Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bellydancers for Obama

If the crazies are correct, Barack Obama is a Muslim Arab. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Why, just last night I attended a "Bellydancers for Obama" fundraiser at the Je"Bon Noodle House on St. Marks Place. The music and dancing were fantastic, and we did our part in filling Obama's campaign coffers!

"Because you know he needs the support a bunch of bellydancers!" said our hostess, Leela Corman. Bellydancers For Obama

Dancers include Nadia Moussa, Thalia, Ranya, Andrea Mistress of Bioluminosity, Alura, Amantha, Mark Balahadia, Leela, Melissa Voodoo, Tandava, Najla, Amy, Zahira, and Anarkali.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why I Started Chasing Bad Girls, #9 (Catherine the Great)

Catherine the Great had a taste for handsome young men. She called her boyfriends “favorites,” and she had quite a few of them. The sweetest one of all was a twenty-one-year-old soldier in the royal guard, Alexander Lanskoi, who fell desperately in love with the fifty-year-old empress. She was in love with him, too, though she didn’t take him seriously at first because he was so young.

As for me, I’m forty-one and the boy I met on the dance floor, Dave, is twenty-five. “I’m not so sure I should see him again,” I tell Denise. “I just want to live in the moment, and last night was a moment that has passed.”

“Oh, that’s not right, Joyce,” she says. “That’s not in the spirit of the free-party movement. You have to call Dave because you felt a connection with him.”

So. I call Dave, and we arrange to meet again in Leicester, where he lives. During the journey there I wonder what I’m doing. A few days later, on the third anniversary of my marriage to Jack, I’m still with Dave, lying under a thin duvet on a lumpy, sheet-free mattress.

Kent is concerned. The Bad Girls Project was his idea, but my interest in Dave is a sign that I’ve gone overboard. I’m so immersed in the bad girls that they’re always with me now, like brushing my teeth or thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch.
“I’m worried about you, Joycie,” he says. “Who is this Dancefloor Dave character, anyway?”

“He’s my guy, that’s who. He likes football, music and people.”

“Isn’t he a bit too young for you?”

My answer is that Catherine the Great liked younger man—and I want to spend as much time as possible with Dave. He’s fun. It’s uncomplicated. And Dave feels so familiar, like I’ve known him forever. There’s no explaining it, and Dave isn’t a big talker. When he does talk, his blunt honesty makes me laugh.

“I’ve never met another kisser who matches me so well,” I gush.

“Oh, is it a long list?”

Sadly, my time in London is coming to a close because Kent won’t fund my bad-girls research anymore. Is he jealous of Dave? Wonderfully, I don’t particularly care; I can well take care of myself.

One night, as Dave and I are lying around in Kent’s bed on Elgin Crescent, we get an unexpected phone call. Kent has just returned from a trip, is driving home from the airport, and wants us to be out of the flat. We throw our bags together, spend a few weeks at a trashy hotel in Bayswater, and then we say goodbye. Dave’s heading off for a year of travel in Southeast Asia and New Zealand.

He asks me to come with him, but I can’t because I’m broke. And very sad. I go back to Chicago to look for a job, and Dave promises to come see me there in nine months’ time. I don’t believe him.

I throw myself back into my research, focusing on Catherine the Great. Her first marriage was not for love, but for the good of the empire, which was fine for Russia, but not for Catherine. Yes, she was a power-hungry monarch with a brilliant political career, but I’m more interested in her love for a much younger man who simply made her happy.

Catherine couldn’t quite believe that Alexander Lanskoi was seriously in love with her, and because she thought she was in control of the situation, she went off on a dating binge in search of a new favorite. When Alexander got wind of it, he freaked out and showed up at her chambers, sobbing. She let him in reluctantly, and he told her he couldn't believe she could just walk away from a love that made them both so happy. How could she do that to him, to them? Stunned and amazed, Catherine took her baby back into her arms, loving him for the rest of his short life.

I go off on a dating binge of my own in Chicago, trying to forget Dave by going out with guys who remind me of him: a British man, a few younger men and a dancer who’s having a fight with his girlfriend. Time passes, one of the younger blokes becomes my boyfriend, I email Dave to tell him the news, and I get a phone call from Australia.

“I can't believe that you could love somebody else the way you love me,” Dave sobs.

