Thursday, 28 June 2007
My Favourite Framer
Alex Horne – 28th June 2007
We’ve stayed in touch with a lot of the people we’ve met over the last few months – far more than I expected when we ventured into the Trocadero on that first rainy day at the end of October. We began looking for numbers. It was as simple as that. Could we find 192 nationalities in 12 months in 1 city? But before long we discovered that finding people was a whole lot more interesting. And keeping them was even more rewarding.
And that’s a pretty saccharine first paragraph.
One turning point for me was meeting Nic from Singapore who seemed to understand our project much much better than I did. Walking away from a breathless chat about the potential of our undertaking I felt more galvanised than ever, determined to create some ground-breaking global thing with him and his visionary friends.
And yes, there’s another gloopy set of sentiments.
But it hasn’t happened yet. Nic is a very busy guy. And, with time ticking faster than us, so are we. We still might create something with his film collective. I certainly hope we’ll find time to at least give it a try. But I haven’t actually spoken to Nic for quite some time now. We may have stayed in touch with a lot of people but I wish it was easier to stay in touch with them all. Maybe I should give Facebook a try.
One thing I did do was follow up one of Nic’s international leads by taking a trip down to Southwark and the shop of his favourite framer (I don’t know too many people who have one of those), a man called Nazir from Tanzania.
Owen and I met up in Borough Market around lunchtime in the hope of quickly snagging a Samoan who Owen knew sold oysters (now, thanks to a revolutionary travelcard system – a true symbol of London) and we spent a sensuous hour wandering around in search of this foreign fishmonger. We passed stalls selling salsa from Chile, olives from Turkey, dips from Greece, Italian parmesan, Indian samosas, Spanish meat and cheese from Wales, France and the Isle Of Wight. But none of these were on our wanted list any more. And some of them weren’t even there in the first place. We found a man flogging Sparrow’s Tea from Korea but, much to our disappointment, it was the wrong one (Korea, not sparrow).
Eventually we did find the Samoan’s shop, only to be told that he was on holiday. Frustrated, I bought an oyster from a man from Taiwan* and we headed south west, a touch dejectedly.
After what was then a longer-than-expected trudge around what is a particularly grey bit of London, we finally found Nazir’s art shop; a gem, casually discarded in a decidedly un-arty corner of town (on a road appropriately named London Street).
We went in. Then hung around suspiciously as a man we hoped was Nazir dealt with a customer. She eventually left. ‘Good afternoon gentlemen’, said the shopkeeper, also suspiciously (it’s one of those words that mean two opposite things – anyone know what they’re called?). We stepped forward, introduced ourselves, dropped Nic’s name shamelessly, and eventually persuaded a rightly guarded Nazir – for it was indeed he – to talk to us. ‘I only have two minutes’, he told us sternly. We promised to be quick, just relieved he wasn’t on holiday.
But, as his story started to emerge and we all started to relax, that two minutes came and went, quickly followed by another two, and a whole lot more after that. Nazir left Africa thirty years ago, before I’d even been born. He hasn’t been back for eighteen years. It felt like now he was remembering things he’d not thought about for really quite a long time.
‘From what I understand, things have changed there’, he began. For the better? we asked. ‘I don’t know. It’s more developed. I guess that’s how it happens everywhere. But when you live in a country you don’t notice the changes. Like here’ – he gestured out at London Road – ‘everything’s changed but you don’t notice. It’s only when you look back five years. The change is great’.
Nazir has been running this shop for the last seven years. He arrived in London as a photography student in 1965 then returned to Tanzania for another ten years. ‘I didn’t plan to come back here.’
‘I don’t have time to do much photography any more. I’m always meaning to do more, but that’s London life. Tanzania was so much more open – so green. That’s how I remember it. More rural, more wild, untouched – more laidback. People have time to indulge their own hobbies there. Now I’m in the rat-race. When I get home I’m exhausted’.
Nazir lives at the other end of the Jubilee line in Harrow with his wife. He originally came from the Indian sub-continent but they met here in England. She’s an artist too. We asked if his kids were artistic. ‘Oh yes!’ he smiled, ‘but it doesn’t bring in the money!’
I tried to ask him what went on in the little workshop I could see, tucked away beneath the stairs, but Nazir preferred to talk about Tanzania and the life he’d left behind. ‘I’ve been to the top of Kilimanjaro’, he said enthusiastically. ‘The view is different early in the morning to the rest of the day. That’s when you should be there. To see the sun rising. Once – and this is a long time ago, over thirty years ago – I saw the other side of the peak. A sheer slope, a white sheet – that’s all I remember’. Owen and I listened intently as he spoke with this mixture of nostalgia and excitement. I was glad London Road wasn’t the sort of road on which an art shop might get busy. No-one interrupted Nazir.
‘Of course people are complaining that the world’s getting hotter’, he continued, as much to himself as to us. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if the sheet is melted now. But the wildlife – from what I remember – is just brilliant. We used to camp inside the crater on Ngora Gora…’
Nazir smiled wistfully. I didn’t want to use the word wistfully there but I think it was the only real possibility. He was full of wist. Happy and sad all at once. But then suddenly, it was gone.
‘You have to let it go,’ he said, abruptly turning back to us. ‘I settled here, I had a new life, a family. After eight or nine years I felt a pang for home but then I let go. I mean, how long can you hold on?’ We didn’t know and didn’t guess.
Sometimes we can relate to the people we meet, murmur in the right places and even chip in with our own opinions every now and again. On this occasion we just listened.
Before we left, Nazir told us he’d taken his kids to Tanzania a couple of times when they where growing up. ‘They liked it’, he said. ‘But they are locals here now. They wanted to go to Kilimanjaro and see the wildlife but that’s about it. It was a nice holiday, then it was time to go home’.
*Another addition to our growing list of places that many would argue are countries but which do not figure in the UN’s list. ‘Officially’ it’s a part of China. ‘Unofficially’ it’s a lot more complicated than that. And I’m not sure a footnote is the place to delve further. If we have time we know an oyster seller who says he’ll tell us more.