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’.

 

Just Kids

 

Rating: ★★★★★

I knew before hand this book would have me, it would own me as literally as I would own it. These pages hold something that is also mine, a shared story which I could never live without. A story that sooner or later will eternally live by its own. From my hand to the world, based in a special request.

I also knew that books that have my tears on its foreword or prologue eternally stay. It became personal before it became an assessment, a challenge before a choice. It wasn’t fiction. It wasn’t a romance. But it was for sure a love story. The one I am most keen of.

When I first started the novel, the lighted word in my bedroom’s parapet shone brightness into its pages. Love was between the words both in a physical and literary sense. It was strengthening its meaning, becoming a mark in my own story.

Lost and found in her art, Patti resembles my written self. What I build through these small posts. What I admire and how I get inspiration from it. What I look for. She even compares herself to Wendy and shows her strong belief in Neverland.

When I got closer to the expected end, I knew I had to finish it somewhere special.  I asked for a Caramel Machiatto in my favourite place of the University. Charles Dickens’s words surrounding me. And I cried. Never my sweet sweet latte felt so bitter. I couldn’t help but feel in Patti’s words the painful moment of Robert’s death. I couldn’t help but feel for Patti.

As usual I tried to find a message. But page after page I would find more and more exposed messages, I knew I would not recall them all together in the end. I knew I would read it over and over again. As if it was the first time, an uncanny taste of familiarity. Right now, with tears salting the last bit of my Machiatto, these are the ones I recall. The dreams that walk hand in hand. That make us wave at each other and write prose in our lonely time. And those marvellous paths that cross and certainly will cross again… Later on, I will look for their blue star and remember them. Wishing I had known us in their time, wishing they could see themselves in ours.

 

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.

Down and Out in Paris and London

Rating: ★★★★☆

Orwell was always one of my favourites. For his imagery, for his irony, for his effort to change the real-life-problems by writing them and giving them to read. While everyone was crazy about 1984, my life changed with the reading of Animal Farm. I was presented to politics just like that, through the animals’ voice.

This book is different, being no different. It’s different in its theme, it’s quite the same in its approach, in its goal.

Homeless are a serious matter in big cities. London is no exception. It is not a new subject of debate. It reached George Orwell’s eyes and writing, it reaches our hearts nowadays.

Orwell’s vision of poverty is from “the inside”. The real world we lived in, and those who walk slowly enough through these two cities are capable of finding most of the “characters” in our streets. Terribly real, simply told, absolutely brilliant.

Airport sweet Airport

We are arriving. Just started to cross the Vasco da Gama bridge. From the car seat where I was carefully left, I see her focusing on the foggy window, counting the airplanes, planting fingerprints. Their roars and expanding fumes are leaving behind the nostalgic sense of departure. On the glass, a few rain drops wait to dry while I count the minutes until the airport. ‘In five hours’, she always wonders, not allowing herself to finish the thought.

She starts gathering everything, including me as soon as we park. The yellow coat, curiously the first of us visiting London years ago, is now the only one left behind. There are now two hours to burn. The green chairs have been broken for years, but always occupied with one particularity: no one talks. Everyone is eating, sleeping or on their phones and laptops. Trying to keep a conversation running, she mentions her annoyance every time she has to take her shoes off. That’s when her hands start trembling, the silence breaks and she ponders if what London gives is better than what it stole. One last selfie, then it’s time to say good-bye.

Memories flood her eyes. Once she was the one seeing her father crossing those gates. The papers are inverted now. Husbands, parents, grandparents, siblings, boyfriends and girlfriends. There are tears and smiles, promises not to cry. To call at the plane, after security or only after landing. When her palm holds me tighter, sobs are coming, so is the security. A guard asks her: ‘is this place that ugly? Do you need a hug?’, she shakes her head and cleans her wet eyes, as if she had just woke up. And then, he tells her to take off her shoes. I’m left on a grey box with her phones, listening the teasing of another guard due to the football scarf tied to her backpack. A laugh bubbles out of her.

I’m quickly put into her bag. It’s full of books, lipstick and electronic devices. Not forgetting the transparent bag with the liquids. Usually while she walks I fall into a dark corner, hard to find on a woman’s bag. Not this time. Part of my red cover stays out, staring to what I usually hear. I sense her hesitation when it comes to choose the passport machines or the European queue. There is rarely someone waiting here. A gentleman takes me. Glares at me. Compares me to the person I travel with. And we are wished a nice journey.

