The last weekend in London was so packed and interesting that I have enough material to feed this blog for a couple of months. However, instead of doing that (and boring you to death), I’m going to condense my notes, emphasising one or two particular highlights into separate posts. Even so, I think it’s going to take me about a week to write my online notebook. Are you ready?
Friday 17th June 2011.
Hour 1: Arrive at London Euston and discover that I have left the sunshine behind me in Scotland. (It was glorious when I left Lanarkshire at 6:30 am.) Drop suitcase off at left luggage for an extortionate £8.50 ! (or am I being provincial there?), unpack survival kit (full length mac and umbrella). Pick up bus route map (an absolute must-have for getting from A to B in the most covenient way) on way to busstop. Take #390 down Gower Street to Great Russell Street. Walk past British Museum to the London Review of Bookshop. Never been there before but one look at the window confirms that this is where the World Literature Weekend begins in earnest.
Park myself in the LRB cakeshop. Revive myself with cappuccino and enjoy the view.
Hour 3: Walk into British Museum and have heretical thoughts re Charlotte Square, home of Edinburgh Book Festival. Oh wow, this is impressive.
Descend into basement, location of the World Literature Festival. Meet the voice behind the @lrbbooks twitterfeed. Take my seat in the Stevenson Room – a very comfortable auditorium inducing more heretical thoughts. (No noise, no draughts, comfortable seats)
1st event, a discussion on Catalan literature between Nadjat El-Hachmi, Carles Casajuana, Teresa Solana and the translator, Peter Bush. Casajuana is the Spanish diplomat in London and his book The Last Man Who Spoke Catalan has yet to be translated into English. It was interesting to watch Nadjat El-Hachmi argue with him about the “choices” of the immigrant population. That was followed with a interesting discussion about the politics of writing in Catalan. I was there primarily to listen to Teresa Solana whose two satirical crime novels were an absolute delight. Solana, who could easily have written in Spanish, did choose to write in Catalan because she wanted to support the weaker language. For Nadjat El-Hachmi it was not a choice. Catalan was the language she learnt when she moved to Catalonia at the age of eight.
First foul note is struck is when the camera recording the events turns onto the audience during audience questions. I was right in the line of vision. So if you do see the footage and see someone performing contortions to get out of the way, that would be me.
Hour 4: My chance to get Solana’s books signed and gush about how much I enjoy her novels. Also discover that more are in the pipeline and that she knows my blog. In a mad moment, I ask her to sign the books in Catalan. Fortunately she translates for me.
Quick dash round the ground floor of the museum. Take in the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian sculpture and sarcophogi, the Elgin Marbles and the artifacts from Ancient Assyria. Gatecrash a talk on the symbolism of the Assyrian friezes. What a venue!
Hour 5: Cees Nooteboom in conversation with A S Byatt. As it’s Dutch Literature month, I’ll dedicate a separate post to this event. But at this juncture I’ll point out that I was surprised at how much I enjoyed events that did not involve readings – not even short ones. This was something that enabled deep conversations; there was time to explore, to wander off on tangents and still allow active audience participation.
Hour 6: Cees Nooteboom signs my copy of The Foxes Come at Night, which I had read that morning on the train down from Scotland and lets me know that he will also be participating in an author interview for Dutch Literature Month. Wouldn’t tell me which blog it’s for though.
Hours 7-10: Time for some food before a long wet trek from Bloomsbury to Chelsea (involving the #10 bus and the Piccadilly line). Arrived looking like a drowned rat at hotel. Dry off and because it’s late night at the museums, nip up the road with the #14 bus to the Victorian and Albert Museum. I’ve never been before and my breathe was duly taken from me. How beautiful is this place?. After wandering round, looking for and not finding the real Lizzie (she’d been hidden in a special exhibition that I didn’t have time to visit), I locate and admire a small selection by Turner (my favourite artist). Finally park my bones in the foyer with some liquid refreshment to admire the view into the Renaissance.
Hour 11: On the way back to the hotel, I notice that it has finally stopped raining! Hurray! Time for a couple of chapters of London-based read before calling it a day. Big day tomorrow. (To be continued.)