THE THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-FIFTH
Angry Birds Draw Conclusions
You’re the head on the spear
You’re the nail on the cross
You’re the fly in my beer
You’re the key that got lost
You’re the letter from Jesus on the bathroom wall
You’re mother superior in only a bra
You’re the same kind of bad as me
Tom Waits, ‘Bad as Me’
I am burying this city, burying the feeling of being sold, the feeling of being left alone and of leaving alone—so much, so many, too many, all the people who look right through me, who breathe on me as if I were glass and draw on me with their fingers. Smiley. I am burying the year of despair. The year of love. The year of escape. The year of attempts at all those things. I have begun to hate Berlin and to know that I can never leave, I can only live here—anything else is a lie. Marseille patched up my spirit when Berlin broke it, and when I got back Berlin broke it again. I fled to Hawaii’s Big Island. The village is called Vulcano—guess why. I walked across the crater; it puffed at me. I swore at it and lost my way. A shaman told me to get a tattoo. I told him I was going mad and he smiled. If I found myself going up the wall, he said, I shouldn’t fight it—I might be Spiderman. New York wouldn’t let me go; I stuffed myself with bagels and decided to learn Yiddish (I already have the sidelocks), to track down Woody Allen and castrate him, and to take up the piano again—I miss it sometimes.
I came back. One of my windows had already been bricked up; the others followed. I didn’t unpack my suitcase. I put it down, dug out the draydel I’d brought back for you as a present and set it spinning on the kitchen table. I’m still sitting here, spinning it.
On my way to the baker’s to buy rolls, I tripped and the old cracks gaped. I crawled to London on all fours, I lay awake each night with open eyes and cried with dry ones. Nobody saw me, I did the usual rounds. I fell in the water and somehow managed to wake up in Kreuzberg; a man was holding me, saying, ‘Nothing’s true if it isn’t honest.’ I told him it was sayings like that that which had made me chuck in my studies.
Someone who looked like me was playing the accordion. I stopped and stared at him until everyone else had gone off and left me. I don’t know how long I stood there. I think it was all year.
Someone rang up and said she knew me. I didn’t understand. I stared at the Him—the Me—until I realised I was in my bedroom staring at the mirrored wall. Builders were trying to drill through it from the other side. Someone was trying to get into my flat, but all the entrances were blocked. Was it you?
There were swarms of builders at all the doors, even the secret door. They wouldn’t let anyone through. Their pneumatic drills were so loud I couldn’t hear the doorbell. My phone wasn’t working, as usual. And there were no windows to throw gravel at.
So I missed you again. I’m sorry. I know you were at my door. I felt it—though not immediately; I couldn’t get at the feeling until it was too late. For a while I felt nothing. I sat in my kitchen, staring at the candle in the Lagavulin bottle as it dripped down onto my fingernails, and I felt nothing at all. I took a huge spade and began to shovel things into the suitcase that is a black hole in my memory: the woman I love, my father, my hair, my earth, my desire to grow up. And things grew out of it: masses of hands, my mother, new earth, new skin, a Bob Dylan T-shirt. The T-shirt’s pink. Come round and see me. I have such a lot to show you.
I was there. I had my hair cut at a trendy hairdresser’s in Kreuzberg. I wanted to buy myself a jacket, a perfectly ordinary jacket, but everywhere I looked, they had elbow patches. I caved in and bought one. They make you into the person they want.
I shook lots of hands and stood on stage, breathing in a lot of hot air and producing a fair amount myself. The people who saw me thought I was me, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t there. The first months of the year seem so long ago; since then, there have been revolutions, coups, attacks. The year began in Ankara; it ends in Berlin. I’ve been in villages with Stone and Iron in their names, I’ve danced in the heartbreak hotels of foreign cities, I’ve tried new kinds of whisky and applauded political speeches. I’ve looked for my best friend in Geneva and woken up lying in a princess’s bed covered in tulle with fluorescent stars on the canopy. I’ve rubbed pomade in my hair and rehearsed a smile, just in case, while at home, one-and-a-half-litre plastic bottles pile up on my sofa alongside Tupperware boxes sticky with peanut salt, screwed-up vitamin packets, dried-up biros, crumbling chocolate Santas, notes jotted on paper napkins, my mouthguard in a glass, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa which I didn’t know where to put. All my lightbulbs blew this year, one after the other.
