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Un Magazine 11.1

Kill me now! Kill me now! Kill me now! Conversations: Hong Kong to Sydney

Marian Abboud and Vicki Van Hout

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Marian teaching Vicki Dabke (traditional Lebanese folk dance) 2016, video still. Photograph: Vicki Van Hout

Vicki Van Hout
Kill me now! Kill me now! Kill me now!
I’m going to get done for saying…
I’m going to get done for saying…
I’m going to get done for saying… Kill me now!
Marian Abboud
Stop saying that, say something catchy and intellectual, you’re going to get in trouble for saying shit like that.
Are you still there?
I can’t hear you…
Hello… Vicki…?
VVH
… So, anyway, I was at Dean & DeLuca, you know that swanky deli you see in all the movies. So I’m in there, searching through my bag, and I couldn’t find my money, so I said ‘Fashizzel!’. The man behind the counter said ‘Do you know where Fashizzel comes from? Snoop Dog!’ Laughing his head off, he goes over and tells everyone behind the counter. They were all laughing at me!
MA
Snoop Dog, that is hilarious, you were quoting Snoop Dog. Hey did you go to Martha Graham?
VVH
No, I didn’t go anywhere. I just walked around the street like a tourist, ’cause I never did that when I lived in New York. When I was there, I was just a modern ballet dancer. So this time I walked across bridges — the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge. Oh, I even went up the sky tower thing and tried to Skype mum.

Vicki demonstrating a double back stomp 2016, video still. Photograph: Marian Abboud

