My experience with the literary scene is that of one gigantic bore, writers come to events to sell their books to other writers, they drink too much wine and that makes them whine. They discuss their latest projects and admire each other. That is what I thought until I attended the Podium 15th celebrations. My publisher Joost Nijsen, invited some of his writers and we all read from our works. I brought my nine month old and she sat quietly with my husband in the dark night club inside the Trouw building.
I realized soon that this was not the kind of literary event I was used to, this was a party, a celebration. The writers all seemed to rush on and off stage and when it was all done Joosts’ mother came and introduced herself. Then we left and as we walked out the music was turned up and Podium was celebrated.
Out of the events I participated in during my time here, the Adriaan van Dis and Christine Otten event at De Balie was the most anticipated. Both van Dis and Otten are well established writers and have visited South Africa. For me it seemed that our discussion flowed and was very interesting, but afterwards we were criticized for being overly political. This made me think about what the audience expects from a literary discussion. Do they want to hear about the facts, the research a writer puts in the book, the themes, and the truths? Or do they want an interesting back story? I hope whoever reads my poetry reads the reality in it and when they come to hear me speak they will expect me to speak about my reality, because where I am from everything is political, poverty is political.
I came to Amsterdam to be a writer-in-residence, I came to work, promote Santenkraam, to read my poetry to people and in turn I hope that they will read it on their own. I came to tell the story of my grandfather, the story of many generations without a history, the story of a small group of people no one really knows about. My second goal was to learn about Amsterdam and be inspired, and I was. My husband and I collaborated and started working on our graphic novel, Ek is die see, both of us sitting up late nights with the sounds of the trams and the crowds at café Hoppe, we frantically worked on putting my life story into my grandfathers’ historic tales. We don’t know if this book will ever be published because of how complex and detailed it is, but this was for me the greatest project to work on and definitely has my heart.
Koninginnedag, EK, Herring parties and sudden silences
We arrived in Amsterdam a few weeks before Koninginnedag. We were warned for this event, by everyone and I mean everyone, randomly. The line was: it will be crazy!
I heard that some people even left town because they did not want to deal with the ‘crazy’.
Then it happened and we were disappointed, because it was not ‘crazy’. It was a nice civil celebration. Nathan just shook his head and said that, if this was Cape Town, there would have been blood.
Then came the voetbal, it took me a while to figure out what EK stood for, I thought it meant my football ( yes, that’s what I thought). It was refreshing to see the Dutch people in their silly orange outfits relaxing and letting loose, it made me think of home.
Many people we meet and tell that we live in the apartment at Spui, always comment about the noise. My response is that yes, it is noisy, yes Hoppe never sleeps, but there are days when Spui gets quiet and you learn that she is not the shy and quiet type, there is a comfort in the sounds and that comfort is good for creativity.
During my time here I kept in touch with family and friends. Antjie Krog send me this quote in one of her emails:
Johan Polak never forgot what George Steiner told us that day in Amsterdam. I must’ve heard him say it a hundred times: “George Steiner is right. Culturally, twentieth-century Europe is back in the Middle Ages. And just like the monasteries of that time, we’ve got to preserve our cultural legacy and hand it down through whatever channels we have.” That explains Johan’s formidable private library, his publishing house, and his bookshop: Athenaeum, on Spui square in Amsterdam.
This was an amazing experience, Amsterdam is an amazing city, I felt at home and will carry it with me wherever I go.
Dank je wel.