I stuck around in the dark, I stuck around on worn chairs outside cafés, then I really was stuck. Do you remember? You found me, we meditated, we thought up prayers—my spirit was broken too. I couldn’t walk for weeks. I lay there and you cooked with our big brother and told jokes till I could feel my little toe again; you lit candles and I could see.
So much can happen in a year—too much for any spirit to put up with. Or else things go quiet for months and then everything happens at once. All on one day. We went away, now we’re back. The last minutes of the old year are numbered. We remain unsaleable; we push the smileys back down the yes-men’s throats. Maybe I’ll disappear again, maybe you’ll disappear again, but only for a time. Cats envy us—we have eleven lives. We remember everything; new universes are growing out of the black holes in our heads. The fight goes on. There’s a lot to be done.
Grechka. That’s what we cooked. With vegetable stock. I had to ring my mum and ask for the recipe. She laughed at me for suddenly wanting to learn to cook and I said: We’re a horde of injured and need Russian medicine. She said: Then buy yourselves some alcohol. Since when has she been so cynical?
A Russian clown at the court of my country said: The homeland’s no mother, whatever people say. Little Mother Russia—some mother! You can choose your home; you can’t choose your mother. Home is a child, he said, a daughter. We have to raise her, bring her up by our own rules and then try to live with her. A lot of people leave. Go looking for something new. We left. A lot of people over there are on the streets today—and I’m here. The streets outside the Kremlin are crowded. What am I doing here? Bringing up Germany?
Having children is terrible. I see that now and think of my mother. My daughter revolts me with her ugliness, her stupidity, her inability to learn. She pukes at my feet, she pukes in my face, though I cook her the best I can. You mustn’t let it get to you, I tell myself. You can’t just chuck it in, you can’t let go. You are responsible. I wipe the mush from my chest and force a smile.
When President Vladimir Putin was asked about corruption in his country, he replied: Lots of bribery is a good sign; it shows that people have money.
Marie Antoinette was guillotined for similar sentiments. There is hope.
A friend said to me: The end of this year is the end of an epic film where all the strands of the story are tied up, all the mysteries resolved:
The FDP is a joke party.
Angelina Jolie is a Russian agent.
We have right-wing extremists in our country.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong II was a cinema freak and had film directors kidnapped so they could remake Godzilla for him.
Then Godzilla turned up in Japan.
Tom Waits belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Putin cheats at elections and Medvedev doesn’t really exist.
Old actors die. It makes sense to make theatre.
Revolution is possible and is burning right now at Europe’s margins.
And that’s not all.
I keep thinking of another thing the fool said: Clever people don’t talk about love. It’s not something you can talk about. That seemed to me right and wrong at the same time. I think the mistake we make is to believe we can talk about anything at all—that there’s any sense in it. I wouldn’t mind being that fool. Or some other fool. Any other. I already have the little bells on my head. Call me Shlomo.
Shlomo, my dear Shlomo,
I like your fool’s simile—the homeland as an ugly daughter rather than a wan mother. But why the family feud? A country is a bigger or smaller area of land whose borders are guarded. Full stop. All those of us who live in this country were thrown into it—from our mothers’ wombs, from a ship’s container—it doesn’t matter which. You can’t choose your country; you can only choose to leave a country—and not always that. And yet—since Tom Waits was received into the Hall of Fame, I feel calmer. Or was it your mum’s grechka? Call me Popeye.
