Laura Williams
Epilogue
DOOR Sacha Sperling
30-11-2011

I’m not sure how to take stock of my ‘Crossing Border experience’.

Do we have to take stock of everything we experience?

It was surprising, it was funny, it was nice. It was cold outside. My hotel room looked out onto a street with a tram line in the middle. There was an Englishman, an Argentinean woman and a Dutchman, and lots of other people. A theatre halfway between rococo and modern. Underground rock bands.

In the daytime I wandered through the streets and watched MTV. One day I went into a shopping centre. I bought a hat and a t-shirt. I also bought a cool jumper. Grey, very soft, with a violet and blue beach on it. Since I’ve been back I’ve worn nothing else…This information is crucial for the conclusion of my epilogue.

I went into a book shop. It struck me that writers in the Netherlands often appear in a photo on the cover of their book. I found that funny. I found that my face was on the Dutch edition of my book. That made me laugh too. On the advice of a mother standing next to me in the queue, I drank my first Fristi. It wasn’t great, but I told her I liked it.

In the evening I gave readings in French, to people who couldn’t understand. I did that twice. It felt quite awkward. The second time I was supposed to be subtitled, but for some reason that didn’t happen. I drank beer from a plastic cup. I was interviewed in English.

I said goodbye to everyone. There was mist, mist and yet more mist.

I’m not sure what else to say. So I’ll stop here. Unlucky for those waiting for the end of the cool grey jumper story.

Alle vertalingen van Laura Williams
Epilogue
30-11-11

I’m not sure how to take stock of my ‘Crossing Border experience’.

Do we have to take stock of everything we experience?

It was surprising, it was funny, it was nice. It was cold outside. My hotel room looked out onto a street with a tram line in the middle. There was an Englishman, an Argentinean woman and a Dutchman, and lots of other people. A theatre halfway between rococo and modern. Underground rock bands.

In the daytime I wandered through the streets and watched MTV. One day I went into a shopping centre. I bought a hat and a t-shirt. I also bought a cool jumper. Grey, very soft, with a violet and blue beach on it. Since I’ve been back I’ve worn nothing else…This information is crucial for the conclusion of my epilogue.

I went into a book shop. It struck me that writers in the Netherlands often appear in a photo on the cover of their book. I found that funny. I found that my face was on the Dutch edition of my book. That made me laugh too. On the advice of a mother standing next to me in the queue, I drank my first Fristi. It wasn’t great, but I told her I liked it.

In the evening I gave readings in French, to people who couldn’t understand. I did that twice. It felt quite awkward. The second time I was supposed to be subtitled, but for some reason that didn’t happen. I drank beer from a plastic cup. I was interviewed in English.

I said goodbye to everyone. There was mist, mist and yet more mist.

I’m not sure what else to say. So I’ll stop here. Unlucky for those waiting for the end of the cool grey jumper story.

The Last Night
20-11-11

At night in The Hague I was a cowboy floating on the scattered light of the street lamps. The air smelt of ozone and there was no pavement. Trams rode past, captive skeletons. Metal beasts travelling ceaselessly back and forth, causing the ground to vibrate.

In a Rococo theatre I listened to music. A lot of music. In the Rococo theatre I gave a reading in a language nobody understood. I felt a bit ridiculous. But those were just the rules of play.

In the street yesterday I saw Mickey Mouse’s face floating in the air. It was a deflated balloon, deformed by the wind and hanging on the branch of a tree.

Yesterday evening on the way back to the hotel, I stood in front of a restaurant. Before me was a hive of activity. Silhouettes of waiters going endlessly back and forth behind the window. The feverish bustle of a few minutes to closing time. It was late and the silhouettes had to get back to their houses, their families, somewhere in the night, somewhere in this city I still didn’t know. All the lights in the restaurant went out, leaving only the red neon light of the sign above the door. A mysterious, geometric form. I went back to the hotel.

