YOGA TIME

All the kit to keep you fully Zen.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE -

1. ‘NAVA’ WA­TER BOT­TLE, $34.95, BY KOR Hy­dra­tion is es­sen­tial – es­pe­cially for Bikram yoga fans. This chic bot­tle holds 650ml and the er­gonomic spout means no tilt­ing is re­quired. 2. ‘3 STRIPE’ TRACK PANTS, $50, BY ADI­DAS Th­ese clas­sics keep you comfy and cool while find­ing an in­ner peace. 3. MICHAEL O’NEILL ON YOGA: THE AR­CHI­TEC­TURE OF PEACE, $96, BY TASCHEN Bridg­ing the gap from an­cient monas­ter­ies to sub­ur­ban gym fran­chise, O’neill’s tome is, ap­pro­pri­ately, a lav­ish med­i­ta­tion on yoga and those who prac­tise. 4. FOAM ROLLER, $49.98, BY NIKE Com­bin­ing trig­ger point pres­sure and mas­sage, noth­ing is bet­ter for stretch­ing out tight, weary mus­cles. 5. ‘UR­BAN’ CREW SWEAT, $150, BY 2XU Best known for com­pres­sion gear that’s highly ver­sa­tile, the Aussie com­pany also pro­duces stylish cloth­ing, which de­liv­ers per­for­mance and com­fort in equal mea­sure. 6. ‘SOL SUD­DHA ECO’ YOGA MAT, $49.99, BY GA­IAM Avoid slip­ping around mid­ses­sion with this ther­mo­plas­tic elas­tomer mat, which is kinder to the en­vi­ron­ment com­pared with the PVC al­ter­na­tive. 7. ‘EL­E­MENT’ DIF­FUSER, $195, BY TOM DIXON With a com­bi­na­tion of wa­ter­melon and am­ber musk dif­fused through Bri­tish char­coal, this light and fresh scent is the ideal way to cre­ate a sooth­ing en­vi­ron­ment. 8. ‘RAW EN­ERGY’ POW­DER, $34.95 (120g), BY AMA­ZO­NIA The for­mula of ginkgo, gin­seng and yerba in freeze-dried co­conut wa­ter re­leases slow and con­sis­tent amounts of en­ergy over the course of an en­tire work­out. Add to co­conut wa­ter to help re­hy­drate. 9. ‘CHARGE 2+’ SPEAKER, $249, BY JBL* With sleek lines, a rugged cas­ing and 12 hours’ play­time, it’s ideal for lis­ten­ing to killer tunes (not just yo­gic chant­ing mu­sic), whether in­doors or out.

Houben, he name-checked two of his big­gest he­roes: Helena Rosa Wright, a 20th-cen­tury English pioneer of women’s rights, and a mystery man named Derek, who was called into ‘se­cret ser­vice’ by her. Dur­ing World War I, more than 700,000 Bri­tish men died in bat­tle (in ad­di­tion to mil­lions of re­turn­ing sol­diers/hus­bands who suf­fered ei­ther de­bil­i­tat­ing phys­i­cal in­juriess or PTSD), leav­ing a gen­er­a­tion of women with­out a way to have ba­bies. En­ter Derek – a cos­mopoli­tan Brit who once worked on a rub­ber plan­ta­tion in Bri­tish Malaya. He was, by all ac­counts, charm­ing, good-look­ing, a lover of ladies. As Wright wit­nessed the deep so­cial cost of th­ese frayed, child­less mar­riages, and as science of­fered no prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion (the frst ‘test tube’ child would be born six decades later, in July 1978), she hit upon an idea, one prac­tised in other cul­tures. For those cou­ples des­per­ate for chil­dren, a quiet deal could be made. A tele­gram would be sent re­lay­ing likely ovu­la­tion dates and Derek would rush to the scene, im­preg­nate the wife and van­ish again. In this way, he al­legedly helped to cre­ate 496 chil­dren. Who­ever this dash­ing Derek was, and what­ever his ap­par­ent charms, his were much sim­pler times. To­day, night­mare sto­ries abound – the donor who knew he was ster­ile, self­lessly offering him­self for sex; the pro­lifc con­trib­u­tor who was autis­tic; a white su­prem­a­cist who do­nated in Scan­di­navia, fgur­ing his clien­tele would be white. In the case of ‘Donor 7042’, a Dan­ish man with a se­vere ge­netic dis­or­der helped cre­ate 99 chil­dren with what the me­dia came to call his ‘Vik­ing sperm’. At least 10 of the chil­dren have the dis­or­der, which can cause can­cer and shorten life ex­pectancy by 15 years. And yet by his will­ing­ness to be open, and by offering his ser­vices for free, Houben also seems to oc­cupy a place apart from his co­hort. Dur­ing the four days Houben spent with GQ, his hon­esty caused an in­tense sort of whiplash. On the one hand, the lo­gis­ti­cal re­al­ity of his life was to­tally in­trigu­ing, and of course we were moved by the plight of the women com­ing to visit. But on the other hand, cyn­i­cism and dis­be­lief crept into our thoughts. And the mat­ter-of-fact