I stumble in and order a coffee. “Milky or black?” I am asked by a handsome 20ish man dressed in white.
“Milky, please.” He says I should take a seat and I do. Some of the chairs have plastic wrap on the seats, like they are new. I notice that there are 6” white plastic trays on some of the tables and the one I sit at has the remains of dates on it. There are two men (middle-age) at a table by the door under a television which is turned to a talk show in a language I can’t understand. I take off my coat and the arm gets caught in the chair; one of the proprietors exiting the kitchen stops to help untangle me. I thank him and the gentleman in white brings me the coffee which is astoundingly good. Someone turns off the volume on the television and I look out the window of the café, notice the proprietor (middle-age, leaning against the counter with his arms crossed) is now engaged in what looks like a serious discussion with the two patrons. Above the counter is wallpaper which depicts cheetahs, shields, spears, and a woman with a child. I check the time and have about five minutes before I have to pack up to meet Bill at the Woodgrange Park Station. I check our supplies: photocopies of maps, pens, brochures of Richard House, slips with the website address. The proprietor approaches me and asks how I am.
“Good,” I reply. “This coffee is great.”
“Good, good. Where are you from?” He asks. I explain I am from America studying at Goldsmiths. He says he moved here from Somalia 20 years ago and has a daughter my age at university.
“I am sure she is a lot younger than me. What is she studying?” He replies with anything she wants and is quite shocked at my age. He says I must lead a peaceful life and not worry too much if I look so young. We talk briefly about violence and the civil war in Somalia and subsequent transition. I feel a sense of shame and need to apologize for what my country’s intervention and subsequent death toll, but he doesn’t seem bothered just curious and friendly. I notice the time and realize I am going to be late so I explain I have to run to meet my friend. He says I should come back. I follow him to the counter to pay and a waiter walks past me with a plate of fried meet and vegetables that smells delicious. The coffee comes to 60p. I walk out to meet Bill and we meet on the street. He says he wants to grab a coffee and go over our plans. I tell him I know just where to go.
PEOPLE: ABU and JAMIL
LOCATION: Horn of Africa, Romford Rd, East Ham, London
SENSE: Smells from kitchen
It is quite now but Abu, the proprietor, says it gets busy for lunch and stays busy after 2PM. They are open from 8AM to 11PM and have been open for eight months. Jamil says their most popular dish is rice and meat. Abu entreats us to come back and sample some of the specialties.
LOCATION: High Street North and Plashet Grove, Newham, London
SENSE: Smells from restaurant, Sounds people speaking Tamil
Bill is taking photos of an empty lot under construction and a middle-aged man standing beside the entrance interrupts his phone conversation to ask if we are alright. Bill asks if it is okay to take photos of the lot and the man, Jayamonan, gets very animated saying yes and explaining that the temple down the street is moving here. He gestures down the street and tells us there is an announcement posted on the fence farther down and explains they should break ground soon. We tell him about the project and ask what he senses now. He explains he smells the food from the restaurant and can hear people speaking Tamil. He explains this area is popular among Asians and you can hear so many different languages on the street all the time. He has lived here for seven years and just opened the restaurant six months ago. He says it is a good place to live.
LOCATION: Wakefield and Friar Road, Newham, London
SENSE: Struggle with social issues
As we walk down Wakefield, a 30ish man exits a house. “Thanks!” a woman calls from the interior.
“Sure.” He states. He catches our eye and rolls his. “Another free job.”
He has a hammer in his left hand and is about to walk into the entrance of a hardware shop. We tell him about the project. He tells us that this primary sense of the neighborhood is people struggling with social issues. He says everyone, including himself and his business, is struggling economically. He explains people who would spend ten pounds, now don’t have five pounds to spend, but there are all these new restaurants opening and he wonders who has the money to eat at them. He states it is a good area with good hard working people but this economy is making life a struggle for everyone.
LOCATION: Aragon Rd and Parr Street, Newham, London
SENSE: Fresh Air
Bill and I are lost. A man emerges from a garage wearing a neon green Borough work vest and a cap. We ask him for directions and he gives us two ways to get to Upton Park. We tell him about the project and he answers that it is a good place to live and a good Borough to work for. We ask what he senses now, and he laughs, “Fresh air!”
High Street North is loud with the sounds of heavy traffic, jackhammers, and construction. The smells are fragrant and delicious. The closer you get to Barking road the more music you hear from the stores spilling out onto the street. The residential area is quiet; all you can hear is the wind. It seems like a very “multi-cultural” area – one of the stores we passed had religious icons from every known major religion! You can hear voices speaking English, Arabic and many other languages on the street; you can buy fashions from Africa and India or go to the Chinese Herbalist for medicine or acupuncture. You can eat Polish sausage, a Thai curry, English eel pie or Farsan sweets. It seems like a very vibrant, diverse community. Most of all, it smells delicious.
Youtube: Sensorial Walking
Filming, Video Editing and Mapping of senses: Bill Psarras
Walking and Fieldnotes: Sarah Feinstein, Bill Psarras
Date, Duration and Distance: 18 April 2013, 3 hours, 5 Km.
The walk was realized for the purposes of the ‘Every Minute of Every Day’ project, Richard House & Goldsmiths, University of London; led by Les Back & Yasmin Gunaratnam.