London Lit Fest V

It is now week 2. It is also ten past. Brian storm is here, and so am I. As I ran the slippery stairs with my shinny shoes a man crosses my path, a duvet around his shoulders. It is windy. And cold. And for the second time in this festival, I am late.

This time the weekend pass bracelet is bright yellow, as the one I once wore at the hospital. It seems like ages ago. With the help of my fingers I realize it was ages ago. Entering this room I am getting so used to while heading to my favourite and only seat, helps to smooth my uncanny notion of time and how it flies. Also, how ironical and annoying time does not seem to fly when I’m on a plane. These are the kind of things that crush my mind in those twenty minutes of waiting until the marvellous session.

I’ve been waiting with expectancy this talk: Home is elsewhere. Perhaps, since I first saw the festival’s program. The first readings were terrific. The best so far, I dare to admit. One of the stories remind me of myself and my life in London. One of the Nordic writers was talking about how one of his friends used to drive a touristic train in Stockholm, while a recording told the tourists how beautiful the city they were seeing was. And every time he heard that voice playing over and over the same compliments he thought about kidnapping the guests, breaking the radio. ‘yeah, it is true. It is a beautiful city. But there are other streets not as polished, like the one I grew up at’. Those are the ones he wanted them to see, with or without a recording. Those streets are also part of the city. I smile, wondering how this can be perfectly applied to London. Or any other city really. But we can not explain it to others, in fact those streets are a secret we are expected to keep.

During the readings there is space for everything. Especially, fear and loneliness. We hear about a boy who have lived in Finland, since the age of two. But who is asked about his home country even though all he remembers is actually Finland. Feeling an outsider, he decides to buy a snake even though he is terrified of it. Because just like him, it is misplaced between the animals, even if they never get to bite anyone. After that, whenever he had guests they simply ran away with excuses and questions, ‘what if it hides in your toilet?’ or ‘what if it chokes you during the night?’. But his answer remained open ‘what if it doesn’t?’. ‘What if it starts using the toilet as a cat uses a box?’. Just like that, he said everything.

The last reading is about a British woman who wants to leave her home. However, at the airport she is strangely and strongly interrogated about her nationality, simply because she is muslim. Within the serious subject we laugh with each other. Especially after this particular story, we discuss how books can easily become our home, our escape from the world. Or simply feel home for retaining a reality that only we know of. Most times we become refugees of ourselves and libraries can protect us better than a single dominant definition of home.

I think about it again and again, since in libraries we do keep secrets as well. ‘You never control how people read you’, ‘belong is complicated’, ‘Literature is dangerous, books changed me. I saw the darkness in me’. And all of these small bits of information are whispered between the panel and the audience. It is a secret none of us can keep. It is scary, and with words we can cope with the reality of being ourselves. At the end, I did want to question them, but thankfully there was no time. Now I can carry on smiling, and holding the secret for it. Walking away with an advice, ‘if people try to fit you in a box or put you out of it, bring up the snake’.


London Lit Fest III

It was the last talk of the first day. I had an headache and reddish eyes. But the theme was interesting enough: ‘Home is the Mouth of a Shark’. And yes, it was about refugees.

Roughly an hour before I had listened poetry from women who had arrived to this country without their children, their parents, their lovers. People who had their family killed, who can not cook dishes from their countries. People who preferred to die trying to save themselves than to fear their last days alive. And these people dream awake more than we do asleep. ‘I dream’ became the motto to launch a wall of dreams in Southbank. I have them all in a newspaper. More than six hundred. I cherish them and touch the paper carefully, every sentence is meaningful. It belongs to someone. And I know that like Patti Smith I will use this in my art.

Before we enter this next session, a lady is sitting on the floor, the newspaper largely opened before her crossed legs. I can not help but smile towards the match. As if her posture was as rough and primal as the dreams before her and their poetry.

My neck is sore and I do not seem able to focus. I suddenly forget it when we listen poetry in my favourite way, in the poet’s mother language. No translation. It finishes in a strong and familiar way: ‘I want to die in a country where they know how to pronounce my name’ (from what I understood, but the message I got it right).

One more time I find it interesting how the real life assembles the metaphorical meaning of poetry. The poet Hardy could not be present, due to political reasons no one was allowed to leave the country. Still, there she is. Trespassing the physical borders of her country with her poetry and her fears and dreams being read by the rest of the panel. What a magical moment, hearing those voices taking ownership of this meaning with no credits.

Once again, the theme was hard to discuss. ‘Everything written is political’ since it is written in a certain time. Poets were expressing how happy they were now that poetry was not as reviewed as before. However, people do expect them to say the right thing and talk about those themes. Readers have hope. And they put that hope on the writers and the poets in order to be heard. After all, ‘power structures enable your power’. And at the end of a discussion as intense and in such a tense subject a writer shouldn’t have to say ‘Sorry, I swear I hadn’t anything more than coffee’, as they did.

Two years ago

Two years ago. The fastest. Two years of our lives. Yet, the slowest. Days of our lives. But the sky, the London sky, quickly gets gloomy. Sooner than anyone realizes. In half an hour. The sun disappears. We get spring. Autumn. And winter in one day. Yet, they are. Still. Slow. A competition between weather and time. Hours and transports. But we walk fast. Everyone walks fast. On the streets. Crossing the road. Leaving the tube. As if the day is about to end. When in fact it goes smoothly. Slower. And slower. What do Londoners run against to? Certainly not the rain. Perhaps darkness. Their darkness. Above us, planes depart. Unnoticed. Except by the ones from afar. The ones that don’t belong. The ones that just arrived. Two years ago.

