Saturday, August 21, 2004

The taste of fresh koriander

I love blank books. I love buying them, searching for a combination of colours, materials, prints and images that feel meaningful to me. I have journals covered in chinese silk, bound in dark, embossed leather, green velvet, smooth glossy hard covers with pictures from japanese paintings or interwoven stems of honeysuckle. I have journals in bright red, hungry orange and deep purple, hard flat cardboard bound with metal rings and soft brown leather wrapped around handmade and handbound thick soft paper.

Some are cheap and cost me 10-15 krone, like the black and red chinese journals from when I aquired the habit of taking notes in journals and not on stray pieces of paper. Some are sensible green business issues, with alphabtic lists for addresses in front and an endless amount of finely ruled sheets waiting for me to fill them with important messages, budgets, expenses, reminders of details which can save or lose money or opportunities, like the one I keep at my desk by the phone at work. And some are seductive, begging me to reach out and caress a sensual surface, books that have beconed to me in the store and asked me to hold them, cherish them, carry them with me as companions.

By now I have a large stack of used ones. Once in a while I pick one out of the shelves in order to look for something, a thought, an idea, a name, something I almost remember, lingering at the edge of my memory. My way of storing and recovering information is not straight forwards. It is a process of many twisting paths, and I walk it in my mind searching for hints. A book I read once can be a scent of cilantro - koriander - in a meal. The scent leads me to the black cover and the elegant image of a flower. The flower floats in my mind as I reach for the journals, and I find the one with the picture by Robert Mapplethorpe on the cover, and I am back in 1999, at a table in Portland, talking to one of the interviewees and players, taking notes on hypertext. Which book did I carry? What book did I read just before that? I leaf through the journal and I remember, then I remember the discussions on agency with Dr Susan Warschauer in Morgantown (at the time) and it is all reconstructed - a chain of thought almost lost, and Susan smiling at the picture of the cala lily, sharing a private joke which I didn't understand and she had to explain. But the memories don't stop and with Susan I am in FallingWater, and I remember a scarf I bought there but lost, and I remember the summer of 1999 and the woman I was then, one year almost into the PhD, travelling alone for two months in USA doing interviews.

And while I hold that journal I touch her again, the brave woman with the backpack and a grey felt hat, a heavy laptop in a bag, fit from carrying everything and walking everywhere. An anthropologist entering America for the first time, talking to the natives, living as one but somehow failing, exploring the food and the culture, reading papers and encountering the quirks of travel.

While I stand there in front of that shelf I touch another journal, a small, cheap one this time, just a notebook really. And it is filled with notes on students. Just numbers, the titles of their papers, some questions to their work, some notes to their performance on the oral assessment. From this book I find a strict, professional, controlling woman. In the next journal, a recent one, deep violet, I find a woman dancing until 4 am at the other side of the planet, the memory of tears, mine and those of a friend I fear to be lost to me.

I stop there, as I need only this one, the black one with the white cala lily, and a literature reference. But in the back of my mind is an inclination to write Susan and tell her I will most likely be in Washington in October. And a craving for fresh koriander.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a small world. I came across your weblog, and while glancing through it saw that you know Dr. Warschauer, from whom I took an excellent graduate course on online interactive environments while I was a student at West Virginia University. I haven't thought of her in years; I wonder how she's doing.

Gosh, the internet can be a strange place sometimes.