May 2005 Newcastle
In between changing jobs and in between Oxford and New York, Robert Young delivers a paper as part of a Postcolonial Seminar series at Newcastle University on Asylum Seeking and Water Benjamin. He plays the opening sequence of Casablanca to set the scene. This however sets the scene for something else in my head. I’m thinking of:
- 1492 – and Christopher Columbus as the original migrant. Exactly 500 years before 1992 – the year that some major migrations occurred from the former Yugoslavia outwards – quite a few towards America too.
- A theatre version of Casablanca, perhaps highlighting the contemporary aspect of the Middle East as a ‘waiting room’.
A Greek American co-smoker at a conference tells me the story of how his grandparents met. It sounds vaguely like the story of Captain Corelli’s mandolin.
I’m thinking of an invented story of an artist (perhaps a lady photographer from Crete, married to a German during World War II, dodging bombs in Berlin). Her life story is documented through samples of her work. The sole biographical fact that we have is her date of birth, but not the date of her death - only the date of her disappearance.
What if there was no date of my death but only a date of my disappearance – would it mean that I outlived my death?
Some of the ways in which I have been described by others:
“You look like a Gypsy”
“You speak English with a Swedish accent”
“You look like Anne Frank would have looked if she grew up”
26.06.05 University of Maryland
I’m listening to an exceptionally beautiful French woman who is not explicitly aware of it because she is completely preoccupied with paradoxes and philosophical perspectives of listening to opera. Otherwise she teaches French literature, does her hair up and manicures her nails. I contemplate her beauty of body and mind. Who is she? Where does she come from? Where and who are her family? I contemplate the quivering delicacy in her appreciation of art.
28.06.05 University of Maryland
I’m listening to a black man talking about a Serbian choreographer from the 14th century called Vuladin Šon. He says this is spelt Sion. Several nicotine-patch-fuelled-dreams later I am in a seminar where I’m asking whether anyone knows anything about this person. Some members postulate the possibility that his name was misread from the Cyrillic alphabet as Šon when in fact it was Koh.
I am in Janet’s flat (which is actually situated in a skyscraper building in KŠ at the end of the street in which I grew up) and there is a party going on. I end up with a live fish being slid behind my neck.
I am in my bedroom in Maryland where three people are standing around me. As I try to get rid of them, the number of people increases and with it my frustration and inability to keep it all under control. It all turns into a big unruly family situation where I am trying to address them and nobody is taking any notice.
One of the following few days we actually leave for New York. Everything smells fresh because I am using a peach shower gel and I don’t smoke anymore. Instead I have Starbucks coffee and fruit salad every morning. So when we arrive at the Grand Central station we stop off for a Starbucks snack and I get a cup with my name written on it in black marker – Douchqa (one of the more exotic variations I've had in my time).
Due to my naivete combined with a small budget and a desire for an en suite room, we are sleeping in Queens. This has its charms. We walk past a Chinese patisserie shop every day and once I try a fruit drink there which I don’t like. George has it instead. While he shops at Abercrombie and Fitch I meet with Joey who is in New York too with her current gig with Cirque de Soleil. Eventually George joins us and we decide to accompany Joey to the big top in New Jersey and see the show. It is a magnificent experience. We spend the afternoon behind the scenes, meeting her various colleagues. It turns out one of the dancers, Helen, went to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds and she remembers Marcella. We watch the show from the second row. Like school kids. Mesmerised. Afterwards we are on the coach back to the rooms where some members of the company are staying. I get an opportunity to meet the show’s violinist Vuk – from Belgarde – but I’m panicking about possibly having lost my mobile phone. After some cocktails with Joey, we take the ferry back to Manhattan. I film some of it. A classic shot.
There are also instances – not necessarily in that order - where we watch Christian Slater and Jessica Lange in The Glass Menagerie and emerge angry at them and sorry for a lonely girl sitting next to us for having had to pay all that money for a substandard performance; we eat in a small Italian restaurant on Broadway, I briefly consider escargots, but am discouraged; we start watching an Elvis musical because George liked the poster and just as I warm up he changes his mind in the interval and demands that we go to the opposite end of town to watch Naked Boys Singing. I am having nicotine withdrawal symptoms and our brief shouting match at Times Square ends up with me demanding gin and tonic as a compromise. An unexpected highlight is a tour of Manhattan on an open top bus. This is how I fall in love with New York. But the following day we are on our way back to Washington DC to board our plane. Just missing 4th July.