‘Affirm what you are doing.’ Once and for all this motto is more important in times of ontological insecurity- who are you and where do you belong? A time during which we are all in search of meaning, look for ways to contribute, re-connecting to our destiny. ICORN PEN’s theme and movement of Writing the Future offers a sanctuary. A sanctuary for the future that is already here, growing, breathing an atmosphere of solidarity and curiosity, creating more happy and healthy cities and citizens all over the world. The courage to experiment lies at the heart of this movement.
Last week ICORN PEN international festival Writing the Future took place online from Berlin. A gathering of a growing network of more than seventy fearless cities all over the world who are united in offering a shelter to writers, artist and poets. Cities from Berlin, Krakaw to New Mexico, from Pennsylvania to Rotterdam. A digital celebration of artistic freedom, spaces of freedom and international solidarity.
Story House Belvédère- Verhalenhuis Belvédère, contributed during the program with a three dimensional walking presentation touching several layers of the House of Stories during which a team of dedicated filmers, photographers and technicians tried to capture a glimpse of it’s spirit. Starting at the attic, once home to Wally Elenbaas (1871), artist and activist and his Jewish wife Esther Hartog (1905), photographer. During the Second World War Wally and Esther were hiding from the German occupier themselves and also gave shelter to many Jewish children of other people, who were in need of protection. A time during which the windows of the house were nailed shut. Wally and Esther were living at the attic of what is now Story House Belvédère.
Their spirit of resistance connects past, present and future. Story House Belvédère became member of the ICORN PEN international network of shelter cities since december 2016. The first writer in residence living at the attic was Adnan Aloada (1975), scenario writer and poet from Racqqa, Syria. Adnan, a man who loves theater, introduced the idea called: Al Rewaq, a breathing space to exchange art, poetry, music, film and stories connecting people from all over the world. The whole world lives in Rotterdam. Until now more than 26 Al Rewaq gatherings have taken place in Rotterdam, but also in Leeuwarden and in Voorburg and earlier on in Dubai.
Nowadays Hamed Ahmadi (1982) and his wife Mojde Radankoupaei live at the attic. Hamed is the second writer in residence, also a poet and journalist from Teheran, Iran. For Hamed Story House Belvédère is a safe space, a sanctuary. “A place where only me and the words can be. A place where Viginia Woolf dreamt of, room for your self. Or Maybe, a home to the world.” Hamed has embraced the heritage of renown Dutch philosopher Erasmus who’s motto was: ‘The whole world is my homeland.’ Hamed and Mojde have visited the library in Rotterdam and have been able to see the famous book of Erasmus ‘In Praise of Folly’.
On the occasion of ICORN PEN Hamed created a special film ‘Songs of Babel’, a short movie with poetry. Hamed is currently applying for Dutch residence therefore he wasn’t able to join the festival. In an interview beforehand he explained: “Tower of Babel is a mythical metaphor of a place where all people speak the same language.” Hamed is longing for this place, how the songs and images of this world connect us. “Fearless cities are places like the tower of Babel, places where we share a common language, the language of peace and freedom.”
We walk down from the attic descending one floor towards the former living room of Wally and Esther. The walls are filled with the colourful artwork of Wally. Here we meet spoken word artist, writer, poet and Rotterdam city guide Ishmail Kamara (1989) from Mambolo Chiefdom, Sierra Leone. Rotterdam is his muze, where he has found his passion as spoken word artist. ‘A hundred Golden Horses journey to the promised land’ is his recent book after his work of poetry ‘Smile’, perhaps a reference to his spirit to embrace the positive.
Ishmail got to know Story House Belvédère by coincidence, as it happens discovering treasures. During one of his lessons in the Dutch language his teacher introduced him to the Story House. “I found space and was offered a stage to tell and share my story. Adnan Alaoda inspired me to wake up as a poet and writer during the Al Rewaq programs. I realise my voice and have many stories to share with the world.” Ishmail’s inviting and warm voice recites his new poem about Kathmandu, an oath to the city.
Dedicated to Kathmandu
by Ishmail Kamara
Voices from the mountain top will echo
and manifest and strive and impact our world
Never shall we weep again
for the darker days are over
Light of fortune will rise and shine
and light up the mountain top till the valley
and restore our spirituality
The clear blue sky is not only blue
It represents our strength and brings us hope
On hope, we shall hang on like a rope
which will remain firm till we shout, Salvation!
Yes! Salvation is here at the mountain top
and is here to stay.
Our voices will be free.
Our values will be restored.
Our dreams will come true.
The echo of our voice will shed a little tear of joy
We shall keep on calling from the mountain top,
till all our calls are answered.
Hope resonates in the former living room of Wally and Esther, it merges with the spirit of Ishmail and Kathmandu. While the sounds of the poem linger on in our hearts and minds, we walk downstairs to the heart of the Story House, where Faten Kiwan, sociologist from Sweida, Syria, prepares a wonderful meal in the Peoples Kitchen. The smell of spices waters our mouths and the clatter of kitchenware is music to our ears.
We meet the famous city poet Jana Beranová (1932) originally from Plzeň, Czechoslovakia living in Rotterdam since the fifties. Jana has always been inspired as a writer to work together with artists. These are the instruments to transformation and solidarity. She co-started a foundation ‘Printing in the Marge’ and translated all the books of Milan Kundera, opening the world for him in the Netherlands.
Since 1975, Jana has also been working in close collaboration with Amnesty International. One of her famous lines is: ‘If nobody, listens to nobody, instead of words, people fall’. Wally Elenbaas was also one of her friends, who used to send her New Years wishes. Jana donated her gas stove to warm the former living room of Wally, so visitors in the Story House are kept warm in times of cold. In this way everything is connected.
Jana recites one of her poems from the past, reminding us of how precious freedom is. The poem refers to a bridge, richly decorated with statues, in Czechoslovakia that used to be the only sanctuary where people could speak freely to one another. The flowing water under the bridge would hide their conversations. She recites her poem guiding us to the river and Charles Bridge behind the iron curtain:
The dam murmurs day and night
in the shell of the city.
And people drink. Mouths
cling greedily to the glasses,
hands wipe foam from the table.
A forefinger digs a trench.
Walls prick up their ears,
and in tough times even
the pedestals under the statues.
People pass and the dam murmurs.
How many locked words
bubble on the bottom?
We also speak about her ‘Sanctuary for the Future.’ Jana has decided in her will that her house will be a future space for a writer to come home. She named Story House Belvédère in her will, as after her death she will grant her house to become a future ‘ICORN’ residence for writers in need of shelter.
“I looked at my home and realised that I could offer it to someone who needs it in the future when I am gone. I have also been a refugee, so I know how it is to find a safe place, a home where you find safety and a space where you feel you are able to work. I never expected all the attention my plan got in the news.” She hopes to inspire others to do the same, throwing the first stone of generosity in the water. We need sanctuaries for the future. The future is already here.
We conclude in a collective gathering during which we speak about the importance of solidarity and Ishmail inspires us all to seek and unlock the spirit of Happy Fools in our selves.
by Ishmail Kamara
Soldiers are ordained to defend
Judges are ordained to judge
between truth and lies
Birds are ordained to fly
Politicians are ordained
to go out there and feed
from the fools
It doesn’t really matter
as long as they make us
a bunch of happy fools
Poem from the bundle Smile
Thank you for a wonderful inspiring afternoon: Jana Beranová, Ishmail Kamara, Hamed Ahmadi, Linda Malherbe, Chris de Jongh, Myriam Eijgenraam, Joop Reijngoud, Faten Kiwan, Majed Sarai Edin, Raed, Cindy & Siu.