MA
Wow Vicki, it’s like you’re a real tourist. I take photos for all my projects now like I’m a tourist. I act so excited and blasé and no one harasses me or you either. Nobody asks ‘who are you? Do you have permission to take that photo?’ They just look at you like, ‘oh, another bloody tourist’. I suppose being a tourist is not as threatening as being an artist.
Did you take any photos with a selfie stick with the bridge behind you?
VVH
No I didn’t, I just took pretty crappy photos. I’m a really bad tourist, all the other tourists had real cameras that were heaps bigger and better than what we have used for all our exhibitions. I don’t know if I can do another eight hours on a plane.
MA
So you said you have been gargling on the plane? Where do you gargle? In your seat?
VVH
Yep
MA
And what do the people next to you think?
VVH
Do I care?
MA
Can you film it please?
VVH
No, no, no!
MA
We need some of this footage for our anxiety project.
VA
What, me gargling on a plane?
MA
Yes, I tried to film myself on the plane to Barcelona where I needed to press my skin against cold metal — lifts, railings, countertops …while I was having mini panic attacks. It wasn’t a good look. I find that if I try to turn everything into art it helps me get through it.
VVH
Does it? How many years have you been doing yours for?
(Long silence)
MA
Ages, I think even before Dad got sick… It must be over ten years.
VVH
You know what? Nobody told you that you had to get over it, or did they?
MA
Get over it! Let me paint a picture. I’m standing in the middle of the line waiting to take my place in the cheap seats, the anxiety overwhelms me. I strip off and lie down on the carpet. It’s itchy and it stinks, but do I care?
Have you ever noticed that there are two types of people? There are the rubber-neckers, the slow drive-by folk that just need a glimpse of the wreckage. Then there are the genuinely concerned; of course this only extends until the final boarding call is announced. All of a sudden the only people left are your loved ones and as you find yourself impatiently propelled towards the cabin doors, you feel the heat from your loved ones, low deep menacing voice suffocating you with the words: ‘I don’t have time for this’.
VVH
Oh, there was someone over there that looked like David Capra.
MA
David Capra was over there. Did you see him, he was in New York at the same time?
VVH
What was he doing over there?
MA
He was just going on a holiday ’cause he had enough of Sydney and needed a break. He said he was going to see some dance, I thought you might of bumped into him?
VVH
No, I didn’t see any dance. I couldn’t be bothered. I wish I hadn’t gone.
Have you ever been in the lie down seats?
MA
Um. No.
VVH
I got the lie down seats when I came to New York the first time ’cause the Australian Government paid. I think they are calling me, no I think they are doing rich people first.
Conversations — Sydney to Sydney
VVH
I’m a dancer Marian! I’m a dancer!
MA
I don’t think you’re a dancer. I think that’s a lie.
VVH
Dancer! Dancer!
MA
Nope, I don’t think so.
VVH
I’m a fucking dancer.
MA
I think you need to re-evaluate your skills, I think you’re more of a theorist. You need to change your job description
VVH
It’s dancer mate. DANCER! I’m a dancer. I’m not a theorist. I don’t want to be.
MA
Well I’m changing my job description, I think I’ll write proverbs, especially really bad Lebanese ones.
VVH
Like what?
MA
Well, you know. Like there is a famous one, ‘if you have faith in a stone you shall be healed’.
VVH
Um.
MA
Or Bit’ello Teis Bi’ellak Hleboo: نقول طور يقولو احلبوه
It means, ‘You say it’s a he-goat. He asks you to milk it’.
My dad used to say this to us all the time, I guess we were a bunch of stubborn kids.
Oh this one is a good one, for you Vicki —
Temoot El Raqasa W Westaha Beylaab: تموت الراقصة ووسطها بيلعب
‘The dancer dies and her waist is still moving.’
VVH
Right.
MA
Oh whatever, they sound better in Arabic.
VVH
I don’t think there are any Aboriginal proverbs.
Ours are all about death. ‘Hear that bird? That means someone’s going to die.’ ‘Don’t step there, you could die.’ There’s also the clever men that ‘point the bone’. That means death as well.
I’m reading that book 1788 by a man called Watkin Tench, you know I love to read, right?
MA
Well lucky you, I have just been reading computer programing manuals.
VVH
Yeah, like what?
MA
Quartz Composer. Very boring, but trying to figure out those bloody audio and visual patches are so tricky. I don’t get the luxury to read anything else at the moment.
VVH
Well, that guy Tench was a marine. He wrote four books about coming over to Australia. He writes about the ugly Aborigines. I didn’t even realise he was the same guy I was quoting when I made that NAISDA (National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association) work last time, you know — row row, row your boat.
MA
Wow. How does he describe them? What does he say?
VVH
He says that they’re really not big people. They’re nimble (laughs). They are sprightly and nimble. They are not burly people, you know, scrawny.
He was a better friend to Bennalong than Captain Arthur Phillip and he describes him as an opportunist. He says that Bennelong is always trying to see how much he can get.
MA
Does he talk about any migrants?
VVH
No, it’s 1788!
MA
Oh yeah, no migrants. When did the first migrants arrive?
VVH
I don’t know, we haven’t got there yet, I’m only up to page 100. So far twenty-four convicts have died and one man accidentally fell over board. They tried to chuck him a lifebuoy then a boat, but no, he still died. Apparently they have only killed two people so far for stealing food, ’cause they are now running out of food. They sent some people over to Norfolk Island but the they didn’t come back with any pine trees. What the fuck, they came back empty-handed. Now they are waiting for more people to come from Europe.
MA
Who came?
VVH
I don’t know, I’m not that far into it.
MA
But I want to know who came next?
VVH
I don’t know, I’m only up to page 100.
MA
I think they were the Germans.
VVH
I don’t know, I’m not up to that yet … did you know that they used to call the Aborigines the Indians?
MA
That’s funny, they used to call the Lebanese the Asians. Apparently we are part of Western Asia. The Lebanese were the Syrians before, and before that they were the Phoenicians. I still don’t know why we are considered Asian.
VVH
I looked on the map and you are closer to Asia. I have lots of maps.
MA
Wait, I’m waiting for my computer to load.
VVH
You are close to Egypt and Israel. You lied to me, you are closer to Afghanistan!
MA
No, we aren’t, we border Syria, Palestine and Jordan. What map are you looking at?
VVH
Listen, you are close to Iran.
MA
What the hell are you talking about?
VVH
Over on the other side is Rome, far away from Paris and Greece. You are next to Turkey and Iraq.
MA
No, actually Lebanon is closer to Greece than Iran. Go on, Google it. The distance between Greece and Lebanon is 1,383 km, distance between Iran and Lebanon is 1,665 km.
VVH
You’re a hop skip away from Iraq. People say to me you look Yugoslavian or you look Croatian. I’m not offended by that, but lots of Aboriginal people get offended by that. They don’t like the country they are being mistaken for, meaning they want to pick and choose. They think some countries are better than others.
MA
Of course, there is this weird hierarchy of countries to be mistaken for. Lots of Lebanese people get pretty chuffed when they hear they don’t look Lebanese and would prefer to be European.
Do you think you look Aboriginal?
VVH
I look like what I look like. I’m not offended by it, I don’t prefer one country over another.
It’s cool to be the first.
The first Aboriginal at things.
You know, like being the first Aboriginal getting the NSW fellowship.
It’s cool to be the first Aboriginal tennis player.
It’s cool to be the first Aboriginal lawyer.
It’s cool to write the first Aboriginal play.
It’s cool to be the first Aboriginal politician.
It’s cool to be the first Aboriginal anything.
If you’re first, you’re good at something. When you’re first, you’re counted.
Are Lebanese people like that?
MA
No, not really.
VVH
See that’s weird.
MA
Well, because Lebanese people think they have done everything first even though they haven’t, it’s because of letters you know, they were the first to invent the alphabet. They were the first to invent numbers. So now they think that everything comes from them. We don’t care.
VVH
I looked that up and the Phoenicians got numbers from the Indians. Where did you get that link from? I’ll look it up.
MA
No, no, that’s not true, letters came from the Phoenicians. Ok go for it, you look it up and let me know what you find.
VVH
This is really interesting… 160-year-old man…
He doesn’t look that old… Dhaqabo Ebba, a 160-year-old Ethiopian farmer, must be the oldest living person ever, according to the CIA factbook. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the oldest living person is…
MA
That would be so tough, being the oldest person alive, I think it would be so depressing. Is there anyone from Lebanon?
VVH
Do you ever get frightened that you’re going to die?
MA
Yeah. Every day.
VVH
One day we are just not going to be here…
MA
I just want to make sure I do everything before I die. I feel like I need to learn more. I haven’t learnt enough yet and I want to meet a lot more people.
VVH
I love Wikipedia. The oldest living person is… If they are still living they get a green box, if they are deceased they get a white box. One lady, Emma Morano, is 117 years from Italy. Another one is Violet Brown, 116 years from Jamaica, she’s still living. Nabi Tajima, 116 years, from Japan.
MA
What about you Vicki, are you scared of dying?
VVH
Yep of course… Another one still living from Japan, Chiyo Miyako, 115 years… Yep there is a lot from Japan, there must be something in that shark fin soup.
MA
No, I think it’s the seaweed.
VVH
Quite a few Italians, Americans and Japanese… So far no Lebanese and no Australians… We’re going down. We’re not living in the right country.

A companion piece to this article is available online as part of un Extended 11.1.