Alice Paul
Epilogue
DOOR Daphne Huisden
30-11-2013

Well, I won’t lie about it: of course I was relieved when the train pulled in at Rotterdam Centraal station. My heart always beats faster whenever I come back home to this cynical city, with its towering buildings, its futuristic – and sometimes ridiculous – projects, a mishmash of styles. There’s always some sort of construction work going on, reshuffling things, as if we haven’t quite found an identity for our city yet, all these years after the bombardment of Rotterdam in 1940. The work is never done – the people are never completely satisfied.

That’s why it wasn’t long (I hadn’t even unpacked my bag) before a new feeling of restlessness swept over me. A nagging, discontented feeling that something was missing. Was it nostalgia?
I tried to shake it off and flung myself wholeheartedly into the daily grind: shopping, boring post, the familiar household chores, but nothing helped in the slightest. The security of routine, which had felt so familiar before Crossing Border, frightened me.

So I put on my jacket and went into town. I felt anonymous. Strolling through the ‘old familiar’, I thought of the new people I had met: the inspiring and natural company of The Chronicles that I had been part of for a few days. What would they be doing now? Would they also be struggling to get used to the regularity of daily life again?
I pictured Alice, my unrivalled translator, walking beside me. I showed her my ‘home’. We drifted over the Erasmus Bridge, inspected the security at the Kunsthal, went for a beer on the Binnenweg and had a good laugh at Santa Claus, the giant sculpture by Paul McCarthy, posing pompously in the central square – more commonly referred to by his nickname, the Butt Plug Gnome.

What was her favourite Dutch word?* I wondered?  And: would she ever listen to De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig?

Crossing Border passed in a whirlwind. Too quickly to ask the questions that are now rushing through my head. So quickly that you might wonder if it really happened at all. For the first time in years, I felt at ease in unfamiliar company. And, full of confidence as I am, I immediately wonder if I didn’t just imagine it. Have I really turned into a sentimental scented candle?

But back in my study, surrounded by playing cards, magic tricks and other research material for my new book, I open up my laptop. I see the new names in my inbox and then I know for sure: the hermit caught a glimpse of the world and can’t stop looking.

Tartuffe is sitting on my lap, purring. He doesn’t really understand. When I make a pen disappear, he looks up. Then he stretches again. He’s seen this trick too many times before.

We have to get back to work, he tells me with a whiny meow. A new book is waiting for us, a new adventure. On paper. Inside in the warmth.

He’s right. The work is never done.
But this time it’ll be different, this time it’ll be magical.

 

*Translator’s note: One of my favourite Dutch words has always been ‘hagelslag’: chocolate sprinkles used as a sandwich topping, especially at breakfast.

Alle vertalingen van Alice Paul
Epilogue
30-11-13

Well, I won’t lie about it: of course I was relieved when the train pulled in at Rotterdam Centraal station. My heart always beats faster whenever I come back home to this cynical city, with its towering buildings, its futuristic – and sometimes ridiculous – projects, a mishmash of styles. There’s always some sort of construction work going on, reshuffling things, as if we haven’t quite found an identity for our city yet, all these years after the bombardment of Rotterdam in 1940. The work is never done – the people are never completely satisfied.

That’s why it wasn’t long (I hadn’t even unpacked my bag) before a new feeling of restlessness swept over me. A nagging, discontented feeling that something was missing. Was it nostalgia?
I tried to shake it off and flung myself wholeheartedly into the daily grind: shopping, boring post, the familiar household chores, but nothing helped in the slightest. The security of routine, which had felt so familiar before Crossing Border, frightened me.

So I put on my jacket and went into town. I felt anonymous. Strolling through the ‘old familiar’, I thought of the new people I had met: the inspiring and natural company of The Chronicles that I had been part of for a few days. What would they be doing now? Would they also be struggling to get used to the regularity of daily life again?
I pictured Alice, my unrivalled translator, walking beside me. I showed her my ‘home’. We drifted over the Erasmus Bridge, inspected the security at the Kunsthal, went for a beer on the Binnenweg and had a good laugh at
Santa Claus, the giant sculpture by Paul McCarthy, posing pompously in the central square – more commonly referred to by his nickname, the Butt Plug Gnome.

What was her favourite Dutch word?* I wondered?  And: would she ever listen to De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig?

Crossing Border passed in a whirlwind. Too quickly to ask the questions that are now rushing through my head. So quickly that you might wonder if it really happened at all. For the first time in years, I felt at ease in unfamiliar company. And, full of confidence as I am, I immediately wonder if I didn’t just imagine it. Have I really turned into a sentimental scented candle?

But back in my study, surrounded by playing cards, magic tricks and other research material for my new book, I open up my laptop. I see the new names in my inbox and then I know for sure: the hermit caught a glimpse of the world and can’t stop looking.

Tartuffe is sitting on my lap, purring. He doesn’t really understand. When I make a pen disappear, he looks up. Then he stretches again. He’s seen this trick too many times before.

We have to get back to work, he tells me with a whiny meow. A new book is waiting for us, a new adventure. On paper. Inside in the warmth.

