LETTERS FROM SALISBURY
Back in London, Bivar found that he regretted his impulsive exit from the little community in Salisbury, and he had written a ten-page letter to all the residents and visitors at 63 St Anne Street. “In that letter I opened up and exposed all my love for them, with words whether sweet, grateful or bitter. It was an open, passionate and painful letter, with very little room left for modesty. I sent the letter and now I am waiting for a reply.” Sadly no copy of that letter still exists; and before the reply had arrived, Bivar had gone to New York.
He spent a lot of his time in New York interviewing Brazilians who were living and working there, for an article to be published back in Brazil. Most of them said that they didn’t like it there, that they were looking forward to leaving, but that New York was such a great place to make lots of money … After nearly two months, a package full of letters, originally posted to London, found him, more or less by chance, at the Chelsea Hotel in New York:
I received today or yesterday, I’m not quite sure, a big envelope containing eight letters that had arrived from Salisbury. The letters were brought by one of the two American Barbaras who live in Europe. Someone in London had given the envelope to her to bring to me, and she brought it. She delivered it to the entrance of the Chelsea Hotel, not knowing which of the infinite rooms and apartments at the hotel I was staying in. So it was a stroke of luck that the letters came to end up in my hand. Thanks to Ruth Panterete, chancing to look in the heap of mail at the hotel's entrance. Because, if I haven't touched on the subject so far, I am staying clandestinely at the Chelsea Hotel. The staff don’t know, or pretend they don’t know, that I’ve been going up and down a thousand times a day for nearly two months now, besides the time I spend sitting in the entrance hall. No-one’s ever asked me what I’m doing, who I am with, nothing. At times I think that the porter must be a little intrigued, watching me go down sometimes with Jorge Mautner and Ruth Panterete; sometimes with the people from 418 (Pete, Corin, Sandy and
Larry); sometimes with Mossa (I forgot to mention that Mossa is also staying at the Chelsea, but I hardly see her. Since she quarrelled with Jorge Mautner one day, because she had cooked her dinner in Mautner's suite and afterwards hadn't washed up either the plates or the saucepans, leaving everything in the kitchen filthy, the sink full of rice, vegetable peelings, fat, etc. Jorge Mautner was left with a pile of stuff and when it was time to sort things out with Mossa, instead the two attacked each other, as is the fashion in New York, and they swore never to speak to each other again. Days passed and the oath was maintained. I also hardly see Mossa because she generally frequents New York’s nightlife whilst I’m about more in the daytime. Our difference continues due to the problem of schedules. But still from time to time we phone each other and chat and arrange meetings that are never kept because so many other things happen that keep us apart and automatically excuse us from our more or less assumed commitments. Mossa was beautiful and always mysterious in those days. She was involved in theatre at that time. And she was in love with a director of underground films, strange in his costume and style of dress, a bizarre one like myself and like Mossa, and like the Hotel Chelsea as well.)
Relations in New York were all like that. People looked at and for each other with sympathy, sometimes tenderness, and even love (those who were more or less on the same wavelength), they talked rapidly with each other and in these conversations people spoke too much, non-stop, as if that would be their last chance to meet. No-one was sure of anything, life was so uncertain that everything would change from one hour to the next. People changed jobs and addresses and nothing was constant. Everything was ephemeral and the electricity that ran through the air in electrical vibrations left people nervous and neurotic. There were those who laughed about the situation, but even being a little happier than the others they still revealed their sense of desperation.
A few days before leaving London, the beautiful and mysterious Argentinian Mercedes Rubirosa had given me the addresses of a number of underground people in New York, film directors, people from journals like Rolling Stone, Changes, Village Voice, even from Vogue and other publications apparently inside or outside the so-called ‘system’. And in the middle of this mountain of addresses there was one that caught my eye: it was the address of Miss Ultra Violet, one of Andy Warhol's superstars. And by coincidence, Miss Ultra Violet was staying at the Chelsea Hotel, where Andy Warhol himself had made a film called CHELSEA GIRLS. I went to try my luck at Miss Ultra Violet's apartment. From inside a lot of voices together called "Come in.” I went in and saw a lot of freaks, extremely eccentric creatures, Ondine (a great fat superstar of Warhol), Holly Woodlawn (a transvestite who’d achieved success after the movie ‘Trash’). It was Andy Warhol's people, crazy and scattered across the floor of Miss Ultra Violet's messy apartment, as ultraviolet as the name. I went in, caught a glimpse of it all and excused myself, saying that I’d come to the wrong apartment. I left there half frustrated. I shouldn't have given up so quickly. Azeite! I would have to wait for another opportunity.
