I wanted to wait a few days to write these final words, in order to allow all the memories of encounters and experiences with people to sink in. But it did not go this way. Ever since my return, people have constantly been asking me if the Chronicles was a success. Since I work at a publishing house, I also get a lot of questions from so-called “experts” who carefully weigh my words.
If I try to talk about it briefly and lightheartedly, it makes me wonder if those days actually can be condensed into a few minutes. Chris’ notes – partially lost, but still part of his story. The question posed by a girl at the international school: “Isn’t it scary to be a writer?” I don’t even know if you ‘are’ are writer, or if it is something you ‘do’. Abdellah’s goodbye letter that I found out in front of my door in the rush to catch my plane, leaving The Hague still fast asleep in the snowy silence. The luncheons and dinners with the translators, who skillfully switch languages and always seem to understand what we say. Laia reading aloud from her novel on a concert stage, and her Dutch seems so much like German and English that I have the feeling I almost understand it. Then I realize that I cannot even recall everyone’s mother tongue. The only thing that counts here is the mixed language we use, which allows us to convey meanings and build relationships.
If they ask me in Italy what the very best part of the festival was, I give a decisive answer: the international atmosphere, the idea that it really is possible to transcend the borders of a single country, of a single language, not by losing your own identity, but by learning to live on the borders of other countries and languages. It reminds me of a book that I read in the University by a French author, more Parisian than all the Parisian authors put together, but born in Algeria*. He proposed that all really important things operate along the margins, on the borders of a territory, in the borderlands between languages or people, and never in the centre. This would seem to be the most important lesson I have learned at the Crossing Border event: the idea of a festival that mixes art and languages, expressions and nationalities, hereby creating something new. So if they ask me in Italy to sum up the best of the festival in the Netherlands in a single word, without hesitation I respond: “the mixture”. On a side note, when Barack Obama was asked what kind of dog he would chose for his daughters, the newly elected president was able to come up with an intelligent answer to a dimwitted question and said: “A mutt like me”.
Note from the translator:
* Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy (1982)