After returning to my home country, I find myself looking back at living abroad as a diplomatic spouse. By writing fictional stories, I play with the idea how different my diplomatic memories could have been.
Prehistoric Diplomatic Dinner Party
Whilst enjoying tea in our local tearoom, Suzanne asked me how the dinner party last Saturday had been.
‘It was lovely’, I smiled and my mischievous giggle didn’t escape her. A gentle smile appeared; ‘Tell me!’
The barista brought us coffee and nut cakes.
‘Well, the party was very well organized and the Finish Embassy is just so lovely. You know that, don’t you?’ Suzanne nodded and reminded me that she had a National Day reception there last year, so there was no need for me to describe the dining room.
‘I sat between two quiet people. I tried to make conversation, you know; the usual polite opening questions. On my left sat Mr. Park from South-Korea. This was his last party before moving to Genève. He gave the most polite answers possible which hindered my attempts to engage him in conversation. You know these parties, don’t you? Everything is utterly perfect but there is no esprit’. Of course, Suzanne knew. She had been, like me, a diplomatic spouse for ages. ‘And on my right side, I had a Latin-American lady of about 60-65. Initially, she was very withdrawn and reluctant to tell about herself. I forgot to find out to whom she was partnered.’ Suzanne encouraged me to get to the point.
‘It seemed like ages before the second serving arrived. I felt so desperate for some enthusiasm. I felt my mood change and..’
‘Yes, yes… so what did you do?’ Suzanne asked impatiently knowing that not much was possible because I was well educated, well prepared, well balanced…basically a lot of ‘well’s’, and thus caught in a web of well behaving-ness.
‘My mind wandered to my prehistory course, you know; my all time favourite subject, but I could not just blurt out something Neolithic and expect them to be interested. And yet, that was exactly what I longed for to do. Just for once! So, ……I made up a recent archaeological discovery. Yes, I just did that by drawing inspiration from the prehistoric excavation in France of the Lady of Vix, Germany’s Hochdorf Chieftan’s grave, combined with the famous British Amesbury Archer, all real graves but no one knows about these anyway?’
‘I have never heard of these famous individuals. Are you telling me you just made up a whole story?’ Suzanne asked with a mixture of disbelief and amusement.
‘Yes! By the time the second serving was finished, I had enthusiastically explained highly significant artifacts, linguistic evidence supporting archaeology, carbon dating accuracy, rituals, and battles. I impressed my listeners with throwing in lots of names, locations, Celtic styles, Viking trade routes, even names of highly respected archaeologists like Barry Cunliffe. He is real, by the way. I talked myself through dessert. If no-one inspires you, you basically have to inspire yourself!’
‘So true’, Suzanne said. I could tell she was eager to hear more.
‘Mr. Park, the Asian man, politely endured my monologue but the Latin American lady became livelier even eager to learn more about prehistoric battle victims. The more I went into this imaginary world, any inhibition to stick to scientific evidence left me. I even became theatrical and emotional as I described Iron Age superstition and reenacted some funerary rituals focusing on the cause of death of famous shamans.
‘They had not the foggiest idea you were …uhm…. ‘storytelling’, shall I call it?’ I loved Suzanne for her unwavering diplomatic word choice.
‘That’s right. Instead, I found the Latin-American lady asking me stimulating questions, many reflecting on the cause of death of Iron Age shamans. I sat through a jolly good dinner after all, in the company of a lovely, enduring audience.’ We laughed like young girls about my silliness and got ready to leave the tearoom.
We were well on our way to the parking garage when Suzanne inquired whether I had first checked the background of my dinner companions. Of course, I had. The Asian man was a publisher; the Latin American woman was a doctor.
‘Imagine, telling your fantastic story to an archaeologist and finding yourself debunked!’ Suzanne giggled with the prospect of my making an unforgettable blunder.
‘How clever do you think I am?’, I boasted.
Before we stepped into our cars, Suzanne asked whether I would come over a bit earlier the next day to help lay the coffee table for her guests.
‘I particularly look forward to meeting Natalia again’, Suzanne said.
‘Why?’, I inquired absent-mindedly, getting into my car.
‘I met her a few days ago at that Swedish Santa Lucia reception -which you sadly missed- and she told me she felt lonely. She is older, you see. This is their last posting abroad. Apparently, she feels somewhat inhibited to tell about her job that she held till a few years ago. She is the second partner of the Peruvian ambassador and her job is often regarded as somewhat gruesome’.
‘Suzanne, could she be the woman who sat next to me last night?’, I asked disbelieving.
‘Well, she has very straight, thick black hair, a bob’, Suzanne mentioned. I started to feel uncomfortable; I had counted on never seeing my audience again!
‘Could she be the Latin-American doctor? No, it can’t be, that would be too coincidental. But darn-it, she had a bob too’, I said, placing my handbag on the car’s passenger seat.
‘I must have Natalia’s name card…, Suzanne said; ‘It is a bit of a mouthful but wait..’. Suzanne grabbed in her pocket and lifted out some name cards. After checking a few, she said; ’Here it is. She told me…. till recently she was internationally renowned … she is…here it says; a paleo-pathologist’. I gasped. Suzanne saw all my colours disappearing from my face.
The next day, Natalia cancelled tea at Suzanne’s house and I felt enormously relieved. But, inevitable as it was, I met the formerly renowned doctor in the study of diseases of ancient man a month later at the Presidential New Year’s reception. She smiled at me as we shook hands.
‘I had hoped you would not remember me’, I said with a growing blush of shame on my cheeks.
‘I never forget faces. See, I remember somebody’s skull’s features’, she replied. And just when I was about to make a prolonged excuse, she took me by the arm.
‘Stop apologizing. You were wrong by about 5000 years on the timeline regarding a few burials, but otherwise you warmed my paleo-pathologist’s heart’.
‘You are very forgiving’, I said softly. ‘When I learned that I had been blabbing to a professional, I felt an Iron Age axe landing on my head’. Natalia smiled very kindly: ‘I was just pleasantly waiting for you to drown in a misty, prehistoric peat-land full factual and fictional sedges and shrubs.
‘To become a famous bog body on display in a national Museum of Ethnology?’, I asked. We both laughed. For as long as we were together en poste we would never skip a chance to meet at receptions and have a passionate, prehistoric chit-chat.