“You can’t just walk away from our love. When I’m with you, I feel normal.”

“But you disappeared on me for nine months,” I sob back. “What was I supposed to think? I had to get on with my life.”

“I can get on a plane tonight, and I’ll see you in Chicago in two days.”

“Oh, god.”

“I’m going to book the ticket today.”

“Oh, god.”

Dave comes to Chicago, we remember why we love each other, we decide that being together could never work, we break up, Dave leaves, we miss each other, he returns, we break up, we spend a holiday in France, we go to England, we break up. In between, we call each other and have phone sex and cry. For a year we go on like this.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Why I Started Chasing Bad Girls, #8 (Empress Theodora of Constantinople)

A beautiful girl steps onto center stage. She strips off her clothes and stands nude in front of her audience, wearing nothing but a look of bold defiance on her face. The audience has come from miles around to witness this 16-year-old’s sensational act at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. They watch, bewitched, as she artfully arranges herself in a spread-eagle position on the floor.

A drum sounds. Servants appear from both sides of the stage and sprinkle barley grains over her naughty bits. The servants retire to the wings, leaving the girl exposed and alone. She claps her hands. Cages of hungry geese are rolled out onto the stage and released. The audience roars as the birds flock round her body and devour the grains one by one from her young flesh. She laughs, twisting with pleasure, until every grain is gone. Then she stands proudly, her eyes impassive, her laughter subsiding to just the trace of a smile. The crowd cheers her wantonness and she takes a bow.

Summer is over, the “art colony” is on hiatus, and I’m back in London. This city is a dark and nervously contained place. Why do London men shave their heads? They’re so oppressively Anglo-Saxon, avoiding eye contact. They can’t see my shimmering French sparkle, my long hair, my tan, my sandals, my chiffon harem pants. I feel too sunny for this town, so I dim the lights and don something dark, choosing the Empress Theodora of Constantinople as my new bad girl guide. Her strangely distant past is vague, with the only history written about her a “secret history” by the Byzantine court historian Procopius, who suggests that she was nothing more than an insatiable nymphomaniac.

According to Procopius, Theodora often went to parties with ten or more sex-obsessed men, all at the peak of their physical powers, and she would spend the night screwing them in every conceivable position. When she had thoroughly exhausted her lovers, she would turn her attention to the thirty or so servants in the room and have sex with them, too. “But not even so could she satisfy her lust,” Procopius writes. “Though she brought three bodily apertures into service, she often found fault with Nature, grumbling that Nature had not made the openings in her nipples wider than is normal, so that she could devise another variety of intercourse in that region. Naturally she was frequently pregnant, but by using all the tricks of the trade she was able to induce immediate abortion.”

Procopius’ moralizing is pretty hilarious. Clearly, he hated Theodora for enjoying herself and getting Emperor Justinian to marry her even though she was a big Byzantine whore. He claimed that she was much given to black magic, and that it was through love philtres and the diabolic arts that she kept Justinian enslaved. Theodora’s boudoir was covered in dozens of bearskins, upon which she luxuriated sensuously as she entertained her customers. Her jokes were lewd, she wiggled her hips a lot, and the money poured in. “Never was anyone so completely given up to unlimited self-indulgence.”

Too right. I start to visit Denise, the office manager at Kent’s music studio. Denise is a living bad girl with purple dreadlocks and a huge love of techno music, and I start to live my own secret history in a time of dancing, rebellion and London night life.

I hang out with Denise and her friends in a scene that’s all new to me: techno music, free parties in abandoned warehouses, late nights that carry into the next afternoon and cat-and-mouse games with the police officers who are attempting to enforce the latest, free-party-killing version of the UK Criminal Justice Act. Every weekend and sometimes during the week, Denise plays big mama to the squatters, anarchists, crusties and ex-junkies who come round to her flat in Finsbury Park.

Some day, Denise tells me, she will buy a fine rig so she can become a deejay diva and get busy blasting underground sounds to the free-party nation. Denise drives us one night to an ugly funk show in a club near Elephant and Castle, where I meet a sweet and smiling boy named Dave. One look at his beaming face from across the dance floor tells me that he’s nothing like the scowling, shaven-headed men of London. “That boy’s not from around here,” I say to myself just before we meet and spend the next five hours dancing.