LA MAISON DU DÉLICE
Across Planet Earth.
Where helicopters shuttle guests to Noa Lupukina.
Jenna Freer’s island in the sun.
A verdant green dot in calm blue.
A helipad on the beach marked by flaming torches. I disembark. Greeted by…
Part man, part machine.
“Aloha-loha-loha, I’m Ray, Jenna’s bro.”
He hangs a lei around my neck and then takes my travel case from my hand...with his robot hand.
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Patric Farmer.”
“Patric Farmer...the art dude, yeah? You’ve flown in from...wait, don’t tell me...Italy, the Amalfi, am I right?”
“Man, love it out there. The pizza, bro! Oh. My. G-O-D. Pizza Napoli. Kills it every time. How was your flight?”
“Great!” I exclaim, hoping, somehow, to match his enthusiasm.
Ray bounces on spring blades. His robot hands extend from two sun-struck bendable wire rods. Of his face, only the chin and mouth are visible below a helmet. On the front of the helmet is a screen which currently shows two white circles in place of eyes. The helmet is somewhat bashed around and is decorated with the letters R-A-Y in flame-font stickers.
Having used the flight to bone up on Jenna (skimming a Wiki of her memoir And Why Not?), I knew about Ray. He was the catalyst for her success. Successful people so often have a clear origin story: Jenna’s began when Ray was involved in a car crash. It left him in a coma with doctors urging the family to take him off life-support. Jenna dropped out of high school to care for her older brother, and it was through his rehabilitation that she developed the technologies that would ultimately make her name and fortune.
“Welcome to para-para-paradise!” sings Ray. “Let me show you to your beach shack, druid, and then you can get ready to par-tay!”
As Ray bounces off with my bag I barely have chance to take in the surroundings. It seems banal to describe them as beautiful: on one side of me nature explodes in a pageant of colour, and on the other is a sea that glitters in dazzling facets.
“This place is unreal.”
“Serious, Pat, Noa Lupukina is our piece of heaven.” We cut down a path. “It’s our refuge. A place to meditate, detox, and host gatherings IRL, like the one we’re having tonight.”
“What exactly is the occasion?” (I’d read some gossip on the flight over, speculation about a new product.)
“We’re previewing Virxion.”
“Is that an app?”
“Ha ha ha.”
Why does he laugh? Have I made a mistake? Have I singled myself out as a rustic in the courtyards of ‘The New Establishment’? One simply assumes these events are to do with apps or phones, no?
The last few days in Positano, I was a wreck. Every lesson of The Secret left me, as I allowed myself to be overcome by negativity. I was furious, obsessed, vengeful - and I wasn’t equipped to deal with these emotions.
Replaying the conversation in my head - how about I defer to your superior wisdom - I was pissed off at Fergus and at V+V. As days wore on, I couldn’t come to terms with the thought of him being there at the Magic Circle - representing! Not only his being there, but also, my absence. Just thinking about the members of the Magic Circle meeting Fergus knowing he was in my place...it was too much. I couldn’t bear it. Because what else did this signal but the beginning of the end? Inexorable decline, waning influence, that transition to middle-aged mediocrity…
Here’s a rule of living for you:
Never be demoted. Never be sidelined.
Raise an army, conspire, subvert, anything but admit, ‘That’s fine, that’ll do, I had a good innings, but all good things must come to an end, such is my lot in life.’ Life! One should regard as a long-running TV show: with story arcs, cliffhangers, romance, adventure, and a cast of regular, recurring, cameo roles. You are the showrunner. It is your duty to be always on guard for the jump-the-shark episode, when things start to go off.
Fergus Mac Donell at the Magic Circle was a disaster. The guy had no taste for the finer things as represented by the Magic Circle. His previous job was at The Sage in Gateshead! Oh, imagine Fergus attempting to savour the Black Forest gâteau they serve at the Magic Circle. Thing of miracles. Until you have eaten Black Forest gâteau in the Black Forest, you have not eaten Black Forest gâteau. Remembering that cake, so light, with its cumuli of fresh cream and volcanic landscape of syrupy cherries, the way the chocolate flakes melted on the tongue...oof, it floored me every year. And I’m not notorious for having a sweet tooth. This may be because that Black Forest gâteau spoiled other desserts for me. As if Fergus Mac Donell could appreciate that slice of heaven! He did not even drink. Let that sink in. Not even because he’d had a drinking problem. These people infuriated me. Take it up with the brothers. Yeah, right! As if! He was there - observer to you-know-what - he knew that right now I held no sway with the brothers - and that line about Mark
Johnson, what was that about? I’ll tell you: it meant they were nosing in my accounts. I had a target on my back.
My perfect holiday lay in ruins.
All my happy associations with the Amalfi were wiped away, replaced with the stain of erasure and dispossession. I turned from pampered hotel guest to raving asylum inmate, pacing the pool, clutching a G&T, muttering to myself. I had to take action.
I went to my room and retrieved my phone from the safe. As it came to life, countless notifications and messages bombarded the screen. I swatted them away and booked a flight to Honolulu.
I purchased the ticket on my personal account. That is how I knew this was a reboot. Because what I was doing - consulting on a sale - fell easily within the person specification of my job, but...a breach had been made. They had wounded me.
“Ha ha ha.” Ray laughs on and on. He truly finds it hysterical I don’t know what Virxion is. “You Brits. I can’t get enough of your sense of humour. When I was in hospital, you know what made me laugh for the first time?”
“The British Office?”
The story featured in And Why Not?. When Ray finally came out of his coma (after over year) instead of being happy to be alive, he was depressed. He thought his life was over. He was completely disabled. Just a head, a brain in a shell. What sort of a life was that? Jenna stayed at his bedside, and, one evening, they watched the British Office, and the scene of David Brent crab-dancing elicited what was indisputably the sound of laughter.
“Tiny though it was, I knew Ray had taken that first step. And every journey, no matter how large or small, begins the same way, with one single step.”
“But then the morning after we watched that episode, I went blind. No joke. Blind. Go figure! As for Virxion, yeah, look, I can try and describe it, but I think it’s better you just experience it yourself. What is it they say? ‘The answer is Virxion.’”
“Then what is the question?”
“Man, you are hysterical. All I can tell you is it’s going to blow your mind. Everyone on this island is going to leave, like, totally different.”
“When can I meet Jenna?”
“Druid, you need to relax.
“Are you calling me druid?”
“Yeah, do you mind? Is it okay? Is it offensive? Jenna says I say dude too much so I’m trying out druid and that’s cool because it’s like a wizard, right? A Gandalf-type. It makes sense. Whattup, druid?”
“Whattup. But the sooner I get a minute with your sister the better.”
“All in good time! First you need to have a good time. Wait until you see the guests. Oh my God. A-list. Serious. Sis hates it when I get amped but, druid, we got Oscar winners, Grammy winners, freaking Olympic gold medallists. Two ex-presidents. F’real. Sis had to remind me that you don’t stop calling them President once they retire or lose or whatever. Mr President, Mr President. It’s like hereditary. Same as the Queen, right? Has any queen ever retired? Do they still call her the Queen or like Madame Queen or whatever you’re supposed to say? Man, you got me hungry for pizza. Pizza Napoli! I might have to get over there. I got time this week. Damn, Pat. I like you! You’re in the art hustle, right?”
“I believe so.”