In the middle of the night I looked out of the window. The deserted street. Spui. More a road, actually. I heard the echo of cars, spectres in the night. I looked at the moon (it was reddish) and back to the street. A lorry drove by. An enormous lorry. I wasn’t quick enough to read what was written on the side. It was a thirty tonner, with ruthlessly bright headlights. I couldn’t stop looking at it. It drove slowly through the mist. As if weightless. I thought about the road. Transit zone. A non-place. Ordered wilderness. The road that created the impression that everything was floating above it. That you too could float. Now the window of the lorry was open. Though far away, I could see the silver smoke coiling out of the window. The cigarette of the great traveller. The lorry driver remained concealed, seated in his colossus. And I imagined that guy’s life. Every time he drives through a city he doesn’t know, or a city he knows all too well. Every time he makes a stop along the motorway. Black coffee in the mornings. When he stops, still a long way from his final destination. I watched the lorry driver throw his cigarette butt out of the window. I watched it smoulder, strawberry-coloured on the tarmac. I closed my eyes. I thought of the epic of the explorer who has nothing more to discover. He closed his window and accelerated away to the sound of tumbling dustbins. I saw the ruthlessly bright headlights again.

It was my last night in The Hague.

On the way back to the hotel
19-11-11

On the way back to the hotel after the last concert, in the quiet streets of The Hague, the mist returned. Everything was enveloped, like a ghost town in an Edgar Allan Poe novel. Earlier this evening I gave a reading from my book. A strange moment. There were a lot of people. The exuberant atmosphere of the festival. And now there’s just the mist and the silence. I want to see the city. The streets are empty. The feeling of being the only person in a cinema. In a large, modern square behind my hotel there are skateboarders. A group that has gathered despite the cold, despite the night. I listen to the sound of the wheels, the sound of the falls. Their silhouettes are drawn against the dark stones. Slim legs in tight blue jeans and trainers of every colour. The skateboards seem to glide and the heavy shoes hover through the air. The kids perform their dangerous flips and suicidal tricks. When one of them falls I feel like a nanny at the side of a sandpit. They risk the most difficult tricks, which often go wrong. They seem vulnerable, for a moment I think it’s all going to end badly, that it’s my duty to keep an eye on them. In the end nothing happens. They all leave at once. I feel a bit stupid and I decide walk on. I’m not far from the hotel. I’ll be sensible and go back… But on the other side of the street something catches my eye. A shop, or rather a bazaar. The kind of place that’s open late, where it smells of amber and cleaning products. I go across to it. A few lights and over I go, that’s all it takes. In the window are all kinds of things that look like they’ve just fallen off the back of a lorry. In the midst of the horrible mess rests an enormous television. I stand, staring in amazement at this colossus. It reminds me of televisions from the nineties. Crude devices bulging out at the back. Inside the shop someone’s singing along loudly to the final strains of a song. What intrigued me when I passed the bazaar was first this screen from another time, but also the picture on the screen. The start of Knight Rider. In the middle of the night I watch a car leave a train of dust through the purple tinted desert. On the screen Michael Knight (the hero) dodges the obstacles. He activates the turbo boost to accelerate and the car races away at over 480 km an hour with a thunderous noise. I am mesmerised by the Pontiac Firebird. I remember that this very car was at the centre of my boyhood fantasies, not so long ago. I rediscover this dream car, the phantom of my youth, in the dead of night at a bazaar in The Hague. There are parts of us everywhere, echoes we weren’t aware of. Sometimes you have to be far from home to find yourself again. For a moment, I don’t know how long, in the middle of this misty street, I am eight years old. Then the episode begins, I’m not eight anymore and it’s freezing cold. It’s winter. I hadn’t realised. I’m always the last to know.

Column 2
18-11-11

It was a little while before I realised I’d forgotten my suitcase. And for some mysterious reason, I didn’t dare ask the taxi driver to turn back at first. The further from home I got, the more ridiculous the situation became. So I gathered my courage and confessed everything to the taxi driver. Ten minutes later I was on my way to the Crossing Border festival. Written on the taxi’s wing mirror I read: Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. I laughed about that a bit and before I knew it I was at the airport. I’ve always been a disastrous traveller. Incapable of reading information boards properly. The boy who’s smoking a cigarette on the platform as the train leaves, the boy who sets off the security gates, the boy who was absolutely sure he had packed his passport. Yep, that’s me.

