Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Poetry day

Tomorrow it is poetry day and all over The Netherlands and Flanders a myriad of poetry readings and performances have been scheduled. One can however see that there is the official part of literature with the established names like Anna Enquist who writes this year's poetry day present 'Een kooi van klank' A cage of sound, a title referring to the chosen theme: music.  On the other hand there are the multifaceted poets like performance poets, who are loud and forceful and do perform well and the more intimate poets who all will be reading and sharing their thoughts and feelings. The smaller readings are in brown cafés, more informal and certainly closer to the audience. This however says nothing about the quality of the poets performing for instance in Den Hopsack. They chose to ask eight poets who published in the idiosyncratic literary magazine 'Gierik/Nieuw Vlaams Tijdschrift': Vera Alexander Beerten; Guy Commerman (co-founder of the magazine); Sven Cooremans; Richard Foqué; René Hooyberghs; Sven Peeters; Annmarie Sauer and Tin Vankerkom. I do appreciate the poetry of all of them and do look forward to reading with and listening to my colleagues. Den Hopsack, 8 15 PM. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Last Saturday Pen-Flanders held its yearly general assembly. The meeting was open and well organized. The chairperson, David Van Reybrouck held the reigns and gave every one space. The authors Geert Van Istendael and Dirk Verhofstadt who gave the keynote speeches were to the point and very interesting. Marleen Teugels did preliminary research into problems of freedom of the press in Belgium. It is clear that an observatorium for the press is a necessity, just as there seems to be a need for an instance or place where complaints could be lodged. The reports about the flat, where authors in need have been given a refuge was heart warming. New plans, new collaborations are explored. I feel the energy and warmth of authors working for authors in trouble because of their writing. Freedom of expression is our core business also for the WIPC – the Writers in prison committee which I will be coordinating for a while, working with my colleagues.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Yellow snow on the San Francisco Peaks

The Snow Bowl Ski Resort on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona didn’t have enough snow a few winters in a row. They decided, and it was approved by the municipal council, to turn the sewage effluent into snow. They sell 1,5 million  gallons of waste water per day. The environmental impact assessment pointed out several problems: scaring of the landscape, noise from the snow making machine, the changes in the soils’ chemistry and thus the destruction of wildlife habitat. The area concerned is one where herbalists, Native American healers from several nations as far away as the Zuni from New Mexico. The area is used for finding medicinal herbs, is part of a pilgrimage and is the home of the Hopi Katsinam. Sacred land should not be soiled, defiled. Declarations by elders and healers in court and massive protest by environmentalist and Sierra Club hasn’t helped. Gathering herbs is sacred,it is also a service to the members of one’s community. Sadly all bad things came to pass and the snow made from the waste water to their 'astonishment' turned yellow. Virginia Tech indicated that the snow from the sewage could be a breading ground for antibiotic-resistant genes. So what ever you do, don’t get into making a snowman or a snow angel in the wider area around the ski resort...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Then enemy within - Mieke de Loof

--> In this book The enemy within by Mieke de Loof we meet again with the Jesuit/secret agent  Ignatz Ksaveri and Elisabeth in the period before World War one in Vienna. As in her other books, she has an elegant style, driving the story forward through the dialogs. The amount of research that goes into a historic crime novel is daunting. Vienna, its streets and quays, buildings and the flavor of the local lingo all comes to life within a realistically sketched historical frame. The hunger protests in 1911 against ‘predatory capitalism’ was violently squashed. Friends of the protagonists get killed. We get acquainted with the violent and non-violent scene of the anarchists. The killing of Franz Ferdinant and the beginning of WWI is announced. Emma Goldmann, alias E.G. Bradey, did read in Vienna during that period. The research into the traffic of weapons is impressive. Places she describes still exist. This historical crime novel became strangely contemporary with the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring... Serendipity. I enjoy how intelligently she weaves all the facts she researched into a fluid story one will want to finish in one sitting... Take your time and enjoy – Only available in Dutch for the time being.
Mieke de Loof is a philosopher, writer and sociologist. We're lucky: in total the Vienna Ignatz Ksaveri and Elisabeth series will consists of seven books

