Noel Hérnandez González
DOOR Aura Xilonen
Asterisks on a world that hasn’t lost its tatema* yet
21-11-2016

to my family and all my friends

*

The Crossing Border Festival 2016 came to an end some days ago, and I can still taste its music and words. The streets and the hustle and bustle. The friendliness of the Dutch, who are at ease being both funny and calm. Their intelligence and good will towards the fellow man. I understood that poetry can blossom around the corner. Between the trees and beaches we went to, where the wind pulled our hair. Between the compasses made of clouds and rain. In the sea that opens out, and the canals that branch off. In the cold benches and churches. In the candles.

*

The Hague.

*

And the hours pass by while I try to get hold of them, to memorise them, to condemn them to eternity between the empty pages of my travelogue. But time goes by: insolent, its melting soul sliding between the seconds that won’t come back.

*

I’m days away from getting back to my beautiful, albeit tragic, country: Mexico – and I’m still amazed by Holland. And even though I caught a horrible flu, I look at the rain through the windows of this beautiful Translators House in Amsterdam and smile. I draw a wet heart on the steamy glass after breathing on the window. It’s been some time since I left The Hague to come to stay here, among my friends Peter Bergsma, Myrthe and Maud.

*

In Amsterdam I learn that Trump won the elections in the USA. We all feel the world has lost something: the innocence of thinking that we could build a better world, perhaps. Because it seems like irrational people, those who vote with their gut instead of their brain, are using brutality as a bargaining chip. We all have the same underwhelming feeling: ‘Poor world! How sad! Now, it’s the poor, the outcast, the neglected, who’ll have to give a hand to the rich. The world is upside down. How tragic!

*

All is not lost. I learn there have been a lot of demonstrations in the USA against Donald Trump and the hatred he represents. All under the same universal flag of justice and dignity. Because we will never surrender. And from here – in the short, really short time we spend on Earth – I take with me the brightest pearls of wisdom I’ve found in my young age:

Always ensure no injustice is done
Make yourself heard when you disagree.
Never hurt another person.
Protect the elderly and children.
Don’t allow any kind of abuse.
Look after ourselves and the environment.
Keep a clean conscience.
Be outraged by brutality and abuse.
Fight with all your might, without fear, so hope will never die.
Cycle more often.

*

The world is turning, and sometimes its movement makes us fall. But it never takes away the humour we use to fight the pain away. I think internet memes must be a specific circus act made to dent people’s hypocrisy.

*

Today. November the 9th, is the third anniversary of my grandad’s passing. Perhaps he’s sailing in the North Sea – where I threw a shell and called his name from the beach shore, in such cold water. I lit a candle to guide him back home, back to our hearts. My granny asked me the following: “Light a candle for him, darling. Maybe in a theatre, because he had the soul of a musician, a poet, a madman.” The soul of a troubadour, like the birds that shine at dawn. “Grandad, do you know that I miss you lots?” The bench is cold so I go in to a church to take shelter from the rain.

*

I read in Dutch and learned some bad words in French. I worked alongside my translator girlfriends. They are the mirrors that throw light on the process of invention.

*

I walk in Amsterdam. Father Christmas comes from the river. People sing songs. I think about all the meals, the dinners, the food that keeps me going. I look at the price of the clothes and I think it’s all so expensive. I come from poverty, from hunger. I look at the price tags counting the pennies. No, I think I will walk everywhere today. After all, everything is closer here than from where I come from – even if it takes me three days.

*

I’m happy going to Amsterdam, Utrecht and the fantastic town where Myrthe is from. Her parents are great, super fantastic. I get sick and they look after me like a daughter. I fall in love with them.

*

I check my email with a runny nose and cough. Clara Stern, my guardian angel in Mexico, tells me that my book will also be published in Polish. I’m happy. In other emails they ask me to guest write for a magazine and also to write an article for a newspaper in the USA. They are also planning my return to Holland and Belgium next March, after visiting Paris and Arles in January. I’ve been invited to Perugia and Milan. In August I’ll be in Poland for a festival. I never thought, as I said in my first chronicle, that writing would take me around the world and give me so much from so many people.

