Monday, April 21, 2008

Derek Jarman: The Last of England

"That night started on the star-shaped, glass dance flor of The Sombrero in Kensington; afterwards we dropped acid in the cab. The bars of the late 60s and early 70s were no longer as closeted. The Continental Baths in New York, the most exciting club of the lot, were host to the social register on Fridays. The Baths were on the West side above Columbus Circle, in an old building: eleven dollars entry. The dance floor was alongside a very large swimming pool with fountains, surrounded by beach chairs. Off to the side was a labyrinthine white-tiled Turkish bath whose corridors ended in pitch black. The scalding steam took your breath away; in the darkest recesses a continuous orgy was under way, but the heat was so searing that only the most intrepid could get it up.

Besides the Turkish bath, there were saunas, a hundred bedrooms, a restaurant, a bar, a games room, and a hairdresser's, backrooms with bunks, pitch-black orgy rooms and a sunroof; on a weekend it would be packed. It was possible to live there and at 11 dollars a night cheaper than an hotel, or apartment. I met one young man who had lived there for three months; he had only left the building a couple of times.

Like the desert, though, the Baths played disturbing tricks, down there where time dissolved you in the shadows. The handsomest were the drug dealers, sprawled out on their bunks, gently masturbating, their doors slightly ajar to trap the unwary, and if you swallowed their bait, inhibitions cast aside, you'd be making love in that swimming pool, packed with naked bodies. Later, in an apartment crawling with cockroaches, staring at the ravaged features of some Adonis whose caked make-up had cracked like mud a the bottom of a dried-up lake, not all the fountains could restore the dream. This life could become as wearying as the treadmill of the rodent's cage; round and round we went in the land of Cockaigne."

The Last of England (Constable, London, 1987)

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