Thursday, April 24, 2003

day 12 or so...

Got a call yesterday in the middle of the day from Tatyana. I had finished with all of my morning chores (not much) and was at the house changing to go on a bike ride. It seems the Yelena Giorgina, the director of Pod Kablukom had found another potential actor to play the part of Robert the American in the show and she wanted me to come and have a talk with him and to check things out. She went to the bookstore and told Tatyana what was up and Tatyana called me at the house. I went, and it was OK. The guy studies English language in Minsk and had studied at the same university in Brest as would have our Nadia in the play. He is really good looking, tall and with slicked back black hair. His English is quite good, and he is a pretty terrific translator as far as I could tell. Yelena took the opportunity to ask me a lot of questions about the play. And the whole of the argument came down to one essential point: She wanted me to give her concrete answers, and to try and to make for her a concrete play, and I could only give the best answers there was to give because Americans, culturally are not concrete people.

Now I don’t think that this is a small thing. America is not an ethnic establishment, but just exactly the opposite. We are made of an absolute diverse amalgam of ethnicities, and I think because of this, we have, either by training or by the simple passage of time adopted a culture without absolutes. And I think that this is a necessity, because if you clung to the notions of ethnic rights and kept ties strictly along these ethnic lines (as do first generation immigrants) you would have nothing but war and violence (which we do). But second-generation immigrants, those, whose children speak English as a native tongue and with an American accent and multi-ethnic relationships, they are, and probably due to this co mingling, less concrete, and would have to be by nature. I have seen… well, I don’t know how many films concerning a son or a daughter who has lived away from the homeland for a while and then returns and gets to look again at the more traditional ways.

But Yelena has always been here, and she is talking to me and she I trying to get my play to fit into a slot that not only it doesn’t belong in, but is the polar opposite (and was intended to be!).

But what is worse for me is that all of the questions that she was asking were in fact in the play. I mentioned this to Sergei who, late in the interview, made a point to me about the differences between Americans and Belarussians. His point was that when faced with a problem, an American will think of the solution to the problem, make a decision as to what to do about it, and then act so that there was some chance to continue. I agreed that this was, at least, the ideal. He then went on to explain that a problem to a Belarussian is a tragedy, leading only to stillness and a thought process that would continue until the subject was completely subdued. I agreed with him, but also opened the script to the second act and pointed out Baba’s speech about not doping anything about the problem. I mentioned that this was exactly the sixteenth time someone had made a comment or asked a question IN THAT ROOM, about something that could have been answered by simply reading the script.

So, you know they have a style, but at the same time, they are against type for the theatre community. They are not acting as artists and thinkers but only as pure bureaucrats working within a paper framework of production. And this problem lives also in the realm of the simple conversation about the solving of problems. They simply won’t do this because they wont allow for the opportunity of criticism or to be seen as having made a mistake. This however, is a complete waste of time because if you have to stop every time someone seems to have made a faux pas, because we, as humans are so very far from perfection, you won’t, inevitable ever get anything done. And this is the situation.

Now to me, it simply doesn’t need to be this way, In my experience, it is an inevitability of the world that the personalities eventually co mingle and the rough edges are smoothed out and if at the least, the people you are with are trying to accomplish this thing that they are trying to accomplish, well, in the end you get there. So I simply don’t know anything. I want to go, and I feel we have enough raw materials, and this includes the actors to work out the plan and get to work. But Yelena, and the theater are still playing the parts of the anchor of the boat.

Now perhaps all they are doing is stalling me and pimping me for the most information they can steal from me about the play. Perhaps they really simply have nothing better to do, and are just amusing themselves at my time and expense. I don’t know. A year in Poland has pretty much made every one seem to be full of shit to me, and my patience, along with my wallet has grown too thin for nonsense. If results are what counts, a lack of results inevitable are the problem of those who are responsible, and in this case it was indeed myself who was the one who got to have his name at the top of the page.

So we had this meeting, but I had to leave at 2:00 because Tatyana and myself had to go to the University to find out about the teaching job, which turned out to be a waste of time. I am not officially qualified to be a teacher, and experience to the contrary, because there is no diploma, and because it is a state university, there can not only be no job, but also not even the invitation that leads to a potential work permit. This was not good and Tatyana did not handle this well. I had a feeling this was going to be the case, but she had hopes. Apparently this university pays pretty good wages by Belarussian standards, and this would have been an ideal situation for the family. But an independent like myself, has no place in this system. The state still controls 80 percent of all, and there is a bureaucracy that is so thick (Just as Poland) that there is little chance of surviving the trip through the red tape for anyone. Hence the Belarussian cry “what can I do?”. And indeed, what can they do?

After all of this, and after an extra 90 minutes or so hanging out at the bookstore ostensibly o keep Tatyana from killing anyone, I went off on the final personal project I had to accomplish while I was here.

