This is the story of Jaymie, the daughter of a British father and French mother- the first child born into City of a Hundred Nations.
Educated in the city by Britain, by France, Sweden and Denmark, and a service user of Japan, China, Brazil and Hungary. A a citizen of everywhere but a local to nowhere, a citizen of global homogeneity, a nomad, a tourist.
On her 25th birthday Jaymie pawns off her worldly possessions, but retains objects for which she has grown attached – that give her definition: a small teacup and a bottle of Chanel No.5.
And thus she embarks on a quest for coherence, citizenship and identity in a city that has none.
No. of Passports: 3
With excitement and resolute conviction she purchases a 9 month long subscription to France and Britain. Countries with their own infrastructural systems woven in, out and around the architecture of other nations – it is said that one could live an eternity in the hermetically sealed confines of one of these societies.
She scans her freshly minted passport and the thick cast iron gates to Britain and France squeal open, as if they haven’t been unlocked for decades – or as if they don’t want to be.
She quickly finds residence in each nation – floating between them and engratigating herself with alien, foreign but familiar values.
Sat in an elegant British style cafe in annex in her brutalist housing complex – the interior evoking the prestige of the once great empire, she gently pours a splash of milk into the porcelain cup and closes her eyes to take a sip the tea – filling her body with a warm unfamiliar feeling of nostalgia.
Comforted by this new feeling and emboldened by the experience, she taps out of Britain and skips over the border to France swiping into a traditional French park and shopping arcade – in search of a perfumery.
Bottle green light streams through antique glassware which lines the walls, the sweet sinuous aggregated notes of Yves Saint Laurent Opium, Coco mademoiselle and Chanel No.5 twist and fold together. As if with mystic control, she is drawn to the bottle of Chanel No.5 which sits with dignified place on the shelf.
With pious devotion she gently grips the bottle, holding it to the light and scrutinising its rectilinear form and the thick fluid golden elixir within. A crisp articulation of modern production, of French high culture and of her own historical narrative.
The bottle is made by Verrias Brosse a manufacturer in what was known as France and the perfume inside is distilled from the flower of ylang ylang and cinnamon bark from the fields of the Comoros Islands and Sri Lanka, the seller tells her.
She places the bottle back on the shelf and leaves the shop.
Perturbed by this revelation, her mind races. But what are the national identities, the heritage of the objects that have come to have so much significance in defining her own? By attributing her identity to such products is she not attributing her identity to the nations from which they came, places from which they were produced?
Light falls and she lumbers back to her darkened British flat. Illuminated by the the light of her Apple branded laptop – designed in California it says – but made in China, Korea and Taiwan.
She pans between Compare the Market and her Subscription Manager apps looking for deals for citizenship and access to China – where her English tea originated, to Portugal – the country that introduced cinnamon to the continent, to Sri Lanka the producer of cinnamon and to the Comoros Islands the producer and distiller of ylang ylang – the essence of Chanel No.5.
No. of Passports: 8
With trepidation she approaches the yet smaller gates of China, an ornate traditional structure with a short icon clad door, emblazoned with dragons heads. A tall glass and steel tower stand behind it – ‘The Bank of China’ it says plastered on a billboard above – the finance capital of the city of a hundred nations. Her hands shake as she swipes her crisp Chinese passport against the scanner.
She displays her passport to the receptionist and boards the lift to the 52nd floor – the tea room.
Murals line the walls illustrating english trade and the century of humiliation. Describing in threaded detail how Britain introduced Opium to China in order to facilitate trade. At the end of the wall in an crisp glass box sits an ornate traditional pipe. Does this object not have more significance in defining her heritage she thought – an item which came from British shores, which provided the lubricant to grease the gears of global trade. A history so ugly it was written out of the national narrative.
Next: She approaches the monumental timber gate of the Comoros Islands located in the heart of the city, and thinks to herself – why has she not noticed this before. The doors already ajar even before she can scan her passport. Reluctantly she prises open the door and enters the elevator.
The elevator doors open high above the city to reveal huge industrial centers of manual labour promising 100% employment – low wage employment no doubt. Rows and rows of ylang yang nurseries teaming with farmers harvesting the flowers and distilling the brew.
Jaymie eyes scan over the seen agast.
These industrial centers cast a shadow on the city below, but are unnoticed and invisible to the inhabitants. Core-nations get rich and fat off their exploits but their labour is unseen. Invisible labour which reinforces the identity of core-nations through products of national pride.
This willing myopia was a sanitization of identity – to cleanse the collective decaying and blackened national soul.
No. of Passports: 50
Is her history is not in the nations which appropriated products, material and capital for the own ends but in the world system which facilitated this global trade, blend, bastardisation, amalgamation and hybridisation of cultures? Does she not belong to the world? Each and every country? A citizen of the system – a citizen of everywhere and a citizen of nowhere.
In a frenzy she buys more passports accesses new doors and explores new cultures. In a sleepless frantic haze she explore the city unlocking doors which she hasn’t noticed before, pathways, areas which were previously invisible. Her head swells, her eyes blacken and her language becomes a garbled unintelligible jumble. With more and more intensity she consumes services and identities offered by nations – telling herself she will be the first citizen of everywhere.
She reached the end – she’s broke with 60 passports, and no closer to coherence.
No. of Passports: 0
Destitute and penniless, with nothing to her name and her national subscriptions fast running out, she looks over the city counting down the seconds until access to Japan’s transport, to China’s financial centers, The Comoros industrial centers, Britain’s housing, France’s Parks, Scotland energy, Sweden’s education, The Cayman Islands banking, Canada’s legal services, Netflix’s Cinemas, Denmark’s Healthcare, Germany’s Libraries, Amazon Prime’s postal services and Hungary’s Museum end.
From her British apartment Jaymie despondently gazes out of her window as the sun sets over the City of a Hundred nations.