Drawing by Astrid:
We are interrupted in the middle of our Spanish lesson by a solemnly looking woman: dark, long, sleek hair, pronounced eye-brows, no eye contact. She presents her case:
“I hear you are speaking Spanish here, and we are having a Spanish poetry reading in the other room. Too few people have come, may I invite you to join?”
My spontaneous reaction is No, I like this class, we have a lot to do and to discuss, I do not want to. At the same time, saying no is something I have been learning all my life and have not mastered yet. Plus, Raquel, our Spanish teacher, gets excited in the presence of another literature related soul and starts telling the woman that we are also writers. The unknown dark woman does not seem to be moved by having stumbled upon pen-friends, she just needs more listeners for the event. When she disappears, we continue our free-flow-Spanish-psychology-literature class. But not for too long, as the woman reappears insisting:
“We are about to start the poetry reading. So, are you joining?” There she is again.
It would need somebody much more weathered in no-practice to refuse. We reluctantly and obediently follow the sombre commander to the other room of the generous brasserie called Carpe Diem in the Brussels Merode area. The bar is spacious and stretches on two floors, it offers many connected, though private spaces well-fit for informal gatherings. Downstairs, people mostly eat and drink, enjoying the copious Belgian cuisine. Upstairs, the literates sip coffee, tea, or a glass of cheap vin maison while pulling the Muse´s old ragged coat.
The female poet trio is sitting on high chairs in front of a few expecting listeners and a host, a Spanish poet and musician whom we know from other events. The queen of the night is, of course, the author herself. She is accompanied by the translator into French, our new dark acquaintance, and a tiny native French speaker who will read the verses in French. Author´s hair is done in many little girlish braids, but her facial expression is more than serious.
The poet introduces herself. Having lost everything in the recent economy downturn in Spain, she presently lives in a caravan and has transformed her moving experience into poetry. These are the verses we are going to hear now, in the original version first, then in French.
The reading drags on and I contemplate the difference between being exposed to the arts voluntarily and being, so to say, pulled to it by the hair. Raquel and I are studying our shoes, by accident, we are both wearing the English two-coloured flats with laces; Veronika has her eyes closed, it can pass for concentration, but I suspect she is having a nap that she deserves, leading a vibrant life of a mother, a translator, and an artist herself.
“This poem comes from the year when everything was a drama: I got menopaused, my brother attempted a suicide and I lost all the money.”
Well. Maslow defined it long time ago: First we need full stomach and the feeling of security, only then can we concentrate on more abstract ambitions. Not really concentrated on words, I start picturing myself poor, sitting in a caravan, composing verses to communicate the misery to the world. Creepy images make me feel uneasy, I need to stand up and back off to the lady´s in the middle of the endless reading. Being on my own, in the silence of the bathroom with posters and mirrors on the wall, I can breathe freely again, and I decide: I cannot go back. Despite the empathy, despite the love for literature, despite the good education that dictates to sit through boredom because: What would people say otherwise? That was my mother´s argument when I wanted to do something unconventional: What would people think?
Well, mother is 1,200 kilometres away and I am couple of dozen years away of reporting to her. So, I stand in the door of the literary parlour mimicking to my two companions: Let´s finish with it here. They stand up and we manage to get out of the room. Too late and too deconcentrated continuing our class we pay for our drinks and pour out into the darkness and light of the evening square. How many books did the poet sell I will never know. If her poems are good I cannot say. The one thing is sure: Art needs to be free and voluntary. And if it cannot pay for food and rent, perhaps it is better to take an ordinary job. A lesson learnt.