Jul 072016
 



ALT TEXT

Aussie Cyril

Aussie Cyril’s photo is in the style of Emmanuel Sougez’s 1930-40s nudes, which “are meant to be sexually admired, but… represent the old-fashioned discreet view of women; an ideal of femininity reminiscent of 18th century artists Fragonard and Boucher,… purely and simply feminine, …seeming to shrink before our admiring gaze”. Yeuch.


My ‘alarm clock’ ( Bel’s hacking cough) goes off early today, but she manages to settle back into dozing.
    So I have got up well before her; left her rattling under her duvet. As I’m putting on my coat I call, ‘Make sure you get a chest x-ray in Antwerp.’ I pop back into to the bedroom, looking for my hat.
     Bel rouses her head. ‘More creativity with Cyril, this morning?’ Did that wheeze have a cynical tone?
    Look, I don’t want his pictures any more. I’m doing this purely for the money.’ I stare at her. ‘You look grey, Bel. I’m phoning the office for you. Don’t go to work. You can’t breathe.’

On the Metro to Moganshan Lu I become terrified I’ll arrive home to find Bel dead in her bed. An asthma attack. Heart failure. A strain of pneumonia that brings instant death.

Alone in Shanghai… God. I would die too.

    But she answers my text.

Am ok tanx. Hav good morning.

At the studio Aussie Cyril’s ten-day-old marriage proposal hangs in the air; brings an intimacy (uncomfortable, unwanted), like ten days into an engagement.
    I don’t refer to it. Maybe it will sink away, be forgotten…
    ‘Over to you, Cyril. You choose the poses.’
    Or should I do something about it? At least they would understand my poetry in Melbourne…
    ‘Thank you, Suki. Today I’m aiming to reproduce the classical nude portraiture styles of Harry Callahan, or Ruth Bernhard; also a fashion photographer who turned to Art Nude called Jean-Loup Sieff, who took “lively portraits of interesting girls”, to quote Peter Lacey.’
     ‘Girl? I’m not exactly a spring chicken.’

In the evening I receive an email with his “classical nude portraits” attached.

My dearest Suki-muse, permit me to regale you with information about the gentlemen who have been my influences. Here is a link to a fine example of Emmanuel Sougez’s figurative female nudes. Though his technique attends to composition, line and form, the individual femininity of his models is not subordinate to these concerns. Then there is Harry Callahan who creates images that are representational of the model’s nature or character (yes, a stark contrast to Edward Weston). Callahan brings out femininity and modesty, coupled with a psychological remoteness and elusiveness. He has chosen women: feminine, demure women; “like mythical beings” they are revered and turned into fantasy (quoting Peter Lacey). While Callahan’s pictures are not remotely pornographic – he maintains a distance and respect – his way of relating to the image of woman is nothing if not sexual.
     By the way, did I ever say, I love those images in which your eyes twinkle? Cyril x

I rattle off –

As so often, you are again trying to make something pretty of me. I don’t mind not being pretty. I’d rather not be. ‘Callahan-esque’ is a style I really don’t like. I’m not a mythical being. I am not remote.

But I must not sound so churlish. Cyril is still paying me. So I delete this, and write –

Thank you Cyril.
These are beautiful. I love looking at beautiful women. I am not one. But they are lovely. Thank you. Look forward to more sessions. Do suggest a date. Suki

Clearly Cyril is hovering somewhere, awaiting my responses. I immediately receive his reply:

Dear Suki, my darling muse, how about another shoot on Monday morning, first thing? Then lunch at the Peace Hotel? Let me know.



 

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Jun 092016
 



ALT TEXT

Aussie Cyril

Aussie Cyril’s photo. My radical crop.

This morning’s Air Quality Index for Shanghai is only a slight improvement on yesterday’s: ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’.
     ‘Morning! How are you feeling?’
     Bel coughs hard. Rubs her eyes. ‘Lily Hong says the air’s going to be [splutter] better in March.’
     ‘Good! Only a couple more days of this, then. Here – thought you’d prefer tea first, before the champers.’ I set down the cup at her bedside. My head is full of last night’s incident, of which I cannot speak.
    ‘Thanks, but the champers’ll have to wait til I knock off teaching.’

When I awaken my laptop I find among the morning’s freshly-arrived emails – bugger – one from Cyril, which I quickly skim:

…how wonderful every day would be, to be witness to that heady combination of your enthusiasm, creativity, and joie de vivre… As said, …so much materially to offer you… little me…
     Your servant,
     Lots of love, Cyril

Hey – there’s also one from Tamara’s photographer pal, Hong Kong Ron! Recently arrived Shanghai, wants to photograph another Shibari session, Tamara has put him onto a master rigger, am I available this week?
     Bel, creakily sitting up in bed, glances over, then searches my face. ‘What’s up?’
     ‘Uff,’ I half turn – ‘nothing up. Just another booking for this week. All good.’ I hesitate. ‘To be honest, I’ve got a bit of a Situation.’
     ‘Oh?’
    ‘Cyril’s asked me to marry him.’
    ‘Told you.’
    ‘Actually it was late last night when I went out for that fag. Sorry. I’ve been in shock till now.’
    Bel flings herself out of bed – ‘I always said “ulterior motive”’ – and slams into the bathroom. Is she that upset?
    ‘As you know, I find him physically repulsive,’ I call through the door.
    ‘There’d be plenty of advantages,’ she calls back. Crash – ‘Ow! Shit.’
    Advantages? Having to dominate Cyril? I want to be the subordinate one. Told what to do. I want someone to take over my stupid life and govern it better than I do. But not Cyril!
    There is no more talk. Bel slams off to her class.

Later I email Hong Kong Ron back, fix up a session for tomorrow night, in the Bondage Master’s apartment. For an evening I will gratefully be guided, led, controlled, instructed. All I have to do is obey. Submission is so uncomplicated. And furthermore, highly valued. It’s a good bargain for both sides.

Late afternoon. The Delightful Peony’s one heater breaks down, so I return to the flat to hunch over my little radiator with a fistful of new poems. Apocalyptic imaginings: a tsunami obliterating Pudong, the Jin Mao Tower collapsing due to the sub-standard concrete of its construction, the Peace Hotel bombed and in flames. I get two plastic tumblers ready for Bel‘s return. The champagne is chilling in the fridge.

A call from Lily Hong. ‘Miss Suki, please come. Bel’s daughter is died.’
     ‘What? Pardon?’
     ‘Bel is here. In office. Please come.’
     In the Foreign Affairs office I find Lily Hong seated in front of her computer screen weeping, together with Bel, around whose shoulder her arm is draped.The screen is filled with a China Airways webpage in Chinese.
     When I walk in, Lily Hong nuzzles at Bel then relinquishes her chair for me.
    Bel is impassive. ‘I’m booking a flight, but not for straight away. My brother can deal with it all.’
    ‘What happened?’ Fearful, I reach, lightly touch her cheek. ‘How did you hear?’
    Her face twitches away. ‘John called’ – she looks at her watch – ‘about an hour ago.’
     ‘How..?’
     ‘Oh, she just died.’ Pause. ‘About 11 pm Holland time. Heart failure. People like Elise are full of anti-psychotics and massively overweight. And she chain-smoked.’
     I do what Lily Hong was doing. Bel’s shoulders under my arm are wooden, unyielding. She seems tight-coiled, ultra-controlled.
    ‘I’d rather miss the funeral and everything.’ She scrolls through dates.’ Let’s try for a ticket in three weeks.’ She looks up at Lily Hong. ‘I can buy this ticket now with my credit card, can I?’ Then, like an after-thought, ‘Maybe I don’t even need to go.’


 

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