*

Thank you for inviting me, for offering me a place to stay and for giving me the gift of your friendship

Tot ziens en veel geluk!!!**

Amsterdam, November the 18th, 2016

@AuraXilonen

*Head

**Goodbye and good luck, according to Google Translate

Alle vertalingen van Noel Hérnandez González
21-11-16

to my family and all my friends

*

The Crossing Border Festival 2016 came to an end some days ago, and I can still taste its music and words. The streets and the hustle and bustle. The friendliness of the Dutch, who are at ease being both funny and calm. Their intelligence and good will towards the fellow man. I understood that poetry can blossom around the corner. Between the trees and beaches we went to, where the wind pulled our hair. Between the compasses made of clouds and rain. In the sea that opens out, and the canals that branch off. In the cold benches and churches. In the candles.

*

The Hague.

*

And the hours pass by while I try to get hold of them, to memorise them, to condemn them to eternity between the empty pages of my travelogue. But time goes by: insolent, its melting soul sliding between the seconds that won’t come back.

*

I’m days away from getting back to my beautiful, albeit tragic, country: Mexico – and I’m still amazed by Holland. And even though I caught a horrible flu, I look at the rain through the windows of this beautiful Translators House in Amsterdam and smile. I draw a wet heart on the steamy glass after breathing on the window. It’s been some time since I left The Hague to come to stay here, among my friends Peter Bergsma, Myrthe and Maud.

*

In Amsterdam I learn that Trump won the elections in the USA. We all feel the world has lost something: the innocence of thinking that we could build a better world, perhaps. Because it seems like irrational people, those who vote with their gut instead of their brain, are using brutality as a bargaining chip. We all have the same underwhelming feeling: ‘Poor world! How sad! Now, it’s the poor, the outcast, the neglected, who’ll have to give a hand to the rich. The world is upside down. How tragic!

*

All is not lost. I learn there have been a lot of demonstrations in the USA against Donald Trump and the hatred he represents. All under the same universal flag of justice and dignity. Because we will never surrender. And from here – in the short, really short time we spend on Earth – I take with me the brightest pearls of wisdom I’ve found in my young age:

Always ensure no injustice is done
Make yourself heard when you disagree.
Never hurt another person.
Protect the elderly and children.
Don’t allow any kind of abuse.
Look after ourselves and the environment.
Keep a clean conscience.
Be outraged by brutality and abuse.
Fight with all your might, without fear, so hope will never die.
Cycle more often.

*

The world is turning, and sometimes its movement makes us fall. But it never takes away the humour we use to fight the pain away. I think internet memes must be a specific circus act made to dent people’s hypocrisy.

*

Today. November the 9th, is the third anniversary of my grandad’s passing. Perhaps he’s sailing in the North Sea – where I threw a shell and called his name from the beach shore, in such cold water. I lit a candle to guide him back home, back to our hearts. My granny asked me the following: “Light a candle for him, darling. Maybe in a theatre, because he had the soul of a musician, a poet, a madman.” The soul of a troubadour, like the birds that shine at dawn. “Grandad, do you know that I miss you lots?” The bench is cold so I go in to a church to take shelter from the rain.

*

I read in Dutch and learned some bad words in French. I worked alongside my translator girlfriends. They are the mirrors that throw light on the process of invention.

*

I walk in Amsterdam. Father Christmas comes from the river. People sing songs. I think about all the meals, the dinners, the food that keeps me going. I look at the price of the clothes and I think it’s all so expensive. I come from poverty, from hunger. I look at the price tags counting the pennies. No, I think I will walk everywhere today. After all, everything is closer here than from where I come from – even if it takes me three days.

*

I’m happy going to Amsterdam, Utrecht and the fantastic town where Myrthe is from. Her parents are great, super fantastic. I get sick and they look after me like a daughter. I fall in love with them.

*

I check my email with a runny nose and cough. Clara Stern, my guardian angel in Mexico, tells me that my book will also be published in Polish. I’m happy. In other emails they ask me to guest write for a magazine and also to write an article for a newspaper in the USA. They are also planning my return to Holland and Belgium next March, after visiting Paris and Arles in January. I’ve been invited to Perugia and Milan. In August I’ll be in Poland for a festival. I never thought, as I said in my first chronicle, that writing would take me around the world and give me so much from so many people.

