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One town, many books

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I’m a modern everyman. I make use of books to find for myself a dwelling place, if only a temporary one, within the pastiche of narratives and experiences, facts and fantasies.

I leaf through the books, do not drink and do not drive – I smoke and fly, through the tunnel under the city castle and over the main square, hovering for a second under the feet of monument to Valentin Vodnik, the first Slovenian poet that did not write only religious verse, I’m lingering under the old linden tree before darting through the unsuspecting flock of dust-covered sparrows, and disappearing among the arcades of cajoling shop windows.

For me, the geography of towns, harbors, streets, and squares overlaps with literary topography. The poems and novels I read are chapters in a story about a particular place with which any place can identify. The tension between the fearful anxiety and the thrilling exploration that propels me on my wanderings around my imagined city delineates the modern mentality in which inescapable loyalty to a home place challenges one’s need to freely choose identity.

I’m not an exception. I remain attached to my birth town. And to my armchair, my comfortable nest for my reading sessions. It stands in the living room of my family house. The house stands in Ljubljana in what was a workers’ colony before the World War Two.
Zvezna ulica or Union Street is a generous place for our family house. It’s a dead-end street, though. Perhaps that’s the reason why it can afford to be safe for kids at play, and amicable for neighbours to trade gossip over the low garden fences. It streches from the main cemetery to the railway tracks for Trieste-Budapest trains, and ends a stonethrow away from our house.
My street‘s name does not simply denote a generic union, a bond that ties together „more than one“ entity. Its primary meaning evokes Yugoslavia, the union that emerged out of the ashes of Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918 and collapsed in the flames of Yugoslav federation in 1991-1999.  

In Slovenia, an eager member of the European Union since 2004, political unions with others have long been a staple of collective life, even though Slovenians traditionally appeared as „junior partners“ at best. Its geographical location helps explain the fact that Slovenians never had an independent state. Nestled at the northwestern gulf of the Adriatic Sea, their lands appealed to a sucession of Western invaders as the easiest entry-point to the Mediteranean. The Slovenians‘ historical memory brings up the rule of Charlemagne, Habsburg Empire, Napoleon, Third Reich, Fascist Italy, royalist and communist incarnations of former Yugoslavia.

All the while, however, Slovenians maintained a collective sense of a specific ethnic identity, invariably articulated in resistance to comprehensive state-sponsored and violent politics of conversion. In 19th century, they were exposed to the unbridled apetites of rival European empires to the extent that prompted Fran Levstik, one of the founding fathers of modern Slovenian literature, to rally his people to the nationalist cause by unambigously pointing out the choice for Slovenians: either they’ll become „Russians or Prussians“. Unless, of course, they will manage to use their own language to produce ther own literature.
In doing so, Slovenians grew accumstomed to treat literature and culture as a „second best“, as a substitute for the then-largely absent political institutions of their own. From this vantage point it is easy to see why is the establishement of Slovenian independence in 1991 celebrated as the fullfilment of the popular collective desire. However, the very status of independence paradoxically rendered obsolete the uses of shared communal experience, the experience of union.

Consider: the most popular slogan of political discourse in Slovenia before it joined EU was deceptively simple. It called for a „Return to Europe“. But what was hiding in plain sight was its ugly side which—in the eyes of both, the elites and the populatuion at large—implied a „Retreat from the Balkans“. It implied severing the ties between Slovenia and the other republics that used to share a common Yugoslav house. The slogan was based on the widely shared Slovenian assumptions about their legitimate historical connections to the West (Roman Empire, Charlemagne) and their supposedly forced cohabitation with the despised and feared Balkan lands (Yugoslavia). This leading trope of public debate has encouraged the manipulation of exclusionist sentiments that ultimately ended up equating Europe with unadultarated good and the Balkans with unfettered evil.

But I refuse to accept such equation. I lend instead my ear to poets and writers from across the field as I freely choose my home. I’m at home in books about Zagreb that strive to provide evidence for the ironic insight of the great Croatian bard, Miroslav Krleža, that Central Europe begins on the terrace of the town’s most illustrious Esplanade Hotel; I’m at home in Belgrade, whose head resides in cosmopolitan heights thanks to writers Danilo Kiš and David Albahari, while its legs are entrenched under the swinging lamp of a noisy and violent Balkan tavern!
And I’m at home, truly at home, in Sarajevo, defined by ineffable suffering but also with an ethical determination to continue to talk in many voices about the right of a person to have many identities, through the supreme works of art such as can only be born out of extreme circumstances, finding expression in the quivering elegies of Izet Sarajlić, the noble urban sentiment of Abdulah Sidran, or the broad-minded epics of Dževad Karahasan.