“Sick. We’ve got musical artists tonight, but no painter artists. I’m sure you’ll fit in just fine. You know who I’m bummed isn’t coming? Tessa Thompson. I want to meet her so bad! She’s stuck in Toronto doing reshoots. People hated on Men in Black International and I want her to hear it from me that I truly value that movie. You catch?”
“People are too attached to originals. Very snobby. If you watch like it’s completely new, you get it. Damn, P, you’re making me sad. I wish she was here. Do you know who is here though? You don’t mind me talking about the ladies do you, bro? This isn’t making you uncomfortable? Is it? Sis warns me I need to be careful, or I could get myself in hot water, but I tell Jen, I love women and I respect women. How is that going to get me in trouble? Oh my God. Michelle Rodriguez. Mi-chelle Rod-ri-guez. She’s here. Yes, she is! That’s right. Right here, right now, she walks this earth. Oh my God! I met her last week! Check it.”
A photo appears on Ray’s visor of Ray standing next to Michelle Rodriguez. Rodriguez looks stunning. The photo then fades to two heart-emojis.
“I think I’m in love. Jenna hates it when I talk like this. She’s worried I’ll embarrass her. She banned me off social media, not even Facebook. Can you believe? I told her I won’t embarrass a soul, but she’s like ‘whatever you do is a reflection on the brand,’ and I get it, I do, I’m a poster boy, but, what, can you imagine the numbers a shot with Michelle freakin’ Rodriguez would get? Come on! Such a waste, son. Jenna says it has made me better at IRL communication. She never wanted me to be shy or embarrassed because of my computer parts, and so I’m always the face of her parties. I think it’s also because she’s bad at that stuff. I mean real bad. She can do a speech or a launch event where it’s just her speaking from a script but she doesn’t do groups and, like, being spontaneous or whatever, and, druid, she hates dinners. Ay caramba.”
We arrive at a chalet. Ray opens the door. “I hope it’s all good, I know it's just a beach shack.”
“Perfect. Thank you.”
“Sweeeeet,” he says, dropping my bag off on a luggage rack. “Hey, if there’s anything else you need, holla. I’ll leave you here to get settled, you know, do what you got to do.”
“Thank you, druid.”
“My man,” he comes in for a hug.
“I don’t suppose I owe you a tip.”
“Ha ha ha, British comedy! I wouldn’t say no, but sis would kill me if she knew I was taking cash off guests. If you got some nugs, though? JK. I’ll catch you later, P.”
I wave him off, invigorated by his company - Ray’s enthusiasm is infectious - and move to inspect the ‘shack’.
Super-king bed, vaulted ceiling, ceruse oak floors, walk-in closet, and a bathroom with backlit onyx tiles. Floor-to-ceiling Fleetwood doors open out onto a zero-edge hot tub and fire pit. Every detail here, every feature and finish spells M-O-N-E-Y.
Just the way I like it.
I swallow dive into the bed. It catches me so tenderly. I breathe in the sheets. They have a distinctive smell. Is it bergamot? Eucalyptus? Sandalwood? That, dear friend, is the bewitching aroma of the good life.
I discovered very early and intuitively that money just flowed. It facilitated fun and adventure. Family life on military bases was mostly cashless - but so boring. My explorations - into Spain, Cyprus, Poland, Belize - needed money. How else would I experience the delights these countries had to offer? Often I returned to base accompanied by a taxi driver or vintner or restaurateur wanting a bill paid, and my parents would inevitably howl, ‘You don’t know the value of money!’
It was, and remains, true.
One of the tenets of The Secret - the Law of Attraction - teaches that if you worry about money, the Universe will provide money worries. It just isn’t worth going through life searching for good deals, or being shocked/appalled/disgusted that prices rise. I implore you: live well! Austerity only begets more austerity. Scarcity is a lie. Any time you are skint, that is when you must get spending: stay in grand hotels, eat at the best restaurants, be your own stimulus package.
This is why I have little empathy for the tax exile. They have fallen victim to separating money and pleasure. They opt to live less freely if it means they can accumulate more money. But money must move and be free! ‘Money is not monogamous.’ That’s a Roland quotation.
It’s no accident that I ended up working in Artworld because this place runs on one thing: commission. Commission is everything. Any job - cleaner to dealer - ought to be based on commission. Commission is incentive. Without incentive, who’s going to get the job done?
Salaries = malaise.
It is those on salaries who are aghast at the profligacy of the superwealthy. But the market rules. The world costs what it costs. Living cannot be done cheaply. Oh sure, people spout homilies like ‘the best things in life are free’ and ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ but who, really, believes that?
Tap-tap at the door: “Pat, you decent?”
“OMG,” says Ray. “This is some James Bond sheeeet, you look fly.”
When travelling, as a rule, I pack three outfits. Including the clothes on my back, I want one casual, two smart and one formal. This evening ‘formal’ calls to me and I have selected the following:
• Caruso cream cotton-linen dinner jacket
• Turnbull & Asser white shirt
• Timothy Everest trousers in rust stripes
• Budd cummerbund
• La Bowtique bow tie
• Bowhill & Elliott burgundy slippers
I never need much convincing to wear a dinner jacket. I tingle every time one goes on - it makes an event more special. Furthermore, it helps posture - one doesn’t slouch in good clothing. I am thus primed for any encounter or photocall. Though dinner jackets and cummerbunds might sound a bit much in our oppressively informal age, the bow tie’s fabric (a lapis lazuli deconstructed tartan) hits a playful note and the slippers add a louche acknowledgement this is a party on a tropical island.
“Would you take my picture?”
I pass Ray my phone and pose for my picture: one leg forward, tilt of the head, secret smile.
I take back my phone and send the photo to my son:
Miss you, big man x
That’s right, I am a dad. I travel so much I don’t get to spend enough time with him so I always check in with a photo or voicenote, when I can.
“Okay, Ray, let’s do this!”
“Par-tay!” says Ray and a devil face appears on his visor as we head out of the shack and into the night...
“Love the robes, druid, but I gotta warn you, most of the guys are in cargo shorts.”
“Then I will stand out.”
“A-to-the-men to that! I just don’t think I could pull it off.”
“Wearing a suit or dinner jacket tells me there’s work to be done.”
One thing I will say for the public-school system of Great Britain is that it instilled in me an understanding of the structural role played by the suit. The suit opens doors and confers authority. Modern boardrooms may include more skateboards, jorts and tattoos than previous generations, but there remains a strata of power-broker who simply cannot see a person that is not wearing a suit. The unsuited are invisible.
Thanks to British schooling, suits never have intimidated, and I have never been uncomfortable working in one.
Divisions in society today extend to fashion, where there are casual and formal extremes. Gym clothes, hoodies and loose leisurewear are in the ascendent. It is increasingly rare to find a setting or occasion with an explicit dress code. Unfortunately, this ostensibly democratising trend seems to have had the effect of radicalising menswear enthusiasts, who take peacocking formality to fetishistic extremes.
The suit ought not to be regarded as specialist clothing with specific codes for what is ‘correct’. And a wardrobe need not be expansive. Still, one should own more than one suit, as otherwise the lonely suit will not be a happy garment - it will become multi-purpose miserywear - the Job Interview Suit, the Funeral Suit, the Wedding Suit, the Divorce Court Suit - so have two, and, if you happen to acquire a comfortable income, expand to at least five.
