The novella Soy Sea explores the variations in identity through the appropriation of the outside and the desire to loose oneself into it. It was published in Athens by Futura Press (2008).
The main character, Takako, begins her improvised journey at a sushi restaurant while the soy sauce gets browner and browner from the wasabi. She embarks, disembarks, walks for hours and makes field recordings.
“The narrative or anti-narrative of Soya Sea seems to travel down auditory corridors as much as it does the roadways along which the character treks. It’s haunting and gives me a feeling of “lightness,” like floating, being suspended — it’s actually quite the feeling I often get in places like airports, waiting rooms, highway rest stops, and ‘non-places’ generally.” – Edmond Caldwell (1961-2017).
Excerpt from Soy Sea by Dimitra Ioannou | Translated by Chrissa Babouris
It often happens over the last few days. It’s neither pleasant, nor unpleasant, it’s just something I had never imagined. It usually doesn’t last long.
For a moment, the amplifier’s buzzing turns into a cruise boat’s wailing. The fast tapping on the keyboard sounds like curtain beads clicking together. The explosion of a false gun comes out of a ticket validation machine. The food tray, touching on the metallic bar, creaks like a wooden floor. I swallow and it sounds like a ball bouncing on the pavement, or an umbrella folding out to open.
There is no correspondence. They have nothing in common, neither do I know since when they have existed. Each sound replaces the other for no reason, without me thinking about what I hear. This happens automatically, like now that the noise coming from the open kitchen is interrupted by a series of interferences; the buzzing of wooden electric poles, the noise of warm air as it comes out of an automatic hand dryer.
I have never been here before. Only just one more table is taken. It happens while they’re talking. Sounds on other sounds have the same frequency but only differ in duration, because they don’t fully overlap and so the conversations are reduced to small, loose fragments of speech. So, when someone says: “You know the moving walkways? Well, who knows what got into him, he didn’t use them”, and then “he was walking along the motorway”, a fan working in second gear and a printer erase the words in between.
I bend over the wooden tray with the short legs; to avoid the light. On the left of the tray, a big bowl with vegetables and another one, with rice. I put a nigiri¹ on my plate, while someone adds “as if he was forming a continuous line of steps”. Then a small pause. Then, a sudden brake. Maybe that’s where the story ends. Boiled rice, soy sauce, boiled rice. I put the nigiri into the soy sauce. My mouthful falls in and grains of rice remain in the sauce.
-The soy sauce got dirty.
-What did you say?
I empty the sauce into a bowl. What else can I say? I have no set phrases, nor do I ever learn the news. I join my wrists behind the back of my chair and gaze around the restaurant absent-mindedly, listening to the sounds produced by a rat running on the empty deck, onions frying, the rustling of a colourful gelatine paper, the roars of a dragon hurt in a videogame.
What if I left? But then again, there’s nowhere I want to go, nor have I eaten.
I don’t immediately realise that someone’s talking to me. I’m not used to my name. I don’t turn round when I’m called.
I repeat the syllables to myself; in different ways; as if I’m actually saying something. Ta – ka – ko (curiously), Takaakoo (mockingly), Ta – Ka – Ko (very slowly), Taaak (indifferently). What sense? I haven’t got it. The syllables say nothing to me, as if I hear them for the first time. Tak – aa – koo (mechanically). Tak – aa – koo (in the same tone). I don’t feel any sense of nostalgia, as if the syllables don’t correspond to a person. Not to me either. When you repeat a name, it ceases to exist. Maybe that’s why….And when it ceases to exist, what is it replaced by? Ta – ka – ko (enquiringly), Taaa – ka – ko (flatly), Taa – kaaa – ko (stereotypically). Maybe it’s too early. Maybe it needs to be repeated again and again. What if it empties without filling up again? If it loses its meaning and at the same time any sense whatsoever? Taa – ka – KO (suddenly).
