Bosnia, you delighted me.
Writing from a cafe in Split, on the Croatian coast (for those who failed geography), I have time to think back on an eventful few days in Mostar and Sarajevo. Every blog and book and site I had read prior to entering the country of course charged into battle with accounts of war and religious divide – and it’s hard to avoid such topics when you look around and see bullet holes in the sides of every third building. Yet, drinking a coffee on the street in Sarajevo, I saw more of the healing that has been going on than I did of the troubled past. People all wanted to help when I looked lost, offering directions and use of their cell phones. Cultures collided, shared mixed grills and teas, kissed each other’s cheeks as salutations. As a rule, I never get into taxis when I can’t speak the language. I broke this rule a dozen times in Bosnia, flabbergasted that the drivers had no intention of screwing me. Both my hosts in Mostar and Sarajevo would have cart-wheeled naked down the street if I had suggested the spectacle. In Mostar, my host cooked my wife and I a fantastic chicken paprika dinner out of pure generosity, and then drove the two of us to Sarajevo the following day along what must be one of the more scenic drives in Europe. And while both cities are tourist centres, flush with tour buses as Dubrovnik is with cruise ships, there is always a side street or a bridge leading to that off-the-beaten-track experience we all crave while abroad. On the flipside, finding information on buses and trains is a nightmare – some trains have been discontinued; others given back to the countries that gifted them. I will say that after an eight hour bus ride out of the mountains from Bosnia back into Croatia, I am happy I took the chance. We were supposed to visit two other towns but bad luck intervened. I had no poetry reading or other literary engagement there, but poetry comes in all forms. And perhaps looking back on this little trip, the pen will eventually start its journey too.
I'm one week into a five week poetry tour of Europe and as I sit here at my desk, looking out of a window at a rain shower in Cluj Napoca, it's time to catch a breath and think about an amazing seven days that started at the Gealach Gorm Singer Songwriter Festival in Kill, Co. Waterford. I have Anthony Mulcahy to thank for that opportunity, as well as his mother Angela Mulcahy whose drive and enthusiasm to bring the arts to rural Waterford saw the theatre installed in Kill. It was a brilliant night, with Anthony joining me on stage in between poems to share some hilarious and heartfelt songs from his album 'Songs from the Snug'. We also had Liam Merriman entertain us with a fine set of songs and then, or course, pints galore in a bar up the road in great company. I regret not having the time to stick around for the weekend to see Ger Wolfe, Mundy, Kelly McCrae, Brendan O'Shea and Clive Barnes - what a line up! = but I was arriving in Bucharest.
I had a great night of poetry and music in a bar in downtown Bucharest on the Saturday night, hosted by Claudiu Komartin - a brilliant young Romanian poet whose poetry is available in translation through some presses. Definitely one to keep an eye on.... "It's summer again, an overwhelming season/that dictates even my least movement." (from Irina)
I moved on to Brasov after such generous hospitality in the house of Denisa Duran and her husband to find outstretched arms once again waiting and a packed county library of students and writers all keen to open a dialogue about poetry. I have Dina Hrenciuc to thannk for putting this together and again, for being a wonderful host and treating my wife and I to a slap up Romanian meal afterwards. Brasov is a cool little city with plenty to see to do during the day, and plenty to eat and drink at night! From Brasov, it was on to Sibiu, surely one of Romania's most beautiful and under rated cities? Despite the European Capital of Culture title bestowed upon it in 2007, I get the feeling that this little gem is still off of people's radars and waiting to be discovered. My host here was Romanian poet Radu Vancu, who put togther a reading in the vault of the Humanitas Bookstore. Although shy, the crowd slowly came out of their shells (or shell shock with my brash nature!) and by the end of the night, ending in Lilli's bar with a glorious session, I felt had a nice taste of the rich literary life of the city. I hope I never forget Radu's story of how poetry once saved his life!
I am now in Cluj Napoca, recovering from what will probably be a reading I will remember for a long time. Not since Stephen Murray and I stepped into the uknown in Cafe Schlepta in Prague in 2006 as guests of Bethany Shaffer have I felt such energy from a crowd. Stefan Baghiu met me on the street to lead me to Cafe Insomnia and quickly introduced me to co-hosts Janos Szantai and Stefan Manasia. What happens next was, for me, what poetry is all about. That's all I'll say as Insomnia is a place you will have to take my word for and visit yourself, if you're a poet looking to speak and engage in poetical critique, or just a thirsty tourist looking for a beer and brilliant company. Tomorrow, it's an 8 hour train to Budapest and 2 more readings... But Romania, I'll take a bit of you with me where I go. X