Mirror Image

After 19 hours of sleep I began my second day at 3pm!  I got out of bed and went to my sink and was met with this image:

Yes, that is the top of my head that you see in the bottom of the mirror.  Apparently during the night my face was erased.  No, it was just that the mirror in my room, and every room and bath in this building is hung impossibly high.  With my image out of reach, I scrambled and found a chair to kneel on so that I might see my whole head.  I was still not high enough.  So, I stood on the chair and crouched down.  “There I am!”

Later in the day, I was sitting at the dining table talking with my housemate/apartment caretaker, Daniela.  I was telling her about my project here and she said “Well if you go into the Red Light District with a camera, looking like you do, you are bound to get in trouble.”  Daniela is an artist and a rather well known DJ here who has a radio show on Red Light Radio http://www.redlightradio.net so I felt she probably knew what she was saying.

“Looking like you do,” I thought.  What does that mean?

Whenever I am in Europe I feel like a spy.  I don’t feel like I particularly stand out at all, but much to the contrary, I feel like I sort of blend in, able to observe without notice.  And, thank goodness for that because as an American I feel so uninformed about the world.  In fact, a man I know back In L.A. who is originally from Britain says that when he opens an American newspaper in the morning he declares “The world according to the US” since it deals so little with what is actually going on in the world at large.  Sitting with Daniela and my other housemates who are from France and Germany, I feel uninformed, under educated, and naïve. Oh my, do I actually stand out and telegraph all of this!

I love Europe. I feel inspired to be more connected with the world here.  I don’t know half of what everyone is saying and I love it.  My brain seeks to understand and on some level it does.  Today I spoke bad French, listened to Dutch and German, and spoke Italian out of nervousness.  Yes, my go to language when I am nervous in a foreign country is Italian.  Why?  I think it is because I learned it from my father at a really young age.  So when I am faced with a situation where there is no English spoken I default into Italian.  Weird?  Yes, to everyone!  It usually stops everyone’s conversation while they ponder why the American woman is speaking Italian.

“Looking like you do.” I went back to the mirror for some answers.  Standing on my chair I took a good look at myself.  Oh, I so do not blend in!  Daniela is right.  She, Catherine, Serge, and Jerszy (Yes, one of my housemates is named Jerszy!) look sophisticated, intelligent and serious.  I look…I look…well I look American, perhaps too polished, still too blonde even after a recent hair coloring and, well, like me, whatever that means.

I decide to go to an art opening with my new friends to hear Daniela DJ and to see the work of visiting artist Johann Arens http://www.johannarens.com/.  The opening is being held at the Service Garage, an artist collective that my Diva friend Judith is part of. (I don’t think she likes being called a Diva, by the way so I will cease to use this term with respect to her from now on.)

Johann had 3 video installations installed and was extremely articulate about his practice and interests.  Here is some of his work:

When I approach him, he begins speaking German to me, his native language, switches to Dutch when he realizes that I don’t understand him, and then, upon realizing I am still not understanding, seamlessly switches to English.  Well, there you have it!  I wasn’t telegraphing my Americanness to Johann!

We arrive home at 1:30am. I climbed on my chair to look at myself and get ready for bed.  Whatever “looking the way you do” meant, I would have to find out for myself.  I decided to take Daniela up on her offer to introduce me to people she new in the Red Light District so that I might not stand out too much, and I also decided to go to the store in the morning and either buy a new mirror, or a step stool.

3 comments

  1. Reading your blog with great interest! You are at the beginning of a life changing journey, I’m sure.
    I am particularly interested since I will be heading to London in July to finish my MA in Fine Art. I better start figuring out how to “blend in”!

  2. Okay, so why are the mirrors so high? I mean, you are not that short! I know Dutch people are tall but those mirrors are really up there. Does it have something to do with being in a monastery? Perhaps you are not supposed to care what you look like.

    • According to Lonely Planet’s Amsterdam City Guide, the Dutch are the tallest people in the world, averaging 5’11” for men and 5’6″ for women. And they continue to grow! Today the minimum required height for doors in new homes and businesses is 7’6″. Maybe all that dairy IS good for growing bones!

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