September 1, 2000
I hope you're doing wonderfully. Just the other night, we watched, probably for the twentieth time, the video you and Diego made. I know you haven't seen it yet, and I don't want to predispose you, but it truly is wonderful. I know Diego is soon planning on sending you a couple of copies, and I think he's quite happy with the result.
I am publishing both my letter to you as well as your response, so please forgive the formality with which I will address you in the lines to follow:
I am inclined to believe that for you, as well as for Diego and myself, there remain some conversations pending, with regard to your visit to Tijuana-San Diego. I think that Diego would agree with me in the assertion that the ten days we spent together here were each as full as they were too few. So much occurred, yet I cannot quite bring myself to shelve those experiences as one might do when finishing a book. Although the visit itself reached its conclusion, the experience lingers. Having said this, I should clarify that it is not my wish, through this letter, to in fact conclude or bring closure to that experience. Rather my intention is to further it, to dig deeper into it, to continue the search for the painted house, if you will. Perhaps it is unnecessary to do so, and its possible that it is better off left as is, left to enjoy its life as a sensory souvenir of sorts. Nonetheless, I'd still like to propose to you that we poke at it some more, if only because I was left with the desire to play a bit more.
I´d like to ask you about the young girl singing on the bridge that leads to the border between Tijuana and San Diego. The day you and Diego filmed her, I found myself cringing at the notion of her being photographed. One is very used to adopting a certain attitude about and toward the tragedies that surround us. One tends to distance oneself by ignoring these very palpable symptoms of a shared irresponsibility. In an effort to disengage ourselves, we point the finger at those who chose to acknowledge these issues. Concretely speaking, when I personally witness someone photographing a poor child begging for money, I automatically feel that the person behind the lens is taking on a patriarchal role, documenting tragedy as something exotic, romantic, pitiful. When I see these types of pictures or films which I tend to call "national geographic" images, I feel that the person being photographed is rarely considered, other than as an aesthetic element of that image. However true or untrue this may be, my question is, rather, is my attitude any better? Is ignoring it any better? Furthermore, why does it bother me so much when I do see someone engaging in this type of documentation? Is it that the foreign eye, in so doing, has more courage than I do? Is it that the foreign gaze, in this specific instance, is acknowledging its own positioning more so than I dare? It is an issue that plagues me. I think you may have been trying to say something directly to Diego and to me in asking him to film this young child. I can´t quite put it in its place, if there is in fact a place for it. I´d appreciate very much your taking a moment to share your thoughts on all of this.
On other matters, I think you´ll be as shocked to know as we were to experience what I am about to write to you. Do you remember the Middle-Eastern people in our hotel in Tijuana? I remember the three of us, Diego you and I, sitting around, drinking and discussing things, commenting and speculating as to why these people were in the hotel, where they were going, how they´d arrived, and basically what their deal was. I was feeling very uncomfortable passing by those huge groups of men that would congregate in the corner of our floor. The general environment was pretty tense, as I remember. Well, as it turns out, Jen, a Canadian friend of Diego´s, was with us in Tijuana the last time we went. During our stay, one of these young guys approached Jen and asked if she was Canadian. She said yes, and he said he´d been living in Canada for eight years. He was visiting his brother who´d just arrived from their country in the Middle East. One thing lead to another, and we wound up celebrating Jen´s 30th birthday with the whole lot, at the hotel. After our party, with piñatas and one of those very loud bands from Tijuana, we hung out with a few of these guys who, in fact, turned out to be quite wonderful. Almost every night thereafter, we´d share way too many bottles of Tequila and stories until we could no longer stay awake. It was very difficult to say goodbye to them when we left. I wonder if they made it to the U.S. I wonder if we´ll see them again. Truly remarkable.
A big, big kiss...
Hello dear, dear, dearest Jeannine.
Two days before I have sent an e-mail message to Diego. In short: I miss you two. How far away. I cannot understand times and miles. The video helps me to travel back. But my recorder cannot translate picture and sound to PAL country very well. I see half of your CINE-POEME. Typical you, a little naughty and very wise and mysterious, together and lonely. I feel much about me in it. So, I have to be silent like the silent man. How is the silent man, loved and protected by his wife and painted house. And how about you, Diego, loved and protected by Jeannine and your (painted) art.
Jeannine, I try to write a short, spontaneous answer about the singing-girl question. My idea is that the world is made out of a Big Cry and genius God is not able to stop this Cry. Sometimes you hear or see the continuation of this Cry. ( The Cry of Munch). Day and night we, people of the world, give energy to this Cry. That first day, walking over the bridge to the border, I was surprised and shocked to hear this Cry. It was the voice of the singing girl. She was the continuation of the Cry. That day we were in the middle of The Cry (say world). Just one of the last days we were able to admit The Cry. That is why I asked Diego to film the girl as the most important human being of the universe. Film means to meet people, to dare to look straight and deep in the other´s eyes. Filming that strange lovely girl was a short moment of being together with the continuation of The Cry. It wasn't filming a national geographic image but a short secret explosion of love. The recollection of filming that moment, observed by nobody, has changed my life. Did it change your life a little, my dear Jeannine. And Diego's ? Greetings to him. Do you think I am an evil man ?