I take a boiled shrimp, bite it in half and leave the rest on the plate. TATATA – ka – ko (persistently). TA – KA – KOOOO (intensely). Ta – ka – an envelope is being torn. Ta – muffled sound of steps on the carpet in a waiting room – ko. It doesn’t sound as before. Metallic blinds rolling down – wet sand being rubbed – ko. It is not the same. Spray nozzle pressed for long – ka – ko. Is it being declassified? A roll of fabric falling on the worktop – ka – air conditioning set on low. Where do these sounds come from? Soon it won’t be recognisable. Rain in a bucket full of rain – a bus running on 50 kilometres an hour inside a tunnel – ko. When you repeat a name, its sound changes. And it can mean anything …A 1970s elevator for two, going up – rice boiling over – a dry cough at night. Crunch, crunch, crunch, steps on the snow – doves cooing – trailing on a slide.
I have no name.
It will soon be forgotten, just like I did.
It sounds from nearby. I repeat the syllables to myself in case something has changed. And they sound like a doorbell – a yawn on the inside of the palm – a compressor drill not very far away.
How many more times? Wasn’t it heard enough already? It doesn’t mean anything, anyway.
I have no reason to answer, though I wouldn’t say anything more than “I was lost in thoughts”, which anybody could say and which is no proof that I have anything to do with this name.
– I was lost in thoughts.
It sounds so clearly that I’m more surprised than anyone else. Just this. The words that follow are covered by the next flight announcement on the speakers, and I remember the parts of the story. Why didn’t he use the moving walkways? Where did the motorway lead to? Which airport was it?
-What happened on the flight?
-What are you talking about?
-Why didn’t he use the moving walkways?
-He didn’t say. Anyhow, it was six months before he came back to the airport.
-He returned to the same airport? And all this time?
-He hardly stopped walking. He came out of the terminal, passed the car park, the taxi ranks and the bus stops, followed the only motorway that connects the airport with the city, reached a cross-road, took one road without knowing where it leads to and was going in circles, when he remembered he had a compass with him. But he didn’t use it. In the third circle he got disorientated.
-Did he exit the motorway?
-Yes, he only took inside roads for days on end. Got into fields, went up hills.
-He stopped only to sleep.
-He kept changing places… I wonder if he always knew where he was in relation to the airport. He had to, didn’t he? Maybe he was thinking about it all the way.
-He set off from there, and there he would return. It was the only reference point in the whole route. Maybe he calculated all distances starting from the airport.
-Or maybe he wasn’t thinking about this at all. I wouldn’t. I don’t like airports.
-You wouldn’t like them even if they weren’t like they are today?
Imagine entering one of those old airports, a symbol of the Airport Era, a real entertainment airport with a single terminal full of galleries, cinemas, restaurants and muzak coming out of the speakers. Suppose you’ve come for lunch or to watch the airplanes, not to travel. Wouldn’t you like it? But then again, it might not appeal to you at all. You would come through the entrance revolving doors, and you would freeze instead of being impressed. The shiny floor of the central hall would seem revolting to you, the shops would tell you nothing, the parking area would seem like “a cement desert”, the airplanes would be just another means of transport and the observatory yet another place to waste your time.
-Which airport are you talking about?
-The first big airports used to be something like that.
-They’ve become much worse since then.
-What if you didn’t see a terminal, or secondary buildings, but only wide runways amongst skyscrapers and airplanes flying to and fro?
-I can’t imagine. Where did you see this?
-In the blueprints of a utopian airport. Its location was within the city and not outside of it. On the surface there would only be the huge platform with the runways, while an underground motorway would run right below it.
-What about the noise? It would be intolerable inside the city.
-I don’t know, maybe they hadn’t thought about this. Flights didn’t use to be as many back then and the airplanes were smaller than modern ones. Anyhow, it wouldn’t bother me at all. Noises from airplanes can also serve as a call. The more they sound, the easier it is for you to leave. To just take a plane and fly away.
-Have you ever lived near an airport?
-Yes, but not for long.