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La Migra

from Friday, September3rd of the year2010.

So!  Did everybody read this weird thing in the Times?  Synopsis: a slightly elderly (72 years old) fabulous German director was meant to do a production of Boris Gudunov up at the Met.  He had Work Permit Issues.  He was mocked at the US Consulate in Germany.  He basically had a emotional pissing contest wherein the following came to pass:

Several weeks later he returned and managed to gain the work visa, helped by a Met employee who had flown to Berlin. But the experience rankled, and Mr. Stein sent an e-mail to Mr. Gelb saying he was “terrified and demotivated” out of fear that a similar incident could occur in the United States.

“If anything happens in the same way, I will leave immediately your country trembling alone thinking of the entrance procedures at the airport,” he said.

Now. I work a lot abroad. I have a lot of foreign friends who work here. It’s a nightmare; there’s very little you can do to have it not be a nightmare: no amount of money, no weird bribery, it doesn’t matter how fancy your sponsoring organization is. It’s a nightmare for everybody. Isn’t M.I.A., like, not allowed here? Valgeir Sigurðsson, who is like, cartoonishly gentle and honest and lovely, was once Physically Deported from the country 8 hours before a show he and I were meant to play together in Minneapolis. Shit happens. Every time I go up into England, a conversation happens like this:

Why are you here?
I’m a composer.
Are you composing while you’re here?
No. I’m hearing a piece I wrote get played.
Is that work?

It’s scary. I’ve been put in windowless rooms for hours. But there’s something irritating about this Peter Stein business, because, sweetie, imagine what it would be like if you were an Arab? And carrying hard drives? It’s disappointing that when presented with a fun 1-page exposé in the Times, homegirl keeps the conversation rooted in his own private emotional drama. Plus also, it’s not like you can get right back on the plane and make a dramatic euro exit. If you land in the states at like, 2 or 3, you have to schlep back up the ramp, then lurk at the Sbarro for four hours until another flight leaves to Europe. It’s hardly glamorous. I should think it’s much more glamorous to confront the Immigration Officer with a Calm, Assertive Politeness, suffer your indignities, and take the car service to the Met. One time, after a particularly aggressive and insane entrance interview at Heathrow, the woman told me that her younger brother was an oboe player and that he was auditioning for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the situation was neutraliz(s)ed and I think on her often despite our rocky beginningz.

Is it weirdly East Coast Leftie that every time I’m detained, I think, it must be so much worse for other people? I saw a woman in full hijab get insensitively frisked in front of her daughter in Terminal 4 of JFK. I saw a 9 year old Pakistani boy have his entire Harry Potter backpack searched in Heathrow while he and his twin brother wept bitterly. I have seen some shit in Paris that would make your toes curl. Has anybody ever been to Russia!?

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about how hard it was for me to get a phone in England. Short story: without an English bank, you can’t get a registered address (and vice versa) and if you try to pay with a foreign card, you have to go through an unreal phone tree and basically you just can’t do it. I’ve got an organist paying my phone bills now. And one of the points that I tried to make was: I am a middle-class white English-speaking person. Imagine going through the phone drama under the aegis of any other subject position.

Anyway, speaking of M.I.A., I liked that album. It’s a little aggro, but really not that aggro, and I think the last track, which is a sleepy slow jam, is extremely beautiful:

M.I.A. Capslock from /\/\/\Y/\

See? It’s totally beautiful. She adopts a sort of Laurie Andersdóttir thing with it; it’s a technological obsession in a mellow key with a good loop. Holla.


  • When I arrived at LAX after spending almost a year in Japan (before I was a U.S. citizen) and I explained that I had been living with my grandmother, I was asked, “What, is she dying or something?”.
    In contrast, at Narita on my latest trip, I was randomly chosen at the boarding gate to be searched, and the Japanese lady who performed the search was very apologetic about the necessity for such protocol and basically her very being.

  • I am a middle-aged, white, Canadian female. While living in NY (essentially as a ‘tourist’ – my P1 had expired) I put together an application for a Green Card, based on my career as a musician (member of a moderately successful touring band for 10 years). 5 weeks after sending off the application, I got it. The day after I got it, the economy tanked. And I couldn’t find a job for the life of me (gigging lots in NY, but we know how much $$ one makes playing the Living Room and the Rockwood!). Long story short, I returned to Canada, where I now reside, while holding onto my Green Card (it’s ok to do this for a little while – but soon it will become a problem). Now, when I cross the border, I’m starting to get harassed. ‘Why do you live in Canada if you have a Green Card?’ (I’m going to university here). Blah blah blah. About 2 weeks ago, I crossed from Vancouver to Seattle in a car. I got hauled in. It was a Saturday; the lineup inside immigration was very, very long. I noticed, immediately, that apart from a cute, Scandinavian-looking family of 3 with a gorgeous standard poodle, I was the only white person in that very long line. Everyone else was brown, black, or yellow. It took 2 hours to get up to the counter, and when I did, I got the usual questions about the Green Card, but I explained myself, spoke clearly and politely about my situation, assured them I would eventually be returning to the US as a resident (not planning to give up my Green Card), and within 5 minutes, after typing something into the computer, they let me go. I’ve crossed the border twice since then, and haven’t been asked a single question regarding the Green Card or my status as a US/Can resident. Which seems really weird. What did that customs agent type into the computer? Why, after a year of general (if light) harassment each time I cross, am I now not even getting questioned? It’s spooky. I’m waiting for the big guys to show up at my door or something. Anyway – appreciate your post. Wonder what your experience getting into Canada has been like – I know they’re very hard on musicians at our border.

  • My cello was offloaded from a flight from New Yawk > London because they realised 10mins before we left that it didn’t have a passport.
    I had to leave with it, and that was an interesting interview… What was I doing traveling international-like without the correct travel documents? Happarently being wooden, inanimate and having residence in a White Box/Case was just enough of a reason.
    As you say, imagine if I’d been of a different disposition..

  • Does anybody want to write to their senator to sponsor the Transcontinental Tag Team act of 2010?

    It allows you to work uninhibited in your destination country, as long as you can find someone their who wants to work in your country. Anyone?

  • yeesss ! nico ! thanks !

  • The musicians border-crossing dilemmas are certainly ridiculous and scary, and I laughed out loud at “Laurie Andersdottir!” Thank you for provoking thought AND providing humor. Nico Muhly, a full-service blog.

  • Who is Laurie Andersdottir? I googled her, and the links were to Nico’s blog! Who is she?!?!?

  • she is Laurie Anderson with Icelandic gender possibilities. Watch out for Nico as he sneaks these Icelandic bits and pieces into his writing as in the way he sometimes spells Chinatown, for example.