The plan, l’idee, was to unfurl all this in real time. To document strangeness and immediacy as it happened, without reflection, without a bit of a cute tightening to narrative, to a story…but it happened too fast. Events and things and panic and sensation and the need to just get in the back of the pick up truck without questioning, to close yer eyes and duck yer hair into the flow without completely understanding, and most importantly, to let the flow grab you and your elbows and ankles and go. With open eyes and a quiet brain. Just get in the back of the van, and ask questions later. So now, I’m sitting in my flat in a cold, dank Edinburgh, a week later. Raising my eyebrows, and remembering the heat, a little, on my skin.
So. This is not immediate. This becomes a reflection, something tidy, an arc.
Where did we get to? I have arrived at the hotel. It’s like a fort, huge iron gate, guardsmen. And having seen the chaos of the streets, my reaction is relief. A shameful but welcome security. I’m greeted by Camille, from Memoire D’encrier, the literary press in Quebec. She is slight, quick, beautiful, concerned and to me, incomprehensible. My heart is now drumming so hard in my ears that I can’t understand anything. Give me a room. Give me Wifi. Let me hide. Let me breathe.
Camille introduces me to a table of bright faces: Moe, Marie-Andrée, Natasha, les autres. I am panicked. ‘Il faut pratiquer son français‘ or something, brightly. Christ, yes. Or just give me some air conditioning, a shower, a bed. A grave. Why am I here?
Why am I here? Fair question. It’s to do with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and their theme of Translation for the 2015 Festival, how they’re putting that into practice. It’s awesome, superbe, outward looking – and all will be revealed at the June EIBF launch. I’m not even just blowing smoke up their juxters because they’ve sent me to an island. Meanwhile, I’m Kim Philby. But I was always going to be a crap spy. I smile too easily. This festival, Les Nuits Amérindiennes, it’s part of an exchange between First Nation (Innu, Wendat, Cree) writers based in Quebec, published by the Montreal based press Memoire D’encrier (a Rodney et Camille), francophone, and a number of arts centres in Port Au Prince. It’s spectacular, and particularly centred around an Innue poet, Joséphine Bacon. She is a formidable woman, a stunning poet, and a wonderful, generous presence. Come, come see…
The Haiti connection? There is a strong link between Montreal and Haiti. There are some incredible arts centres in Port-au-Prince, working with Haitian artists (The Haitian Slam Poets! More on that later…) : Fokal, Centre D’art, Parc de Martissant, et encore. So. It’s a Festival Les Nuits Amerindiennes, en Haiti, with First Nation poets, performers, artists, scholars de Quebec presenting performances, readings, workshops, discussions in various Port-au-Prince venues over 4 days, 6 – 10 mai. C’est superbe, c’est incroyable. La poésie, la politique, les livres, et puis…
…Aye so. I’m here. Northern Irish born, Scotland based, the only person from the other side of the Atlantic. I’m the outsider, étrangère. I’m also…no, seriously,why the fuck are you here, in the nicest, most quizzical way? Um. Edinburgh International Book Festival? To meet some Québécois writers? This was the best way to do it? Yes. Okay. But I’m here. I do speak the language (I mean, sort of, but just enough for banalities, la vie quotidienne). But I don’t know these stories. I really don’t know these stories. So. I have some talking to do. And these people? These poets, these artists? This is something else. Performances like you haven’t known.
Pull your socks up (it’s too hot for socks) and tie your hair back, Violet. Because you’re used to opening your mouth back home, and now, you’re going to have to listen. I have a line worked out: Je suis ici pour observer, pour écouter, pour apprendre.
To watch, to listen, to learn.
If that doesn’t make you sound like a zoo inspector.
But you’re probably going to try and open your mouth at some point.