Ray and I walk meandering paths through palm trees underlit by tiki lamps. Guests are dispersed in intimate huddles. The women beguile in bright summer dresses, barefoot, flowers in their hair. But the fellas...Ray wasn’t kidding: it really is all T-shirts and cargo shorts. “You’re almost making me wish I could suit it up,” he says.
“You know, you would look smart too in a suit, right?”
“Pat, bro, man, in case you haven’t noticed I’m on blades and I’ve got robot claws.”
“Next time you’re in London I’ll introduce you to Davide, head tailor at Gieves and Hawkes. He’ll design something to your requirements.”
“For real?” Ray suddenly grips my elbow, Sheeeet! You see who that is?” He points to a man dressed in a T-shirt and camouflage knee-length shorts sporting a ratty beard. “It’s Jack Dorsey!” Ray must recognise the bewilderment in my eyes: “Tweeeeet! He’s talking to Evan Spiegel, and...I think that’s, holy cow, it’s Marc Andreessen.” Personnes d’Internet? “I don’t know who the other one is.”
“That’s Lenny Blavatnik.” No recognition from Ray. “He owns Warner Music. I once sold him a Damien Hirst sculpture of a woolly mammoth”
“Siiiick! Wanna say ‘whattup’?”
“Later. I’m going to circulate first.” (Important to get the lay of the land at a party before planting your flag.) “You’re very kind to host me, Ray, but do go ahead and mingle.”
“Oh, bet that, but sis told me I got to pay special attention to you. That makes you a VIP. And on this island that makes you a VVVVIP!”
He squeezes my elbow again, more tightly this time.
“Ho. Ly. Sheeeeeeeeeet. It’s my girl. It’s my guuuuurl.”
It’s Michelle Rodriguez.
She wears an airy red dress that drapes around her body with the formality of a ball gown and casualness of a wraparound. It’s a beautiful dress on a beautiful woman: Ray’s enchantment is the only logical response.
“What should I do?”
“Never overthink these things.”
“What if she thinks I’m stalking her?”
“She’s on your island.”
“It’s not exactly my island. I mean, what would I say after ‘hi’? That’s where it gets really tough, you know, man?”
“Michelle!” I call out. She turns. “You remember Ray?”
She smiles. Ray splutters. Michelle walks over carrying a cocktail in a coconut shell. I slap Ray on his back and push him toward her. The two of them hug.
My cue to duck away…
Now is the time to really get a handle on the party. It is too diffuse for my liking. This will never achieve the focus and drive of a Patric Farmer Production, clearly, but these are Children of the Net and therefore have different imperatives. One thing this little soirée does have going for it is the weather. In a word, balmy. The gentle breeze and comforting temperature are a trigger that send my thoughts swirling back to that July night. The weather then was far less co-operative. Flemish weather: chilly, drizzly. It put the party on a doomed footing from the outset. Umbrellas, spoiled hair, unusable fairground attractions, everyone cramped inside soggy marquees. What is more melancholic than marquees in the rain?
Music! Yanks me from this doom-spiral.
It wafts, on the breeze, carried from somewhere. It is sprawling and rhythmic. I pursue these psychedelic sounds down another winding track. I pass some guests I might recognise. Petra Collins? Could be? I reach a clearing where there stands a stage lit in radiant colours - green and blue spots twirl around a yellow haze - and the image is at first hard to read. The colours blur into blacks and reds, and become a dematerialised roulette wheel that spins so mesmerisingly I almost miss that there’s a man on stage and that man is the one and only John Mayer.
Love this guy. He’s written so many songs I hold dear - ‘Waiting On The World To Change’, ‘Say’, ‘In The Blood’ - and, I share this with genuine pride, I had the privilege to meet him. Five years ago, he bought four Helmut Newtons from V+V. The deal was done in LA, and we ended up spending a wonderful afternoon together - which in turn became a legendary night...
I soon realise, however, this is no solo concert: it’s his outfit, Dead & Company, a descendent of the Grateful Dead.
Having come upon the band mid-song, I find each musician on stage seemingly locked in their own private groove. Centre stage, Mayer holds a guitar which appears baby-sized against his looming physique. Shoulders hunched, eyes closed, he mouths an O as he conjures a solo from the silver machine.
Next to John, a white-haired, bearded fellow plays rhythm guitar. This is Grateful Dead original, Bob Weir. He looks amazing for a man his age, muscular and wiry in a white vest.
Weir watches Mayer closely as the jam progresses. I’m still working it out, playing catch up to whatever this composition is I’m listening to. It sounds formless, even a little muddled. But gradually, as with the lightshow, I find shape and direction in what I hear.
Playing bass, with eyes closed and a contented smile, is Oteil Burbridge. Cornered by keyboards and organs is Jeff Chimenti, a wizardly figure, and out back are Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, drummer and percussionist, providing a solid, rhythmic backbone.
Mayer’s fingers ripple across the guitar neck with ease. The music sways and bobs, all is peaceful, calm and inviting. It reaches out and wraps the audience in its harmony. Then comes a shift. A hiccup. It is almost as if the record skips and Mayer gets stuck. The fluidity of his playing is lost. We, the audience, hold our collective breath. Fascinated, frustrated at the impasse. Bob Weir remains unperturbed. His calmness perhaps comes from having a fifty-year headstart on this songbook. Mayer, however, is flagging up there - flailing rather than wailing - he labours to keep up with the shifting planes of music, consternation writ upon his brow. Mayer’s face is a proxy for the sounds his fingers create. At this moment, pain and grief can be read in his expressive features. Eyes closed, his fingers circle one area high on the guitar neck and home in on a phrase. Then, from somewhere beyond, the percussion trips and the bass smoothly rises, lifted on an organ swell, and Weir strikes a hefty chord. Everything combines to give Mayer lift off. His solo breaks free of its shackles and explodes in multi-coloured notes. Resolution has been found and we exhale as one. With barely a pause, Mayer steps to his mic and sings, “Since the end is never told, we pay the teller off in gold…”
I am elated at this unexpected opportunity to acquaint myself with Dead & Company. Following John’s career had turned me into perhaps not a fully-fledged ‘Deadhead’ (a passionate and fiercely knowledgeable breed) but certainly an enthusiast of this quintessentially American band.
I am privileged to witness them in such intimate surroundings. The audience is small - one hundred, tops - albeit adoring. Observing the crowd’s pan-generational make-up, it could almost be a time-machine meeting of the original hippies with their younger selves.
A blonde waif, arms aloft, dances around a purple-bearded sorcerer who holds a staff. An elfin man skips by waving a wand that sends bubbles floating through the air. It is too perfect. Lately I’ve noticed parties using the tools of immersive theatre - employing actors in lieu of charismatic guests, for example - to create memorable moments. I wouldn’t call it foul play, no pun intended, and I’m not sure if it’s what’s going on tonight, but, for instance, when I see a woman in a wedding dress slowdancing with a topless Jason Mamoa lookalike, I can’t help but question…is this real? Can any random agglomeration of people fit so perfectly together? Then I remember how I left Ray with Michelle Rodriquez: chances are it just is Jason Mamoa himself.
This music is doing something. It’s getting into my soul, pulling heartstrings, and filling me with warmth. It is mellow, yet vibrant, layered and deviating. It moves me. Literally. Soon enough, I’m swaying and shimmying with the best of them.
