Saturday, 14 February 2015

The last unicorn

After a while, things aren't exciting anymore.
A routine becomes apparent.
It is just the day-to-day, with people living for the weekend and events planned too far ahead to be exciting, really.

Maybe it is because we moved a lot when I was little, maybe it is just an increased emphasis on mobility and travel by modern society, but my bones are aching to pack my bags again, head out into the unknown.

When I reach that unknown, it is always shit, initially. I remember not having friends the first year we lived in Geneva, and then when I had found some in the second year we moved again. In Mexico City it was a different language and different children, and again I had no friends. Again, it took me a year of stalking my older sister during break time so as not to be alone. Again, when I made friends in the second year we had to leave. But this time was different. Notions of family life changed, everything cracked a little, everything became a little harder than it needed to be. And then, after school, after having found people, I needed to leave, to get out from underneath it all.

The leaving, that is the only constant.
And now, man, now having things seems stupid, having a tiny life seems stupid, having meaningless to-do lists seems stupid. There is no value to this.
So I look at my things, calculate how much they would be worth, imagine where I could sell them and make what I want fit into a suitcase again.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Choice Kingdom

"In late modernity, what it might mean to conceive of oneself as belonging to a nation is an interesting question. Are notions of national belonging based on geographical location, ancestry, race, ethnicity, culture? Are they a construct, the result of social and political structures? Might one hold multiple nationalities or none? Is nationality somehow fixed, set, or, in a modern, cosmopolitan context, is it possible to conceive of nationality as a choice?"
On the occasion of a conference on JM Coetzee in the World in Australia, in her article Is JM Coetzee an 'Australian writer'? The answer could be yes Claire Heaney questions whether Coetzee can still be seen as a South African writer, or whether he has become an Australian, both through his moving there in 2002 and his claim of Australian citizenship in 2006. More than the debate surrounding his work and choice of continent the paragraph quoted above spoke to me (also because it just consists of questions I constantly ask myself).

What does it mean to belong and what is it based on? When I am in Germany, I never feel at home; I can't breathe fully and at times an unknown darkness creeps in, like an octopus whose tentacles insist on wrapping themselves ever tighter around my body and my life. And yet, South Africa is ever so slowly losing what was 'home' about it. My mom lives in a different city now. Turns out my sister is not capable of showing that she cares over long distance.

This moment in time is entirely frustrating. On the one hand I want to build a life somewhere, settle in for a bit, meet up with people where I don't think that the friendship has an expiration date whilst knowing very well that if both don't put in an effort all friendships eventually drift apart. Is there just a small percentage of people who will consistently inquire about the well-being of the important ones in their lives, irrespective of distance? Is it only a special breed that insists on not giving up when the kilometres increase?

I desperately want the life of my choosing, the problem remains that I don't know what to choose. Do I go back, do I make the argument for being close to my mother, close to a few I remain in contact with, close to sunshine, close to mangoes? Or do I plant some roots in the Northern Hemisphere, get a retirement fund, forget about leaving all the time? Do I choose weekend-trips to Zürich and all the places I haven't been before? Do I embrace the possibility of actually wanting to make new friends that last?

More than the question of belonging to a nation, in your twenties the question is simply of belonging when your world is no longer a fixed place.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Colour me in

At the end of Closer Natalie Portman walks down a crowded road in New York in slow(er) motion as The Blower's Daughter by Damien Rice plays. From that moment onward I have been a fan of this man's music. He had not released any new material in years so I never imagined I would get to see him live. But my friend wrote me an email saying that he would be in Zürich and that both of us would miss this show since she was not home and I was in SA. However, he was ON TOUR and would be in Berlin in November. In a somewhat strange situation I joined his mailing list while boarding a plane to Istanbul in Johannesburg (the mailing list people would be able to book tickets a few days earlier and I was certain the show would sell out instantaneously). Then after a few days I waited in front of the only computer in our hostel to buy the tickets. Luckily all the cyberactivity paid off and I reserved two tickets in the third row.

In the end no one could come with me, but in the event's FB group I found another student who also really wanted to go so the two of us met up at the concert and settled in. The show was held at the Admiralspalast, an old theatre with lush red seats and a beautiful ceiling in central Berlin. It was a very mixed crowd, with people from all walks of life attending.

The opening act consisted of two ladies, one from Iceland and one from Sweden, called My Bubba. One of them was wearing black pants with white horses printed on them, so I was already won over. They sang quite softly, wherefore I (and most people in the audience, judging from the occasional 'We can't hear you' shouts) couldn't really hear the lyrics. One song stood out: they only used clapping as 'instrument' (it is called Dogs Laying Around Playing, the video is also rather sweet).

Damien Rice then started 15 minutes late (in Germany! Oh no! The tardiness!). But he made everything so cool: as he was playing his first song people still kept coming in and finding their seats. As he was strumming on his guitar he would say : "Ah fuck, where is seat 17, fuck, sorry" or "I know I am late, but you are realllly late", which made the entire atmosphere of the theatre very intimate and familiar. What follows was the best concert of my life. Just him, the guitar, and a stage show that consisted mainly of different nuances of light and darkness. Sometimes Damien had one spotlight on him, sometimes hundreds of LEDs shone in the background as he was hidden in the blackness. Sometimes we all listened, enraptured, and at other times we all sang along, forming a canon with older hits. Damien would also ask the audience to shout what song they wanted to listen to and would then play well-known and obscure songs, joking in between about his long absence: "You know how you get up, go to work, go to bed and wake up the next day to do it all again? Well, I woke up 7 years later". The concert lasted for more than two hours, and what made it so wonderful was how one got to see a great performer at work. Damien Rice does not need a spectacular stage show or large band or a whole horde of other people on stage to make his presence felt. At times he even sang without the microphone and still the entire theatre was filled with his voice.

After two encores I left to catch the last train home, elated by this performance. Having someone to go to concerts with is great, but in all honesty I was happy to have seen him on my own, because at this concert I never felt alone.

The next day I went for dinner with my father and two others and saw that Damien was playing a secret show at a hotel nearby. Man, I wanted to jump into the nearest metro and head over, but was emotionally bullied into remaining at the restaurant (which was not a great decision, because I simply did not speak for the rest of the evening). Fortunately, the Michelberger Hotel filmed the performance, which is a shorter version of the Admiralspalast concert. Here is the link: