Act One: A matter of obsession
I was at the second-hand shop one Saturday morning perusing discarded books for lack of having nothing better to do. Much to my delight, I found a large one with the title of ‘Scotland, a Photographic Journey’ on it. Excellent, I thought, this would keep my obsession with all things Scottish going for a while. When I went to pay for it, I met up with an elderly lady who was also holding a book. We both looked simultaneously at what each was holding and smiled knowingly. A 'Scotland aficionados’ moment followed. Carol was born in Aberdeen just after the war to a Scottish naval officer and a Kiwi mother. She admitted to having "a bit of an obsession with all things Scottish." I showed her my tattoo. She nodded approvingly with amusement but no surprise. "Oh, and Scottish men, of course", she added. "Yes, of course, those too", I said with pathos.
She let me have her book, Magnus Magnusson's ‘Scotland, the Story of a Nation’, a favorite of mine since my Alba times.
Act Two: A matter of DNA
After an interesting conference panel, I approached one of the presenters - an elderly, short and slender with white hair professor - to ask for the details of a publication he referred to. Here is how our brief but rather amusing encounter unfolded:
“You mentioned earlier in the session a book on Marshall Islands and Christian narratives on climate change, would you happen to remember the name of the author?”
“Yes, I do!” his reply came enthusiastically, only to be followed by a pregnant pause. I stayed posed in awkwardly silent anticipation.
“Ah! You also want to know who the author is, right?” he continued after this small but perceptible pause, in a teasing tone and with a sparkling twinkle in the eye.
“You are not Irish, are you?” I blurted out rather impulsively, as I vividly remembered having an almost identical conversation with an Irishman upon arrival at Dublin port at 6am, a quarter of a century ago, that went like this: "Sir, do you know how to get to Dublin town?" Aforementioned Irishman replied with a "Yes, I do!" followed by a pregnant pause, then adding: "Ah, you also want to know how to go to Dublin town, right?" with the same (I swear!) dead pan, wicked sense of humor accompanied with a sparkling twinkle in the eye and a teasing, laughing tone of voice, so characteristic of Irish sense of humor.
My Professor meanwhile silently turned up his conference ID card so I could see his name. It had O’Donnell written on it, of course…
“Ah, it seems that the Irish sense of humor does run in the DNA!” I exclaimed and continued with, “What part of Ireland do you come from?”
The Professor named a town south of Dublin with some detail, asking if I knew where it was, the way people from Europe expect a fellow European to know the precise location of their little town, only to add after the customary pause that he was 3rd generation Irish-Australian...
I felt that was such a trifle detail, 2nd, 3rd or 7th generation, it matters little I thought, for I am sure his great-great-grandchildren will share the same Irish sense of humor.
Act three: A matter of Accent
“Are you Brazilian?” the woman at the bus stop asked me this morning after a rather brief exchange on bus delays and badly placed bus shelters.
“No, I am Greek” came my answer, “but I am meeting my Brazilian student this morning, so you might have picked up the Brazilian vide?” I added with sincerity but with a humorous undertone, rather amused at the coincidence.
Do we carry all the information about us on our bodies, visible, audible and thus readable by those around us? Perhaps we are, after all, open books that sometimes others accidentally tap into our cover only to get a glimpse of a random dot, a comma, a sub-clause of the text that makes us. This morning I chose to be amused by the never-ending variety of interpretations of my hybrid accent, an amalgam of all languages I have learned and places I have lived. On another day, such a question would have annoyed me and would make me inwardly sigh: “oh, not another one of those curious to label the box that contains my accent with a set geographical location.” Somehow, it seems to reduce anxiety in people when they can neatly label and arrange boxes where they can fit in their encounters.
Am I Brazilian? I suppose I could be! I don’t think my bus stop encounter would have had any reference point of what a Brazilian would be like, but any reference to another human collective honors me just the same.