X: You Are Here

January 14, 2021 by Ioana Georgescu

I am here: Montreal

I am writing these lines while surfing a new big wave that splashes us with grenade-looking microorganisms. In snowy Montreal, I cannot bike anymore. I miss the Canal Lachine. I cannot swim either. Pools are closed. I like to move. I like to travel. My first novel Évanouissement à Shinjuku appeared in front of my eyes on my bike, the second, L’homme d’Asmara in the blue water of a swimming pool. I kept following the images that I saw during my laps and rushed home to write. Like a dream catcher. Now I take walks on the Mont-Royal instead. And I continue to write in my head.

Photo credit Ashraf Béla

See more details below

Borders are shut. Bodies are immobilized, isolated. Static. Regimented. There are cues and shortages. Déjà vu. Pandemics and dictatorships attack the bodies. Once Upon a Time in the East. I come from there. I come from here.

The original French title of Daughter is Here (brilliantly translated by Katia Grubisic) is La jetée, elle s’appellera Mo. In my novel la jetée is not only the cinematic reference to the cult film by Chris Marker, but also the name of a bar in Tokyo connected to Marker, Orly’s airport jetty and Mangalia’s seawall at the Black Sea.

In Chris Marker’s La jetée, the man points towards a sectioned trunk of a sequoia tree and says: “je viens de là/ I come from here.” But he points outside the concentric lines and we understand he is in a “here/there” already in the future from where he can watch both his origin and death. We are beyond the frame. The Orly jetty offers a physical space to support his metaphor.

In my novel, the Black Sea jetty is introduced in the form of a leitmotiv inspired by a childhood photo taken by my father. The black-and-white photo is “installed” in the novel as well as on the book cover. It acts like an emblem for memory, time, and space and even possesses a touch of Marker’s film mood. 

I owe the Black Sea a lot. I used to spend hours in the water, letting myself float, piercing the foamy crest like a fish, surfing the tide with my entire body, or swimming hundreds of metres until I was swallowed by the horizon line. My thoughts followed the currents or got abandoned on the surface with the water’s sudden calmness. Swung by ondulatory or circular movements, sometimes turned upside down by the vortex of the sea in its wild moments—I started diving inwards. I discovered the delice of the interior life in the Black Sea. It is then that I became a writer.

 

You are here: Cairo

The opening scene of Daughter of Here takes place in Cairo in an apartment with “porous” and falling walls. The presence of a large window sets the tone. The apartment acts as a unifying open-ended space that allows the novel to expand. A few time explosions and multiplied locations notwithstanding, we are here throughout the story. It is here that a mother and daughter live a peaceful life in a protected world. Through the window, delicious perfumes waft in from the neighbour’s kitchens, and radio sounds of breaking news and music infiltrate this cozy world. These external stimuli lead Dolores back to her origins. The city’s madelaines trigger memories from her life in Bucharest. She feels the duty both of remembering and of transmission to her daughter. While Mo crosses the huge apartment on a scooter, skips rope or draws, Dolores writes, or daydreams, like her own mother used to do to in the pictorial pose of “the woman at the window.” The large window becomes a screen for a daily cinema, where imaginary or real people move and live. A telescopic mental jetty allows her to travel in space and time. Bucharest under dictatorship is seen through a red tinted filter; Tokyo is a fantasist-futuristic city with its mythical Jetée bar. The Nile changes hues on its way to Upper Egypt, from grey to aubergine to dark violet. The quietly agitated waves of the Red Sea and the Black Sea’s walls of troubled waters are hypnotic. Dolores and Mo eventually go out and enjoy the pulse of this amazing city and its magnificent river Nile. The book is a love story with plural participants: city, lovers, mother and daughter.

 

"The place is the trigger, a storyteller that makes the body perform. I then become a scribe."

 

My novels are always camped in many locations. Daughter of Here makes no exception. How did I get there and fall in love with certain locations, to the point of giving them character status in my novels? My work tries to reflect a relationship where words, images or actions are my tokens of appreciation. Some locations are related to my own origins, a terrain revisited through the channels of the “profound memory.” Others belong to the encounters that followed my movements across closed or open borders. Many are destinations that filmmakers and my art projects are attracted to like magnets. These privileged locations that draw the map of my subjective cartography inspire my actions, my images and my texts. They make my own body and my characters move, react, watch, engage, produce, create, think, dream and fall in love. The place is the trigger, a storyteller that makes the body perform. I then become a scribe. 

Daughter of Here is dominated by Cairo, a city deeply rooted in my heart. Cairo appears both in a frontal and a more subtle way, while other cities surface though flashbacks. It was Raymond Depardon’s film Empty Quarter: une femme en Afrique that first attracted me to Egypt and later to the Horn of Africa. In this strange love story between a camera and a woman, Alexandria is the terminus of a road trip through the desert that starts in Djibouti and follows the Red Sea coast and the desert towards the North. In the final scene we hear the sounds of taxis in Alexandria. Absorbed by sounds and colours, I began my own entrance into the continent but reversed the vector and traveled from Egypt to Eritrea. Asmara, the best-kept secret of Africa and playground for Italian Avant-gard architects, was all dressed up for a big anniversary party. It is in this festive setting that part of L’homme d’Asmara takes place. Dolores is searching for her father Habib a.k.a “l’homme d’Asmara.” Daughter of Here brings us back to Asmara through a scene where Dolores and Celestin (Mo’s father) meet for the first time.

