The diaries of Arnon Grunberg (1)

Arnon Grunberg was a writer, living in New York City, unlike so many other writers. Grunberg was no New Yorker originally, he had grown up in Amsterdam. But he had found that the cultures in both cities were remarkably similar. When he had just moved to New York he had expected to experience a light form of culture shock, or at least that his humor would not be understood, that he dressed unnoticeably out of tune, or at least that his slim, tall posture would have an exotic appeal on the American girls. But not only did the women of New York prefer the slightly over-weight consultant on steroids look, ignoring him completely, every one in New York ignored his newly arrived, out of tune immigrant’s presence. The truth was that you cannot be out of tune in New York City, he quickly discovered. And thus, he didn’t even bother about the culture shock and assimilation difficulties that so many immigrants in Europe suffer from.

At first Arnon – or Yasha for his friends – was excited about this. He became one of the secretively and many freak obsessees. He would jump on the J train and cross the Williams Bridge to walk around Lee Street, or inhaled the stench of fish in China Town until his clothes would soak of its odour, walking in and out of the Chinese stores, observing the babbling cashiers on their rotten crutches. Or he would take the Q train down to Brighton Beach and walk along the counter of import caviar and Russian specialties. But soon before he knew, he found himself nothing short of being a tourist in his own home town. It was then that he started to regret the lack of homesickness, the lack of nostalgia that other normal immigrants experienced. He found out there was a Dutch Club down town, but he felt even worse thinking about contacting it, although it would have been the perfectly normal American immigrants’ experience to join.

Arnon was not like most immigrants or even most New Yorkers for that matter. Not that he was any kind of special person, but he wasn’t ordinary either. Arnon was a succesful professional writer in his old country, completely desolate in his new town. Arnon was Dutch, a Dutch Jew, that is his parents were Jewish whatever that meant beyond looking Jewish, he didn’t know. There were some Jews whom you would have to strip their pants down to their ankles before they looked Jewish, or whose Jewish identity consisted mainly of the fact that they wouldn’t stop talking until your ears fell to the ground. For others, being a Jew meant a life of strict religious order and rituals. To Arnon, being Jewish meant more than anything else, that he had a classic Jewish nose of which he was proud to be his, because it had always bin the center piece of his personality.

The size of his nose had never been an obstruction to Arnon, who had been a frisk child. If it bore any parallel to him at all, he would brag to girls, it was to the magnitude of his, and here he would take a short breath, character, after which he would exhale with a large smile, that was mostly enough to win over any girl’s heart. Yasha, or Arnon, was mainly a man of convictions. Convictions he had many, although little meaning did they have. “But my nose, that is me!” Arnon said to anyone who was trying to poke fun of him at parties with such blunt dignity that it meant usually was either the direct end to any poking or the beginning of his underdog’s great appeal to women. That he loved being the underdog with women was no lie either.

A writer, a thinker, a fantast. Arnon thought of himself as the new Gogol. He loved writing, he was in short a writer, and if he was not his nose, he was that. Three years ago he moved to New York City, it was two years after his break through as an author in the Netherlands. Writing was the break he needed to escape the village, the village of Amsterdam. He was able to save money, had received an award of 25,000 dollar, a contract for a new book to be finished next year and a weekly column to write for the largest newspaper in Holland. Everything was paid for, and there were no moral debts that bound him, so he was off. Icarus to the light, to write in the greatest city in the world. Whatever you wanna be in life, there is no place like New York. This is the navel of the world, the modern Delphi, the Tree of Life and he was the new Buddha, in touch with the earth at his fingertips.

Monday, 25 October 2004
“I have grown to enjoy writing of any kind lately. There is an esthetic challenge in writing even the most bluntly formulated coverletter for a short story. I would write advertisements, write punch lines for insurances, obituaries, I want to write, I want to write for boulevard magazines, the cultural agenda for local newspapers, letters to my publisher, I am addicted to chatlines, I reply to spam mailing, writing extensive apologies to Nigerian widows, I keep a diary for no one to ever read. When I am reading a book, I will supplement those empty passages that the author left out, I will extend in the centimeter wide margins, those thoughts the antagonist did not entrust to the trust of his readership, I send dozens of postcards on vacation. I am a writer. I have to be a writer.”

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