The sound of dragged wheels, business conversations, chocolates’ paper being ripped open and considerably cheaper perfumes break my state of trance until gate 47. From this moment on, life appears to her as screenshots. Even following all the indications, we always find a way to get lost. A couple ask us if we are going to Africa. ‘They are lost as well’, I think and she smiles. Every window displays a plane. All from the same air company. It is very sunny today. And the hot air slows everyone down. Unfortunately, this time the football coach Mourinho won’t fly with us. Her hands confess me an uncanny feeling, when she listens someone speaking English. I tell them to relax, this also happens in London when she realizes that Portuguese surrounds her. But she is already distracted. Eyes running up and down the queue. Trying to understand who is alone as well. A girl, whose black jacket is forgotten on the floor, is doing a FaceTime call with her mother. Other with his best friend. A baby boy, perhaps two years old, keeps running from his parents. A bag falls, revealing its heaviness. The white-moustache owner blushes. She remembers then what she forgot, what should have said. The red gloves would be useful, one last hug too. Thoughts become louder, she tries to focus on every sound around her. When she believes she is successful, I am certain that she failed.

Entering the plane is a step closer to finally rest. More than ten years ago the flight assistants would scare the little girl who arrived with two baby dolls and a stuffed cat. ‘Where are their tickets?’. Today they welcomed her with the formal ‘hello, good-afternoon’. A grown woman.

Her steps are calculated by heart. The chosen line being always the same, 19. To the left if we take the flight in London. To the right, since it is our destiny. When she accommodates herself her mother calls. She wants her to look through the window right before reaching the sky.

Locking belts, I fall from her lap, landing beside two bare feet. I know she notices when she fetches me. Everyone has certain rules about what to do or not to do during the flight. Taking off shoes is not acceptable for her. The lovely lady from the other seat smiles to her, silently sharing the same opinion. A baby cries behind her, while the couple in front has an argument, a good excuse to put her earphones on. The security procedures are explained, but she never listens to them. I do not have a choice. Her mother used to place me immediately on the bag as soon as they started the demonstrations, taking two candies from the bag, and obligating her to rest her head on the lap. To help with the ear pressure. We are leaving later than expected, as usual. She does not recall this at the time, the plane started to move and she pays attention to the window. She knows what awaits her, but for two long minutes she believes she is in the wrong side of the plane. Tears reach her eyes right after catching a glimpse of her family. Right there. Automatically, she puts her hand on the window and a gasp surprises her. They see it and wave. She picks up her phone to text them, only to realize that her body is being pushed against the leather. The wheels are already on the air.

On her ears Home by Gabrielle Aplin follows a short sequence of places from her favourite city. Once, on a flight doing the contrary route, a Chinese lady from Detroit praised Lisbon for being ‘the most colourful city’ she had ever seen. Including the football stadium. One week ago she was down there. Thinking about this moment. In a matter of minutes our country disappears in the clouds. Her hot shaking blow hitting me. Seconds later the pilot interrupts the moment to give us information about the weather and the temperature by the time we land. She relaxes a little. Since she had promised her eight-year-old sister that there were more car accidents than plane crashes, she could never completely rest until getting out of the plane. And every time there were news on the contrary, her promise was broken. With this in mind, she closes her eyes.

The first smell of coffee and the brioches’ bag opening wakes her up. Against what every website tells her, she keeps drinking her paper-cup-coffee. The clouds are carefully shaped. Big castles or calm seas can be compared to these sun lighted constructions. The point of her fingers lazily follow my golden coat of arms, tickling me over and over. While she tries to get lost on the book she brought. There is a thought she tries to hide, but this is her Fado.

It was during the 60s and the 70s that the Portuguese community started to emigrate. Back then, France was the first choice. Almost six hundred thousand made their lives there. Switzerland, Germany, Belgic and Luxemburg quickly followed. Most didn’t come back. However, they all shared the same dream: coming back to their country. Since then, sending money to who they left in Portugal, as saving to build their own house became the general goal. August is known for the Migrants’ Month, their arriving fills the smallest and oldest villages, and all the Summer News. Parties are thrown in their honour; Saints are taken from the altar to bless them.  Families are not divided anymore. Nowadays, more than two million Portuguese have a country in their blood and another in their heart. England and Norway are the newest destinies. But these people’s story does not start in the twentieth-century. These are the responsible for the beginning of the maritime expansion of our world. These are the creators of ‘saudade’, the nostalgic feeling of missing something or someone. In every old corner of Lisbon there is a cultural house, where old and new sing together to the sound of a whining guitar. It is Fado they sing. It is ‘the sadness that every person from our country offers’. It is the destiny, the Fado of half of this plane.

These are her roots. Slowly, she is following the steps of her grandfather. And her father as well. Distance was part of her education. She was eight months the first time she flied. And at three, even with fever she caught a flight to the Canary Isle. Once she and her mother decided to surprise her father. In the very same day, he decided to do the same. Those who believe in fairy tales might believe their planes’ path crossed in the sky. She did.

