucca Heads in a 2-roomed flat with Mum letting us have the double bed. I was demanding, upset, remote and depressed a lot of the time. This sojourn in Australia was a lot less the idyllic summer love affair than was the last time. In addition, Anna had been hoping to work in Australia, but as the school term was only 9 months – she didn’t have the 12 months employment record to enable her to gain a working visa, so she was on a forced vacation.
The first few months in Australia were made harder by the financial strain of depending on a single income and the psychological pressures of unemployment. We share a bedroom in a share house in an artist’s cooperative. While the other residents are supportive of our living arrangements, and the subsidised accommodation enables us to have very low living expenses, I think both of us would prefer to live exclusively as a domestic couple.
However the Artists Cooperative has been an interesting place for Anna to live. She has set up her own dark room, developed and printed photographs and participated in group exhibition at the Co-op Gallery. Anna has also participated in a life drawing sketch club and has become interested in painting and sculpture. She spends a lot of her free time studying languages, and repairing appliances and furniture that she finds in the house or in the garage. I have rented a studio space and have been working and living from art and art related work, and realising a lot of my professional dreams.
I think Anna and I have both changed since the last time we lived together. We aren’t that interested in going out – and as many of my friends have left Sydney or left Australia to work overseas our social circles have changed. Both of us enjoy quiet introspective activities, and have little interest in television or the latest trends in music or fashion. This is not to say that we’re a reclusive couple! We both love dressing up inventing new characters and elaborate costumes for even the most minor social engagement. I’ve loved seeing this flamboyant side of Anna develop during the relationship – while she has worked miracles in encouraging me to trust my body and push my physical limits in camping, swimming and cycling.
While ever Anna has stayed in Australia I have guaranteed her free rent and promised to cover any living expenses. It’s hard though for any adult to accept complete financial dependence on someone else, and Anna has often felt frustrated and powerless at not being able to work here and make an equal financial contribution to the relationship. While living in Australia she has undertaken a lot of the cleaning, cooking and shopping duties, in exchange for her share of the bills.