Mayer’s guitar-playing draws admiring moues, his good looks, adoring gazes. What a talent. I only enjoyed a few hours of his company but he was a great guy. A star, no doubt, Hollywood through and through, and his celebrity had the effect of making him a centred human. Someone deeply curious about art. Over dinner he was unembarrassed to ask simple questions in his pursuit of learning. We later moved onto a club called Vibrato, then a party at B.o.B.’s house where John played an impromptu set with the singer from Paramore. We never saw each other again after that, but I know he still has the Newtons – I saw them hanging in the backdrop to a recent Rolling Stone feature.
Whistles and applause greet the song’s conclusion and John steps to the mic: “Thanks kindly.” A roadie hands him a towel he uses to mop his brow. “Phew, it’s hot up here.”
“So take off all your clothes!” someone cries.
The comment provokes tuts and disapproving looks in the crowd but John takes it in his stride. “Easy now,” he says. “The reason all of us are together on this very beautiful island is to celebrate the launch of one of these new-fangled gadgets. What’s it called, Bob?”
“The answer is Virxion,” says his bandmate.
John, tuning his guitar, chuckles, “Sounds like something I might get tested for at the free clinic.”
Huge laughter. Everyone in the audience eyes John Mayer dreamily. Believe the hype: he really is handsome, and he’s ageing beautifully.
“I’m just foolin’,” says Mayer. “I remember when I first played Pac-Man, it blew my mind. Well, prepare yourselves, folks, because Virxion is Pac-Man on acid.” He trails off, giggling. “I’ma quit talking and invite an old friend to join us on stage. You are not going to believe what you about to see—”
“And hear,” adds Bob.
“Ladies and gentlemen, make some noise for Mr Jimi Hendrix!”
Know what you’re thinking: hologram. And sort of kind of it is, but it is so, so much more. I mean that’s him. He’s right there. Jimi Hendrix. Walking on stage. Red bandana, ruffled shirt, striped trousers: it’s the classic Hendrix we know from countless album covers, posters, and myths of rock’n’roll Babylon.
He gives us a wave. Wedding-dress woman pogos. Purple beard has his eyes shut and is praying. There’s an old chap who barks, “Jimi! Jimi!” over and over.
A roadie carries out a vintage Fender Stratocaster. He hands it off to Hendrix. I mean...what? A HOLOGRAM SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO HOLD A GUITAR. There are gasps, squeals, the sorcerer speaks in tongues - the crowd’s a frenzy - and revenant Jimi hasn’t even played a note yet.
He steps over to Mayer and Weir - the three ages of man - (relative) youth, (yoga toned) age, and (lucrative) afterlife- and strikes that guitar. The sound it makes, warm yet frantic, could come from no other. Mayer and Weir shake their heads. Awe. We’re all experiencing it. Hendrix bends distorted phrases. Fat, bluesy notes. These eventually coalesce into the familiar chords of ‘The Wind Cries Mary’. The band let him ride solo a good long while - happy to be spectators like the rest of us - while he negotiates a groovy mix of rhythm and lead parts. The (other) Dead eventually lock in behind him. Hendrix steps to the mic and sings, “After all the Jacks are in their boxes.”
The voice is fresh and has a roughness you wouldn’t get from miming. The song, unleashed from its structural constraints, morphs into the kind of improvisatory jam for which the Dead are famed. What floors me is that Hendrix actually plays. He interacts with the ‘living’ players in a vibrant and unpredictable arrangement. Mayer and Hendrix trade fiery licks that drive to an urgent crescendo - pregnant pause - ‘All Along the Watchtower’ breaks out.
What they are doing - Dead & Company feat. Jimi Hendrix - is akin to witchcraft. Techno-witchcraft. We have been possessed. Arms are thrown in the air, there are yelps, tears, people embrace. Dancing grows more frantic. We twist and shout as if there are burning coals under our feet.
We don’t want the song to end, ever, but when it does Weir interrupts the deafening cheers to say, “Thanks kindly, we’ll be back very soon.” The band shuffle offstage, slapping Hendrix on the back.
Ray returns and exclaims, “Druid, you see that?”
“Wasn’t it unbelievable?”
“Michelle freaking Rodriguez! We’re going to hang in LA. I’m freaking out!”
“Good on you, mate. That’s awesome. But did you see the band?”
“Were they good?”
“I need a drink!”
“Sheeeeeet, you haven’t got a drink? Sis is going to blow. Let me fix that.” Ray runs off. I check my phone: a message from my father: ‘Your mother and I miss you also. Thank you for the communication. You are very smartly attired, well done.’
Then I realise I sent the mirror selfie to him by mistake. A momentary flush of embarrassment but c’est la vie. There is no unsend in life.
“Here is your drink.”
I turn, and there, offering me a cocktail in a coconut shell, is Jenna Freer.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr Farmer.”
“Enchantée, Miss Freer.”
We shake hands and she does the alpha hand-clasp: wrapping her free hand over mine for an extra-secure shake.
“Call me Jenna. May I call you Patric, or, preferably Pat to speed things up?”
“I am grateful for your travelling to meet with me, Pat,” she says, still shaking my hand. Personnes d’Internet are too much. Too intense. It’s as if they’re running an app on how best to manipulate you. Well, go ahead, Jenna, read me like a book: I’ve nothing to hide.
“My pleasure.” I suck some stuff through a straw.
“It is basil, moringa, and pistachio. I suspect a man like you would prefer something stronger, but this is a dry party. 500 of the 600 guests tonight are teetotal, so I let the majority rule.”
Jenna is clad in all-black everything. Her youthful head pops out of a turtleneck. She has yellow hair in a neat bob, and she has a real stare on her. There is definitely something about Jenna Freer, a strange frequency, that I find both attractive and intimidating. Curious detail: a sling bag strapped across her chest.
“There is a neo-Prohibition movement and, as I am sure you know, I want to live forever.”
She smiles, signalling humour, but this is no joke. An early scandal of Jenna’s (not addressed in And Why Not?) involved an interview in which she suggested that projects in development at her company will make her immortal.
“Alcohol is not compatible with my ambitions of longevity. Wine, however, is an interest. I only take mouthfuls to appreciate its profile. I never swallow. My cellar contains some bottles that may interest you. That is also where I keep the blood. Ha!” She pushes her hand on my back and shoves, “Walk with me.”
The coconut shell gets left behind as I hurry to keep up. We cut through the crowd, all eyes on Jenna, but she stares ahead with no nods or hellos to the guests.
We arrive at a minimalist building on the beach. It emerges from the sand in a gradual slope, modern and organic. The same can be said of so much on Noa Lupukina - helipad, stage, shack - every development is non-obtrusive. There is balance and interplay between built and natural environment.
What I take for the front door is actually a lift. It transports us immediately down. “The cellar is my favourite room in the house,” says Jenna, observing me in the mirror. “It is very secure. It is where I come to think.”
The doors slide open onto a tunnel. The walls are comprised of climate-controlled cabinets filled with bottles. On the opposite wall there is a very large portrait of Jenna. The room has the ambience of a secret cloister.
“Take a seat.”
She pulls a seat at a table. I sit and run my hand along its surface. It is beautiful. Made from one mammoth slab of wood, the pale yellow material is soft and gently rounded. Possibly a lati wood from central Africa?
“As I have aged, I have become fascinated by worlds I previously thought irrelevant,” says Jenna, as she surveys the bottles. “Government systems, healthcare, astrology, wine, and, latterly, art. Currently this is the only art work I own.” She points to the portrait. Possibly a Shepard Fairey, it shows just her face, looking upwards. “My enthusiasm never has been directed towards that field. But I am growing to appreciate the relevance of art. Tell me, Mr Farmer, who are the five most important artists?”
