The suitcase is here in my study now, where it will remain for the duration of its stay. Mark took a photo of me as I came home with it. My plan is to find objects to put into it. Objects that will somehow be meaningful and symbolic. However, as I begin to think of what these might be, I ask myself also what I shall find inside this case. Pandora’s box, maybe, or, perhaps, a treasure chest?
In the morning light, the marks on the suitcase looked at first like scars. Some were deeper than others; there was one like a bruise that had scratched the surface, others no more than faint lines that petered off. Then it occurred to me that indeed perhaps they were not scars, but traces. The casual imprints of collisions, happy encounters, rough resting places, the rubbing of shoulders between strangers. . . Like the traveller who comes home, the suitcase has many stories to tell. And like the traveller from afar, the suitcase is mysterious, impossible to know. All I could read at first were the letters J.D.P. My thoughts went to John’s grandfather, Captain John Perivolaris. My sole reference points for him were the words and photograph on John’s blog and of course, this suitcase. I tried to imagine the suitcase in a cabin on a ship. Might there have been a porthole in the cabin? An endless, shifting seascape outside? Had I ever known any sea captains? Ports? Or ships and anchors? I remember my mother once telling me that when she was young, she had spoken to a man who had travelled widely on ships. She was still in India then. He spoke of faraway places, of having been in Las Palmas, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Singapore, Aden. At the time, my mother had yet to travel much, though she wanted to. The names seemed glamorous. Exotic and faraway. So she had looked at the globe to find these names, but it was hard to tell what the places were like or how far away they really were from home. Later, she found herself visiting nearly all those places and each time, she would retell the story of that man and of how he had ignited in her the desire to see the world.
I remember too the port of Ceuta back in the 1970s, a small Spanish town on the northern coast of Africa that I used to visit as a child. The main street would fill for a day or two with sailors whenever a ship came in to port. This happened often, at least twice or thrice a week. They would fill the bars, speak foreign languages, laugh, drink and buy things and then, of course, disappear forever. They came from all over: Turkey, Italy, Greece and further afield… India, Japan. Strangers who came and went with the sea breeze.
That old, forgotten memory made me realize the suitcase itself was a sort of port, a solid rectangular object that stayed the same whatever the tide. Perhaps it was so for Captain Perivolaris, as it accompanied him throughout the voyages of his life. Now it was here moving from hand to hand and we were the sailors, the travellers who visited it and stayed for just a little while. The suitcase is resolute. It remains unchanging regardless of what we put in it or take out from it. My thoughts turn from John’s grandfather to others I do not know but have become linked to, Margareta Kern, Caroline Watson, Dinu Li, and John by whose desk this suitcase had remained for some months. Somewhere, in some ineluctable form, their traces were also on this case. On its surface. Like me, they had held the handle. They too had opened the lid, looked inside, wondered where it had been, what thoughts it had triggered. They too had sought to inhabit it for a while, filled it with their memories and the haunting of what once was. By bringing the suitcase home, I have entered an invisible weave of strangers, all of us bound by the ephemeral, the fluxes of displacement that are uniquely ours, and ours alone. In so doing, I am encountering the odd familiarity of the stranger. I know nothing or very little about you, and yet when looking inside this case, I feel your presence here in my midst… As I pour my memories into this case, I watch them swirl and mix with yours. I had not expected this… This unexpected connection with those I do not know.
[Text by Parvati Nair, © 2008]
[The photograph above has also been used by Fiona Bessey Bushnell in her post on the Case for Hope project.]