*

Thank you for inviting me, for offering me a place to stay and for giving me the gift of your friendship

Tot ziens en veel geluk!!!**

Amsterdam, November the 18th, 2016

@AuraXilonen

*Head

**Goodbye and good luck, according to Google Translate

07-11-16

to Lize, Rowan, Eline and Sihem. For the pleasure of sharing the ethereal and giving it shape

The interview with Jelko Arts started with: “I know you come from Mexico and are the youngest. How’s your relationship with other Mexican writers? I told him they all seem really old to me, so I don’t really know. Lize Spit was next. I like her accent a lot when she speaks in English. She was really funny. I think she said some people told her that her book was very “Flemish”. Then came Rowan Hisayo Buchanan. She comes across as very unassuming, always showing gratitude by closing her eyes. Her voice is also soft and sweet. Before she read aloud I remember her saying it was a man talking, so we should imagine a much deeper voice. Eline Lund was the fourth guest. She is always so sophisticated and assertive. She is more serious than the others but we get along anyway. She only seems serious, but she’s not really that serious. Her book is about the inner thoughts of a girl who moves to a new city: she’s supposed to be working, but she doesn’t do anything. It’s her second novel. Siham Amghar came last. This muchacha fights for women’s rights. She’s the only poet in the group and her translator didn’t know she had to translate poetry into English until the last minute, which we found rather intriguing. Although her translation was good, I don’t think it sounded as musical as the original. I didn’t understand what the poems were about but Myrthe told me they were very beautiful, very maternal.

While these women were reading aloud I looked at them bewildered, absorbed, like a moth to a flame. They were taking over the world in their own way, creating new worlds in the process. I was thinking that this century belongs to us, women. (Of course I don’t fight against men, but if one gets in my way I’ll give him a black eye. Because we’re all the same in our different ways: men and women. We are like two planets in the same solar system, where we are attracted and pulled apart by the force of gravity.)

I don’t want to sound melodramatic or sentimental either. I don’t tend to be this way. But the day after, when we had finished our last breakfast together, when we said goodbye to each other as everyone had to make her way back, when we hugged, I felt like something in me was dying.

That’s why I think farewells should be left for the very last minute. For the last line of the last page of a book. This goodbye should be almost invisible, like the one that lovers say, or those about to kill themselves. Because they know they won’t see each other again, and even if they do, they won’t be the same people anymore.

Farewells must be left for the very end, because they’re always sad – at least for me. Because when we say goodbye we let others go and only keep a few traces preserved as memories. Mercurial memories that will become smoke one day, as our bodies will. Memories of an instant, of things that have just happened, and that we know are gone forever.

I bet we won’t be together again. At least not in the same place, at the same time. This makes me sad. Same as when the rain doesn’t stop and I feel like time doesn’t belong to me anymore. And I feel heartbroken. For me it was love at first sight and now I must depart for Amsterdam.

I fell in love with every single person I met at the CBF. Because love is such a precise thing that doesn’t answer to our own desire, impulses, or place in the universe.

End note: I had dinner with my Dutch editor Koen and my Italian editor Giovanna before the interview. They were really nice to me. Thanks a lot for the jacket and for the cover of my book “Campione Gringo”. One day I will tell you what we talked about, which was amazing. For the moment my heart beats like a two-headed drum. @AuraXilonen

05-11-16

To DBC Pierre, and to my dearest translators Myrthe Van Der Bogaert, Noel Hernández, Lisa Thunnissen, Andrea Rosenberg, Julia Chardovoine, Susanne Lang and Bruno Arpaia.

Patty Jansen introduced me to the audience at Humanity House, part of the CBF. Then I went on stage ALL BY MYSELF (there were three seats but neither Patty nor Eline sat down, which I found strange). I said in English: “Hello, you can call me Xilo if you want. I’ll read the begining of my novel. I hope you enjoy it – even if you don’t understand a word”. They laughed.

