“What You See Is NOT What You Get!”

Musings on the Role of Seeing, Image, and Imagination in Media and Tourist Discourses.

(I’m reposting a short piece I wrote for the 2011 Southeast German Studies Consortium-meeting in Atlanta.)

A middle-aged woman lies in bed in a hotel room somewhere in Austria. Consuming the contents of the minibar, she zaps through the TV channels, mindlessly gazing at fragments of the news, a bicycle race, an Austrian folksong performance, and other short clips. In a voice-over, she formulates a postcard with the following text: “Dear Uncle, The weather is fine. And people here are rich and friendly. I found a nice hotel with hot water, drinks for free, and thirty-two TV channels. This is not America, but my first holiday since honeymoon, I guess, and a good place to hang around. So I will do my best. Los Angeles is far away, and so am I. Please don’t forget me.”

As one might have guessed by her surprise about the many TV channels, the free hot water, and by her misconception that the minibar would be complimentary, the woman in this scene is not your typical tourist. In fact, Nana Iaschwili, so her name, is the protagonist in Austrian director Florian Flicker’s film Suzie Washington (1998), and in this scene we see her taking a break from being on the run from the law. The teacher of French from the former Soviet republic of Georgia had been arrested by Austrian authorities during her layover at the Viennese airport, after it had become apparent that her passport and her visa to the United States were forgeries. With her request for asylum rejected, Nana had used a chance opportunity to escape from the airport’s transit zone and join an American tourist group bound for the Austrian lake district. Under the pseudonym Suzie Washington Nana then had embarked on an at times bizarre journey through Austria’s tourist landscape, pursued by the police, harrassed by smugglers and criminals, until she had found this isolated bed&breakfast, where she is courted by a lonesome German tourist looking for a holiday fling (Flicker).

To get the full pdf file click here.

Here’s a short clip of the film:


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