“Da Vinci, Cézanne, Picasso, Pollock, Warhol.”
“Influence, quality, value.”
She pulls out a bottle, so as to showcase the label: La Romanée-Conti 2005.
She brings it to the table with two glasses and a bucket.
“How does the field of art define value?”
“They are members of the $100 Million Club.”
“Not bad.” She presses a screw into the cork. “But I know pizza-delivery apps that have similar valuations.”
“Value is tied to the market, and, therefore, it evolves. As does influence.”
“Influence is separate from value?”
“Influence has many faces. Think of value as classical art, and influence as Cubism. It can look different from different angles. An artist influenced by another artist creates value for the predecessor. It is something like a gift one can give across or outside of time.”
“So what you are telling me is value can be measured, and influence can be felt, but you only know about it after you are dead. That is very romantic but somewhat inefficient.”
“Well, not for dealers.”
“What is quality?”
“Quality is the only constant, in true art, and that is sadly subjective. One knows it when one sees it.”
“And seeing a lot of art helps identify quality?”
“Rather like an algorithm, a dealer gets more efficient the more information they have. And in 50, or 100 years, the answer will change? Will it perhaps become less male, less Western?”
“Judging from current trends, I would say yes.”
Jenna pours two glasses and hands one to me. She swirls her glass. Surveys its alcohol trail. Sniffs. Then takes a sip, letting it rest in her mouth, before spitting discretely into the bucket.
“Feel free to imbibe. I only wish to assess the profile.”
I take a sip and am just starting to get a grip on the complex things taking place in my mouth, when Jenna says, “I am becoming inhibited. How about we convene in Virxion? Ray told me you were unaware of our product. That is hilarious. People will tell you Virxion is the new Facebook, or new YouTube. It is not. Virxion is the new Internet. And this…” Jenna unzips her sling bag and takes out two droopy black things “...is the hardware.”
It is a look of love that Jenna gives her hardware.
“Imagine, Pat, what if we could invent another world, just as real as this one, without being burdened by the material constraints that are crippling us? There would be no regulation, no physical limits, no lack of resources. No morality or ethics, no expectations or doubt to inhibit us. This gathering tonight is a soft launch to introduce a few of our toys, but it’s this that is the real game-changer.”
She passes me one of the pieces of hardware. It resembles a sleeping mask. The fabric is a fine chainmail with the words The answer is Virxion embossed along one side.
“Pull it over your head so that it covers your eyes and your ears.” It fits snugly, creating full blackout. Her voice then comes directly in my ear: “Press your right hand onto the band at your temple. Has a colour appeared?”
“That’s the Princip. All experiences in Virxion begin there. Take a moment. Get used to your surroundings.”
The best way to describe the experience is to say it is like floating in purple water. It is a very pleasant sensation. A dot appears - yellow - it enlarges and moves horizontally, leaving a fuzzy trail. The line rotates, and through this movement, a sense of depth is created. The line grows until I am enveloped in yellow. Everything happens at an unhurried pace. Gradually, easily, the yellow dissolves to blue. Jenna speaks, her voice inside my head: “Do you know where you are?”
The blue is vivid and mottled with white. Those are waves. I am looking at sea.
“Turn to your left.”
I do as I am told and see a familiar place.
We zoom in. Pan toward the house we are in. There is Ray. He stands at the front door. “Wave hello.” I do as I am told and Ray waves back. “Pretty cool, huh? Let me now show you something I am working on.”
I am pulled above the island, spun around and launched across the bright and shining sea. I am flying. It is different to ordinary flight. Frictionless and natural - I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away - the Nelly Furtado classic fades in - no joke, I hear it - and it is precisely the song I need to soundtrack this moment - I don’t know where my home is…
That refrain makes me...not sad...wistful.
I really don’t know where my home is - and here, within virtual reality inside a wine bunker on an island on the other side of the planet, I know less than ever.
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves, otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth,” says Jenna. “Genesis, chapter eleven, verse four.”
The quotation barely sinks in - not while I’m flying. I could stay this way forever, it’s so relaxing, meditative...just skimming above blue...but eventually I come to...huh?
Abstracted sculptures? Enlarged Henry Moores?
They are buildings. Oneiric, irregular, magnificent buildings.
Correct: this is a city that floats.
Merging between sea and sky, the constructions could be clouds, or candy floss, or snowflakes. Scale flips between the epic and the intimate, with some buildings imposing and palatial, others charming and quaint. It is a school of architecture - amorphous, angular and tubular - of which I have never seen the like.
I sweep into the ‘streets’. A smalltown America-on-sea with restaurants, public squares, jetties, beaches. There is tiered housing cloaked in plantlife, garden bridges, cables cars, aqueducts that connect different levels.
Blues, greens, silvers - it is bright, hopeful and reminds me of the future: what the future must have looked like in the Good Old Days.
“Welcome,” says Jenna. “Welcome to the New American Federation of Freerland.”
A patch of black.
This jagged rectangle appears, interrupting the spectacle. It stutters and flickers, breaking up an otherwise perfect picture. Whatever this thing is, it looks malevolent...
“That is subscriber-only content,” says Jenna, reading my mind, “Already we have state secrets. Ha ha ha.”
___________________________I plunge - splash - into the sea where Freerland continues. The buildings stretch underwater. Windows frame children gazing out at dolphins and turtles.
“What you’re looking at is not science-fiction. It is speculative science. The only reason it is not reality is that governments are unable to comprehend and enable the ambitions of their people. They can no longer read the narrative. Nationhood has failed. Did you know that the world’s population of stateless people exceeds that of the UK?
I pass rows of seaweed being tended by automated farmer-bots.
“The world is in crisis, and so it clings to what it knows. The old ways. The failed ways. The past. Geopolitics is just a game of exhausted dinosaurs waiting to die and new species that aren’t allowed to be born. Everything we know is wrong, and worse, we know that everything we know is wrong. Economics, politics, entertainment, it is all obsolete because the cultures they grew out of vanished a century ago.”
We go deeper. The sea grows dim and cloudy.
“Protectionist institutions and frightened populations block change. Freerland is the first new autonomous space, but it will not be the last.”
Swish - a blade slices in front of me. It is a giant turbine spinning with epic force. There is another, and another, and another...is this a turbine farm along the sea bed? Tidal power harnessed to the greater glory of Freerland?
“Why do we wait for the world we want to live in? You know who waits? Fools and followers. They wait and obey and trust, and they get trampled. In the time lag between a revolutionary idea and the old order catching up, new rules are drawn and all the spoils divided. This is our time, Pat. We are thrown into this existence, but that does not mean we have to accept the randomness. Empires existed to kill, states existed to die. We control history, or we can if we will ourselves to. My personal wealth exceeds that of 95% of the countries on earth, and I have partners as committed to this as I am. Some are even richer and more ambitious than me. This might sound like empty boasting, but it is just the opposite. The ideas behind Freerland are so powerful that even I can only see their vaguest outlines. This is happening, Pat. We can either join the race or be erased.”
We enter a turbine.
Out of the nothingness, purple.
I am back in the Princip.
Jenna: “So, Patric Farmer, what do you think of my elevator pitch?”