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cordon sanitaire

In Belgium the cordon sanitaire is a protective measure, much like in agriculture: drawing a sanitary circle when there is an infectious animal disease on a farm, so nobody can enter or exit a certain area around that farm in order to avoid the accidental spreading of the disease and causing a pandemic of  hoof and mouth disease. It is however a political phrase since the beginning of the extreme right, racist (in my opinion) Vlaams blok (Flemish Block), later renamed ‘Vlaams belang’ (Flemish Interest) a political agreement among all parties not to govern with them. Recently two things happened: Nationalist Flemish NVA, a right wing party, grew immensely and is part of the ruling class in several towns and villages. Sadly, this was kind of expected. The Vlaams belang people, looking after their personal interest decided in big numbers to switch to the Flemish nationalists. So in a small town ‘Denderleeuw’ there is now a coalition between the latter party and the Christian democrats. Not having a majority, they however needed the support of the Flemish interest people in the council, thus in fact, for the very first time breaking the ‘cordon sanitaire’. Yet in my opinion, with over 40 former Flemish Interest people on the NVA list the program has been radicalized and former Vlaams Blok members are now in a comfort zone, where the other parties execute their original program. I am a firm believer in freedom of expression as a democratic right and as a human right. Yet I also believe in being critical and lighting candles in the darkness coming down over Flanders and am glad that the President of Flemish Parliament Mr Peeters, shares my unease.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The new ruler in town

The seagull
flew past
the foggy morn
of little light
shadows of power
and illusions
the war on citizens
of my town, our town
is on
Dark reformation
Dark days
of dark thirsting for power
peace and acceptance
and love
the sing song of languages
I don't know
all that I long for
but the skinny wale
has beached
in our town

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The magnificent chaos and women's lives

The magnificent chaos and women’s lives is to me the perfect title for a page about a contemporary female writer from India. The most famous author is without doubt Arundhati Roy. With her debut novel ‘God of small things’ she won the Booker prize in 1997. At the last count the book had been translated into 40 languages. The book is set in Kerala, India. She uses her own experiences as to what it is like to grow up in Kerala. Interestingly it is the place in the world where all the world religions/ideologies coincide: Christianity (her mother was Christian), Hinduism, Marxism and Islam.  One could call the book a tale of the decline and fall of an Indian family. Through a mixture of past and present, we learn about the night of Sophie Mol’s death. The book begins in 1969 when the twins are 7. They never have really grown up and still live in a world of their own making. The characters are exactly that: a character: the elegant grandmother, scheming Baby Kochamma, the house servant, the charming uncle, an Oxford educated Marxist taking over the family pickling business and of course ruining it. The untouchable carpenter is the only one who can influence life and not just accept it as it comes… When I read the book in 1997 I loved it for its sheer luxury of language: language like a Cirque du Soleil exuberant balancing acts, sharp and funny, metaphors and strange riddles and nonsense rhymes, nuanced and convoluted… I would love to quote from the book alas, somebody is reading it since a couple of years and I forgot who has the book…  Read the book, after all the drama, there is also a residue of tenderness and happiness that will stay with you after you closed the book. Take this roller coaster ride.

 Suzanna Arundhati Roy was born on the 24th of November 1961. Her father was a Bengali Hindu tea planter, who was not really part of her life. She left home at the age of 16, living precariously in a squatter’s colony in Delhi. She was trained as an architect, and wrote two screenplays for films. She used the proceeds of her prize and book to become a full time social activist using her writing skills for political essays. She wanted to make a difference. Sadly she lost the fight against a large dam as construction started in 2003. Sometimes the bulldozer is mightier than the pen. She also is a travel writer, before going on holiday to India, look for travel books….

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Transits always were interesting to me, maybe because I am more aware of my curiosity, wondering about what changes will come. Finally peace in Syria, I hope. A durable solution for Gaza. Finally gun control in the USA. Friendship and warmth in the inner cities in Europe even in Antwerp with a mayor who doesn't exude either of these qualities. I have been blessed by an evening with my parents, an evening with a more than kind German family and also with the best Moules Marinière I have ever had at the home of dear friends, where the blanket of warmth and friendship covered me kindly. After the famed apple cake followed the official and non official fireworks forbidden by the just mentioned mayor. People have lit more fireworks than ever before so 1-0 for the citizens! The not liked mayor started his job on January first. We saw the city being cleaned up after the latest revelers went home to sleep it off. And then the birthday of my daughter in a truly international, multilingual gathering with nice food, a Belgian shrimp cocktail, Syrian delicatessen with the best humus and bulgour preparation, with pastries send from Damascus. The factory still standing.... It is great to meet friends of friends, colleagues, photographers, a musician, Cat lovers and dog lovers, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. It is great to be part of humanity!

Love and peace for all on earth!
And don't forget we are all citizens don't stand by idly, be useful.