He’s right. The work is never done.
But this time it’ll be different, this time it’ll be magical.

 

*Translator’s note: One of my favourite Dutch words has always been ‘hagelslag’: chocolate sprinkles used as a sandwich topping, especially at breakfast.

17-11-13

Well, they did it.

The translators and my fellow writers managed to get this hermit to join them at the after party last night. The likelihood of that happening: about the same as Arjen Robben scoring a Panenka penalty at the World Cup finals next summer, leading the Dutch team to victory – so, at least there’s some hope for the future.

The question is: how did they manage it?

At the start of the evening, it didn’t seem very likely that it was going to be a late one. A bus journey to Antwerp was on the cards for the morning, and the new, sensible voice inside my head told me that it would be wise (or, worse still, grown-up) to cross the border with a fresh, rested head.

On my best behaviour, notebook on lap, I attended the graphic novel session: a colourful collection of drawings, cartoons, caricatures and illustrated stories whizzed past me from all corners of the globe. During the interviews, the Stalinskis – the charming Staal sisters from Groningen – produced live drawings; their inspiration, just like mine, drawn from scrutinising everyday life. I saw work from New York whizzing by too, and a fantastic fusion of image, history, music and literature from the Czech Republic. Very impressive.

So far, everything was going to plan.

But then it was our turn.
You only realise just how comfortable it is to be sitting in the audience when you’re expected to do something interesting in front of a microphone yourself. Writers aren’t usually particularly keen on giving readings or interviews. They don’t like people watching them; they incorporate whatever it is they want the world to see into their books.
I should have known better, but still…I was still convinced for some reason or another that the others all had nerves of steel, that they would embrace a simple game of question-and-answer.

I was wrong.
As the moment of literary voyeurism approached, the colour started to drain from the faces of the writers and translators alike. And that’s when it all started: we shared our insecurities, our fears, our desire to get this part of the festival over and done with as quickly as possible. Of course, these fears weren’t justified, and in the end it turned out the way it always does when you’re expecting the worst: it wasn’t that bad at all.

When it was my turn and I took my place behind the lectern – trying desperately to stop my clammy hands from shaking – I glanced towards the front row. There they were, those familiar, kind faces: faces that knew exactly what was going through my head right then (panic!), and I felt as if a load had been lifted off my shoulders. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I felt at ease, but I was no longer scared. I wasn’t alone anymore.

That’s how I ended up no longer wanting to be sensible. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do than join the others at the after party, amongst the hustle and bustle. So there we were: in a hot and sticky bar, dancing, laughing and forgetting that we had ever been nervous.

We had survived the assignment undaunted – we were ready for the finals.

16-11-13

Fuck, I forgot my paracetamol.

That was the thought rushing through my head last night, as Menno Pot announced the opening act at Crossing Border in The Hague. It’s a habit I’ve picked up over the years: never go to the theatre without paracetamol. And not without good reason. How many times have I had to leave a great evening out early, my head pounding and that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach? Too many.

But I didn’t have long to kick myself. The light changed in the auditorium, and Lucius came on stage. I had no idea who they were. I have no idea who most of the acts on the line-up are for that matter, let alone what they do. At this festival, I’m just choosing blindly, and in the case of Lucius, that turned out surprisingly well: two voices, two bodies, one sound. I forgot everything around me; even the late-comers didn’t bother me, squeezing their way in to have a listen to this hypnotising band. The hour whizzed by.

Dizzy but delighted, I let the crowd carry me out of the auditorium. I noticed how diverse the festival-goers were. Young, old, eccentric, reserved: an interesting mix that is fitting for a festival that represents the subtle as well as the bombastic.

In the hallway, I took out my schedule again and reached for my compass. That’s how I managed to locate Dorien Meijsing, a local musician who was performing her work a few floors higher up. She was on stage with a home-made instrument. Difficult to describe, it reminded me most of the music box I used to have in my room. Her performance was small, fragile and magical, all at the same time. Not wanting to miss a thing, I sat right on the edge of my chair, and once again, I wasn’t bothered by the late-comers, or the pair of rusty ninjas who made a racket as they clumsily made their way to their seats.

Next there was an interview the way interviews should be. Auke Hulst asked the right questions and Patrick DeWitt answered openly. Honest, unforced, simple and very pleasant to watch. Some conversations just work.

And then…Yes, then I had had enough. But wait, that sounds too negative. My head was pleasantly full and I decided to go back to the hotel in a round-about way.
On the way, with my head full of fresh impressions, I came across a man engrossed in conversation with a rubbish bin. He was leaning against his bike, telling the rubbish what his mother would have thought of it.
Quite what, I couldn’t work out, or why, but it was nice. Just like the evening. It was new, it was a lot, and it was more than enough.

Maybe I missed out on everything, maybe the highlight of that first evening just passed me by, but then I thought of Martin Bril’s motto in life and that reassured me:
You miss out on more than you experience. Get over it. 

15-11-13

Early this morning – well, it was early for me – I went for a wander just outside the hotel. A stroll, something I never do at home, but the hotel has a strict non-smoking policy, so I had to take my unhealthy habits elsewhere.
The Hague was already awake. Cyclists, trams, vans, cars and briefcases, everyone was going somewhere. I didn’t have anywhere to go, I was already where I needed to be.