I’ve just struck 365 matches against the wall. It’s left a lot of black streaks, and little bits of match have burnt themselves into the wall here and there. I imagine it looks something like that inside my head. The year is over. I don’t know if any of the threads tie up. Maybe we’re stuck in the middle of a big tangle. Do you remember the Cesare Pavese text which Tezer Özlü quotes in her variations on him? It says that love is always unsatisfactory to an author, because it lacks the intellectual structure necessary for a plot. There’s no story out there. The story is what you make of it. I’m going to have to disappoint you: none of the threads come together. Medvedev is alive; your mum’s cynicism is justified.
By the way, I’m writing to you from the bus driver’s iPhone. He didn’t lend it to me, of course. I’m becoming a pickpocket in my old age. I’ve been on the bus for an hour. I don’t know where to get off. Soon we’ll be close to where you live. Something inside me says: Hijack the fucking bus.
I don’t feel as if I’d been thrown into this country—that’s not the right expression. It’s true, I was brutally kidnapped—my own parents cut my hair and changed my name—but I rejected the place right from the start. On the journey here, I ate chicken drumsticks out of tinfoil, just like everyone else—a whole train full of emigrants with piles of suitcases under their arses, colourful scarves round their shoulders and parcels of meat in tinfoil—there’s sure to have been someone playing an accordion too—or is that too many clichés? Maybe I’ve been brainwashed by the racist films about immigrants; I’ve muddled up my own family with some TV family and actually we were all wearing tailcoats and dresses. But I don’t think so. At any rate, the first thing I did when I set foot on German soil was to puke on it. I don’t know if it was the chicken or the excitement, but I started off by puking all over my new country. And so the first German word I had to learn was Entschuldigung—sorry. Because I didn’t just throw up on the ground; I also threw up on the poor guy standing next to me. But what was I saying? We have the option of leaving and looking for a new country, and that means we are here of our own free will. If we stay, we have to take action. It’s different with mothers. You don’t try to change your mother or educate her: either you live with her or you don’t; either you ring her up every day or you don’t; either you wouldn’t dream of crying in front of her or she’s the only person you’d ever cry in front of—and it’s all a question of decency. Sometimes you forget about her and pay dearly for it. I can’t say the same of Germany; I wouldn’t want to. I don’t know if I’ll stay here. Maybe I will. Or maybe you’ll come and fetch me and we’ll drive to the sea? The builders are still here, it’s true, but if you hijack the bus, you can just drive straight through the wall. I’ll bring some whisky. I’d like to go to Marseille. Now. Could you pick me up? Manawa is the fourth Shamanic law: Now is the moment of power. Shall we run away? Let’s get it over with. Hijack the fucking bus.
Although it’s winter, the guy behind me is wearing Ray Ban sunglasses. I asked if I could try them on. A woman further down the bus donated some of her hair gel. Now my hair is gelled back, all black and shiny, and I’m wearing pilot’s glasses. I’m on my way.
I’m holding a ballpoint pen in my left hand, pressing it into the bus driver’s carotid artery; with my right hand I’m writing you this email. Pack the whisky and come down; any moment now we’ll be careering over the speed bumps in Lausitzer Strasse.
In a second I’ll grab the driver’s microphone and make the following announcement: Achtung, Achtung. This bus is being hijacked. Please do not panic. We’re only running away. Anyone who’d like to join us should stay on the bus; everyone else should get off. Donations can be made to the bus driver. Thank you and have a pleasant journey.
Pack your megaphone; we’ll blast it onto the streets that this is the bus for doing a bunk in. We’ll stop to let on anyone who’s had enough; after that we’ll decide whether to carry on to Marseille or nip round to the Reichstag and wish Germany a happy new year.
I’m coming, Angry Bird, I’m here.
Interview with Marianna Salzmann and Deniz Utlu /14.12.2012 / de.qantara.de
Angry Birds don’t sing
Tr. Imogen Taylor