I went up and locked myself in my studio to read the letters that had come from Salisbury. There were eight letters, what joy! Letters from David Hayward, from Julie, from Roger Elliot, from John Atkins, from Derek (the West Coast Hell's Angel who’d taken refuge in Salisbury), from Don (the handsome and indifferent prince), from Bruce Garrard (the storyteller), and from Veronica (the unclothed). These were their responses to my sad, bitter, desperate and passionate letter. The letter I’d written to them from London, soon after having fled from Salisbury. They were all still living in Salisbury and at the same address of 63 Saint Anne Street, in the community of my dreams where innocence was preserved. Out of a kind of respect I began with the letter from David Hayward:
“Thank you for your beautiful letter. Never before has anyone been so thought about and talked about as you, after leaving our house. Everyone who read your letter became deeply depressed and at the same time enjoyed it very much. The first reaction of everyone on reading it was "When are you going to come back?"
“I asked people to write to you and then I put together the letters that were given to me. I read Bruce’s letter and it’s hard for me to write anything without repeating what he wrote. I haven't read the other letters yet but I suppose that they are all much the same.
“All I can say is please come back here; I am looking after your Rod Stewart LP alright and so you don't have to worry about that. The people here are very cynical and naive, especially me. So don't take Salisbury or us the wrong way.
“I hope to see you and that you’ll have peace of mind and soul, after these letters.
“Peace, love & sunshine,
(and in a corner of the paper David had added a few lines from ‘A Very Cellular Song’ by the Incredible String Band:
"May the long time sun shine upon you,
All love surround you,
And the pure light within you, Shine all the way on.")
"Cynical and naive". This is what they are, according to David Hayward himself. Beautiful! How I miss them! Then I read the little letter from the lively and graceful Julie, the one who when she spoke used to (gracefully) swallow all her vowels. Julie wrote directly:
“Just a little note to say thank you very much for the necklace of glass beads that you gave me, made by your mother, it's beautiful! I hope you are well and that everything will turn out alright in London. I hope you understand this little letter. I hope to see you again one day, if you come back to The House; and until then, look after yourself.
“God bless you.
When Julie said "I hope you understand this little letter" she was referring to my knowledge of English. Of course I understand. Love, Bivar. The world would be much simpler if all the girls were like Julie. Sweet, gentle, cheerful and to the point.
The next letter was written by the good Roger, he who held the keys to Salisbury. The keys that Roger Elliot had in his safekeeping held a weight of love and humour:
"My Dear Bivar,
“My new-found friend, I didn't dare to think that you would remember me. But then I must have noticed that nothing escapes what you see and hear, which now makes you so much a part of Salisbury and its people. Your letter was really good fucking English and we all understand it very well. I hope you can understand mine. Christ, if you are the man that I think you are, you will understand.
“I'm listening to ‘Gasoline Alley’. God bless the record. It is protected.
“When I first saw you, I was so glad to see you, I really wanted to talk to you though it was difficult. But then I realised that I didn't have to talk to you, I entirely understood you just by looking at you. I hope you know what I mean. I was very sad when you left. I didn't expect you to go, you were already part of what was happening all around us.
“I am sorry to hear about the state in which you find yourself, come back here and have another diabolical sweet. That was such a gas, man. I’m looking forward to seeing you again.” (And then Roger wrote a part, some verses from the Incredible String Band and crossed it all out, put an arrow pointing to the mistake with the phrase "my fucking English". And then, "I'll try again”):
"You know what you could be
Tell me my friend
Why worry all the time about
What you should be.
“All my love, Roger.”
I laughed a lot at Roger's letter. Clearly I understood all of it. I moved on to the next letter, which was signed by John Atkins, the angel: at the top of the page he’d made a childish drawing, a colourful flower full of arrows pointing to the pistil in the centre of the flower. And beside the flower he’d drawn an eye in the sun with the phrase underneath, "We are watching you!" John Atkins' letter went like this:
“My Dear Brother Bivar,
“We were all very sad whenyou went, because you had become so much part of us. Your letter was moving, sorry to hear that you are feeling so miserable in London. Please come back to see us again for we will never forget you. Everyone who knew you wants you to come back, including little Marilyn – who sends you her love. Even the Cathedral sends you its love. I expect the others have told you about the Drugs Raid that happened here at the house and I was arrested for possession. Do you remember the 5th of November (Guy Fawke's night) – We do! And we’ll never forget it. I have to go to the Police Station on 25th November when, I expect, I will be found guilty. At the moment I am on bail of £25.
“Have you visited Andrew Lovelock yet, there in London? How is he doing? When is he going to come back to Salisbury?
“The House has been very quiet recently. Outsiders are afraid to show up, except the regulars: Roy, Roger, etc.