But I readily respond to the melancholic gaze of a deer that flashes by through the morphine-laden verses of Georg Trakl; I trace the vestiges of a personal drama in the wet flowers on the façades of bourgeois palaces under the slopes of Kapuzinerberg; and I am unmistakably, although temporarily, at home in Salzburg!
The book flutters its pages and old-fashioned raincoats fan out in an effort to protect the dry loneliness of night strollers passing by the craft shops of Alfama, the heart of old Lisbon; the portrait of Fernando Pessoa emerges from under the jutting roofs of the past colonial glory written in sea salt and pigeon droppings; the portrait of a poet who produced an eternal homage to his Lisbon using the voices of imaginary authors who sing various songs but share one soul. His Lisbon is my Lisbon!

The book spreads its tattooed pages and I’m embraced by the smell of sea-worn cliffs of the northern Adriatic; the tower of the Thurn und Taxis castle appears for a moment, a fleeting pulsation, and I slowly surrender to the recognition that I’m at home in Trieste; it is here that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote two of his dizzily inspiring Duino Elegies, and it is where I now find home, under the hills of the “gulf city” depicted in the books of Boris Pahor. I’m at home in the nostalgic “chiusa tristezza” from Umberto Saba’s poem Three Streets; the steps of Nora Joyce rustle through the whiteness of the book while she paces around a rented apartment, one of a dozen she and her husband lived in fleeing from creditors; I can hear the argument of far-sighted Henrik Tuma, who as early as before World War I wanted to establish the first Slovenian university in cosmopolitan Trieste, the chief port of the Habsburg Empire, rather than in landlocked Ljubljana; although it is not visible to my eyes, I can nevertheless see Dragutin Kette’s sad promontory of San Carlo in Trieste, where the poet went to soothe the wounded heart and the needs of the swollen body; I imagine that I can understand the dialect of šavrinke, the peasant women traders from the Karst high plateau who together with the readers of Marjan Tomšič’s novels head daily towards the vegetable market in the harbor as they did during the distant times of the Habsburg monarchy; the inscription on Italo Svevo’s grave in St. Ana Cemetery tells me that he “smiles at evanescent life and glory which crowned his work late.” Roberto Bobi Bazlen, a publisher and a critic, despairingly reminds me from the desks of Biblioteca Civica that there is no other way to write modern books but as footnotes.

The poems of Czeslaw Milosz, Tomas Venclova, and Eugenius Ališanka open for me the door to Wilna or Vilnius, the “city of ash” amidst Lithuanian forests that lives a secret life of another reality, one that has been sifted through the sieves of my literary memory. I suck in the smoke, leaf through the books of poems and stories, and fastidiously sip the verses and passages in which the creative talent succeeded in conjuring up the shared destiny of immigrants and refugees, nomads and displaced people, roaming the streets and courtyards of the town whose walls demarcate the ultimate frontiers of freedom.

To be at home in a place where the sky meets the earth is to make the experience real! To be at home in a place that offers the elementary, emotionally laden and full-blooded experience! To be at home in a place in which every thing has a name! To breathe the metropolitan air which ever since the Middle Ages has been inviting all the citizens of the urban republic to get rid of old communal ties! I myself would like to become a map of the city, a written page, a thin cobweb through which older and dimmer biographies and urban chronicles shine!
While I’m getting lost wandering along the boulevards of real megapolises and among the covers of borrowed books, I actually search for my imaginary city. Wherever I discover it, a provincial village easily emulates the dwelling of gods and becomes the capital of the world! More precisely: it is the capital of my world that, along with many other and different worlds of other and different readers, travels the orbits of the “Gutenberg galaxy.”

It is true that we, readers, are the citizens of various nation-states each with our own home address and hometown. Yet the moment we open a book and yield, in our unique ways, to the adventurous challenge, we take part in the same ritual. We assert that our place of residence is in the same community, in the republic of letters. It cannot be found in any world atlas; its borders are unstable and are passionately negotiated time and again. With every story read, with every verse quietly recounted, we renew our citizenship in the republic of letters. Many opportunities arise and dissolve within it, faces distorted by horror offer a hand to fantastic patterns of paradise, and every page read turns a new chapter in a reader’s biography.

We can all become citizens in this republic, without restrictions. The only condition required to obtain citizenship is a human capacity for empathy, that is, the capacity to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. No one’s human rights are curtailed in this republic, no one is discriminated against, sentenced, or erased from the register.

Moreover, no one in the republic of letters is forced to speak the language of the majority. The literary republic of letters speaks in one language. It is the language of translation. Literature is not what gets “lost in translation,” as Robert Frost famously exclaimed in defense of poetic singularity. As for me, I’d rather go along with the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet who said that the reading of poetry in translation resembles “a kiss through a veil.” I could not care less for the ascetic chastity that, fearing loss, remains innocent, while with my lips parted in expectation I leaf through the pages of books written in languages I haven’t learned. I take my hat off thankfully to translators, the exemplary citizens of the republic of letters, who continually make it possible to every reader, all of us, to be part of the story of a temporary community committed to the lost cause that represents our true home.