London Revisited: Bookshops II

It started with a call from Foyles. How lucky! I had ordered two different books to pick up in Southbank, but one of the copies wasn’t in good shape. I sighed with relieve, if there is something I’m becoming used to is seeing books in famous bookshops which are not in good conditions. At least this time I was informed. Several options are given to me. But the decision is quickly taken. I choose to go to their store in Charing Cross.

I haven’t been there before. Not inside at least. When I first passed by everyone had to stop for a few minutes, I needed to take it in. In awe. Today destiny had decided I would be there. The conscious button and all the ‘Don’t go out. Stay in the house as much as you can’ warnings were finally off.

All the bookshops give me an indescribable sense of peace. And fulfilment. I understand why I’m in this field. Running up and down my fingertips through every book, smiling every time I recognise the author’s name. Slowly leafing them through and carefully putting them back on the right shelf. I think about how that book will belong to someone.  And if that someone is as picky as me, perfect is how I would want that copy to be.

I notice how cute the building is. Twisty. It is extremely well organised and decorated. Unlike any other, there is a section of CDs. The usual division of languages is there as well.

In the Portuguese section there is the prettiest classic collection by Civilizações. From the original versions of Saramago to the translated and most recent Harry Potter, the variety is huge. The missing Fernando Pessoa and its most known book in England, The Book of Disquiet, is well noticed. But for a very good reason. It is part of the Staff Picks. Is there a way of being prouder? You can also find the biggest classics in Spanish, French, Dutch, Greek…

Not going to the last floor is becoming a bad routine. There is never time for all of them when we get lost. I dare to say that it is a bookshop related to the Arts. The colours and words related to culture, photography and painting are the first to enchant. It has the location bonus, being part of a magical theatre zone. A street full of second-hand bookshops where much more can be explored.

To those who consider going there, I leave you with a small historical note. Virginia Wolf and her famous group of writers had their Publishing House, Bloomsbury around that area. Bloomsbury was also the one that published Harry Potter. Up the street you can also find another Waterstones, that I’ll explore in my next post. Until then, good readings!

London Revisited: Bookshops I

We’re on divergence. Number 12. Road words, the motorist says. On the road, moving, I see my reflexion on the bus’ window. Serious. On the glassy buildings we pass. We’re using Embankment instead of Whitehall. Embankment, my first memory of London. I’m on my way to the biggest bookshop of the city. I need to see books, touch them. The reason I came here. London. The biggest Waterstones of the city.

There is silence among words. As if it is a praying place. A new author comes in, his book on display. I notice he is received with coldness. No one knows him.

When I first enter I can listen Portuguese whispering. I try not to look around.

It’s even before I do all the stairs to the first floor that my heart speeds up, like never before. Air arrives to my lungs all of a sudden. Awe, that’s the word.

The place where everything can be said. Titles display rude, sexual, classical words. No author is afraid of words, only its meanings.

As the Portuguese that runs in my blood I try to find as many translated authors as I can. One of Saramago’s books is out and I automatically smile to the presence of those two women who I listened to earlier. I touch it as if I could connect to the person who touched it before. Who left it out as a sign of patriarchy and pride. Perhaps it isn’t Portuguese at all.

I’m still looking at the classics. The cloth ones. The hardback ones. The ones I have at home. Complete collections that I will never be able to complete.

For a few names of the bottom shelf I put myself on my knees. I smile. I take one or two to read their back. I think how that version is ugly. How lucky I am to have found the prettiest.

A few people sit down, reading books. Talking about books. No one tells them to go. And I want to stay.

We’re on divergence. Number 12. Road works, the motorist says. My reflection is still out there. On the books I touched, on the glassy buildings I look at. This time I can see it with a smile.

Wednesday, March 22nd 2017

When I took a snap of London’s view from my classroom window my lecture rambled about “Memory Talk”. Nothing foresaw what would happen in a few hours. And even though I’m sure that I will never forget this day, I’m not sure what I’ll remember about it.

From the three groups of teenagers leaving my street’s hostel on their way to Southbank.

The several policemen I saw walking up and down without being able to count. Around 8, I believe.

The first laugh of disbelief when the rest of the world assumed it was terrorism.

The feeling of being so far when I was so close.

The calls and messages I expected, the ones I didn’t expect.

The cutting sound of helicopters round and round.

The ambulances and blue sirens’ cars putting everyone’s heads up. Desperately looking where they’re heading to.

To Death.

Today we learned that we only start having memories after acquiring language, and they are only recalled when we’re talking to someone. However, it’s the absence of words that will stay with me. The sight of everyone leading their ordinary lives in unordinary silence. A forced attempt of not remembering today the very next day.
And when you have no words you rely on other’s.

‘This is the way the [day] ended, Not with a bang but a whisper’ (T.S Eliot, 1925)

You never feel as light as when you’re at the airport. Either because you’re leaving a home, either because you’re arriving to another. Planes might mean change but airports will always be a home free of ‘I miss…’ , no matter to which city they belong to.