Saturday, October 29, 2005

American Mythopoeic Fantasy

A few days ago myself and some other foreigns were officially "received" in New York. Having been oriented, twice, before coming out, and now received thrice, with one further welcome to follow, and a thanksgiving weekend with an Amish family in Pennsylvania to look forward to, I feel very special indeed.

This latest reception took place at the New York History Museum, which had mounted an exhibition on slavery. Senselessly ariving two hours early, I had little to do other than spend five dollars on the showing, an output I later discovered was unnecessary. For part of the formal proceedings was a free tour of slavery, and for a while we strolled around, looking at the images of brutalised Afro-Carribeans, and documents of punitative statutes enacted against them, glasses of wine in hand, and sliding trays of sushi and crumbling biscuits.

In the reception proper, a woman got up to tell us that if the world had more Fulbright scholars, there would be a greater chance of world peace. I scanned down the list of this year's batch of scholars, and found some interesting trends. The Czech Republic had only two scholars, each of whom appeared to have the same name, and be studying the same discipline at the same university. There was only one French scholar. I had heard rumours of an Afghani Fulbright, but no evidence on the list. Germany did well, but was outdone by Poland, not by number, but by variety. In the midst of the dull conventional procession of Columbia and NYU, political science and psychology, was a Pole, whose name I groundlessly forget, who apparently was studying something called "american mythpoeic fantasy." Where each other subject attained the nobility of capitals, only a.m.f was rendered in racy modern lowercase. I resolved to seek out the Pole.

There were only two British in attendence, myself and my friend sat beside me. My name was not printed, for some reason. It was announced that we would all stand up in turn, as our countries were announced. This made my friend wince. There are simply so many countries on the map.

By the time we got to Estonia, I was already bored. Let's stand up when they read out Sri Lanka, I suggested to my friend. He demurred. The token Frenchman stood up; did I imagine hollow laughter? How would they receive us? I began to panic. There was only one "Tom", and two of us: it would look rediculous. The Poles were asked to stand. A group of ten stood up together, and across the auditorium, a single figure, detatched, pensive, barely remembering to stand. That must be my man, bigger thoughts on his mind. Holland was announced twice in the alphabetic chain, once as "Netherlands", once, briliantly, as "The Netherlands." Up stood a fat Mexican, studying Gifted Education. This was just like bingo.

Finally, the United Kingdom's turn came, and Tom and I stood up, both representing "Tom", with an anguished posture that would anyhow have given our origin away. There was perplexed laughter, we did a short bow and sat down.

Afterwards we were encouraged to mingle for peace. Although the mingling had been conceived in a spirit of cultural diversity, when the multiple strangers approached one another shakily, there was nothing to go on save the name tag, which revealed only the stranger's country of origin. The best way to initiate conversation, I therefore found, was to culturally sterotype. An Argentian wobbly on her pins staggered up, and we talked of the Falklands War. My friend the true Tom looke monumentally bored, so I suggested we find the american mythpoeic fantasy scholar. Around we trailed, bumping into Slovaks, Finns, Spaniards, but not our elusive Poles. "Have you seen any Polish people", I asked a pretty Russian. "There are Poles over there", she replied, and I felt as if I was involved in Cold War espionage, but with added canapies, so, in a John Le Carré novel.

The Poles were huddled conspiratorially in a crooked circle, which I supposed corresponded to some national emblem of unity. I introduced myself, and after a few bits of rudimentary, necessary smalltalk, dived in. They did not know the scholar of american mythopeiac fantasy, but had heard of him somehow, and knew he was in the building. Behind my back, I could hear Tom explaining to an ethnically diverse crowd that I was a homosexual, and had a particular thing for "Polacks."

The Argentian returned, shouting, "You are so an English-!", when one of the burliest figures I have witnessed approached slowly. He was with a much shorter fellow, who looked seriously at me through his thin-framed glasses, and said, "I gather that you are interested in my friend's work." It was indeed the scholar I had been seeking, in a jovial half-meant manner, come to talk with me. He was writing a book on american mythopoeiac fantasy, he told me. I was out of my depth, and made a few awful stabs at the link between Homer and Hick Finn. It was not that sort of fantasy he was examing, he told me, but largely the "Earthsea Trilogy" by Ursuela le Guin, a book I had fortunately read when ten, and an insufferable child. The evening proceeded smoothly from that point.


At 9:01 PM, Anonymous waiting patiently said...

Interesting to read you blogs which I found a week or so ago through a link with everything reviewed (she's gone very quite recently), or was it Mental Nurse, I can't remember.
How could you have been an insufferable child of ten after reading Wizard of Earthsea ?
Mind you I was a pain to my teacher and other class mates as I woud be pages ahead as I was enjoying it so much and then would be summoned out of the fantasy world when called on to read a passage.
Keep blogging it's v. good.

At 7:56 AM, Anonymous eskimo said...

aahh, brilliant brilliant, im sitting at my desk in dar es salaam opposite two recently mugged italians giggling inappropriately. glad that you're contributing to efforts toward world peace (are people still keen on that kind of thing?) in your own small way.

simultaneously attempting to talk to donna werbner online and being greeted by her brother who hopes that i have a top day and that the weather is better where i am than in manchester.

At 1:01 PM, Anonymous dizzyizzy said...

your blog is interesting. it makes me wonder why it is that my observations of american culture and new york have much more in common with non-americans, though i have lived in the states for most of my life.

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At 6:34 AM, Anonymous Jess said...

Ah, Ewan, I do like your blog. It made me laugh. Glad to hear that you are alive and thriving beneath the glorious starry and stripy skies of America. Here are several several "projects" to be getting on with :

*assasinate George Jr (in an inventive, imaginative and stylish way. Think Fidel Castro and pretty seashells, not rucksacks, domestic aircraft etc)

* Have a Monica Lewinsky-esque affair with Hilary and/or Condoleeza

*obtain a cameo role as yourself on popular jaundice-ridden cartoon show The Simpsons in style of your fellow British intellectual guiding lights Stephen Hawking and
Simon Cowell.

At 7:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ewan you fuck you never replied to my email about my devastating break up trauma. i hope this does not mean i can't come and stay with you anymore. i was thinking midmarch what say you? g

At 4:24 PM, Anonymous JenJen said...

Have you ever, in your life, sat down one evening, and through the paucity of your social life/quantity of drugs consumed/willingness to gaze into the yawning maw of Ennui, *ever* wanted to read a blog on portable wheelchair ramps? Please get rid of your spam comments dear, they are making me go blind. That or the wanking.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger greenpoint said...


I see you have mastered your aversion to looking at my blog. In return, here is my gift, my first ever comment, and for you at that. There is an email to you that has germinated for two days now, and it shall be sent tonight at the latest. Promise, promise, promise.

And once more, where's my death threat, poppet?

At 10:17 AM, Blogger greenpoint said...


I am sorry about the delay. Midmarch is very good for me. Perhaps you'll have forgiven me by then. Email to come, replete with condolences, etc.

/e xx


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