When we were in Paris, in addition to the hospitality of her family, Anna bought all of my Cartes d’Orange (monthly travel passes). In Australia I have bought her a weekly travel pass – each week – so she would feel able to travel independently of me – and move around Sydney as she chose (mostly to the beach). For her birthday this year I bought her a bicycle so she would feel completely independent of even this financial obligation.
When we have traveled (within Australia and Europe) we have pooled whatever financial resources we both had to pay for fares, food and accommodation. I’d say that both of us are naturally careful with money and very conscious of maintaining our own dignity and independence, but also generous. I enjoy sharing every aspect of my life with Anna, I’d much rather do things in her company than on my own, so sharing food, holidays, possessions, music, clothing, books, alcohol and entertainment with Anna is absolutely a no-strings attached arrangement.
We have a joint bank account – where Anna deposits her traveler’s cheques and I receive my pay – which has a credit extension. We pool our financial resources and use this account to pay for rent, food and other expenses. At the same time, I hate the thought of either of us having financial control over each other – and it has been important while in each other’s country that we both have access to our own forms of savings or income. Anna and I do not go over our monthly bank statements and make absolute plans for every cent we earn – but rather discuss what income and expenses we both anticipate over the next few months.
I think Anna and I both trust each other’s financial judgement and commitment to shared life enough to exist without regulating each other - and trust that we’ll both exercise a reasonable amount of caution and consideration in spending our funds. Anna is incredibly frugal though – even more so than me – I like to buy art materials on impulse – and love buying takeaway meals instead of preparing lunch – Anna makes a careful budget of her travelers cheques - and saves up for special presents or things we need.
Sharing a single room has been a challenge. Both of us are solitary and creative – so we both need individual space to think, write and work. Anna has her own desk in the corner of the bedroom – which I never use, and there’s an implicit understanding that we respect each other’s space and things – she has her own shelf space and wardrobe space but our bedroom is often cluttered with each others junk and this sometimes causes friction – particularly as I’m messy and she’s tidy.
We are both commencing our professional careers and neither of us has accumulated any assets – apart from books, artworks, and a minimal amount of furniture. We share everything. Anna wears my clothes and I wear hers. (Except underwear and socks) We share the same shoe size – and read each others books. If I’m buying art materials for myself – I’ll buy some for her as a present – we’re always buying each other little presents of stationary or fabric.
I don’t have any major assets, however all of my long terms plans feature Anna in them at present, and intend to leave all of my belongings and inheritances to her in my will. If Anna was able to settle here and work then I guess we’d buy a car and a house together – as joint incomes would permit this.
Each day spent with Anna has been a blessing. Every time I can look at her, touch her, or even hear her or read her words is such a miracle, that I’m glad of every aspect of our life together, easy or hard. I know we’ve chosen this relationship, every step of the way – we haven’t been able to take it for granted ever.
It’s so easy to become complacent, and think that because we can kiss in public, because all our friends and colleagues approve of our relationship, because our families accept us as a couple, that our sexuality is not a social issue. Then when I look at straight friends and think if either one of us had been a man, we would have been married two years ago, we would never have spent those nine months apart, we would have had two incomes the past year instead of one, and I ‘d be able to stay, study and work in Europe as long as I liked, then I can’t help thinking how stupidly unfair and homophobic the world still is.
I believe our relationship is probably strong enough to survive anything, but for me, separation is not an option worth considering, If Anna isn’t able to gain a long-term visa here, then she’ll stay here on a tourist visa. Or we’ll both try and live in another European country where Lesbian marraiges are recognised and she can work and support us both financially and I’ll be the housewife!
We have many plans and many dreams. I’d think we’d both like to live exclusively together rather than in a communal household, and we’ll do that as soon as finances permit. Anna wants to work in Australia as a Language teacher, and save the money to buy a car and drive to the desert. I’d like to live in Europe for a year and paint. I’d like her to be able to do a PhD in literature either here or there. I’d like us to live in a house where we’d have enough space for my mess and her tidiness – rather than sharing one room as a bedroom and her study. I think we’d both like to have kids together – and a menagerie of pets.
I don’t know what miracle brought us together – but I feel intellectually, sexually and emotionally challenged and comforted by her in a way I feel couldn’t be possible with any one else.

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norrie mAy-welby said...

I'm just glad you two are still together. We (your Sydney friends following your blog) were worried for a few posts there, and this one seemed to start ominously, but it's all good, hooray! Don't worry too much about the daily mainstream "news". Of course this is just a fraction of what significant world changing events transpire daily, and not a very representative sample at that. Look at the good news: young people pretty much all look, think and act as cool and groovy and creatively as only queer people did ten years ago. Old people resent this evolution, and get defensive about their ridiculous and quaint belief systems which they suffered so much for (and so they try to re-institute Creationism in schools, for example, and find an enemy to blame for their unrest, and LO and Behold, that enemy is not anything as intimately threatening as feminism or sexual equality or acceptance of homosexuality or shifting gender roles, but the easily spotted a mile away[which is the sort of distance it must be kept] BLACK/FOREIGN/MUSLIM TERRORISTS/REFUGEES/THEM/EVIL OTHERS), and ignore inconvenient facts such as Saddam's daily death count being less than the US Iraq Invasion's daily death count, and the Invasion death count far exceeding the non-Iraqi caused events in the US of September 11 2001 (and in fact the death toll of US personnel killed in its insane invasion of Iraq is now two-thirds of those killed in the US on September 11 2001 [in the very suspicious incident that destroyed four titanium black boxes but spared the paper passport that magically floated down to be fortuitously retrieved by the waiting CIA agent as "proof" of AlCaeda's involvement])...

Humanity has a bit of a cold, and this is a messy messy business with the coughing and the sneezing and the mucous [ga hey], but it leads to clearer sinuses and a stronger immune system. I advise a few cups of hot water for flushing and rehydrating, and avoid the effedrine and other symptom blockers; they only lengthen the time needed for healing. And if you don't want to stare at the soggy tissues all day, don't centralise on "the news", and focus on some of these wonderful dreams humanity is having in it's slightly delirious/fevered state.

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