“Please, come back as soon as possible. Salisbury cries for you and is sad. You love Salisbury and Salisbury loves you, don't forget. Viva Bivar – Viva Salisbury – Viva Zappata – Viva Ché – Viva The Revolution.
“Come back, John.
“PS I wish I could speak or write Portuguese!"
The next letter was (can you guess?) from Derek (ex-San Francisco Hell'sAngel). Derek's letter went like this:
“This letter is to thank you for your very nice letter that arrived today, it was very good of you to have written to us. I’m really missing you and I'm waiting for you to come back to our humble home.
“We had a Drugs Raid here on Thursday night, with twelve policemen and two more female police. They searched everyone and everywhere for everything. They turned the house upside down. John Atkins was taken for £5-worth of grass but was released on £25 bail.
“Nothing much has happened here since you went. Things remain the same as when you were here. I'm still going out with Margaret and I'm having a good time with her.
“What have you been doing in London? Are you busy or just ‘buzzing around’?
“I'm moving from here to Roy's parents' house. John and Bruce plan to move out before Christmas. Therefore, we all want to see you real soon. Roy sends you his regards and we all think of you here. Sorry to hear that you don't appreciate my tattoos.
“My warmest regards, Your brother
Well, I can die peacefully now; I just received – for once in a lifetime – a letter from an ex-Hell's Angel. The next letter was signed by Don, the prince:
“Well my lad, it seems to me that you only have one thing to do – Come back to Salisbury!!! It seems to me like you are very miserable and dissatisfied up there in the bright lights, and we would all love you to come back. So why don't you come back. My flu miraculously disappeared so that at the moment I feel on top of the world! I suppose everyone has told you about our big Drugs Raid (bust) – We caught a real cold there. Taking the piss out of the feds – But they still took John. But without a doubt we will do something to get him out of this. Hey, how about a translation of all that Portuguese you wrote in your letter?! Well man, Dave's Esperanto for my letter. So, cheers for now and keep your chin up and come see us soon!!
‘Hum, Don, it didn’t have to be like that eitherI’ I thought, between laughter and tears rolling down my face.
The letters I had already read, the letters from David, Julie, Derek, John Atkins, Roger and Don, were all clipped together with one of those glass paper clips with a little blue ship inside. I picked up the next letter to read, Bruce's letter. Two more to go, Bruce’s and Veronica's. At that moment a strong wind blew through the window into the studio, taking with it some thin sheets of paper that were on the table that was covered with my sleeping bag. In between the thin sheets of paper that the cold wind took was the letter from Veronica, without me having read it, not even the heading. And what would the heading of Veronica's letter have been like, the sweet, the friendly, the passionate, the slightly sceptical, the dreamer, the softly disillusioned, angelic and celestial, sweet sixteen, pale brunette with blue-black hair, almost navy blue, neither straight nor wavy, long bluish hair, almost navy blue, long brown-ivory arms, smooth chaste skin, hands faded and shaped by the gentle friendly wind, Veronica the one who didn't point but let the gentle wind guide her index finger, Veronica the unclothed. Her eyes were even greener than the green valleys of medieval and eternal England. Veronica's eyes were my own all-round vision of England. Veronica, Avon's nymph. Veronica covered only by her pale blue satin nightgown with her dark-ivory skin. Veronica the magician, the one who let all the elements of nature create a ballet where everyone was dancing but Veronica was my superstar, my Isadora Duncan. The scene was lit by the moon (she herself, the moon), which projected onto the back of the stage her Mona Lisa image. There was music and elvish singing in the air. In those magical moments the elves did not appear and did not stand up but all you could hear was their singing:
Engaged in three loves
Lady Veronica doesn't know
Which way the wind goes
Which way the wind goes
Which way the wind goes
the wind goes
the wind goes
Lady Veronica doesn't know
Which way the wind goes
But she knows, only she knows
About the drops of river water
with the furthest tips of her outstretched fingers
how to transform the stars
how to transform what we see
where we are
into a green field of universal peace
Veronica knows how to turn water into wine,
wine into water.
Wine into water! Wine into water!
Veronica knows how to turn wine into water!