And for awhile, the only time of the year she enjoyed was Christmas, the only time her family stayed more than a single weekend. Twelve years later, in her bag still travels a small plane, the one her father brought one day, the one he used to fly in, the one she is using now. Without her permission I dare to admit that the story of this girl, it’s the story of a whole nation. The nation that does not wish upon a star. The nation that believes: behind every falling star is a simple plane, that every wish is a plane away.

When there is only a half on hour left, she starts getting anxious. The former unique odour can now be recognised as sweat and an enormous wave of masculine perfume. A few seconds of turbulence annoy her, causing her to flip through my delicate pages. Anxious to arrive. Only the last minutes of sunset bring enough light to cheer. She is aware it is her last chance, London will be darker even on its sunny days. The belt light turns up again. Right after the bip, the pilot says ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re now ready to start our approach to London Heathrow Airport. We hope you had enjoyed our flight. Thank you for flying with TAP Portugal’ but she only knows we’re close when she sees car’s lights. That’s the moment she puts the music on, again. Playing the very same song when departing and arriving, she is positive that in the very same moment that the wheels touch the ground the drum will be playing behind the chorus. Home is not just where you make your bed, it’s not just where you lay your head, but when the plane turns, she rests the head on the window having the city as a pillow, that holds all the fears, and all her dreams. And there’s an illuminated galaxy of O2 Arenas and Big (that look smaller) Bens and football stadiums and London Eyes that makes her believe Paris does not deserve the title ‘City of Light’. In that moment she also knows why she can’t see stars in the city, they’ve fallen to be seen from the sky. And it doesn’t matter what time we’re suppose to land, she always does it on the minute 3.09. Finally, you start feeling light again. 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.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Without knowing the popularity it would reach in a few weeks, Margaret Atwood’s book awaited me on the reading list for semester two. I did not like the book cover, I still don’t. (The new Vintage version is pretty though). For several days I complained about the title and the need to read something I couldn’t even understand. Then I finally sat down to start reading it. I still did not understand, but it intrigued me. And that made me keep going, until I loved it. The language is simple, the writing opens the real possibility of that scenario happening and the narrator/main character has a solid personality which every reader can relate to. For the facts mentioned above and the usual changes from paper to screen, I was very apprehensive about the series. Again, I was wrong, because now I love it too. And God, how it feels good to be wrong about this… I am usually against changes, because they might damage the narrative. But in this case, every added detail was perfectly well thought. It brought out the best of the action Atwood primarily wrote. The scenarios as well as the their connection with the lights and its lack are amazing and formidable. I hope one day I can personally congratulate everyone who was involved in this. As a reader, I felt that you respected the narrative, I felt that every change was actually on the book. And the season finale of season one is its best example.

I also understand now why it is used as a smart weapon against the US politics’ system, just as 1984, George Orwell. And every time you do not understand how powerful words either in speeches, quotes, films or novels can be remember this example. And learn that maybe if these two novels, or other important books, were widely read before the elections the impact could have been different. Never underestimate the power of words.

Lang Leav

Durante dias andei às voltas com um poema. Se aquela mensagem deveria ser expressa em inglês, se em Português. Se deveria sequer ser expressa. Ainda hoje não o sei. Talvez toda esta luta de não o conseguir acabar seja a resposta. Decidi, por isso, procurar inspiração. No dia do meu aniversário, na maior livraria Londrina, lembro-me de ter perdido uma boa hora em apenas três estantes. Na realidade, a minha vontade era a de me sentar naquele mesmo chão e ler toda a poesia do mundo. Não o fiz. Andava há meses à procura daquele que iria ocupar um lugar especial. O de primeiro livro de poesia na minha pequena estante. A escolha não estava fácil. E nesse dia era impossível escolher. Vim de mãos vazias, mas de cabeça cheia de nomes. Há três noites houve uma súbita necessidade de voltar a uma das poetas que tinha lido em Piccadilly. Lang Leav. Lembro-me de como a simplicidade com que escreve me conquistou. Como os assuntos não fogem ao que sente ou sentiu e que tanta, senão mesmo toda, a humanidade vive. Lembro-me de como me fez sentir criança.

Com o seu livro na mão, não consegui resistir a lê-lo todo. Devagar. Como que a saborear. Não consegui também resistir a lê-lo mais duas vezes em poucas horas. É difícil escolher apenas um dos seus poemas.

Ando sempre a reclamar como a literatura do século XXI me preocupa, aqui está a feliz prova de como no campo da poesia não há nada a apontar.

Mas o meu poema, continua por finalizar.