While I’m writing this in Madrid, in the centre of Amsterdam there are two hundred and twenty flats for rent that have bathtubs. There are thirty-three with fireplaces. Twenty-four with bathtubs and fireplaces. There are even thirteen well-located flats that have bathtubs, fireplaces and balconies. These ones, unfortunately, would be unaffordable for a writer.
I know all this because I’ve been looking for a house in Amsterdam for a few hours now. In this short time I have learnt to say, or at least to write: huizen te huur, badkuip, haard y balkon. Words I don’t know how to pronounce and that in ten minutes’ time I will have forgotten, not only because of the lazy confidence that Google Translate gives us, but also, more to the point, because I don’t need them.
I’m not planning to rent a flat in Amsterdam. I’ll only be there for two days before the Crossing Border festival in The Hague, and I have a hotel already, thank you very much. It’s just that I’ve fallen into the trap yet again. This is my weakness: compulsive real estate. It’s what I do when I’m not writing. Most of all, it’s what I do when I should be writing. I use it to avoid my responsibilities. Procrastination, people call it. I say, well, other people spend their time Crushing Candies.
On this occasion, it lasts until I get up to make a coffee. Then a voice I call my inner grandmother seizes the opportunity to suggest – in the friendly, encouraging way that only grandmothers can – the following: What if, instead of flat-hunting, you were to plan your trip?
I find this a modestly revolutionary idea, because I normally pour all my planning energies into unreal and impossible things. I spend my time writing fiction, for a start. And when I travel, I go without a guide. “Flowing”, I called it as a teenager, and I still haven’t found the right way to describe it. (My mother has, though: “Laia travels like a suitcase.”)
However, over the past few years and very slowly, I have discovered, by osmosis, the relative joy of having a plan. It’s because I married a gringo: you can imagine what it’s like. Two weeks ago, we went to Lisbon. He wanted to hear someone singing fados in a particular neighbourhood and then go to a particular bar to drink a particular spirit. I wanted to “walk around”. My husband travels like I write fiction: in the knowledge that whenever you distance yourself from the concrete, the literary quality deteriorates as a result. I, on the other hand, travel like I procrastinate: determinedly directionless.
I come back from the kitchen convinced that, this time, I’ll be a different person. I’ll be someone who arrives in Holland and declares, for example: I want to eat graskaas! Yes, I tell myself: enough flowing. I’ll plan everything I want to see at the festival and in Amsterdam, I’ll be unswayable, I’ll make a Powerpoint presentation. Well, I don’t know how to use Powerpoint, but I’ll write it all down in a notebook.
There are seventy-five literary acts scheduled for Crossing Border. Twenty-eight musical performances. Ten special events (the selection criteria for which I’m not sure of, since some of them are musical or literary). As well as that, in the corridors there will be teenagers reciting poems, cartoonists sketching portraits, polaroids being drawn in pencil. And as if that wasn’t enough, the TUIG group will be doing “temporary literary tattoos”.
I know all this because I’ve been exploring the festival page for hours now, writing down what I want to see in my notebook. My inner grandmother is purring. She feels useful. And I’m almost dizzy. So many writers, so many good musicians! Not to mention the twelve translators and the other three authors who will participate in The Chronicles. It’ll be a party.
See you there! You’ll recognise me by my temporary literary tattoo. It will say: huis gezocht.