I believe that we are far more fragile than we would like to think of ourselves. And for those of us who prefer not to bury our heads in the sands, you become aware of the delicate threads, the ties that bind, that exist between us. These events, and the actions that we take for or against, become etched in our memories and exist seemingly endlessly throughout our lives. Perhaps we all remember some bully from when we were at school, or some fool coming into our lives and making a real mess of things. So here I find that there are people with whom I needed to make contact and make either a new connection or a closure. There are and there were things unsaid or unsettled. I think that this was really the biggest torture of being held in Poland for so long is that, because I had every intention of actually staying in Belarus and living with Tatyana and making the business I said I was going to, I had made a lot of promises to a lot of people who were all of a sudden left in the dark. Now, perhaps to a non-concrete America, this is simply a thing to be dismissed on the way to some relaxation in front of the TV, but to me it is an important thing. My word was indeed my bond, and to be disallowed from at least trying to do what I was thoroughly capable to do because of some worthless asshole of a cop who never had a days honesty since his mother dropped him on his head for biting her sour tit, was an insult to every moment of conscious thought I had ever had. Why in the hell would anyone take so much time out of his or her life to do something they were lying about?

And so, I had several people I needed to get with and to speak to and several things that I needed to make easy in peoples minds. Drinking with Victor, Colia and Sergei was a necessary thing because I told them I was going to come back with money and I didn’t. Getting with the theatre and trying to get things moving was necessary because I did write for them this play, and translated it into Russian for them, AND THEY DID AGREE TO PLAY IT! And I did need to see Fast Eddy, and Irene the “ex” if only to tell her that it was because the phone number I gave her was bad (And more importantly, that I am with Tatyana). There are a lot of people here I made friends with and this includes Edward and Yelena, my two good friends who spent so many hours translating Pod Kablukom. I didn’t lie to these people: I told them the truth, and needed to both confirm, that what I said was true, to tell them what all had happened, and to reconfirm that I am a man who’s word can be trusted. And this means more to me than money. And this means more to me in this case because it is being said to people who are without and who may never have an extra penny one day in the whole of their lives.

So, yester I did the last of my errands. Yesterday, I made a fresh and clean copy of Pod Kablukom, I used the final, perfect Russian language version. I added to that a few pages and the title sheet of the the English language version, and I went over to Olga’s mothers house for a cup of tea and I presented her with a copy of the play as a gift. Just so.

So we sat and we gossiped a bit. Olga did get married in Germany and she now has a daughter named Charlotte. Her husband is an engineer (what else?) and they are living near Frankfort. She is trying to find work teaching English, but it is difficult for her because Germany is rich enough that they can pay for Native speakers now at almost every level. But they are Ok, though Olga’s Mom, as she always does, makes little of anybody Olga is with for my benefit. She, herself is still living alone in the same flat, but the house feels somewhat dry to me. She is thinking a lot about a new boyfriend, but such times as they are in Belarus “The Problem” seems to have erased even the slightest hope of mature male potency. I am quite sure this is at least part of the reason why people are dying here in such great numbers. But she is still working at the factory where she was before. Her flat and all takes up about 90% of her $60 to 70 a month income. There is not much help coming from Olga, who has her own problems in a young marriage.

And so it goes. I didn’t stay very long. I got some interesting faces when telling her about the play. She was please when she looked at the cover sheet of the play, and she knew about where a few of things in Pod Kablukom came from. But when she saw how many characters there were she realized that this was not so simple a thing as she thought. And then I told her about Tatyana and about Igor and his chess genius (“Wonderkind?” she asked? “Nein,” Ya sprechin. “but pretty damned good.”) and this took a little bit from her I think. I think we all hold some dreams in the back of our minds. And a great romantic moment, is a great romantic moment is a great romantic moment. As they say in the movie: We’ll always have Paris, and indeed we will always have our moment. I don’t think I would be where I am without it, only I think because of my passport, and because of many other things, I suppose I have had more things since then than are possible for those who are trying to make $65 a month feed everybody who need to be fed. I am not oing to close the book on Olga or Olga’s mom. I like to think that we are friends because of everything and not in spite of it. Last year when I came, I only wanted to see that someone was happy. I don’t see much of this. And so I tried to do something about it. I am still trying. I have another meeting today at the theatre and I am going to ask them to invite me to be in the theatre so I can get a work visa for this country. There is in fact, no other place o go for this document. And without money (and I really wish that cop’s whore of a mother would have dropped him harder), I simply will not be able to stay. Play or no play.

And so, I have done what I needed to do here, although I am quite sad hat I never got to do what I wanted to do. The bike shop would have been cool. If that had happened, Victor would still be at the school helping the kids and not working at the clock factory. Perhaps Sergie would not have dropped dead. I know that this is a long shot, but hopelessness is a pretty fast moving virus I think. The play would have certainly been here faster, and we would have been able to work a bit more together, and there would have been a little money to smooth out the lines and the wrinkles for the actors. Certainly, we would have made at least a little cash flow for Tatyana’s family and the calm, which we see in Igor now (He likes me) could have been there a bout a year ago. And of course that calm was replaced by the stress and pain that Poland has caused everybody. But it didn’t happen. And I think now of that Zareba guy smiling at me in court like the Chesher Cat. How very clever he was, wasn’t he. How very smart and clever. Is he responsible for Sergei[‘s death? Indirectly? Is this thought so far from reality?

And as I left Olga’s mother’s house, and as I got to the street and started to walk back home, I did feel that thing, that physical sensation that I remember as being from here, from her… it is like a strength mixed with a feeling of perfect health… like a warm summer breeze running right through the center of you… I used to tie up in knots over this feeling. I wish I could have done more. It is however, good to be home.