An overdose of overwhelm.
First the preternatural Ray, then John Mayer, a vision in resplendent rock star glory, then James Marshall Hendrix himself, back from the grave, then a visit 20,000 leagues under Freerland. It’s too much. Almost. What makes it tantalising is that nothing I have experienced is completely inconceivable. It’s more like I’ve skipped a generation or two, or three of four, of technology.
In these days of smart homes, instant communication, access to every song, film, TV show ever made, it is easy to become jaded by innovation. But what I’d just been through, brought back that sense of bafflement that came from the technological sublime. Virxion is not just fancy VR. I’ve used my fair share of that - it is ubiquitous in Artworld - and even the best VR glitches and feels earthbound - Virxion is the one we’ve been waiting for. The one that provides an experience that is, in the truest sense, transcendental.
I am resentful to be back in the Princip. The purple brings awareness of my body and gravity. No longer am I a Furtado-soundtracked flying man. Take me back! I want to swim, float, skim through my beautiful lost continent of Freerland.
“Pat, I educate myself about visitors to my island. I have been learning about you through Virxion. Would it interest you to see what I discovered?” The Princip once again dissolves. This time to space. A vacuum. There then begins a vanity search…
...tilling the deep earth of
P A T R I C ______ F A R M E R
Imagine Googling yourself and the results becoming reality - the world around you - towers of (dis)content...words, pictures, videos, all the junk - Vines - cyberjunk you thought lost is back, scraped from the recesses of the World Wide Web: the land that never forgets…
pictures of me
pro-shots ___ Instagram snaps
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
‘The Playboy Dealer’
did you know living without you is driving me insane?
____________________when was that?
______2004 or 5
I’ll bring you flowers in the pouring rain
‘The Playboy Dealer’
Whatever makes money makes you better
hate seeing that pullquote again
________________ again with ‘The Playboy Dealer’
________________You’ll make a great mother
________________________________The word repeats until it becomes a column so high it recedes into nothingness, and from the base of this tower I read-hear “Farmer ricochets from party to party like a sartorially deft pinball, from country to country, from zeitgeist to zeitgeist, making big money in a big money age.”
The misnomer collapses on me like a wave.
I HATE IT.
Okay, deep breath.
Let me briefly address ‘The Playboy Dealer’ so that we may never speak of it again.
Early in my tenure at V+V, I was approached by GROUSE, a now-defunct online magazine, for a profile. Ordinarily, I would have declined but it came with the promise of a David Bailey photoshoot. Who could refuse? First warning sign: David Bailey was suddenly ‘indisposed’. His replacement, a Lithuanian photographer whose aesthetically-skewiff angles and harsh-flash palate was far from Bailey-esque. No iconic black-and-white sexiness for me. Just lens burn and stunned expressions. Objectively, they were excellent photos but they portrayed me in a vampiric light. Sinister. I wouldn’t trust me if someone showed me one of those pictures. Would you buy a used painting from this man? No. The real kicker, however, was the text. Hatchet job doesn’t come close. The writer of this assault - TR James - I now understand is part of a lineage of journalists who hate, mock, and undermine art - but who are nevertheless happy to make money from it. What drives me craziest is that if you Google my name, to this day, it’s the first thing that comes up.
Patric Farmer, The Playboy Dealer.
I’ve attempted to purchase the domain, to no avail. I don’t get it. GROUSE quickly folded but somehow its webpage still stands. A monument to the defamation of Patric Farmer. Who renews its domain? I have my suspicions that it is the devilish author whose career was established by this tripe...
“Blind to art, Farmer cannot recognise the differences between painting and sculpture. He sees only price tags.”
Away, away, get away ‘The Playboy Dealer’…
Alas, it doesn’t get much better...
Red-eye pictures from after-after-parties, haggard at the Whitney, raisin-eyed at AM Frieze previews , every inch a playboy dealer, but that was years ago.
You want more recent content?
The Summer Party.
Friends, countrymen, sometimes even Romans, tight smiles and the rain, rain, go away, a soggy grey Belgian day - sad-face emojis - cows moo, sheep bleat, and the most lacklustre rendition of Happy Birthday - “Happy birthday, dear Verbeke and Verbeke!” - warped, muffled, distorted and stretched, metallic and electronic, images meet, all the content posted, aggregates into photogrammetric assemblages and I’m there, again, real reality, authenticity, truth, the blimp, it’s keeling OH MYGODDDDDD—
Clatter of dropped flagons.
Again, “Please, stop!”
A tray of hors d’oeuvres sent flying.
“Oh, the humanity!”
I’m trapped - trapped in a nightmare - and there’s no escaping.
A helpless primal scream - it’s all I can manage. But that, at last, brings relief, and returns me to the Princip.
Check yourself, Patric.
Here be textbook seduction - the helicopter ride, fine wine, celebrity entertainment and Virxion - whose very purpose is to disorient. This is a negotiation, after all - Jenna wants me softened up - but Patric Farmer doesn’t lose sight of his quest so easily.
Back to earth.
And back to business. All business. I calm myself, and ask: “Where does Collectione Previti fit into these plans?”
“It is simple: I want it.”
Jenna’s face appears, a detached head floating in the void.
“I am developing a nation and, as founding parent, it is I who will define its history, laws, population, and cultural identity. All of this I will do over an extended lifespan, three centuries at least. But the clock is ticking. It is either me or someone with even greater ambitions. Freerland must become a nation, and to be recognised as a nation, it requires a Collection of National Treasures.
Art’s power and value is known to noble and corrupt regimes alike. It is a secret weapon.
A great collection will act as an immediate seal of authenticity for this new state. As well as a form of insurance: people are easy to remove but it takes true evil to destroy art. Also, I wonder, in the event of Freerland developing its own currency, art could function as a monetary stabiliser: an asset against which the national currency would be secured.
“My museum will stand as a testament to human development pre-Singularity.”
I have to ask: “What is pre-Singularity?”
“You are living in it. Its final days. We are on the cusp of a new epoch where AI develops imaginative consciousness and supersedes us, bringing to a close this era of human dominance. People are frightened by that, I get it, just as there were people frightened to learn that the earth is not flat. But this is an inevitable stage of our evolution, a stage that will be followed soon after by the fusion of artificial and human intelligence. And that, Patric, is Singularity.”
Jenna pauses. It’s a pause I know she expects me to to fill with a ‘wow’, but no. Je refuse. I am not to be mesmerised by endless AI flummery. Does it frighten me? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe. A little. But mostly, it bores me. ‘The AI are coming! The AI are coming!’ Some days it seems AI is all anyone ever talks about...
“Imagine the applications of AI in the creative industries. We could reincarnate our great minds to create new inventions by Leonardo Da Vinci or discover what a Pablo Picasso painting would resemble if he had lived to 200, or...name a landscape painter?”
“What would John Constable paint if he were among the first manned Mars landing crew?”
Are these ideas silly? Or are they credible routes that art history will inevitably take? Profitable routes? Patric Farmer introspects and finds no answer. This is my weakness. When it comes to ‘tech’, I have no faith in my decision-making. I am akin to a legendary silent-film star who can’t find a place in Talkies.
“The National Gallery will chronicle the pre-Singularity age, and the Previti Collection will be the foundation of that institution, representing the very best of art up to the Renaissance movement.”
“Buying a collection in full is a bold move.”
“Especially one so vast as the Previtis.”