(On my way back to the hotel I reflected upon the talk given by DBC Pierre, where he said that his first attempts at writing a novel were horrible because he was thinking about the reader and what the reader wanted. Only when he stopped doing so did his writing become honest, solid, authentic. At this point I asked myself: why should my writing be accessible if not many people read us anyway? Wouldn’t it be better to be demanding on the reader, so those who seek and praise easy-reading literature would be put off? What do we need these readers for anyway? We certainly don’t need them to be better at writing.

Even though social media means that we write and read more than at any other time in history, few books are read -I think literature should be an exercise of deep breathing, while what you write and read on the internet is just panting: swan songs drowned by the sound of buzzing flies- I’m talking about reading entire books because on the internet we get distracted by following a link to somewhere else after only three of four pages.

When I won the Mauricio Achar Prize they praised my novel for its “experimentation with language”. I’ve just received a link today, November the 5th, to a discussion on my Campeón Gabacho. One of the contributors said that the great critic of my work hasn’t been born yet. This is because his old and archaic generation isn’t qualified to understand my literature: only the young could do it.

He’s right. In my work I attack old novels that are dull, lifeless, and rotten with dead worms. Where the all-too-decent and inanimate words are similar to those used by a whole generation of novelists who by default resort to undemanding literature.

They don’t give different words a chance because these don’t sell. They think about the market and what the reader wants, as DBC Pierre did when he was younger. That’s how mere craftsmanship becomes a substitute for art, and writers turn into mediocre scriveners. Today I realise that most of the older generation of writers in my country lack the guts to bet on the difficult, to leap into the void of finding their own style. They are afraid of shouting at the world because that would be “in poor taste”. They praise and reward art within the canon. Art that is beautiful, palatable and marketable, even if this art is about death and destruction. Just as in the UK, where they don’t want novels where nothing happens because these don’t sell.

The market is everything

And yet, despite how challenging the language I use is, the rights of my novel were almost immediately sold for translation into five languages: Dutch, Italian, French, English and German. I’m still surprised, as well as deeply grateful. My novel isn’t an easy read. All my translators have struggled with it, and for this reason I profusely admire them.)

When I finished reading they all clapped (or that’s what I thought anyway, because the Dutch are really decent people). I didn’t know whether they understood my words. When I got down from the stool Lisa (my Dutch translator) congratulated me and said she really enjoyed my reading, especially the voice of the black woman. I was happy and, finally, despite the mild cold I seem to constantly carry around, I felt like going out and getting soaked by the rain or even by the sea.

(Additional note: Club Seven is a nightclub with weird music where they all dance really well. One of the translators told me jokingly: “don’t go yet, I want to see you dancing salsa, haha.” I replied “oh, I don’t dance salsa, haha”. She doesn’t know that I don’t dance in public and the only salsa I like is the one I have with tacos al pastor.)

04-11-16

To @tarjetaVisi, @PremiaPro y @crossingborder, for the music, the bikes and the boat.

My thoughts are ice-cold and I nearly got killed, atomised by a bicycle*. Here they are all scattered as if in a cycling thermonuclear reaction, where everyone crosses the street from everywhere, splitting the atoms of a thermophobic landscape.

Last night I went to a dinner party where I met my extraordinary translators, Myrthe and Noel, in the flesh. I also met my splendid hosts Elinor and Rivkah. At the table we are all very young (authors, translators and hosts). We all seem wet behind the ears and, to start with, we looked really serious. Maybe because we lacked confidence, or because we lacked a bit of wine to laugh out loud, as I did when Myrthe told me she’s scared of animals, even her goldfish: she doesn’t touch it in case it jumps and bites her (woof, woof, woof!). She told me that as a little girl she wanted to study the violin but her father said no, because that would mean seven years of nothing but noise. They decided she would study the piano instead – which is weird because her dad is a drummer, and a drum kit, no matter how pianissimo you play it, is always noisy.