man­ner in which he spoke only served to jum­ble up such feel­ings. He an­swers each and ev­ery ques­tion with graphic will­ing­ness and vivid de­tail – so po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness was damned – and he de­scribes the women who come to him, as if read­ing chap­ters of an il­licit novel aloud. Which seems both a bit un­pleas­ant and a vi­o­la­tion of pri­vacy. (And yet the ques­tions con­tin­ued.) He’s slept with con­cert pi­anists and ex-lin­gerie mod­els. He’s slept with 13 doc­tors. There was a hand­i­capped would-be mother whom Houben had to carry two storeys up to his apart­ment. An­other dis­abled woman couldn’t con­trol her fa­cial ex­pres­sions, he says, but when she took off her clothes, had the most beau­ti­ful body he’d seen. Then, there was the woman from a for­mer Com­mu­nist coun­try who, un­like so many oth­ers, knew ex­actly how to give and de­rive plea­sure. (“I saw a doc­u­men­tary about how peo­ple from for­mer Com­mu­nist coun­tries are bet­ter lovers, be­cause with­out money, that was one of their only forms of self­ex­pres­sion.”) As well, there was a les­bian who told him that if she was go­ing to be with a man once, then she wanted “to do it all”. Next come sto­ries of the hus­bands. There was one from Is­tan­bul who wrote up pages of de­tailed in­struc­tions, sent by email, for how to stim­u­late his wife in bed. Af­ter trav­el­ling all the way to Houben’s front door, he sat out­side in a rental car as Houben had sex with his wife, never to meet. There were also hus­bands with tes­tic­u­lar can­cer and one from Be­larus who lived too close to Ch­er­nobyl. Like other men of his gen­er­a­tion, the Be­laru­sian ended up re­al­is­ing he was ster­ile af­ter a seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble 15 years of try­ing. The couple would drive 1600km to get to Maas­tricht and stay for three days. When Houben had sex with his wife, the hus­band sat in the liv­ing room, watch­ing TV. It was pe­cu­liar, but Houben un­der­stood his pain and his will­ing­ness to try any­thing for a baby. “The start­ing point has to be, ‘Can you imag­ine how it feels af­ter 15 years’ dis­ap­point­ment?’” he says. “You don’t start from, ‘OK, I heard I’m ster­ile, now I’m go­ing to have [this guy] bang my wife.’” Yet an­other man ar­rived, scar­ing Houben by the sheer size of his per­son. He was a spe­cial­forces of­fcer, ripped and trained and in­tim­i­dat­ing. When his wife said she thought she was still a vir­gin, Houben was in­cred­u­lous, un­til her hus­band dropped his pants to re­veal his ap­pendage. “Cau­tion,” says Houben. “Some men are not well-en­dowed. It was really, in erect form, a pinkie fnger.” The hus­band said that his wife de­served the chance to have a baby and that it would be “a gift” to let her have sex with “a nor­mal man”. Still, he stayed in the room to par­tic­i­pate. “We kept to our zones,” says Houben. All of this hon­esty was, at times, too much. But the Houben Doc­trine, preached of­ten to the me­dia, is dis­pas­sion­ate and sim­ple– the sys­tem is bro­ken; th­ese cou­ples are of­ten des­per­ate and “be­yond jeal­ousy”. A sig­nif­cant part of his will­ing­ness to be so pub­lic about what he does, to put his life on dis­play, Houben says, is so his ‘chil­dren’ will know ex­actly why he acted as he did and that he, in choos­ing to sleep with their moth­ers, had their best in­ter­ests at heart. Be­sides the ac­tual do­ing of ‘it’, Houben plays other roles: quasi-ther­a­pist, quasi-friend, quasi-lover, quasi-fa­ther. His is a life re­volv­ing around ovu­la­tion ther­mome­ters, preg­nancy tests, bod­ily flu­ids and oc­ca­sional fleet­ing mo­ments of un­bri­dled joy when things work out – the trans­ac­tional re­la­tion­ship is any­thing but sim­ple. Spend enough time in Houben’s world, though, and you be­gin to get the feel­ing that his en­tire life is quasi – and fleet­ing. He feels he should quit by 50, when his sperm qual­ity will likely be de­clin­ing. Would he miss it? “Maybe I would miss the va­ri­ety, but I’d trade it all for love any­way, a fam­ily of my own. But I have made it so that that is al­most im­pos­si­ble.” “I can­not imag­ine there not be­ing a hole in my life,” he says.

