Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Crow song
07-11-2016

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.

Alle verhalen van Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
17-11-16

In Celtic myths, the fairy kingdom is bright and beautiful. It brims with sweet drink ands song. But if you stay even one night, you may lose a hundred years in your own land.

Time does pass differently when you travel. You return brain packed with new voices, places, tastes. It feels as though you’ve been gone for an age. But at home no time seems to have passed at all.

People ask how I’ve been and for the first week, I mention the festival. Oh right, they say, you left. I find it hard to describe the festival as a whole. Usually, I focus on my fellow writers. I’ll be so excited to read Aura and Lize’s books when they come out in England. I’m hoping Eline and Siham will be translated some day soon.

But most of all, I talk of the pleasure of meeting the translator of this blog. Jeske has had to unpick my sentences and weave them back into Dutch and I haven’t made it easy for her. It was through her that I learned the expression Best Foot Forward does not exist in Dutch and that the Dutch do not snap wishbones in half. I’ve written about divination with the blade-bone of a rabbit. Jeske has a rabbit, small and fluffy and full of life. I felt bad for making her translate that passage. So when I got home, I tried to think of better rabbit lore.

Witches disguised themselves in the bodies of rabbits and hares. Sailors feared them. But rabbits were considered lucky too; hence the famous rabbit foot good luck charm. Of course, many have pointed out this doesn’t seem that lucky for the rabbit. None of these seemed like good snippets to pass on to Jeske.

Then I found this out—In the early 20th Century, English children said, White Rabbit, as a way of asking for luck. This continued to the era between World War I and II with slight variation. Some might say Black Rabbit before bed. Others repeated the word three times over: Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Those 1920s, children who whispered Black Rabbit on sleep-slowed lips and those who sung White Rabbit to the sun all grew up into a terrifying era. I don’t think that the syllables kept them safe. But, I hope they provided some comfort.

There is to me, a writer, something particularly charming about the idea that a word itself can be lucky. Rabbit is a good word it has a bounce to it. Ra-bit, you can feel the word hop out of your throat. The bounce is reassuring. Try it— White rabbit. White Rabbit. White Rabbit.

07-11-16

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.

05-11-16

This morning, DBC Pierre talks about writers and their rituals. Lize Spit suggests writers are superstitious. Hung around my neck is a wishbone cast in silver. I finger it under my scarf.

A wishbone’s proper name is furcula. This means ‘little fork’ in Latin and describes well the shape of the two-pronged bone. Humans do not have furculae. The bone only appears in birds. It is a fused clavicle, which strengthens the skeleton for flight.

My granny told me that if two people each take one end of the wishbone and snap it using only their pinkie fingers, whoever comes away with the bigger bit can make a wish. I know I played this game when I was very young. The odd thing is that I cannot remember if I won, or if my wish came true. But I remember the pale grey surface of the bone. It felt so thin. Wishes seemed to be made from the most fragile things.

I haven’t tried to snap the bone that dangles below my neck. It was cast in a mould made from the wishbone of a partridge. The artist who created it told me that her father gave her the bone. She said he didn’t understand why she made jewellery from animal skeletons but, still, he’d saved it for her. My partner bought me the necklace. I do not know what it means to give someone the whole wish but it felt like a kindness. I believe the bone is lucky, although I have no evidence. Perhaps I am just lucky to have been given a wish.

There is an older superstition that if you take the blade bone of a rabbit, put nine pins in it, and place it under your pillow then you will dream of your true love. I do not know anyone who has done this. Perhaps few eat rabbit anymore. Perhaps we value our bleached sheets too highly. Perhaps we fear germs. I wonder if anyone has done it this year. What did they dream? Who did they hope they’d see?

Later in the day, I am walking beside Elinor Archer—who takes care of us writers. I ask if she knows any Dutch superstitions. She says she can’t think of any specifically Dutch ones, just the usual ladders and black cats. The Dutch, she says, are very sober about this sort of thing. If you can be sober about superstition can you be drunk on it? I love the idea of being drunk on magic. It seems like being tipsy on the phases of the moon.

Elinor suggests I ask around, perhaps someone else knows. Later in the green room, I ask if anyone knows any Dutch superstitions. They look puzzled and consider it for a moment. Then, they all shake their heads. The Dutch, they say, are too down to earth for this. I think the self-belief that removes the need for superstition is a kind of magic too.

 

 

04-11-16

You’re supposed to put your best foot forward. In Celtic folklore, journeys begun with the left foot bring bad luck. For a long time I believed I was left-footed. Then a medical professional told me that I was neither-footed. My body chooses left or right at random. I wonder how often I make the unlucky choice?

I wake up in the dark and stand on the street waiting for the Uber to arrive. City Airport? Yes, I’ll be leaving from London City Airport. The driver wants to know where I’m going and I tell him Rotterdam. For holiday? No, for work. Do you live there? No—here, in London. Where are you from? I tell him that I am from here. You look Vietnamese.

There is a certain type of conversation I only have when I am alone in an Uber. I rarely ride alone. I am a taker of public transport on the whole. But in the depths of night, or with a heavy bag, or heading to the airport, I allow myself a solo ride. But it comes with an additional fee. These men always want to know where I’m from. They’ve guessed Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Oriental, Exotic. I’m mixed race, though this seems more or less obvious to different people. An ex-boyfriend expressed surprise that I wasn’t just a white girl. And yet this driver has spied something foreign in me. He must barely be able to see my face. I am sunk into the shadows of the back seat. The low orange glow of street lights streaks over my lap as the cab spins forwards along the road. I don’t know how he has gathered enough of my features to care. But I serve him up my genetic past. Nice. I am relieved at the simple answer and shove my hands deeper into the pocket of the coat. The coat is so old that the pockets have worn through and my fists end up on my lap. I hope he won’t begin to list the virtues of Oriental women, as other drivers have done.

I do not object aloud to this rating of my DNA. I’m too aware that the driver is at work and I’m the spoiled client able to relax in the back. So I smile and ask if he has always lived in London? He’s from Romania. Been in London four years. What does he think of London? Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I hate it. Here, you must work all the time. He tells me he used to be a delivery driver, but this is better. More peace. It is not so bad now. One day, I will start a company. I ask him what but he doesn’t know yet. Something will come up. I am hoping. What do you do?

I’m a writer. I tell him that I am going to the Netherlands to write about a festival.

You must be a good writer.

I don’t know.

We arrive on time. Good luck and make lots of money!

I laugh, surprised by the raw blessing and thank him. Later on the plane, I wonder, should I have said the same to him? Or at least, told him that I hope his something comes up?

20-10-16

It is late—3:29 am by the hotel clock. My body has been tripped up by travel. I am awake, sore eyed, and with an ache worming along my lower back. I remember someone telling me that the witching hour is between 3 am and 4 am. So this is the time when ghosts, witches, and all forms of magic are supposed to be strongest.

The wide hotel window is soundproofed and I cannot hear the wicking of witches on their brooms or even the song of a car alarm. All is quiet.

I try to think of the magics that I know. In Japan, they say ghosts can’t walk in zigzags. In Scotland, they say witches can’t cross water or enter a house with a rowan tree outside. I wanted to plant a rowan tree in my small garden, but I’m not there enough these days. Does it matter if a witch visits when you’re not home?

Many countries have traditions of travellers carrying charms. Leaving home is frightening. As I write this, I am in Midwestern Canada. I am wearing my lucky bracelet. It is lucky both because it is red and because it was borrowed from my mother and so carries the promise of home. Is its magic stronger now in this silent hour? I roll the bracelet around on my wrist.

In less than a month, I’ll be embarking on a different trip, this time to Amsterdam and the Crossing Borders conference. I haven’t figured out what charms I’ll need there. I berate myself for my fears. I am the luckiest of travellers. I have an itinerary plotted and planned by someone else. There will be laundered hotel sheets.

The clock ticks 3.41.  When I was very young, I was also lucky. People tell you to count your blessings, as if they were children on a school trip and you might lose one. I was very lucky. But, I couldn’t sleep. I lay in my soft, safe bed and wondered who else might be out there, also not sleeping. I thought of all the people the sun was touching and how they were going about their lives while I was listening to the clicking of winter trees. I used to wonder if I’d ever sleep again. Later, when I was older and away at university, I found friends to stay awake with. We’d lie in the hallway feeling cold tiles against our necks, listing all the reasons not to sleep. Later still, I’d find a sleep that would hold me in warm arms. These days, I dream easily and early.

It is only when I go abroad that I travel back to that witching hour. To the long silent nights and the minutes that seem to tear something out as they run through me.

This witching hour will pass, but I suppose it is always witch-time somewhere. Can you feel the dark running its fingers along your windows?