There are crows everywhere at Crossing Border. On the maps, brochures, and tickets, a crow sings and plays the ukulele. Crow-silhouettes hang as mobiles at the events. Their shadows spin along the floors. As PJ Harvey reads her poetry, they are projected on the wall. They are made of red light.
At least, I assume they are crows. Twice, I call them crows and twice no one corrects me. They could be blackbirds or ravens. I feel silly for not having asked. I have always loved the corvid family—crows, ravens, magpies, and jackdaws. But they seem an odd choice to be the mascot of a music and literature festival.
Virgil described the choking cry of the crow as a call for rain. During my stay it has rained every day. On Saturday morning, my coat breaks. It was a good coat, well worn, a dark grey that felt better than black. It fastened with a thick metal clasp at my left shoulder. Once, a friend drew me in that coat—he called it a witch cloak.
I am at the museum. I turn to meet the eyes of Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, and there is a clunk. Visitors turn to look at me. At my feet, lies half of the broken clasp. With no warning at all, it has given up on me. I haven’t been moving fast, I haven’t been touching the clasp. Maybe I should not have described its torn pockets in the second blog of this series. Perhaps my pride in keeping it so long was hubris.
I wander around the festival in the big grey jumper that was described in the shop as a Cloud Sweater. I think that clouds should rain and not be rained upon. So I take shelter in a small café with the book I have brought to read. It is by Nicholson Baker and is about a poet. The poet in the book mentions Poe’s poem, The Raven. And I remember that Dickens had a pet raven called Grip. Poe supposedly met this raven and some people have speculated that it was Dickens’ pet which inspired Poe’s poem. Perhaps, Crossing Border’s bird is the same literary hero. I peer around the Internet and realize that, yes, the bird is a raven. Not a crow after all.
It is still raining when I leave the café. By the time that I’m back at the hotel, my hair is as fuzzy as my jumper. I pause in front of the bathroom mirror, considering how to make myself presentable. Corvids can recognize themselves in a mirror. A sparrow will believe the brown ball of fluff reflected is another bird. A compatriot. A corvid knows when it’s alone. This is supposedly a test of intelligence—to be able to recognise yourself.
Once or twice, I have looked across a busy room and seen a body, only to realize that the body is mine. And what I am seeing is myself mirrored. Afterwards, I try to remember what I thought of the stranger who was me. Usually, nothing at all.
In the hotel, I turn away from the mirror. It is time to go back out to the ravens.