 

First published by the British-based New Metropolitan, reposted per author’s permission.

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2020 Crystal Award Winners

MD Staff

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Deepika Padukone

Artist Theaster Gates, choreographer and media personality Jin Xing, actor Deepika Padukone and artist Lynette Wallworth are the recipients of the 26th Annual Crystal Award, the World Economic Forum announced today. The award celebrates the achievements of artists and cultural figures whose leadership inspires inclusive and sustainable change. The winners will be honoured in the opening session of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, on Monday 20 January.

“These wonderful cultural leaders are bridge-builders. They connect us to each other, they help us reflect on the human condition and they provide visions of the world that can cut through the limitations of short-term or linear thinking,” said Hilde Schwab, Chairwoman and Co-Founder of the World Arts Forum, which hosts the awards.

Award recipients

Theaster Gates, for his leadership in creating sustainable communities
Theaster Gates is an artist who lives and works in Chicago. Drawing on his interest and training in urban planning and preservation, Gates creates works that focus on space theory, land development, sculpture and performance. In 2010, Gates established the Rebuild Foundation to galvanize communities through neighbourhood regeneration and the development of educational and arts programming. Many of the foundation’s initiatives are centred on the revitalization of Chicago’s South Side, creating hubs and archives for black culture that serve as catalysts for discussions on race, equality, space and history. Gates is a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Visual Arts and the Harris School of Public Policy, and is Distinguished Visiting Artist and Director of Artist Initiatives at the Lunder Institute for American Art at Colby College. His work has been exhibited internationally.

“Special thanks to the World Economic Forum for this most prized Crystal Award. I am always reminded that the impact of the arts and artists is incomparable when we think about the transformation of cities and towns. I am honoured to work as a believer in beauty and creativity and hope the work and the ideals that I lead within Chicago have resonance throughout the world,” said Gates.

Jin Xing, for her leadership in shaping inclusive cultural norms
Jin Xing is a choreographer, media personality and China’s most popular TV host. She is a former male ballet dancer and army colonel, who was the first person, publicly, to undergo gender reassignment surgery in her country. She is the founder of the award-winning Jin Xing Dance Theatre, the country’s first independent dance company. Her television shows, which include Venus Hits Mars, The Jin Xing Show and Chinese Dating, draw more than 100 million viewers a week and create a space for discussion on contemporary life in China. She is a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France and received an honorary Doctorate of Dance from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

“In today’s complex and fractured world, I pursue my mission to be true to the society, to be a true voice for the public, as an artist, a public figure and as a human being. I’m grateful and honoured to receive this year’s Crystal Award. This honour encourages me to continue my mission and be crystal clear towards life,” said Jin.

Deepika Padukone, for her leadership in raising mental health awareness
Deepika Padukone is an internationally acclaimed actor, fashion icon and mental health ambassador from India. She has acted in close to 30 feature films across genres and won several awards for her performances. Many of her films also rank among the highest grossing films of all time. Padukone was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2014 and sought professional help to aid her recovery. In June 2015, she founded The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF) to give hope to every person experiencing stress, anxiety and depression (SAD). The foundation’s programmes and initiatives include nationwide public awareness and destigmatization campaigns, adolescent mental health programmes, funding support for treatment in rural communities, training general physicians in common mental health disorders, research and an annual lecture series featuring the world’s foremost thinkers and achievers.

“With more than 300 million people suffering with the illness, depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability in the world today and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. It is therefore increasingly clear that, now more than ever before, we need to aggressively address what is an invisible and overlooked health and social burden. I am humbled and deeply honoured to be chosen for this year’s Crystal Award and dedicate the award to the millions around the world who experience stress, anxiety and depression, and other forms of mental illness,” Padukone said.

Lynette Wallworth, for her leadership in creating inclusive narratives
Lynette Wallworth is an Australian artist whose immersive video installations, virtual reality and film works reflect the connections between people and the natural world, as well as exploring the nature of resilience. She won an Emmy Award for her virtual reality film Collisions, which the World Economic Forum commissioned, premiered and executive-produced. Wallworth was named one of the “100 Leading Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine for immersing audiences in the destructive power of nuclear weapons. Her 2018 mixed-reality film Awavena, the story of the first woman Shaman from the Yawanawa tribe in Brazil, as well as her most recent works, have been made at the invitation of indigenous communities. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Virtual and Augmented Reality and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Sundance Institute.

