Friday, May 30, 2014

The poet of Place St Rémy De geest

 Behind the white rosebush a great poet Karel Sergen lives. He invited me over to go through a translation of Enoh Meymesse who has been in jail in the Kondengui jail near Yaoundé. Translating  writers who are in prison helps spread their name and their fame and thus protects them.

                                                                                                                                                          The small village is wonderful. the houses are mostly in the local stone and one feels protected, sheltered in them. Sometimes there are big gates and pretty vistas. The donkey called me so I cuddled him and rubbed his soft nose.We worked hard. Every word was weighed and scrutinized. I am sure that after we finished the second half of the correction, the book will be interesting reading. It will  give insight about the hardships of life in the worst Cameroonian jail one can imagine. At the end of the day we made a long walk through the spring field, smelling the different trees, enjoying the vistas. What a great day. Gratitude is in order. On June 27 his city poem will be mounted on the supporting wall around the church in Dutch and French. This way activism becomes its own reward.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Strauss Happening in the Singel in Antwerp

Richard Strauss evolved from a decadent modernist at the end of of the nineteenth century to melodic walser melodies and bittersweet opera's like "der Rosenkavalier", a comedy about life and customs in Vienna. He was a German nationalist loving the German culture, yet abhorred the barbarians of the fascist regime under Hitler. The day started out with the "Filharmonie"  performing "Ein Heldenleben". But let me start at the real beginning: The first violin enters the stage and bows, then the others filter in and the tuning begins: fine tuning, listening in the wondrous chaos of sound to one's own instrument and hearing the sound you are looking for.

 The ritual has to be performed: The conductor comes, shakes hands with the first violin and greets the second violin. Silence, serenity and goose bumps when the whole orchestra in harmony resounds.  Ein Heldenleben: I am naive in music, know nothing yet I am floored, touched, moved, fascinated, feel the vibrations of this large orchestra in my body and bones, feel anger at the military tones and am moved to tears. The instruments are flutes, clarinets, hobos, horns saxophones, wood flute, cello, in the percussion section drums and other kinds of instruments... After that I had to go out be outside and let it all sink in. The day want on as grandiose as it started. the Fauré Quartet was a it more lighthearted and The Arabian dance made me smile. They Quartet was followed after a break by soprano Elizabeth Watts and Roger Vignoles at the piano. I like her attitude, the  kind of irreverence going a along with great voice technique. Then there was a male choir and after that a mixed choir. The songs were irreverent, fun, playful things. And the day ended around 10 pm after having seen a silent movie from 1926 about der Rosenkavalier while the orchestra performed the whole opera... What a day... only possible thanks to the collaborative effort of deSingel, deFilharmonie and the Royal Conservatorium Antwerpen, AP Hogeschool.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Conceptional artist Roland Van den Berghe

 I was surprised when I was contacted by Roland Van den Berghe, friend of Annie Reniers. She had shown him one of my poetry books Traces/Sporen. He found there a poem that intrigued him since it had a clear volta. Having listened to the man and his wild ideas I realize his deep seated pacifism, his true interest in Vietnam and condemning the ugliness which went on there.

The first song I knew
    my daddy is over the ocean
and of course
I thought every American
was my father
I was to blame for the Vietnam war
where I didn’t belong
Now I hear your voice
      You charmer sweet talker

Too much dying had gone on
to settle down
        when the screams and fire
still pierced your dreams
when you freed my mother from her enemy
and waged a sweet war with her

      - so much later now -
your acceptance
has liberated me
belonging where I do belong

Roland is a conceptual artist and when he showed and explained some projects he had done to me I developed a new understanding of conceptual art. I realize the amount of thought and thorough preparation it involves. He was intrigued by the moment the poem changes. I also realize that the pacifist message from the poem would resonate in him since he has done many pacifist actions through his work. Roland, to say the least is well read and has traveled a lot and was interested in Vietnam where he left crutches behind in several locations, taking a picture of it every time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The sky of imagination: sixty letters about art

Last night in the gorgeous Bourla theater in Antwerp there was a book presentation with the Dutch title De hemel van de verbeelding, Zestig brieven over kunst. My daughter Maya is one of the sixty writers. Since we have an Flemish, National and European election next Sunday, at the occasion of the book presentation five specialists and politicians for every party had been invited for a lively discussion. I wasn't too enchanted by the moderator in guiding the conversation.

I have been reading the book and am impressed by the knowledge, the depth of feeling, the wisdom, the humanity of certain letters. from very personal to writing about the structure of the cultural field, the role of administration for certain artists or facilitators of art. The two speakers who impressed me most were Bleri Lleshi pleading for more cultural openness and world music and Peter Swinnen the "bouwmeester" responsible for planning of the Belgium visual of cities. The politicians, well were politicians, yet some were smarter than others in defending culture. I am glad my daughter gave me the opportunity to be present at the event.

Bloggers and freedom of expression

I am a blogger since 2007. I have blogged freely about every subject that crossed my path: peace and war, freedom of expression without worrying whether what I wrote would please 'authorities'. This is a comfort not many bloggers in the world enjoy. The last incident in this respect was that in Ethiopia  Zone 9 bloggers were arrested on April 25th. Also two journalists were arrested on  April 26th journalists: Asmamaw Haile Gorgis and Edom Kassaye. The motto of the Zone 9 bloggers is: we blog because we care. And yes I do this specific blogpost because I care. Kerry, US Secretary of State arrived in Africa and during his conversation he raised the issue of the arrests with the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Kerry had met  Natnael Feleke one of the bloggers last year and it is still so that when one knows a person, one cares more. Yet one also has to care about principles and the principle at stake here is 'Freedom of Information' and 'Free speech'. Watch Kerry here.