In the gue­stroom, then, is there an art to the love­mak­ing? “Nor­mal meth­ods,” says Houben. Mis­sion­ary is best, but he prefers a side-by-side po­si­tion (es­pe­cially “if you’re bloody tired”, which, be­tween a 40-hour work week and his line-up of women, he al­ways seems to be). Fore­play, both man­ual and oral? yes. Later he clar­ifes in a text, “We see all forms of fore­play both con­sent to as con­tri­bu­tion [sic] to a bet­ter chance. The more we ac­cept each other as phys­i­cal lovers, the more ex­cited about each other we are, the more our bod­ies pre­pare for suc­cess.” Has he ever been hurt – a fall from the bed, a blow from the head­board? “No, never.” Though back in his ar­tif­cial-in­sem­i­na­tion days, he ran into a painful predica­ment. It came dur­ing a stretch when he was flooded with donor re­quests, as in, a time of ex­ces­sive mas­tur­ba­tion. “The skin got le­sions, and they wouldn’t heal. Even with the help of my fam­ily doc­tor, I had to leave it to­tally alone for six weeks. I couldn’t do any­thing for any­body for that pe­riod. Maybe it was the uni­verse’s in­ten­tion

that a child would be cre­ated. But now it won’t.” The six weeks gave him time to re­tool, as it were. “That started a bit of a process in my mind,” he says, “be­cause, you know, the nat­u­ral way is al­ways lu­bri­cated.” The old­est woman he’s ever tried with? “Forty-nine.” The long­est he’s ever tried with some­one? “Six years and count­ing.” How many tries in a day with one woman? “Five.” How many sets of twins? “Four.” Num­ber of vir­gins with whom he’s had sex? “Four.” Per­cent­age of hus­bands in the room dur­ing in­ter­course? “I would say no more than 20 per cent.” Per­cent­age of les­bian cou­ples? “Forty.” STDS? “I get tested ev­ery six months. If some women could have their way, the test would be no more than a week old, but no one’s go­ing to mis­take me for a heroin ad­dict.” Ever date for fun? “What would I date for? I ba­si­cally drown in one-night stands. But I would love to have a re­la­tion­ship.” Big­gest co­nun­drum? “Once they’re preg­nant, they’re gone. It’s a bit of a hol­low shell.” Strange re­quests? “I’ve had no re­quests which I cat­e­gorise as strange. In that sense, I ad­mire the courage of women who say they pre­fer nat­u­ral method, but that’s usu­ally it.” Ever run out of sperm? “That was a long-time con­cern of mine. Three days of ab­sti­nence is per­fect. But there was this woman from Ger­many. We met at six in a ho­tel in Maas­tricht, we slept to­gether, half an hour, ev­ery­thing was ducky… She was hardly gone when a Bel­gian couple con­tacted my mo­bile and said they were ovu­lat­ing. I said, ‘OK, but there will be only two hours of ab­sti­nence,’ and they said, ‘Bet­ter a small chance than no chance.’ The small chance is now a seven-year-old girl.” In talk­ing at to Houben, it’s nat­u­ral to be­come curious of the cou­ples who seek out his ser­vices. And so, he con­tacts new clients, who agree to meet GQ at their home in Ger­many. Lara, 36, an­swers the door smil­ing, while her hus­band, Max, 40, floats cheer­ily in the shad­ows. (Both re­quested anonymity.) They ‘saw’ Houben fve nights ear­lier, af­ter frst meet­ing for a glass of wine in a town half­way be­tween Maas­tricht and theirs, to make sure he wasn’t an axe mur­derer. Then they re­tired to a ho­tel. Two rooms – Houben took one, they the other. And at the ap­pointed hour, Lara left Max and went next door. How Lara and Max reached this place was amaz­ing, even to them. “If you’d told me a week into my mar­riage that fve years from now you’re go­ing to fnd this Dutch guy and… Never. Ever!” says Lara. When they weren’t preg­nant af­ter six months of try­ing, they had tests done. They learnt that Max’s sperm was weak and that Lara was tilt­ing to­wards early menopause. They re­alised they were part of a sta­tis­ti­cal group, the one in 10 who need help get­ting preg­nant. They tried treat­ments, fve, at $8600 a pop. Lara had two mis­car­riages. The last, in the mid­dle of the preg­nancy, was the worst. “Ev­ery­thing was fne,” she says. “No pain, no bleed­ing. And then we came back to the clinic for the next ul­tra­sound, and [the doc­tor] didn’t say any­thing for the frst couple of min­utes. I was like, ‘Well, I can al­ready tell what’s go­ing on. There’s no heart­beat any­more.’ The heart­beat had just stopped.” That’s when they re­alised they were part of an­other sta­tis­ti­cal group, the one out of two for whom IVF doesn’t work. Broke and bereft, they felt boxed in. They con­tem­plated adop­tion, but Lara har­boured fears of le­gal loop­holes and more heart­break. “Be­ing un­lucky in the whole process, I didn’t feel strong enough to be able to han­dle it if a child was taken away from me,” she says. Years ago, as it turned out, they’d seen Houben on Ger­man TV. She’d writ­ten his name down but lost it. Three weeks ago, they were watch­ing TV and he ap­peared again. They thought of it as pure serendip­ity. “We were sit­ting here that night and asked each other, ‘Yeah, what do you think about that?’” says Lara. “‘I mean, we’ve done this, this, this, and that… Why not?’” Soon enough, they were driv­ing to meet him. “We had a good con­ver­sa­tion. He’s seems like a nice guy. That’s enough for me. I don’t want to start a mod­el­ling com­pany, so what do I need good looks for? I just want a real baby.” That day, Lara ad­mits, she was ner­vous – as was Max – but af­ter hav­ing been through all the hard­ship, she was also fairly zen. “What we learned from the last year: be hum­ble, be pa­tient, make peace even if it never works,” says Lara. “We’re not go­ing to die. We’ve still got each other. We have this place. We’re pretty happy here.” She’d had one-night stands in her youth, and knew she didn’t have to, as she says, “be in love to have good sex”. Her only worry was that she “might feel like a pros­ti­tute af­ter”, and that the feel­ing might al­ter the dy­namic be­tween her and Max. But then, in Houben’s room, she says that she never stopped think­ing about Max. In the other room Max couldn’t stop think­ing about her. “When I came back to our room and I saw him, I had so much ap­pre­ci­a­tion,” says Lara, squeez­ing his hand. “That was my feel­ing. And for you?” she says, wait­ing for Max’s thoughts, which he ar­tic­u­lated in Ger­man. “OK, so he was happy that the sit­u­a­tion was over, and that I got out of it be­ing OK. “Hav­ing sex is not hav­ing sex in that sit­u­a­tion for him. It’s com­ing to­wards a tar­get. But if I went out alone with Houben for din­ner, he would get jeal­ous.” This was a specifc kind of com­part­men­tal­isng, in which Houben served as the seed but then not much more. As soon as his func­tion was fulflled, he be­gan to van­ish – a foot­note. Per­haps it was al­most be­sides the point to care what to make of Houben, to as­sess some fnal judg­ment or moral rank. Th­ese were un­writ­ten pacts, wrought from se­cret worlds most of us would never understand. Lara and Max said they planned to keep meet­ing with Houben un­til ei­ther Lara got preg­nant or “it didn’t feel right any­more”. And if they were to have a baby, would they visit him again? “That’s not how we’re think­ing about it,” says Lara. A while later, fol­low­ing up with Lara, she said she’d had a “bio­chem­i­cal preg­nancy” that hadn’t taken and that she was still try­ing with Houben. The im­age Lara painted – of her and Max that night in their room, wrapped in each other’s arms, hav­ing taken a big step to­wards their dream – is a hard one to shake. Be­cause, next door was Houben, alone in his ho­tel room, re­mote in hand, watch­ing a symphony on TV. It prompts thoughts of that lit­tle boy and his fa­ther on the street in Maas­tricht, the fa­ther point­ing to the star in Houben’s win­dow, call­ing him the Babymaker. “He ap­par­ently said it in such a nice way,” says Houben, when frst telling the story, “like a guy in Paris say­ing, ‘Oh, there’s the Eif­fel Tower,’ you know, not con­demn­ing or any­thing.” The Babymaker. Who lives up there. Making ba­bies. For free. Be­yond judg­ment and lone­li­ness. Making more ba­bies af­ter those ba­bies, as many as pos­si­ble, too many to count, in or­der to fll some hole in the world, or maybe one in­side of him. For even the Babymaker doesn’t know which any­more. n

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