“Do you know they have four Da Vinci notebooks?”
“I am familiar with their entire collection. I’ve known Renée and her late husband for many years. In fact, I sold them their last codex. You must understand this is more than a collection. It represents their lives’ work. With Tomlin now gone, you’re asking a widow to part with everything they built together.”
“Everything they built together will be maintained complete and secured in perpetuity. What more could someone desire of a life’s work? If they want galleries named after them, all they need do is ask. As you can see, money is no object.”
“I can confirm Renée is open to your proposal.”
“Would you be here if she was not?”
“But there is still much that needs to be negotiated.”
“If you like—”
“Let me stop you there. The only thing that ever stands between a person and what they want is etiquette. It might take the form of bureaucracy or regulation, but etiquette is all it really is. In Freerland, we do not stand on ceremony. We do not stand still at all. Therefore, you tell me what I need to do to make this sale?”
“Well, stuffing her mouth with gold would be a start.”
“Stuffing her mouth with gold. I like you, Pat. Virxion out.”
The Princip crumbles and falls. I immediately have a funny turn. I pull off the headband and make for a chair. I flop down, eyes closed. I’m out of it.
“It will take a few trips to get your Virxion legs,” says Jenna. “Keep your headpiece, Patric. A person like you could really benefit from it. But take good care of that. It is a powerful piece of technology. We can not let it fall into the wrong hands. Let us continue this conversation tomorrow. Dead & Company will be starting their second set shortly and I know you are a fan.”
I get to my feet. Feeling okayish: the nausea’s passed, mostly. Before I leave, I finish my wine - mmm - savouring its long-lasting, layered finish. (Even if just a drop, one shouldn’t go through life without tasting a Romanée-Conti.)
“There is one more thing.” Again Jenna reaches inside that sling bag of hers. This time she removes an object wrapped in tissue.
“Shortly after I acquired the rights for my state, an underwater volcano erupted and it formed a new island. Can you believe? A piece of land at the centre of a landless state. I will never inhabit or develop that earth. It exists as a monument to a world our citizens have left.”
She peels back the tissue.
“Take this igneous rock as a gift.”
She places a lump of lava in my hand. It resembles a black heart.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Is that Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman’s acclaimed rhythmic improvisations I hear?
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The Grateful Dead logo - iconic skull with a lightning bolt across its forehead - reveals its true meaning as the thumps continue...
Bang! Bang! Bang!
...each an almighty hammer to my brain...
Bang! Bang! Bang!
...I pull a pillow over my head, just wishing to sleep and/or die.
I’d met John Mayer post-show, and I know it was supposed to be a dry party but a case of tequila made an appearance from somewhere, and John, who doesn’t drink, had his own supply of weed. Which is to say...there are now regrets.
Not that I would take it back. It was so good to be reunited with Mayer. We caught up over a shared vape-bong packed with his personal strain of cannabis, ‘Something Like Olivia’ (named after one of his songs), and Mayer was extra lucid under the influence of this most intense herb.
Holding court from a hammock, he expounded on how much of a visionary Jenna was, how he hoped to be issued a Freerish visa, how he sometimes had pangs of jealousy towards Ray because Ray was superhuman. That got him onto Hendrix. He’d never played with a guitarist like him, the performance was akin to communing with his forebears, which was the very reason he was first drawn to join Dead & Company, where he felt not so much a player, as a channel for music. I thought back to that solo: when he did not know where it was going or how to get out of the blind alleys it had taken him. It truly felt as if some guiding hand, a divine force, had prodded him towards resolution.
At some point in the night, John went off in search of a technician to boot up Hendrix again. He left a Dead & Company hoodie draped over the hammock. I picked it up. Heavy, high-quality cotton. Soft to the touch. The most beautiful thing in the world. It was tie-dyed in yellow, blue and red. Under firelight, it was as if I held a rainbow in my hands. Its colours swam and swirled. Screen-printed on its fabric was a list of dates for the band’s summer tour - Saratoga Springs, East Troy, Cuyahoga Falls, Sunrise, Noblesville - names that conjured such wonder. Turning the hoodie over, I saw signs. Skulls, shapes, roses, numbers, a horse in a barn. What did they mean? Horse, barn. Barn door, bolt. Rose, love, the symbol of the House of Lancaster, Lancashire, where I spent unhappy years after dad left the Army. Years are numbers, though horses are a militaristic animal, and the skull is death, and death is life. Rebirth. The Grateful Dead. Was I grateful? The horse bolting, War of the Roses, my dying youth...think about it: couldn’t I just sack this job off? Follow Dead & Company on the road, open a stall outside their shows selling psychedelic art. A do-over. Why not? Get away from the art-rat race and live the music. Live life as a Deadhead.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
I tip myself out of bed. Pull a sheet around me to hide my indecency, and stumble to the door where it transpires the monumental thuds are really a delicate tap tap tap followed by a whispered, “Hey Pat, wake up. Pat, Pat, you hear me?”
The ghoul opens the door and murmurs, “Hello, Ray.”
“My man, sorry to wake you but sis is desperate to continue your convo, so if it’s cool with you, and you could, like, put clothes on, that would be a total lifesaver.”
I go to the bathroom, splash cold water on my face and share an affirmation with the man in the mirror: “Good morning, Patric. You look great. You feel great. Great I tell you. You are walking on sunshine. And don’t it feel good?”
Hangovers, comedowns, et cetera never defeat me. They are matters of mind over matter. ‘Thoughts becomes things!’ teaches The Secret, therefore, I tell my body it does not ache, and my lungs are in no way tarnished. They are pristine, ready to be filled with sea air!
I pull on a vest, camp shirt, and linen trousers, then exit the shack. The morning sun is wickedly intense. Ray, sprightly as ever, leads me back to the helipad. A chopper awaits, engine running. Its blades spin. It is loud and the air vibrates - two things which could really push a sick man over the edge. Waving from the pilot seat is Jenna Freer. She looks hideously healthy and every bit the pilot. I climb aboard. Ray buckles me in, jams a helmet on my head and slaps my shoulder. He jumps off the helicopter and gives us a wave as Jenna pushes buttons and pulls levers.
Her voice crackles in through the intercom: “Good morning, sleepy head. I hear you went at it pretty hard last night. Well, let us blow out the cobwebs.”
The helicopter rises smoothly, turns, dips and finds its course.
Aviator, sailor, astronaut: these are hobbies for the rick, who, having mastered money, seek less stable elements. But I have confidence in my pilot. It isn’t just that Jenna looks the part. There is something secure and sensible about this person. I know she won’t go doing loop-the-loops or any of the other stunts that lead to early deaths.
Two of them bob in and out of the water. It’s a breathtaking sight and in no way does the way they go up and down, up and down, exacerbate my sickness.
We pass a patrol boat. It honks its seafaring horn. Jenna says, “We are now entering Freerish airspace.”
More and more vessels fill the sea below. Dinghys circuit around flotation devices. Oversized buoys gather data. There are research ships with satellite-dishes mushrooming on deck. These are small fry compared to the cargo vessel I see next. I’ve never seen such a massive boat (and having waved my parents off on enough cruises, I have set my sight on some colossal ships). It’s as wide as it is long. It carries girders - rows and rows of bended steel - that hang over the edge like a metal ribcage.
“Components for the National Gallery. It is the first building to be constructed in Freerland,” Jenna says as we come to—
Imagine...a broken piece of egg... floating.