“I have sought to use my skills as an artist to bring unheard voices, including indigenous voices, into the rooms they have been excluded from. These voices ring out with resilience, persistence, power and grace. In supporting my work, the creation and the presentation of it, the World Economic Forum has helped me place it in front of those I most wished to impact, those whose decisions help shape our shared future. I am immensely grateful that these works, these voices, have been heard and are being honoured by a Crystal Award,” said Lynette Wallworth

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A Season of Classic Films: European classics screened at cultural heritage venues across Europe

MD Staff

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This summer, European film classics will be screened in some of Europe’s most iconic cultural heritage venues. From tomorrow until the end of September, classic films from across the EU will be screened free of charge in a wide variety of venues in 13 EU countries – from small towns to capital cities – highlighting Europe’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. As part of the wider restoration and digitisation of heritage films, the event series “A Season of Classic Films” is supported by Creative Europe MEDIA programme.

Commissioner Tibor Navracsics, in charge of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, said: “European cultural heritage, including our great film classics, should be accessible to everyone. I am pleased to see that the Season of Classic Films makes it possible for everyone interested to be part of an experience shared across Europe, even when attending a local event.”

Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, in charge of Digital Economy and Society, added: “Cinema is an essential part of our rich and diverse European culture and is contributing to reinforce bonds between people feeling the same passion and emotion for films. Digital transformation has a decisive potential to strengthen the positive effects of culture, both economically and socially. This is the challenge of our strategy Digital4Culture, to take advantage of this successful connection between digital technologies and culture.”

The classic films season starts tomorrow at the Bologna Film Festival with a presentation of some of the restored films shot using Gaumont’s Chronochrome colour system, one of the earliest colour filming techniques. Among the classic films to be screened throughout the season are some of the best-known titles in world cinema, including Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927), Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 blows” (1959), and “Cinema Paradiso” (1988) by Giuseppe Tornatore. The iconic venues hosting the screenings include Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki, Greece, Kilkenny Castle in Ireland, and the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy. The full programme of the season is available here.

Background

Since 1991, the European Commission has been supporting Europe’s audiovisual sector, contributing to is competitiveness and to cultural diversity in Europe, through the MEDIA Programme. One of its most substantial actions is providing financial support to the distribution of European films outside their country of production. Every year, on average over 400 films are made available to audiences in another European country with MEDIA’s help. In May 2018, the Commission proposed to increase the budget of the programme by almost 30% for the next EU long-term budget for 2021-2027.

Within this project, Creative Europe MEDIA will also fund the restoration and digitisation of heritage films in order to ensure that the European culture is passed down to future generations. The event series for this summer was planned as part of the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage and reinforced by the Digital4Culture strategy.

“A Season of Classic Films” follows a first initiative, the “European Cinema Night”’, which programmed 50 free screenings of 20 MEDIA-supported films from 3 to 7 December 2018 across the EU and reached almost 7,200 people. The classic films season is expected to attract 15,000 Europeans to the free screenings.

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The Sounds of the Islands: Junkanoo Cultural Festival

MD Staff

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It starts with a deep drumbeat, a baritone sensation that vibrates within your chest. An instant tingle of rhythm journeys up your spine in anticipation of the cadence to come. What follows is nothing short of remarkable; a symphony of unconventional sounds blend together to create the most infectious melodies. This is Junkanoo: a long-standing semi-annual Bahamian tradition birthed from the islands’ early ancestors. Whistles, cowbells and even conch shells are used in this charismatic exhibition of island culture that is now revered around the world.  

History of the Tradition

The earliest rumoured origin stories for the bi-annual festival stems from an African Chief by the name of John Canoe. After being kidnapped and enslaved in the West Indies, John Canoe appealed for the right of his people to partake in their celebratory traditions. The most notable time for the festival to be orchestrated is around the Christmas holiday. The most illustrious part of the festival takes place on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day at the capital island of New Providence. On these days, what was once regarded as an expression of freedom and cultural identity has now transformed into one of the fiercest national competitions. On-lookers crowd the parade routes, cheering on their favourite groups and chanting competitive mantras from the bleachers. The four most famous Junkanoo groups face off at the parades every year in hopes to win prizes and highly coveted national bragging rights.

How to Experience Junkanoo Year Round

Due to the increased popularity of the Bahamian tradition, Junkanoo can now be experienced year-round. The splashy display of costumed dancers and musicians highlight many destination-weddings. Hosts desiring to offer guests an authentic and lively environment can contract a Junkanoo band to create a unique entertainment experience. If you are in attendance at any of the local seasonal festivals, you are sure to close out the day with a Junkanoo rush out.  In recent years, a junior edition of the Junkanoo competition has been added to the winter line up of events. The littlest natives of the island adorn painted faces and tiny drums in hand, skipping and twirling to the rhythmic music.

Whether you are a first-time visitor of the islands or one who calls The Bahamas home, once experienced, the rush of Junkanoo will never leave you.  

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