241 Things

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241 Things

James, Jennifer en Georgina, the book

photo Joris Landman

James, Jennifer en Georgina, the book

photo Joris Landman

James, Jennifer en Georgina, the book

photo Joris Landman

James, Jennifer en Georgina, the book

photo Joris Landman

The mother takes father on a trip. Their daughter Georgina stays behind with the nannies that are going to take care of her. The mother sends her daughter a postcard every day.

'It's proof of her love and her absence. 'And every day we were apart wrote to her.' (The mother)
'I have come back to the family.' (The father.)
'The drinking stopped and so did the postcards.' (The daughter.)

210 of the 1136 post cards were selected and printed in a thick book, the front and backsides matching and the written messages on the cards printed in block letters so that they're easier to read. A bright yellow, sun yellow book, thicker than a phone book, so thick the spine needs three folds to properly open. The book tells their story. The Beginning. This time over, James and Jennifer wanted to stay together.

Even when Georgina was born and the father kept on drinking heavily. The doctor warned him that he wouldn't have much more than two years left if he stuck to his drinking habits. Rehab didn't help. Jennifer discovered James hardly drank when they were travelling and decided to take as many trips together as possible, in an attempt 'to dry him out'.

The first trip begins October 25, 1989 and the card reads: 'Qui (we) love you more than Paris.' Georgina is 79 days old by then. On August 8, 1990, a day after Georgina's birthday, Jennifer writes: 'Over the Atlantic Ocean en route to Boston. My darling 1 year 1 day. The dots at the side the stamp are the spots of color used. I do wonder if you will like stamps. Mentioning dots reminds me of kites which are dots in the sky; a tug-of-war with the wind. Love Mumm.'

November 16 marks the last post card of that year, which means the family will spend Christmas and New Year's together. Thank God!

August 7, 1991: ‘We’re here and you’re there which is a terrible situation on the occasion. We have spent the day with Jill and that was jolly good. We laughed because we were with you on the 21st! These fellows threw the British out in 1775 just before the Boston Teaparty. Not like your birthday, a bit rougher. Love Dad and Mumm.’ The card has a picture of the statue of The Minute Man, lead gray against a bright blue sky.

How strange it feels to read the father's vile words towards the mother during this anti-alcohol journey: 'Mumm has swallowed so many pills that she rattles when she walks.' Other than that there are messages about the different kinds of champagnes, descriptions of celebrating Left Hand Day in the US, delays and bad behaviour, and on March 17 there is a little drawing of a hunting daddy: 'We are very sad that you have measles and a high fever - all these awful childhood diseases one has to muddle through in growing up. The good news is that the tiles were laid today in your bedroom and the bath is in situ in your bathroom.'

Later: Daddy has been brilliant. His French is so good the natives want to claim him.' And later this lamentation: 'To be queen and live with such paintings.'

Except for a few, the cards aren't made for children, there is a lot of art, monuments, cities and landscapes. A sneak peek at the world. 'Hair. My hair - masses of it - is an expensive, time consuming nightmare. Cauchemar. Every three weeks colour. Every months straitening. Every week ironing.’

Some of the cards are made by hand and every stamp is picked with care, just like every written word has been carefully chosen. But it's not just the post cards that tell the story; just like every movie on DVD, it comes with extras.

The family turns itself inside out, like turning a piece of clothing and exposing all the seams, stitching and lining. What's this family doing to themselves? Each of three main characters shares stories throughout the book, there is a small photo album and there are the 'Conversations':

21 conversations they had, printed without any censorship. I imagine a shockingly honest AA-meeting and this time I get to participate from the sideline, I get to read whatever happens.

‘I don’t remember you and Dad at all before seven. Zilch (nothing). If we have 1200 postcards and some days there were three in one day, that’s a lot of years. And that’s being kind,’ the daughter says.

During ten years, 1136 cards were written. The daughter was left alone for about a third of the time. Jennifer kept all of the post cards: 205 flights, 268.162 miles in the car, two bull fights, one speeding ticket, 53 unpaid parking tickets, 13 cancelled flights, one bomb alert, 205 church visits, wars, inflating prices, births, funerals, holidays and so on.

Georgina remains mild and laconic about her childhood. At first the reader is confronted with a stinging kind of truth and the uncomfortable feeling that comes with it, but there's a sense of admiration at the same time. Georgina: ‘It’s been a much more honest family environment because you have never been dishonest with me. Dad doesn’t really say much so there’s no dishonesty there. [An ironic laugh] Yeah, I think a lot of families tried to hide things for so long – suddenly the truth comes out and all hell breaks loose. Our truth would come out and it would create very unpleasant moments, but it would only last a day or two days instead of three years because everything was hidden for so long. Life has been brutally honest from when I was young. That could have been good or bad but I think it’s turned out to be very good.’
 And there are those truths every parents tells their children now and then, knowing the child will forgot about them is as soon as he or she turns around the corner. Parents try to calm themselves.

