Thursday, June 12, 2008

I don't drink coffee, I drink tea, my dear...

"I'll always be a foreigner," said French actor Olivier Martinez. I think he and I could have a few things to talk about.

It's a funny thing - being a foreigner - and everyone does it a little different. But some things are universal.

There's always some extent of assimilation. There's always some amount of humiliation. And it comes with the territory that whatever you built in a past life will only go with you in part. Because the place you are headed to and the people you are destined to meet may or may not have sufficient enough frame of reference to understand where you've come from.

And maybe you yourself don't know how to reconcile your yesterday with your today.

I recently went through a bunch of old recordings of various music projects I have been involved in over the years. A veritable melting pot of genres, each one hails from a different corner of the globe of my experience. The cultural map covers territories of three major religions: Classical, Jazz and Rock and Roll.

As I was listening, I thought about what I was thinking at the time. Beyond the unifying element of having one hell of a great time playing, there was a common thread. I remember, in each phase of musical experience, thinking that I was a visitor to each land, appealing to the acceptance of native audiences, wondering if I was assimilating effectively. Stylistic absorption is a challenging game which I enjoy playing.

With travel - whether temporary or long-term, one has to be flexible. Willing to taste new foods. Willing to sleep in a new bed in a new place - possibly in a new time zone. You have to be willing to spend time around people with whom you wouldn't normally be. Willing to try on a new role. And willing to see yourself in a new context.

But I was thinking about where the line is drawn between daytime explorer and full-time foreigner. And now that Dave and I have lived in Amsterdam for over three years, which category do we fall into? There are days when I feel I could've been born here. And then there are days when it seems we just landed here yesterday. Days when each Dutch word lands like Mandarin in my ears, I miss the Super Size, and I feel oddly-dressed in the middle of this Bohemian catwalk.

Maybe the cross-over comes in the form of a one-way ticket. When the journey takes the appearance of boundary-less, open-ended excursion with no promises of a return flight.

A parent, not a babysitter. A resident, not a tourist. This is the context in which we'll live for an indefinite length of time.

So I guess I'll continue playing Brahms in bars and Cat Stevens in concert halls and just see what happens.

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