That was more or less how the elves sang whilst Veronica played with the waters of the Avon. A drop of the river came, helped by Veronica's fingers and the wind, and landed on my lips. And I tasted wine. Pure waterwine washed away my thirst. And suddenly I was. I wasn't, I didn't want to be, I didn't need to be: because I just was. I am there. I don't know. The New York wind took Veronica's letter over the roofs of the New York skyscrapers. May it be well read, Veronica's letter. It was what I wanted, or rather, what I asked for. Beyond the arrogant wind, it was a beautiful Christmas Eve in New York. It was snowing, more importantly. It was beautiful, it was sad. Here in New York, beauty was generally more violent than sad. But on that Christmas Eve the beauty could have been classified as sad. Even Rosemary's baby was a little calmed down on that beautiful day. In fact Nature is still the mother and the four elements are her children. Or maybe it was nothing like that, it doesn't matter, what’s important is that Christmas Eve was bearable, endurable, good, great, fantastic, etcetera. You always need to think about everyone’s mood. Mine was good, and being so the New York vibes must have been good. End of conversation, because I still have plenty of time for the next Christmas Eve. Do I or don’t I have plenty of time? This also depends on the way each person leads their life. My intention is to lead a timeless life. The rest, who knows! I shall have to ask Jorge Mautner, a neighbour and friend in the Chelsea Hotel – or anywhere else on Earth – because he is the Prophet, the one who has the word about tomorrow. But now I'm lazy and I have to join in with everyone if I want to listen to Mautner because his wisdom is simply devastating, that is, general. So every time we meet I go back to my studio knowing a lot more than I was expecting to know, since I'm a so lazy in everything. But I also don't know if, because of my openness, everything Jorge tells me goes in one ear and out of the other, perhaps just what’s most essential stopping for a while.
My head’s in a thousand places. My left hand is reaching for my friend Bruce's letter. I'm going to read Bruce's letter and if possible, I will try to translate it:
''My dear brother Bivar,
“This is my answer to your sad but beautiful letter. Please try to read my terrible writing.
“You have no idea how sad I was, like everyone else, when I went downstairs to see you on that Sunday night and you were gone. I can only ask you to come back soon and understand that we want to be your friends and to try to communicate with you despite the language problem.
“Maybe it was for the best that you weren't here on Thursday – Guy Fawkes’ night – because that night the police came after drugs. Poor John and another friend named Stuart had some grass and were arrested, and now they are out on bail until they have to go to court. In a way the whole episode seems unreal and the consequences we don't know yet.
“Since your departure, everyone has been talking about you and wondering if and when you might return. Your problem is that you are always concerned about sharing our belongings, our food, our time and our home, for fear that we are not happy to share. The answer is that we are happy to share, it makes us pleased to share, it makes us unhappy if you don't treat our things as your own.
“I have been working in the factory all week. It is often hard and boring work, but when I get back to the house in the afternoons it makes me feel good to know that I have been working. On Thursday I went to a meeting between some of the workers and the boss, which was a great lesson. The workers constantly mistrust the boss, while the boss is like a schoolmaster who pretends that everything he does is for the good of the children.
“The factory reminds me of a military tank museum that I went to visit once, with their collection of mechanical monsters. The noise is like rough and lumbering music, played by idiots with inadequate homemade instruments. The dirt and the smell provide a sort of masochistic pleasure. At the factory, I have many friends and no enemies.
“I will continue working there for one more month. Then I will go to London for a few days. I hope to see you and a few other friends. Then I should go to Sussex to see my mother, and then I will come back to Salisbury before I leave for Glastonbury. You call Salisbury a Utopia, but in Glastonbury most of the good parts of Salisbury are magnified whilst most of the bad parts are minimised. There are some wonderful people living there, some beautiful things to see and feel. My friends there are organising a free pantomime (a play with songs and jokes) to show the local children at Christmas. After Christmas I will be able to stay in Glastonbury. Anyway, Derek is moving into Roy's house and 63 Saint Anne Street has been raided by the police, so perhaps the house will become a quiet home for someone in the future. I don't want to decide anything yet for a week or two. I hope you visit Glastonbury, especially at Christmas. And I will visit you if you are at Worthy Farm, in Pilton.
“But for now I'm in Salisbury working in the piston ring factory. When your letter arrived this morning Dave read it to us all and it caused us a lot of emotion. It was full of real love with which you had conquered your self-pity and it affected everyone. Our suffering at your departure was re-lived and added to by our realisation of the cruelty and XXXXXXXXXX (I don’t understand this word in Bruce’s letter) that we gave you. I thought I knew loneliness but I've never been thousands of miles away from home and without any old friends to turn to. I give you a verse from an Incredible String Band song, which you have heard in my company before:
“Following my fortune now the Holy Grail is found
And the Holy Bread of Heaven it is given all around
Farewell sorrow, praise God the open door
I ain't got no home in this world anymore.
“Our home has often been shared with people who have no roof of their own, but few have been missed so much as you were. Please, forgive us for our selfishness and impatience. Please be patient with us, you. Please teach us more. Please give us a chance to teach you more. Please remember that your world is the same as ours and that you have seen more of this world that we have. Please remember that your God is our God and that you have been closer to Him than we have.
“And above all, please don't reject us becausewe were too foolish to see that we were rejecting you.
“I send you my hopes, my fears, and my love,