I returned to Egypt on a regular basis after Depardon’s film, after a provoking and life-changing event. The accidental encounter with an abandoned palace in ruins only five minutes from Tahrir led to series of projects. It all started on a hot and humid summer day. I was walking on a narrow street framed by a long, tall wall. Distracted by a bird, I raised my eyes and noticed a palace that I later found out was built by an Italian architect for the last Ottoman pasha, the Grand Vizier Saïd Halim. I needed to go in, no matter what. I even considered jumping the wall if I had to. Fortunately, I found the main entrance, shook the chains and called out. A sleepy guard in slippers and a stained djallabya appeared, rubbing his eyes. He didn’t let me in at first. But later, according to his moods in the following weeks, he gave up and opened the doors of his kingdom. I followed him through the garden, mounted the stairs and entered through a wooden door with broken glass. The ruins of this Italian palazzo resembled a post-nuclear scene. The incongruous objects covered by a thick layer of dust were fascinating: broken furniture from former schools that occupied the grounds, books piled on the floors covered by a thick layer of dust. The idea of the Dust Project arose from these empty rooms where the only signs of life were garbage, water spots dripping from the cracks in the ceiling, dirty exercise books, thick green binders, and rotting wooden floors signed by rat and dog excrement. I returned many times and filmed. There was a strange “life” in the palace: objects disappeared and reappeared in different configurations, dust and the garbage would be carefully swept once in a while by invisible hands before settling again on the floors. It was the beginning of a series of projects that brought me back again and again to Cairo. In a Daughter of Here scene, I “installed” the palace and “lent” one of my projects to a secondary character, Amina. My art and heart connected me to this city as if it were a person. And then there was the Nile. I would never get enough of watching it, and I even projected my images on it and tried to read in the Nile’s reflections. I dove into this ever-layered place and Cairo dove into me. I found colours, odours, architectural shapes, and archaic gestures from my past in Romania. In my heart, Cairo is the twin of Bucharest, the city where I was born.

 

"My art and heart connected me to this city as if it were a person."

 

You are here: Tokyo

Tokyo opens my first novel Évanouissement à Shinjuku with a blackout in the Airport Express train. Once on the plane, Dolores, still shaken, tries to replay the fainting scene and recover the lost memory fragments from the black hole of the “évanouissement.” This novel marks the beginning of what I call an open sequence rather than a trilogy or series. My books follow Dolores non-chronologically at different stages of her life until she becomes a mother in Daughter of Here.

I always stopped in Tokyo on my way to Manila, Jogjakarta, Phnom Penh, Hong Kong, Singapore or Taipei—my Asian art map. During these brief Tokyo incursions, I managed to film, do impromptu performances, and write. Tokyo is a privileged transit city, rich in artistic encounters and activities. During my stopovers, I would pay a visit to the bar, La Jetee. The owner, the beautiful Tomoyo and her best friend Yuko, a translator that every francophone filmmaker that passes through Tokyo had the chance to be interpreted by, became over the years my friends. They were very close to Chris Marker and the bar itself is based on the iconic film imagery. I parachuted them into several scenes in my novel Daughter of Here. La Jetée in the French title is a tribute to Marker, to the film and to the bar and the two friends.

It is in Wim Wenders’ Tokyo Ga that I first saw the bar La Jetee and a cameo appearance of Chris Marker hidden behind a newspaper. I went to that mythical bar because of the connection to Chris Marker, looking maybe for his ghost. In my novel Daughter of Here, he appears in a similar posture in the bar, then in a futuristic setting that I added at the end of the writing process on the occasion of his death. 

My fascination with the International Date Line started on my first trip to Tokyo. I had the unique chance to film the crossing and captured the sky in a JAL cockpit. Since, the Date Line has become a mythical red line in my books, performances, and videos. In the novel Daughter of Here, the Date Line/red line unites the movements of the characters through space and time.

The Date Line is the centre of a world of multiplied locations, dislocations and relocations. I live on the 180th meridian in Zulu time. Time 0. We are in a past-present-future tense vibration. Nowhere? We are here and there, yesterday-today-tomorrow, it’s up to us to choose.

 

 

 

* * *

Ioana Georgescu is an artist and novelist. Her performance art, video installations, photographs, painting, and drawing have been presented around the world. She is the author of three novels, Évanouissement à Shinjuku (2005), L’homme d’Asmara (2010) and La Jetée: Elle s’appellera Mo (2013), published by Les Éditions Marchand de feuilles. Georgescu holds a PhD in Comparative Literature, and has taught in the Italian and English (Cultural Studies) departments at McGill University. Born in Bucharest, she lives in Montreal.

 

 

* * *

 

Daughter of Here is available for purchase on All Lit Up


Discuss


comments powered by Disqus