This is a charming radio feature of modest length in the form of a travel memoir. Its author-producer is Katharina Smets, a radio maker with a background in philosophy, theatre and philology with experience in teaching radio documentary at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp, Belgium and as a reporter and feature maker for Radio 1, KLARA (VRT in Belgium) and Holland Doc Radio (VPRO in The Netherlands). Originally produced in Dutch, her English language version of Senza Parole has attracted attention at both the Third Coast International Audio Festival (2014), USA and the Sheffield Doc/Fest (2014) in Britain.
In Senza Parole Katharina Smets takes her recorder with her on what appears to be an aimless outing in Paris, a city in which she’s a short term sojourner, courtesy of a cultural residency. By happenstance, in an overlooked corner of a small island in the Seine, she encounters another outsider, an apparently homeless woman, with whom she attempts to communicate. There is an obvious language barrier between them and some other unfathomable difference. Katharina returns with a useful gift, a watering can for the flowers in the woman’s little garden. It’s an act of kindness, a prop to further stimulate exchange, which occurs in fragments of elemental Italian and broken French. There’s a story here in who this woman is and how she’s come to be in these circumstances – displaced in a foreign land and homeless, sheltering in a plastic tent in a park. Is she mentally ill? Was she wronged in love? Is she sick? It’s a tantalising story that is beyond reach; it cannot be told by the two principals - or understood by any of us. But there is contact, perhaps a clue or two; and meaningful, touching communication that occurs ultimately without words, senza parole. Quite a feat in an audio medium.