It is under construction, but already it achieves a kind of perfection. Jenna could order the builders to stop and present it to the world as is: a sea sculpture, as iconic as the Statue of Liberty.
She veers the helicopter to show me boats moored at the base carrying materials and machinery. Cranes pivot along scaffolding. It is a hive of activity. There must be hundreds at work on this thing.
“The architects are Renzo Piano and Thomas Heatherwick, who individually have created the two architectural masterpieces of our era, The Shard and Vessel, buildings at once indomitable and inscrutable. I could not choose between Renzo and Thom’s independant proposals, so I commissioned them to collaborate. They were reluctant at first but I lured them with the promise of an architect’s dream job. No budget cap, no planning permission, no limits to space, or height, or noise. My only remit was that it exceed earth-bound ambitions, and, in combining their talents, I have to say, they surpassed that commission.”
We land on a platform within the core of the building. I disembark the helicopter. A lattice framework towers around us. The scale astonishes - it makes me feel tiny - but tiny in the most empowering way. We’re not in Virxion anymore. This is concrete and steel. Fearlessly real.
Jenna pulls off her helmet and shakes out her hair. Her black uniform makes sense in this setting. At the party, amongst khakis and saris, she stood out in the wrong way - she seemed awkward - but here she cuts an impressive, heroic figure.
Hard-hatted men pass with a “Morning, guv’nor,” “Greetings, Miss Freer,” “G’day, Captain.” Workers dangle off cables positioning panes of glass. Girders and panels are lifted by cranes. The sound of drills, beeps, hammers, and torches meld in a symphony of construction.
Jenna lets out a sigh. “The first time I took a space flight, Pat, I saw the curve in the earth and I grasped its scale. It was both humbling and deeply troubling to understand the limits of this planet. That is why I want this to be a perfect globe.” She puts a hand on one of the girders. “It is the world’s first expandable building.”
I don’t have to speak: the words ‘what is an expandable building?’ are clearly written across my face.
“Adaptable architecture is the hallmark of Freerland. Ideas evolve, and people grow, but architecture and infrastructure rarely does. This is either due to bad planning, pedestrian design or an unwillingness to acknowledge humanity’s capacity to change. That will not be an issue for Freerland. In this case, as the collection grows, so does the museum. There will be no storage. Everything will be on display.
It is an ambitious but not unappealing proposal - opening storage would bring a revolution in museology. This institution could be the giver of life to art that has been hidden from human view for decades.
“I brought you here to touch ground. We humans still need to see something with our own eyes in order to believe. And, Patric, I need you to believe. You must bear witness to my passion for art and communicate that to Renée Previti. Who would not want their life’s work to be given a home like this?”
“Will the gallery be public?”
“Public and private are not words in the Freerish dictionary. If you are asking will the collection be accessible to visitors of Freerland, the answer is entirely ‘yes’.”
Incredible. Fascinating. Stunning. Challenging.
A film of greasy weed-sweat has congealed over my face. Hawaii sun is hot hot hot. I keep being blinded by diamonds that bounce off the moving panes of glass. As much as I tell myself I feel fine, my body insists otherwise. The Secret isn’t helping. My stomach turns, my bowels churn.
Get a grip, Patric...
“You are beautiful people!” Jenna shouts to the workers. They cheer back. “When I look at this, I can imagine what people must have felt watching the Seattle Space Needle or Eiffel Tower go up. When it is finished, who is to say this perfect sphere, floating on the surface of the earth, could not one day be released to fly away and become its own planet?”
I laugh. I have to. Not because what Jenna says is stupid - rather, because it is hopeful. Where did hopeful go? When did human existence turn to a conveyor belt of worry, disgrace, crisis, insult, scandal? I’m a happy guy by nature. But even I have become stymied by the current landscape. I crave optimism. Therefore, admittedly, I am highly susceptible to this person expressing only possibility...
“Tell me, Pat, last night in Virxion, why did you end your self-journey?”
The question cuts short my laughter. Instantly it conjures images of you-know-what.
“There were events I didn’t want to revisit.”
“I get it. I respect your choice, but allow me to share with you what I saw. I saw a man who had made record-breaking sales. A man literate in art, modern and ancient. I saw a man with enemies. To have enemies is to have principles. I saw a man not challenged by borders, legality, etiquette. And, Patric, I saw a man who has failed. Do you know why he failed? His ambitions were too large for the world. Failure is not an individual problem, it is collective. We fail because the world is not ready for who we are. I have seen it countless times. Do you want to know what else I saw last night? I saw a man I want in Freerland. Pat, this gallery is going to need a director. I have been speaking to people. I have a portfolio of candidates. But I have yet to be inspired by any of them. They are mostly white-bearded Germans.”
Putting me in mind of Klaus Biesenbach...Chris Dercon...Julian Heynon...Hartwig Fischer...the greats...all of whom will be in attendance at the Magic Circle...at this very moment, no less.
The sour-betrayal-twist returns to my stomach. BILE. Am I missed? Are they wisecracking about the summer party? Could it be that Freerland is on the agenda? Who knows? I oughta know!
“That is the old world. I am not looking to replicate that. I want all that is Freerish to find a new way. I want to create a place filled with different voices and faces.” Jenna goes on, but I’m barely paying attention: so fixated am I on the Magic Circle. “What about it, Patric? Is the Director of the National Gallery a position that interests you?”
I stifle a burp - a puke, maybe, too? - and taste paraffin. Evoking another memory from last night: Mayer and I ended up on the beach partying with a fire artist - cool guy, Kiwi Joe - who taught us how to juggle burning pins and breathe fire. John chickened out there, fearing he might damage his pipes, but I went for it, and created great billowing clouds of fire that had Mayer howling in excitement. The price is that my mouth now tastes of paraffin. Paraffin breath and weed sweats - a deadly combo. Henceforward, I rededicate myself to clean living.
She said what?
Director of the Freerland National Gallery...
What the what?
“My gut tells me you are the right man. The gut is the body’s second brain, but I do not trust my gut exclusively. I need data. I test each of my employees. Look around. I have the world’s finest construction workers, engineers, architects, and sailors in this team. Every person is the best in their field. I need finishers in my country. What I am telling you is I need to be convinced you are someone who can get the job done, whatever job comes up.”
A sheet of glass moves above me. It is being carried by a crane. It becomes a sun catcher - a blinding sheet - WHITE.
“I do not have the inclination to chase a thousand collectors to make my museum. This gallery will be constructed within weeks and I want it filled with immediacy. The Previtis own one of three collections in the world that I have determined, when they are brought together, will create a peerless museum. A true world museum. One spanning art’s story, from its beginning to now. I shall acquire all three collections. Does this sound ludicrous? Impossible?”
The ultimate white light radiates in such a way that it engulfs me. Its glow is medicinal. My body is cleansed. No longer do I feel ill and weak. I answer Jenna’s question with a simple, “Entirely.”
“Good. I always favour that path. In my world, Pat, the only reason to try to do something is because it is impossible. I want you to go out for me and get me the collections. Do you think you can do that, Pat? And can you do it alone? Can you put on your big-boy pants and show some self-determination? I will not hold your hand. I will not be your bank. I am nobody’s assistant. I want to see what you, the man alone, can accomplish. Because if you can acquire the three greatest art collections in the world, then I will know you are the one. The only man. You are the first director of the National Gallery of Freerland. It is your destiny.”