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This report is taken from PN Review 141, Volume 28 Number 1, September - October 2001.

Letter from Pasadena Patrick McGuinness

I lived my childhood there, a passive
dream In the expanse of that recessive scheme.
                     Yvor Winters, 'On a View of Pasadena from the Hills'

The first experience is never of place but of placenessness. Here it was also of placeless people, seated in rows along the benches of the airport's detention centre, as if each day re-enacting America's beginnings. Those of us without visas, with the wrong visas, legally or illegally here, have first to be interviewed and photographed before being taken by police shuttle to the secure accommodation block. The customs officer in charge, Lieutenant Fortensen, is a bully of the bureaucratic school: meticulous and sarcastic, but with an air of intelligence that is unsettling in someone in his line of work. Individually, he assesses our levels of English; there seems no point in wasting a good bollocking on the Koreans and Latinos tiredly blinking amid the flashbulbs and paperwork, so he saves himself the trouble.

There are maybe thirty or forty of them from the last few incoming flights. Most are Asian or Latin American, and there is a kind of cautious sadness abut them as they submit to the long process of interview and interrogation. They do not know if the game is up or if it is only just beginning. Los Angeles LAX, like all US airports, has customs offi- cers qualified to interpret almost every known language. Such people are, depending on the individual case, Korean- ...


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