Thursday, June 12, 2008

Open Mic Madrid

AOG, Madrid

I remember reading a few years ago about Americans living in Prague during the 1990s. There was a small community of college kids (thought not only) living there who found the city fascinating and had created a small literary community. The only drawback, however, was that they cared little for Czech and spoke only English. Or so the author told us.

Yesterday I witnessed the Spanish equivalent of Prague's literary expat community. It was called "The first Mad open Mic" and was organised by Margie Kanter, an American writer who's lived in Spain for more than just a few years.

I have to say that, on my way there, I bumped into a new friend of mine named David. He was moving out of his apartment in central Madrid and moving in with a friend in north-central Madrid. He was letting out his apartment for 1,200 Euros per month and moving into a large spacious place where "We can entertain" with a girl who is a friend of his and was driving the car he had just popped out of as I was walking past.
Needless to say I swiftly invited myself to he up-and-coming entertaining soirées chez David.

Back to poetry.

The event in question was held at the Café Concierto La Fídula on Huertas street. Nice venue but pricey. I had to pay 2.70 Euros for a small bottle of sparkling (fizzy) water. Yes, it was Vichy Catalan, but still.

Aptly enough it is located in Madrid's famous literary neighborhood of "Las Letras"- literally 'The Letters', almost across the street from the Prado museum.

So, what did I see? What did I hear?

I think the person who stood out the most for me was the first reader, Nicholas Thran. Canadian and living in Toronto where he works at a bookshop, he finds the time to write and, even, publish his work. Something I've never been able to do.
He said he liked Roberto Bolaño and dedicated one of his readings to him. Does he know Mr. Bolaño is dead? As it happens, he does know (see replies). I was also surprised to hear he has not visited his mother in five years until now although, as I've been informed, she goes back to Canada once a year. She, by the way, is the one living in Spain. I am very curious as to why. Does she work at the Canadian Embassy in Madrid? When I saw her I certainly thought so; she looks the type.

Then there was Sue Sinclair. Beautiful reading voice. She said how "everything in Spain is more beautiful than back home". She too is Canadian and Mr. Thran's girlfriend.
She read a poem called "Sunburst". Of hers, I liked this line the best: "Seeing objects in their endless sleep" and "A tear in the foil that reflects the God's to themselves".

Then Sue Burke read. Her contribution was a succinct but very well written witty tale about a Spanish man learning English with two different tutors. It made me laugh to hear the short story. I know Sue. I read her blog. Her husband was there too.

After her, a supermodel-type girl named Maria Schock from Ohio went up. More than read, she performed "The memory of a girl". Hers was a poem which blurred the lines between formal poetry and urban rap. I was amazed she could remember her work and not have to read it. I think we all were.

Then a woman named Laura Ferguson read. Margie was playing MC last night, and when it was Laura's turn, she asked after saying her name if the pronunciation was right. I immediately asked myself "in how many different ways can you pronounce 'Laura' in English?" I only know of one.

So Laura read a poem about immigration. A hot topic in Spain. A hot topic in the US too. I thought it was cute that Ms. Ferguson had a slight lisp. I thought it was very interesting that she regaled us with a some personal information through her poetry. It appears she leaves home for work with a book and a pencil. The Spanish seem to find this very odd. She likes to underline her books to ensure the words stay with her for the day. "For life if possible".

Then a lady of unknown origin but very posh-sounding English (with the odd Spanish inference here and there- mostly her consonants) read a short-story in progress: "African love". I unfortunately did not pay enough attention to it since her accent fascinated me. It was slightly like what I remember Lady Bienvenida Buck's faux posh English accent (in the photograph) to be, only one million times better. Susana Aikin's speech certainly enthralled me.

Then Margie's husband read after Marjorie herself read a selection of short poems. The only Spanish artist present to do so. His poem "Stereotypes" stayed with me all night long:

"Women like money
Men like Sex

That is why money and sex
go so well together"

I loved it. We all did.

Then the biggest surprise of the night for me was a girl named Nasima Akaloo. She apologised for using a lot of Spanish words in her work. "Your English gets displaced by Spanish to the point where you don't want to translate any more".

Of herself she said she was "Muslim and more" but didn't speak "Al Arabiya" as her poem told us. I don't know where she was from. Perhaps Pakistan? Her English certainly was at times choppy and foreign throughout- I think her second language, not her first. Amazingly she writes in it. And she writes very well.

Her poem spoke about having to wait in line to sort out her residency papers. About how the Spanish don't understand that she wants to live in Spain and yet she can't abide pork or its derivatives, and I had to be brought down to Earth rather quickly by the fact that not all immigrants are hard working people who are willing to do menial jobs for whatever pay. Here was an artist. I wonder if her employer knows or even cares about this?

I also find it interesting that, whilst all expats there are immigrants, Ms. Akaloo was the only one who felt she was. She certainly was the only one to say so. I think it is to do with that odd trans-ethnic thing where, if you are white and Western, anywhere you live in the Western world is part of your culture, and so, even if you are a midwest farmer living in Portugal, life, though different, is still at its core, somehow familiar to your own culture.

Whereas if you come from the non-Western part of the globe, you will always be an immigrant, unless you, somehow, blend in to the point of "passing for a local". Anglo-Indians in London do it all the time, though I wonder if it works both ways. Do they go to India and blend in? Probably not at first.

Two of the readers failed to show up, although one did but 30 minutes after the affair had died down. British, he was surprised that the flier mentioned it lasted until 22:30 and he arrived around 22:00 or so. Just in time to listen to the person previous to him, and the one just after him. I thought it was a bit rude to show up so late, but he was mostly just upset that he didn't get to read. Was there an excuse? Perhaps, but I didn't hear it. Mostly I saw a man with a pony tail and a black leather jacket sulk. I would like to hear his work at the next open mic, whenever this may be.

All in all, the evening was a success. I was quite happy to have been a part of it. I do hope to take part next time it takes place.


Nick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ynot said...

Hi Nick.

Sorry if the post does you not enough justice.

1- I didn't accuse you of not knowing if Bolaño was dead or not. I asked if you knew. You do.

2- Sorry about Sue- I somehow thought she was an ex girlfriend,not a current girlfriend, especially since I got the impression she lived in Spain.

3- What you said last night sounded like you hadn't seen your mother in 5 years. You didn't say (or if you did I missed it) that she visits you very often. I am not surprised about airfare being an obstacle given your personal circumstances.

I hope you didn't think the post to be in any way an attack on you. I quite admired you for what you did and how. All else was just my personal take on some of the things you said.

If it serves as consolation, I actually took out my pen and pad just after listening to you read. I would have jotted stuff down before but, frankly, I didn't want to miss out on what you were saying, and since I found it so good, I thought I might take some notes if everyone else was going to be as good as you. So your talent made me take notes on everyone else.

I hope you return to Spain soon and take part on an open mic then. I'd love to hear you once again.

A la prochaine!


Nick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy said...

Hi, I read your comments on the open mike and I found them quite interesting. I wish I had been there... maybe next time.

I thought I should clarify some things for you regarding Ms Nasima Akaloo.
Nasima is a native speaker of English and comes from a "western" country- the Caribbean island called Trinidad and Tobago.

It is unfortunate that she didn't clarify her status because she is not an "immigrant" in the true sense of the word but a post graduate student on scholarship.

I think your speculations on her origins etc just go to show how easily it is for us to fall into stereotyping. They confirm that once you are not the norm in a city like Madrid you will always be perceived and treated as the illegal immigrant regardless of your true position.


Keefieboy said...

Did you go to the second one last night?