quinta-feira, 25 de fevereiro de 2010

Day three in Tunisia: reflections on “consuming place” and searching for the Other…

Part 1.

When we venture out on our own in the late afternoon, I stop to ask for directions from a young man who has anxiously offered his services in escorting us to the city center in his horse and cart. We hesitate a bit, wondering whether to accept or to continue our trajectory on foot. I gather all my available linguistic resources to carry out our conversation in bits and pieces – as much French as possible, with Spanish and English thrown in whenever I get stuck. Twenty year old Mohammed takes a liking to us and offers to show us a bit of the city “not for money”…and then to take us to a store where we can pick up some swimming trunks or a pair of shorts for Lucas. When he drives us a bit out of the way, into what is evidently the periferia of a city that, with the exception of its row of luxury hotels, in itself has a shabby and chaotic appearance, I wonder for a moment where he is taking us… just as I am grateful for the chance to get a bit further from the beaten path. He seems kind and interested in conversation, and I feel frustrated with myself for my still so very limited ability to express myself in French. I believe him when he says he is taking us “not for money” and attempts to refuse the coins I give him…

My son, who complains that I am “too optimistic” about everything, most of the time, believes that the local folks’ interactions with us could hardly be based on anything more than immediate interest in financial reward and seems to find my attempts at communication rather silly. Even when we stop some young women on the street, and I use my feeble French to ask for directions, what I interpret as shy smiles are to him grins and laughter at my linguistic limitations. Of course, I do not fool myself… we are little more than part of a huge mass phenomenon, coming now to a country whose economy is moved by tourism, traveling the world at any chance we get. “You must be a sociologist”, said a young man whom I talked with at convenience store, “you ask so many questions!” Just as he is perceptive, I suppose I am obvious. And I also suppose one could say, this is one of the many moments in which my professional and my personal interest come together. Perhaps also, for many of the people who deal with the throngs of tourists crowding their markets and streets, sociability, communication and curiosity intermingle with their need or interest in making a livelihood from the foreign visitors who come to their shores. (After all, haven’t notions of pure sentiments, actions, borders and boundaries lost their credibility? )

domingo, 7 de fevereiro de 2010

Snapshots of a place and time

Vai passando muito tempo sem nova postagem.
Para não deixar os dias passar assim, "em branco" -- na verdade, não,
mas outros trabalhos têm tomado muito meu tempo -
decidi postar hoje este pequeno texto,
"work-in-progress" que comecei a escrever ao sair de
uma exposição de fotos à que tinha entrado, um dia,
por acaso, num passeio pelas Ramblas...)

A blue dress hanging on the cottage porch
Small fingers of a girl pushing back her hair,
Adjusting her barrette
Rows of cinderblock apartments, and inside –
a fragile dining table covered with plastic,
a stunned grandchild looking out the window.
Perhaps his green eyes follow the road winding out,
An intuition that somewhere something else
Might happen. On the tv, there are layers of
Snow covering highways and train tracks
And a warm place where buildings crumbled at dawn
Under the terrible tremors of the earth
(And now no water. No mouthfuls of rice or potato.)
Or perhaps what he sees is a still time, the uncertainty
Of change, the tedious repetition of childhood hours
with nowhere to go beyond the rusty playground
of a dusty vila -
A small blue bicycle left to its busted wheel.

Walking out into the lights of this port city, i am reminded
how lives can be different. Tonight there is fresh snow on the
children calling from back home where it is summer,
where people prepare for another season and its endless
rainfall. Passerbys pushing like thick traffic.
Choices stretching out in all directions like too many
corners to turn. Mistakes that can still be