Bruno Catalano and the Art of Displacement

Next month I will have been in the United States for 10 years. It's an anniversary that chills me when I think about it because I didn't plan to be here very long. Some of the pain of displacement has gone but it can be hard on family occasions and birthdays to be separated by an ocean.

In the United States I have met two types of Brit - those who say they would never go back even if you paid them a lot of money and gave them a lifetime's supply of jammy dodgers and those who would readily go back but are trapped due to kids or other commitments. I suppose I fall into the latter category, although I am not naive enough to think if I returned I would not miss certain aspects of the US. When I first came here I was horrified by the vast emptiness of strip malls, the ugliness of convenience and the lack of quaintness. Today I have come to embrace the convenience of convenience and the fact I can drive out of my apartment and get anything I want within 10 minutes. In London I would have had to battle traffic or walked through downtrodden streets to a half boarded up store that have stocked a few out of date biscuits.

I don't miss the buses and train so much either - the smell of other people packed against me early in the morning, the chewing gum on seats, the stampede of feet. American embraces your individuality but it also may make you less tolerant. Because America prides itself on speed we don't expect to have to wait and we get more angry when we do.

Although I would miss things, I often feel the deprivation keenly, particularly in the fall. When you grow up in and around the English countryside, you don't always appreciate its beauty. When you grow up in England, you can resent the days your parents forced you to visit a Medieval church hidden down a country lane where rooks have cawed from the tower for centuries. Only later when you look back does the wonder dawn on you.

When you drove across the moors you could curse the bleakness and the winding nature of the road. Only in retrospect do you see how the journey was as precious as getting there.

The French sculptor Bruno Catalano evokes the feeling of displacement in his new work in Marseilles in which his figures miss vital parts. When we go away, inevitably we leave parts of us behind, in some cases our whole being. The dashing poet Rupert Brooke who wrote of "some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England" was buried in an olive grove in Skyros during World War

Yet this displacement can be more subtle; a displaced memory here and there - a yearning for the smell of wood smoke on a fall evening in the Peak District. There's a fear too that if we ever go back we will no longer be able to reconcile our memories with the present. And being a stranger in our home land might be far more frightening than being a stranger in a strange land.


  1. It's true, you can't go back, well you can obviously, but not back to the place of your memories. I tried, it was a disaster!

  2. Blimey, I'd do anything for a packet of Jammy Dodgers! Are these people forgetting their roots! Nothing like dunking one of those into your mug of proper Tetley tea with the fire on a nice BBC drama and possible visit to the chippy!

    1. There you go Jules - could use Jammy dodgers this afternoon..

  3. I don't know what a jammy dodger is, but I sure as hell want one!



    1. hey Valerie - oh that are like cookies with jam -


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