I arrived yesterday afternoon with my travel bag, on the train from Rotterdam. My carriage was virtually empty, which was a real shame. Public transport is a fantastic source of inspiration for new characters and remarkable behaviour.
Once, for instance, I sat knee to knee with a young lady, who had decided that the journey between Amsterdam and Leiden would be the perfect opportunity to remove the dandruff from her scalp. She pulled out her hair tie, parked her handbag out of the spray zone, lifted her long nails towards her head and started scratching in a systematic, fanatical way. A white blanket grew on her knees and I involuntary pulled my legs back towards me. It was fascinating, in a somewhat unsavoury way.
But nothing happened on the train yesterday that I could use. I even found my way to the hotel straightaway, without getting lost or having to ask for directions. Very disappointing. Efficiency is not very productive for story writing.

Damn it, I thought. I’ve got to write a column about something!

Fortunately, I solved that problem during the meal. Inside the Indonesian restaurant that spanned multiple floors, between the wayang puppets, paintings and cabinets full of mysterious paraphernalia, a long table had been set for about twenty people. Authors, translators and language-lovers, the living mechanism of this project; people who don’t think twice about using different cases, and whose heart rate quickens when they hear a complex sentence construction.
A diverse and international group, nice to watch, but even nicer to listen to. The life stories and anecdotes that were served up, the bowls of satay and sweet-and-sour vegetables that were passed around in all accents of the rainbow – it was an exceptionally tasteful experience, for someone who rarely leaves her own town.

I noticed that the translators in particular seemed to feel at ease. They (and yes, I am lumping you all together here, for the purpose of this column), feel at home in multiple languages, are curious about the unknown and can often tell impressive stories from their travels in a captivating way.
And that gave me something to think about. What makes them so inclined to travel? How come they are so adventurous? Why don’t they get homesick? Questions that remained unanswered as I drifted off to sleep last night, and which I could only find a somewhat satisfactory answer to this morning, in the illuminating light of my first cigarette.

Perhaps it’s inherent in their profession. An unusual profession, to which this festival (and this project in particular) gives the attention and respect it deserves.
Translators look beyond the borders of language, find connections, and use their dictionaries to make the world a smaller place. Perhaps, I thought, as I inhaled greedily from my cigarette and felt the nicotine rise to my head, perhaps that’s why they don’t get homesick, perhaps they’re at home everywhere.

Whatever the case may be, their enthusiasm is having a contagious effect. Right now, I am not feeling homesick at all. I fancy taking a stroll.

Prologue
02-11-13

Let me start with a confession. I am actually entirely unsuited for Crossing Border. Any festival for that matter.

When I told my friends that I was going to be writing a daily report of the festival for The Chronicles, explaining that – in order to experience this adventure to its fullest – I’d be sleeping in a hotel room at night and roaming around The Hague and Antwerp by day, surrounded by complete strangers, on the prowl for unexpected insights, they looked at me with pity.

“You?” they said. “Away from home for so long?”

These were the same friends I had shamelessly neglected last year, having deluded myself (in a bout of insanity that persisted for months) that it would be a good idea to write my second novel in complete isolation.

Living like a hermit. Yes, it had seemed like a good idea at the time. I bought an extremely ugly, but oh so comfortable dressing gown, retreated to our musty, unheated attic and gradually built up an excellent relationship with my talkative cat, Tartuffe. That was more than enough companionship for me. That’s what I thought anyway, and Tartuffe agreed.

Together, a summer passed us by, then a winter, and then another summer. We forgot which day it was, and which month. Tartuffe sat purring on my lap whilst I cursed my characters. He was a faithful mascot.

To cut a long story short: I finished the book. But afterwards I had to make a solemn promise to mend my ways. I’m now sleeping again (preferably before sunrise), I no longer live off a diet of toasted sandwiches and nicotine, and I’ve even started going outside again. Tartuffe and I still talk to each other regularly, but he also thinks it’s time to broaden our horizons. We’re doing our best.

But my friends were quite right to react as they did, because whilst my dressing gown may now be hanging up on the coat rack, I am still a home bird, a stay-at-home, a homebody. I avoid birthday parties, get-togethers and gatherings, every situation where you’re expected to network or wear a wristband. And if for some reason I can’t get out of going to one, I’ll sit in a corner, jacket on lap, eyes on the exit, ready to go.

No, when all’s said and done, I’m not cut out for festivals. But right now, with two weeks to go, I am still full of confidence. In fact, I have a strong suspicion that, at Crossing Border, I won’t be the only one feeling a bit socially awkward, and acting that way too. And I can take comfort in that.

There will surely be others who, just like me, put on their spontaneous face, but don’t actually know how they should act ‘amongst people.’ And I will do my best to find them, those other hermits. I won’t shut myself away in my hotel room; I’ll mingle in the audience, let the fantastic line-up take me by surprise, and go out looking for the lone wolves, the others who, just like me, want to learn how to talk again.

It will be an adventure.