We both miss you tremendously. Distance and time are both strange beasts, indeed. Nonetheless, in an era in which these aspects of life have acquired this so-called "virtual" attribute, it is somewhat comforting to know that we can still feel their effect in very real ways. As for the more technical aspects of time and space, I´ll leave that to physics, which will forever continue to be a mystery to me.
Somehow, I must answer your e-mail in the reverse order of that in which you wrote it:
It is because you are anything but evil that I ask you these questions. It is because I know your perspective is not from behind this "national geographic" lens. It is because of who I believe Kees is, that I feel to share this personal conflict with you. It is because I knew you would have an answer as only you can reply.
I think you know that it did change something in me, and I suspect that you knew this before you decided to film The Cry. When we look at something intently, we are somehow involved, I think. More so, anyway, than when we don´t. More so when we feel that no one else is looking. Why is no one else looking? What provokes us then, to look? Do we want to stop The Cry? Should we want to? I remember my mother scolding my sister when she was a child, "Don´t stare! It´s not polite!" Am I afraid to be impolite? Should I want to be polite? Will I tell my own children the same thing? Did you tell your children not to stare? What is the point of being polite? More importantly, what is it really, and what are the true consequences of politeness? Does politeness do nothing but fuel The Cry?
I remember once while I was living in New York, an elderly woman walked into a restaurant where I was having dinner. All at once, an argument ensued between the woman and a waiter from the restaurant. All she wanted was a coffee and a muffin, she kept saying. The waiter wouldn´t have it. I approached him and asked him to put her order on my bill, if that was the problem. He refused, explaining that she had been there before, and that she was very violent, and that she had struck another waiter a couple days before. She overheard our conversation, and as she pulled some money out of her coat pocket, shouted to him that she had money, that she could very well pay for her order. That´s not the problem, the waiter insisted, and please leave, he kept ordering her. I couldn´t yet imagine how or why this woman could have hit one of the waiters. After much convincing, the waiter finally acceded to getting her order "to go," while she pulled a chair up to my table. We spoke for a bout an hour, or rather, she spoke, mostly. Connie told me all about her husband, about how she hated her name, which was really Concetta, and a million other stories. I felt that she hadn´t had a conversation with anyone in months, years maybe. The waiter finally came around and stood by the table, eyeing her, so that she ultimately left. I couldn´t contain the tears and "impolitely" (ha-ha) sobbed uncontrollably for who knows how long after she´d gone. She was the loneliest person I have ever met. I understood then, why she had hit the waiter. I would have done the same thing, if I felt invisible.
A famous Cuban novel tells about a young orphaned girl, Cecilia Valdez, who roams the streets of Havana at the turn of the last century. She wasn´t married nor "claimed" by anyone, and what was worse, she was of African descent, which meant that, at that time, her value as a person was conditioned by her "belonging" to something or to someone. The story says that she stomped and stomped her "chancletas" or sandals all around the streets of Havana, because it was the only way she knew she existed.
Would I have had the courage to stare at Cecilia Valdez, or would I have simply walked right past her? Do you think I am cowardly?
We saw the silent man and Teresa when we were last in Tijuana. They sat at the hotel room with us and watched the movie. I´m not sure, but I think the silent man may have shed a tear or two while the movie played. Whether that was my imagination or not, I did see him laugh. We dined with them at a Greek restaurant afterwards. They´re lovely people.
It´s unfortunate that you cannot translate the video and sound from the film. Hopefully, Diego can do something about it from here. It is still Diego´s favorite, and I doubt that will change even when all the projects are done. He´s out of town right now, so he hasn´t had a chance to see your e-mail. He´ll be so happy to receive it. He truly loves you.
I also do. And although I miss Kees, he´s not at all missing.
Thank you for the letter, I have to think about this subject of life, death and hope. Give me time. We love you, and Gertrude Rijksakademie will try to make a good copy for me, and listen to good old bard Kavafis in his love song: DECEMBER 1903. Oh, it cannot be the love song for my singing-girl, why, but.
Oh, Jeannine, sleeping subjects are awakening. I wish you pleasant dreams and nice days.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The Rainbow Chronicles is a sponsored project of inSITE2000, a non-profit arts organization operating in both San Diego and Tijuana. The Chronicles will be published in La Prensa San Diego for 19 weeks. For information on the project visit www.insite2000.org.)