Based on some personal research about dreams and nightmares (using the power of anecdotal evidence garnered through drunken conversations at parties and in bars) I’ve come to a vague conclusion. It seems that any one person’s nightmares will be based on a recurrent theme or fear. What makes the bad dream so bad is that is personalised to your own very real fear. That moment of realisation in a dream that your first fear might be about to happen is, of course, a cue for it to occur. My own bad dreams always involve an element of being in the wrong place and not being able to get to where I’m supposed to be. This ties in neatly with the paranoia I have in my waking life about being late for films, trains, planes, meetings etc. The dreams come in many different flavours, but any time I wake up in a sweat, it’s probably due to a dream that follows the same ascending fear of missing someone or that’s so important my life probably depends on it.
This week I stepped into the shoes of someone else’s nightmare, and worryingly, the shoes fitted quite well. On Friday morning I joined another twenty students and a tutor for the second design studio tutorial of my semester studying architecture in France. Illness and a bizarre two week vacation that came two weeks into term had delayed it long enough. It was time to show the world what we’d got, and present the site analysis, drawings and models that we’d made based on one week’s work.
Remember, this is all in French. French is now my second language, although it’s still up there in joint second position with Kosovan, Latvian, Estonian, Mandarin, Urdu and Welsh. It’s in an unfamiliar school, with an unfamiliar tutor and some very unfamiliar expectations of the kind of work that students should be turning out one week into a project. This would be nerve wracking enough, were it not for the fact that my surname begins with a ‘B’ and I am, therefore, the first student who is asked to stand up and talk.
Bad dream no. 8120012/A: being asked to stand in front of twenty silent and largely non-participative architecture students and one particularly intimidating tutor a site analysis, organigramme and ‘ideal danse studio’ in a non-native language, in a school that is significantly more conservative and traditional than your own, having not understood the format of the presentation, nor the definition of organigramme, and having not understood that a 1:50 scale model is obligatory, not optional.
With twenty-one students in the class and just six hours to get through everyone’s work, you might expect the tutor to try and schedule everyone into fifteen minute slots. However I’m up there for a whole hour, explaining not only what I’ve done, but why I’ve done it that way, and why I’ve not done the bits that I was expected to have done. Having expected to present my work one to one, not in front of the class, it’s neatly formated in a double sideded colour brochure which I have to quickly prise apart and tape to the wall, and which I have to the unpeel and re-affix whenever I need to turn a page. My attempt to use aerial photography as a basis for the site analysis by subtly muting the colours has simply made the presentation look like it was done on a printer with low reserves of magenta coloured ink. I have completely misunderstood the purpose of an organigramme and I’ve also completely misunderstood the requirement to place various building elements on a table that classes them as either ‘specific’ and ‘generic’. In this bizarre parallel reality that I have decided to opt for, everything is done differently. While I desperately want to find the words and confidence to tell my tutor that his kind is extinct in my dear homeland, I admit to myself that I am after all in his class, in his school and in his country.
By the time we’re finished, it’s lunchtime, and my stock of French vocabularly and grammar is empty. I manage to arrange a few words in French to explain to my friends that I need a beer, and I’m not joking. I duly find one, and drink it very fast indeed.