Thursday, January 27, 2011

On imaginary pictures

Let's assume I had brought a camera with me everywhere this past week. In that case, I would now be describing to you a picture from my very first "representation" event. It would be a picture of several tiny, old Japanese ladies, and a tall, confused Norwegian one. They would be holding glasses - not with champagne as one might expect from a diplomatic event - but with unsweetened, cold tea. They would all be smiling, partly out of politeness, and partly because they were excited to be there. The Japanese ladies because they adored Norway, the Norwegian because she adored Japanese people adoring Norway.

The next picture would be from a typical office meeting. The only thing untypical about it would be that one of the participants - incidentally the same Norwegian as in the previous picture - looked ridiculously excited. She must be very happy with her new job, you might think. You might be right.

The third picture would have a very interesting composure. At first you'd notice in the front some large tables, white table cloths, silverware and porcelain. People of every ethnicity are sitting by the table, but despite their different background they all seem to share a certain quality. They are eager to listen, and they know what they are listening for - keeping note pads or iPads or small computers at hand, ready to take notes as soon as the subject they are searching for appears in the speech of the key note speaker. Could they be - journalists? Hm... Not all of them. Some - like the now familiar Norwegian girl - seem to have a different agenda, even if these people too are searching for information. So diplomats also attend press conferences? Who knew?

But you have gotten lost in the details and forgotten about the composure of the picture. Allow me to redirect your attention to the background - where you'll be wondering how you didn't see it at first. The view is spec-wait for it-tacular! You now see that the event is high above the ground, and through the panorama windows you see skyscrapers, a myriad of them. Clearly the picture is taken in a gigantic city. The spectacular view in the background, the concentrated people in the front, and the speaker in the middle (he looks important. But then so do a lot of people in suits) forms a very strange dynamic, though the quality of the picture is slightly jarred as a result of the flash of competing cameras.

The fourth picture I'd show you, is of a different kind. It's more quiet, portraying what appears to be a traditional building. If you're familiar with Asia, or Japan in particular, you might ask me if it's a shinto shrine, and I'd confirm, though it would be pretty clear that I am only the photographer, and no expert on the religious role of the shrine. You'd examine the carvings, the painted lanterns,  and the paper strings tied to a tree behind the building. The picture is beautiful, but you'd find it hard to believe when I tell you it was taken only a short walk away from the skyscrapers in the previous picture. "It only illustrates the many contrasts that make up Japan," I'd explain.

The next - fifth - picture is from a bookstore/café you'd at first suspect was taken during my previous stay abroad, in the US. But then you'd notice that even though the Starbucks sign is identical to those in the US, the books definitely are not. Funny how it must feel to walk around in a bookshop, not being able to read even the titles, you'd think. The Norwegian girl from several of the earlier pictures is featured again - this time she is staring intently at a laptop screen, while allowing her coffee to get cold in her hand.

The sixth picture I'd share with you shows the Norwegian girl looking very distressed. She's out in the city again, with tall buildings and short people surrounding her. The map in her hand and the cell phone to her ear indicated that she is lost. The clock on the wall behind her shows 1:55 - PM you assume - and the time on the invitation barely visible behind the map clearly states that she should be present at the meeting at 2PM. If you know anything about Japanese punctuality you'd understand her worried look.

There is only one picture left. The Norwegian girl is standing in front of a small congregation of smiling Japanese people again. She holds a remote control in her hand, and is looking at a colleague who appears to be speaking. It might seem as though they are presenting a movie, as a still shot of a famous actress is frozen on the screen. You can't tell from the picture, but I would make sure to reveal to you that the following event was a success, and that the monthly movie night at the embassy will be one of the simpler tasks for the new trainees.

Alas - I did not bring a camera anywhere this week...


Michelle Gregory said...

my dad is a tall Norwegian, from a long line of tall Norwegians. i already felt somewhat connected to you because you're Norwegian, and now i feel a little more connected knowing you're a tall one. lovely description, btw. i felt like i was there. i'd be the 5'7" Norwegian.

Jan Morrison said...

I'm so glad you didn't bring a camera. So so glad. Your written photos are so evocative, so charming and so full of subtle narrative -well I love it. Thank you. I would like you to take a photo sometime of the Shinto Shrine. I have photos of one on my home shrine - a Kami Shrine that was built at the Shambhala Dharma Centre in the Rockies of the US. It is of a Shinto priest feeding the Kami within.

Cold As Heaven said...

It's probably not diplomatic etiquette to run around with a pocket camera and taking pictures all the time. After all there should be some difference between a diplomat and a tourist >:D

The description in words was very good

Cold As Heaven

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

No but you did do a great job of describing the scenes - good practice for a writer.

Kelly said...

As much as I enjoy beautiful photography, there's something to be said for beautiful word descriptions such as you provided here. The images in my mind make me feel as if I were there with you!

sue said...

I thought it was due to courtesy or protocol that you didn't have the camera. So glad you didn't, your descriptions brought out a whole different dimension. The movie night sounds fun. Is it invite only? What did you watch?
Fabulous, fabulous descriptions.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

It was great to read the descriptions but now I find that I need to see the pictures too.

The Golden Eagle said...

The descriptions were wonderful to read!

Pat Tillett said...

Really a great piece of writing! Photos would be nice, but not really needed!

Boonie S said...

Can you run that by me again please, from the part which goes, “Let's assume I had brought…..”. Only kidding. It seems as if life is treating you well right now. I’m pleased.

All the best, Boonie

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