We also talked about politics, where we see the existence of a candidate like Donald Trump as a bad omen, and agree on how crucial this election in the States will be for the rest of the world. Especially for my country, I think. There is a saying that goes: poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States! They also say that if the US sneezes, Mexico catches pneumonia. Most worrying is the fact that this election is laden with racial hatred. Hitler gave free rein to his hatred and it ended in millions of deaths. The bombings in Syria have forced thousands of people out of their country. Everyone remembers the image of the little boy drowned on the beach, an image that shows the decline of human solidarity. Not long ago the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union with Brexit. I read that those who voted out defend their turf above all else, arguing that migrants steal, among other things, the jobs from young Britons.

I’m young and being young has never been synonymous with stupidity. That’s why I’m worried about this hate campaign that spreads to every society in the world, and that is aimed at the most vulnerable and helpless. I’m terrified of Donald Trump’s hatred when he says: “Mexico only sends drugs and rapists to the US.” No! The world shouldn’t revolve around tyrants and, instead of building walls, we should build bridges for human understanding. Dialogue should be the starting point to turn borders from death traps into bridges of hope.

I ask myself today, on this cold Dutch early morning: could art be the real bridge to erasing borders, to cross them, to help us sail to every port without going under as a species? Maybe using culture and the arts to influence world politics would be the ultimate utopia. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of guns and political speeches we made guitars and sang songs? So far, this festival is the best port I’ve departed from. So today, with guitars, bicycles, drum kits, violins, pianos, letters and cold weather, we shall sail much better.

*This is not to say I don’t like bicycles. On the contrary, I love that Dutch streets are full of bikes, unlike in my own country, where they are crammed with cars and smog.

24-10-16

While I was writing my novel Campeón Gabacho (Gringo Champion) I never thought I’d be interviewed on radio and TV afterwards, nor that I’d have to give talks and conferences at public events and universities, or that I’d write speeches for book launches in literary festivals. Let alone that I’d go to another country, at 20, to chronicle a music and literature festival. Simply because I’ve been shy since I was a little girl and I thought that by writing I could say as much as by talking. I know that writing is a more difficult and complicated process than talking: when we talk we can always take back what we’ve said and, after all, words are blowin’ in the wind.

That’s what I secretly thought: I could sit down at the party so I wouldn’t have to dance in front of others. But when I received the invitation to be a chronicler at the Crossing Border Festival my heart skipped a beat with happiness and surprise. Never in my wildest dreams did I think

I’d cross the Atlantic Ocean once again. As well as my heart skipping a beat, I reality-checked myself, in panic mode, because the first question that popped into my mind was: should I prepare for writing interesting, highbrow, super smug, and relevant things, or should I just travel as I’ve always done, with a low profile, like a ghost, like a shadow?

Maybe that’s why my first published novel is about a migrant, someone left out, someone who’s been expelled from his own country and is seeking the dream of a better life wherever he can.

With this in mind I gathered all my courage and replied to the invitation:

“Yes, I will go to the Crossing Border Festival” while another question gnawed at me: what sort of fear does someone feel when travelling to another country, without knowing the language, customs, or culture?

I dusted off my old passport and rang the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Señorita, your appointment is in a month.”

“Okay.”

After a month, and a very long queue, a sour-faced civil servant spat at me:

“Your passport has been cancelled. You have to start the process all over again because we don’t know who you are”.

When I was a little girl my mother took my brother and me to Germany and we had to stay there as paperless migrants because our plane tickets got lost. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the means to get back to Mexico, so we stayed for nearly two years. My passport was issued in Germany but it never entered in the system of Foreign Affairs in Mexico when we were finally repatriated. This is why I had to face this bureaucratic problem for four months: I didn’t know who on earth I was.

A migrant who wants to legally travel to another country faces every imaginable problem: money, fees and paperwork, as well as typos and timewasting. They even tell you off for smiling in the passport photo: “Don’t smile”, they say angrily. It’s a paperwork nightmare to travel to another country, especially for those with limited resources. It’s impossible for poor people to travel. In my own case they kept me in limbo for four months.

Going to another country knowing nothing, as millions of migrants around the world do, is seeing through the eyes of a ghost. Even more so now with the forthcoming elections in the US, where the ultra-xenophobic candidate Donald Trump has labelled Latin American migrants as criminals. With his hatred he kills any hope of building bridges across borders