Tuesday 11 December 2007

Why are you here? Why, really?

I had dinner in Marseille one evening this past June, with a Japanese woman and two French men. I had met the Japanese woman and one of the French men on the top of a hill, by the entrance to an old world war two bunker, as I contemplated sleeping there for the night. The view and the air were magnificent, I was fresh from a swim, but a cold breeze was blowing and I didn't have a sleeping bag or even any long sleeves. A couple of nights later I slept up those mountains, and discovered a more pressing and painful reason to stay indoors on Proven├žale evenings: mosquitoes that settled on my eyelids for a midnight snack, as I dozed amongst the wild thyme bushes, by the open bay, filled with the mediterranean sea.

Anyway, the couple invited me to dinner and so I found myself sitting in a car with them, snaking around the Marseille backstreets, looking for a parking space. They dropped me off on the corner where they had arranged to meet their friend, and I was given a description and instructed to wave. He found me first, he had apparently been instructed too. And we went to have crepes in a little Cuban place. The second French man - the one that found me in the street - had spent a year in Sweden some years previously, and so, over dinner, he and I conversed in languages that were not our first, he in Swedish, which amazingly, he remembered very well, and me in Danish. And for the most part, we understood each other. It was fun, being an Irish woman and a French man, sitting in a Marseille cafe, speaking Danish and Swedish together, and understanding each other.

I feel called upon to explain myself, sometimes. Do you know that feeling? But this is a BIG topic, and it's important to differentiate the various nuances of this kind of demand.

So, for example, I had an unsatisfactory exchange with an MTA official one afternoon, involving delayed Q trains and bus transfers and changed minds and unlimited cards that said no, no no... and we had something of a heated interaction that probably could have been abated had I EXPLAINED my actions clearly enough for her to understand that they were in perfect synch with her rules and to just press the beeper on that big beeping door that lets people through when there's been some sort of fuckup with the turnstiles, or they have big luggage or babies.

So there's that kind of explanation. The functional kind. The kind of explaining you do when you go to a fancy cheese shop and you need to communicate your desire for particularities.. or the kind of explaining you need to do when you go to a dentist with toothache and you want to give her more than a hunch about what ails you.

And then there's the kind of explaining yourself that your schoolmistress demanded of you when you rocked into school wearing contraband mascara and The Wrong Jumper.

And then there's the sort of explaining yourself that is demanded of you by a lover, when you've broken the invisible contract that he has in his head, because we have these invisible contracts floating around inside us, and we don't usually even know about their existence ourselves until they get broken, and suddenly we're upset.

Or the sort of explaining that some people feel some innate need to do, to EXPLAIN their existences altogether, and this can, sometimes, lead to the making of music, of paintings, of tall buildings, of businesses, of children, of novels, of poetry for some, or to the purchase of very large and unattractive cars, for others.

And then there's the sort of explaining that you can see being asked for in someone's eyes when they meet you for the first time in a context that they really don't expect to find you in, perhaps, and their eyes hold that demand for explanation from you, in a quizzical sort of way, without any overgroundness in it, and without any real expectation of being addressed or given. And the whole process is sort of inaccessible really, in these situations, because the following through of them demands some kind of social transgression in itself, some kind of breaking through of innocence that just isn't socially acceptable amongst adults, normally.

This happens sometimes, when I meet people. Often, the question doesn't get asked. Funnily enough, I was inundated by the question in Denmark. It was so much the only thing in the room there, when I met someone for the first time: why are you here?! Hvorfor er du i Danmark? Why are you here? In three and a half years I never had anything satisfactory to offer that one. Here, it seems to be more circumspect, tactful. But sometimes it gets asked, tactfully or not. And I still don't have an answer.

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