Daughter Georgina says in 'Conversations': On the other side was the lesson of the day: don’t ever be dependant financially. Rely on yourself first. Don’t marry a man with crummy shoes. A woman must never seem in a hurry.’

Jennifer made the book for Georgina's 21st birthday, but also for herself, as a kind of reassurance and oath at the same time. The book is dedicated to the eight children that came from their earlier marriages. Every decision regarding the book is based on the number 3, the price is 999 € and it's printed in an edition of 999 copies.

The immaculate design is done by Irma Boom. And no matter what you may think as an outsider, Georgina speaks very lovingly when it comes to her parents. ‘Even though my mother was absent, she immortalized every day she was gone. She endowed me with her ability to observe, give detail and discover a good story, and gave me a love for history and perhaps unconsciously, for Russia.’
‘The book is yellow because it’s full of light and success!’ Jennifer says in an interview.


As a child I had the wish to befriend a Siberian tiger. I can completely relate to that inner desire that many people have to be among wild animals. It's an amazing thing to see it when it works: some people manage to swim with tigers and hug wild bears.

When those two worlds meet or collide (sometimes resulting in the dismembering of an arm or of bodies being crushed,) I sense the overwhelming beauty of the situation. I often find that beauty on YouTube. There are hundreds of clips of people living with wolves, juggling with tigers. One of the videos takes place in a zoo.

A polar bear gets hold of the chubby leg of a typical tourist. The women had climbed over the fence and wanted to look at Blinky (his name) up close. It turned out to be a risky situation.

For the tourist, this was not a very logical thing to do. For the polar bear, it was.

My imagination is not only triggered by the fact that

From the safety of my bedroom, my imagination is not only triggered by the fact that I’m watching a polar bear named Blinky adorably sink his teeth deeper into a tourist steak on Youtube. But it’s also that I get to see Blinky as a real animal.He comes to life. Blinky momentarily experiences that his true nature lies within the borderline between the pathways on which visitors stand gawking at him and his cage.

Call it instinct, call it boredom. But what Blinky does, is not easy to explain. It just is. The name Blinky disappears with each bite he takes. Because in between the bars of his cage lies the real world where the bear might know his name or he might not.

John Berger writes that animal have been marginalised in our society because of our tendency to turn animals into products of our life. It relates to the given of dogs strongly resembling their owner. And in that margin, wild animals explore the borders of their imprisonment. A drunk tourist in a football shirt with waxy spikes on his head bangs on the glass wall surrounding a wild animal that lays on his back like some couch potato. 'For the bloody love of God, do something!' roars the man.

I'm thinking of the man who lives inside a whale. According to people, the bars of imprisonment in Disney movies or Biblical stories mainly exist out of the skin or mouths of the animals, trying to penetrate or open humans. Just like Jonah.
The impossibility of being with wild animals makes me want to try it myself. I think people who want to pet tigers are crazy, but I am tempted to try it myself. To kiss each other like lovers, press our heads against each other. Our brains should blend. The twisting of the tongue, the muscle in our body that can turn miniscule particles into big things.

Fortunately, a dog has a shape and doesn't float through the room like batter. Luckily we get to adore and pet our dogs and cats. And maybe even send them into space for the sake of experiment.

“You can’t have anything. You can’t have anything at all. Because desire just cheats you. It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it – but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone. “ F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Beautiful and Damned

Indeed, desire slips so readily through our fingers once we hold that coveted thing. And in the blink of our eyes, we’re once more blinded by the glitter of the next novel beauty, the next promise of love, of wanting fulfilled.

The veneer is scratched away, layer by layer. Sometimes the process is lengthy, lasting months, years, decades. Other times, desire is doused instantaneously, without notice.

(Of course, let’s not become overtly cynical. Love exists beyond the glare of desire, yet for those who have not yet been so lucky we gladly play the fool, over and over again.)

A man made of bronze is poised on a ladder, his arms raised to the skies. The Russian artist Kabakov was commissioned to make this work named How to Meet an Angel for a psychiatric institution in Amsterdam. Understandably, the work initially sparked protest. Isn’t this the image of a man wanting to commit suicide, which is, of course highly inappropriate? After a while, it occurred to the objectors that this wasn’t a man trying to take his own life, but a man trying to meet an angel. Just like you. Just like me.

Each time I see this man in wait for an angel, I always think of a line of poetry by the English poet Auden. The Russian poet Brodsky once wrote that these words should be the foundations of a religion.

I’ve written a poem in which Auden and Kabakov meet each other.

A son’s prayer

I look at Kabakov’s man. Standing

On a ladder, arms outstretched to the heavens.

That is I, I think.

Reaching to my faraway father.

Let this then be my prayer:

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.