At the airport I am told about the mist. There is mist everywhere. In Paris, in Amsterdam. The damp air is preventing the iron monsters from taking off. Heavyweight against featherweight. There is panic at the airport. Everybody has to get somewhere. Nobody can afford to wait. Eventually my plane leaves France. Above the clouds the sun has the impact of a bullet. The blood flows along the horizon. Below the haze the day is coming to an end.

The landing: thank you for flying with us. I’ve been to Amsterdam before. I know Dutch hospitality. The flag is like the French one, but in reverse. I’m not feeling too far from home, just a little. It’s already dark. I’m looking forward to being introduced to the other writers, to making my entrance. And then I meet them, in a street in a city I don’t know. I’m pleased that they are young. Different lives, different countries, different destinations, but still the same desire as me. That means that there are others, that I am not alone. And that makes it less frightening. I don’t know if they’re thinking the same thing. Mutual respect, we are part of the same team. The paths we take will be different but I know we have something in common. You don’t write for nothing. You have to be a bit mad, a bit lonely, a bit of a dreamer, a bit of all of those. Anyway, they seem friendly.

On the way to the concert with the others, I begin to understand the principle of the Crossing Border festival. There are the borders that I crossed earlier sitting in the aeroplane (the French and Belgian…). I didn’t notice. Nowadays you don’t notice when you cross a border. It happens quickly. Above the clouds you’re completely unaware. And then there are the other borders. Between languages, between art forms…And these are much more difficult to cross. But yesterday, on the way to the concert, somewhere in The Hague, we laughed and talked. Yesterday evening our paths met and we all forgot that there are borders. There was just the festival.

Prologue
07-11-11

I have been asked to write a prologue. A short piece about the journey I will soon be making to the Netherlands. But it turns out the shortest pieces can be the most difficult to write. There are a few basic rules to bear in mind: keep it simple, express excitement, apprehension, joy. Try to appear sincere, somewhat talented and also amusing – it should not be dull. I have been told simply that this piece of writing will be translated and then read to an audience, in my presence. And here, sitting at my desk, I do not believe that I have anything to say. I do not believe, either, that there is anything I hate more than an author describing his inability to write and eventually, out of necessity, getting something written after all. It is a gimmick more worn out even than the synthetic seat covers on the Thalys train. And it is exactly what I am doing. But the exercise demands it of me. Right. That said, still nothing has come to me. But my piece can certainly not be composed entirely of digressions. That is always so obvious. Soon I will be sitting on a stage, or somewhere else, someone will be reading out these words and I won’t be able to understand. Then I will think back to those moments, sitting at my desk, when I thought inspiration would never come. Even in a language you don’t understand, digressions remain pretentious. And that doesn’t make a very considered impression. So now I will really begin in earnest. I will find something to say. Now…let’s see…come on, it’s not so hard. Writing is not that complicated. It’s not inventing anything. The words are already there, they existed long before us. It is enough to arrange them attractively. Just like a bouquet of flowers. First find the words, then do them justice. If treated crudely, they betray us. There can be no cheating. And I have been lucky, the words have always come to me when I needed them. They have been with me like a shadow army. They have given form to my desires, my fears, my dreams. They have led me much further than I could ever have imagined. Opened immense perspectives where I saw closed horizons. They have allowed me to capture some of the beauty of the Seine, of Paris, in black and white. They have gradually formed me, without my knowledge. Now the words have become my passport. They accompany me still, from border to border. And perhaps that should be my theme. This extraordinary opportunity I have been given to see my book travel, be transformed. The little story that I tinkered with alone, in the privacy of my teenaged bedroom, with the diligence of a mechanic bent over his engine. My book, my first book. That story that was once just mine, is now told in languages I do not understand. And that is an incredible thought.