 If you feel like reacting write the Prime Minister of Ethiopia at the following address:

Hailemariam Desalegn
Office of the Prime Minister
P.O. Box 1031
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 11 551 1244


Friday, May 16, 2014

Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda

 Kris Berwouts and Ivan Godfroid (right), both are Central Africa specialists. Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda they are sharing their knowledge and feelings about what happened there and and what the situation in the region and in Rwanda itself is to date.

The basis for the discussion is Ivan's poetry book 'Omgewoelde aarde' (Disturbed earth). The book is in three sections. The first one with the motto: During the day Imana (god) roams over the earth, at night he comes to sleep in Rwanda. En deep expression of the beauty and peacefulness of the country. The second motto is: to where the river runs also the rocks roll. The unrest, the uneasiness, the doom is present. Every noise could be the last thing one hears... Foreboding and the reality of it. the third section opens with the motto: It is not the pain of the moment which kills but it's constant memory. The Oratorium for Rwanda was played and the contrast between the joyful strong rhythmic music we are used to hear with the deep inwardness and silence was chilling. Jean De Mey performed a beautiful and haunting improvisation rendering the screams and pain of those mad hundred days in 1994 in which 800.000 people were slaughtered in one hundred days. Rwanda is hauntingly beautiful country, machetes are still the tool of choice and are seen everywhere. Hope lies with the new post genocide generation. Yet overpopulation could destabilize the whole region including the North-east of Congo. Every twenty years the population doubles. Every twenty years there is less land per person to live off and  the seeds of new conflicts lay dormant, for now.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

New European extreme right.

Mai 25th there elections all over Europe. In Belgium there will be local elections, state elections, national elections and European elections. In periods like these the right and extreme right crawls out of every dark corner in the countries of Europe. In the United Kingdom in Luton there is a strong presence of Muslims. So the EDL was founded spewing extreme anti Muslim feelings. There are many such groups in Europe, many extremely violent. there are groups in France, in Germany, in the UK, in Hungary where the 800.000 Roma who still live in Hungary are the main target of their extreme violence. Blood and honour still are welcome in parts of Belgium. In Jamel in the former German Democratic Republic (former Eastern Germany) the extreme right rules supreme, chasing away people. It is almost an exclusively right wing enclave, even  having a "bandit army". They bought over thirty houses in the village. The houses painted red belong the the neo-nazis.
Tomy Robertson and his cronies pose as patriots, yet they divide their communities by their racism and extremism that is channeled through the English Defense league. In Belgium the anti Islamic stance is propagated by the "Vlaams Belang", the former "Flemish blok". By changing their name, they have cleaned up their image, yet they hold still the same anti Muslim convictions. In most countries there is a strong reaction by anti-racist organizations. So beware, don't accept the hate speech, do not buy into the fear of 'the other', 'the foreigner' they propagate. Just try to talk to all your neighbors and life will be a lot more fun. Your possible futures will at least have a chance of being more peaceful, inclusive, colorful and interesting.

Train Dreams- Denis Johnson

Seldom I do read books in translation if the original is written in a language I know. Yet when a friends passes me a book he enjoyed, I'll make the effort and Denis Johnson's book was well worth the effort. It is barely a hundred pages but carries a wealth of metaphor, insight in the hard life in Idaho as exemplified by the main character Robert Grainier. He lives through disaster and the hardships of the American West at the beginning of the twentieths century. The novel exemplifies how personal loss works in a person, how mythical thinking and magic helps and destroys. The main character who starts out as a day laborer is also a prime example of doing what needs to be done. The book was nominated for a Pulitzer prize in 2012. The Dutch translation by Maarten Polman does read well, keeping the sober language of the original. The novel opens with Grainier participating in the killing of a Chinese man who had been accused of stealing... The harshness of those times is immediate and haunting.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The end of mourning

In many cultures there seems to be a period of allowed mourning after a person passes away: It is about six weeks, or some forty some odd days. So yesterday, in the tiny family unit we are, we took down all the condolences cards, put them away in a nice box and just have her smiling picture there for her husband to enjoy. That smile brings him good memories.
My memories are still with her dementia.

my mother
speaks no
only remains  
the seemingly  
of her smile
the leaning over on the chair
mouth wide open
for a bite
she carefully
shoves in
her teeth
just don’t  want to go in
but a person
has to eat
painful of awkward
that head
which can no
till suddenly
my daughter
passes her something
and she
“thank you”
says –

 I send thanks for all she gave...

Friday, May 2, 2014

A pre-election Mai first in Antwerp

There are important elections in Belgium in a couple of weeks, thus the first of Mai is a good day to gather the democratic, progressive forces in Belgium. These four women are all top of a list. But the first of Mai also has a tradition of being international... People from Chile have been a long time part of each parade, but ow also musician from all over Europe end  some from Africa contribute to the festive atmosphere of the day. Some private people along the route have contributed by signs or window dressings. The record shop had a full window with records about solidarity and struggle for a better world.
Several themes of the march were social justice and not paying more taxes as a cleaning lady than a large corporation. Of course local issues were also part of this day.

 This is a protest against the solution the current, rather conservative and extremely Flemish Mair has chosen to make it 'easier' driving around Antwerp on the Freeway. Odd word, since it is never free but always stuck... There are much more sound solutions that the awful BAM Tracé which would create 18 lanes, going along schools, spewing their fine dust around schools and hospitals, polluting the city. I hope that once in the booth to vote, people will not follow the populists who are spreading fear and values I cannot share.