I’m sitting in the back room of Provenance Wines on Home Street. I am writer-in-residence at Provenance Wines on Home Street. This is my job, for now, to sit here and write about it. That should be pretty simple.
First. I’ll set the scene. I’m in the back room of the shop. I’m facing out of a window, so my back is to Home Street. I’m looking at the wild back garden, which belongs to the flats above the shop. It’s great! A green space hidden between the tenements. There’s a picnic table on some slabs of pavement. On the table there is a shallow seedling tray with one very large seed shoot. There are piles of grass and leaves dotted around. So, someone is looking after this place. Making it as lovely as it is. There is ivy growing across the walls. There are trees growing across the wall on the right. All the plants are leaning right, or south, so I suppose that means there is a prevailing southerly wind. There are flowers; pink, yellow and white faces turning southwards.
Inside, where I am working right now, there is a large, unfinished oil canvas on my right. Julie is painting it. She’s a local artist who uses the back room a couple of days a week to paint, while her son is at school. I like it. It’s a big presence in the room: Bright colours, strange shapes, the smell of oil paint and turpentine. I suppose I like the tubes of paint on plastic sheeting and pots stuffed with brushes because it reminds me of my mum. She turned my sister’s old room into her studio maybe 10 years ago now. The room itself is quite a work of art. It is testimony to years of process: Trails of paint from all sorts of different series of work. Each series of paintings follows an idea that is enacted by moving colour around that room, through that home. The finished paintings are gone, or hidden, sold, or stored away, but the trails of paint, the scraps of sketches remain, layers and layers of them.
Valerie has just opened the door to the shop, at my back. I can hear her talking to a wine distributor. He’s been reading my blog. He’s really positive about it and Wine Travel on Home Street. He might even come to the work in progress on the 29th July, which would be great. Under their voices I can hear the fridges whirring. It’s just a bit quicker than my heart beat, so there’s a certain, urgent, metronomic beat to the shop. Just below that beat is the tidal whooshing of the traffic on Home Street. And then suddenly, like a blessed relief the heartbeat cuts out and it’s peaceful again.
All I can hear is the distributor and Valerie negotiating.
I have written a wine tasting for Valerie. It includes four wines, 2 white, 2 red. We follow the wines with stories about the journey of wine from Lebanon, to Spain, to France to Argentina. The premise of the show is that terroir, the land in the wine, is so real, so tangible, that it can allow the drinker to travel to those places. This is Valerie’s theory, because as she says, “I am a radical terroirista!”
She performed the first half on Sunday evening to a great mix of friends, theatre people, regular customers and managers of local businesses. They all seemed to connect through the wine, to Valerie, her shop and Home Street, which is, I suppose, what we are hoping the show will do.
I think this writing for Valerie’s wine tasting might be the most site-specific I have ever done (and I have written for hours on end, on wet-cold and sunny-warm benches, at all times of the day and night, in the hope of finding something in that site that is truly specific). This feels even more site-specific than the plays I wrote on those benches and I’m wondering why.
I suppose this feels so different because it’s going to be performed in a shop, by the actual shop owner. It is not just any business. It’s her livelihood, her way of making a home, of paying for a home, of being integrated with other people’s homes and of being part of the fabric of this place, this ‘site’.
This is site-specific writing trying to discover or open up a space in this particular place between an independent business and a community. We’re using the ‘product’ of the wine, stories about them, but it is also Valerie, who is part of that place with her passion about wine and well…Frenchness.
Valerie is actually half French and half Spanish and as she says 100% Scottish. (It’s a joke, of course, but she has lived here for 14 years, so there’s some real feeling behind it).
There are all sorts of different definitions and permutations of this idea of ‘site-specific’ writing. But the idea of purity always seems to be in there somewhere. There are questions like…Could this work be performed anywhere else? Could this work be performed at any different time? And, if so, what scale of time? Could this writing be performed in an hour, tomorrow, in a week, a month or in many years? For me, this idea of ‘purity’ – of something disintegrating if it is taken away from the place it was made in, is also about value.
Since I made Money…the game show at the Arches last year (and which I’m going to make again next January with Unlimited) I’ve been almost obsessively following the economic crisis, which I think (perhaps not very originally) is also a fundamental crisis in value. There’s nothing particularly noble about this obsession. It quite literally scares the **** out of me. My very pragmatic question is what will we do if money (notes, coins, digits on a screen) has no more currency in the street? What will fill that void?
Of course there are nightmare scenarios and there have always been enough people foretelling the end of life as we know it. But…but…but… the massive value for me that this crisis gives us is the current opportunity to re-value our values, what we use as our currencies. So this is why I’m so excited about being the writer-in-residence at Provenance Wines. It is a genuine experiment in re-valuing the relationship an institution like a shop has with an institution like Home Street and the people who live and work here.
I’m also blogging at http://provenancewinehomestreet.wordpress.com/