First toes in the sand

So I’m just back in my apartment after half an hour in the gym and twenty minutes in the pool, two of the insane advantages of my new life which I really hope I never get tired of. Coming back I was thinking, it’s Wednesday, it’s Wednesday, there’s something I’m supposed to be doing – which in fact normally there is. Wednesday evenings I have my French lesson but this week (which will be the last) we moved it to tomorrow.

It will be sad to say goodbye to Katia, my teacher. I hope we keep in touch. I was really touched when she said that she wanted to continue and finish off the course even after I moved away from Paris. They were already paid and we could have just agreed to laisser tomber but she said she wanted to follow my story at least until I was settled. We’ve talked an hour every week for the last 30 weeks. When you add up all that time it’s pretty impressive. When my ex and I stopped communicating, Katia was the only one who asked me about my day, my week, what I had been doing, what my worries were, and took the time to listen (I don’t mean this as a slight against other friends. It was a while before the full relationship difficulties got out into the open). And it was a real confidence booster that she found me funny, found my interests interesting. I know she was paid to talk to me, but she wasn’t paid to laugh – and she did. Our chats got longer and the actual lesson part got shorter as time went on, and we’ve finished by being friends.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to dive straight into that all too recent history. What I was going to do was talk about the poetry reading I went to last night. I saw it advertised in Time Out of all places but there you are, probably think people don’t have much else to do in Ramadan. Sigh. Now I too am adopting that “poetry’s boring, no one wants to see it when there’s more interesting stuff to do” attitude which I hate. Hopefully they just posted it because yes, it is a cool and (for some) unusual thing to do, or even because someone at Time Out likes poetry. Anyway. It was in a mall – first poetry reading I’ve been to in a mall? I think – which is very “Dubai” to my mind. In fact not just in a mall, but in a cafe in the middle of a section containing designer shoe boutiques. None of that Bohemian-artist-in-poverty vibe so beloved in Europe. Odd but refreshing.

I had been a bit nervous about going but I thought, fuck it, you have to start somewhere. The meetup group which I’ve been going to on Saturdays is fun but mostly geared to prose and not at all geared to performance. Happily I ran into Rewa Zeinati, whose pamphlet had been pressed upon me by Dylan Harris of Corrupt Press at the Grand Slam Festival in Paris the other month (that is a lot of exposition, amirite) and which I had enjoyed reading with real admiration. She was lovely and welcoming, and we had a nice chat, and she persuaded me I should sign up for the open mic, which I duly did.

The reading was run by an energetic young poet called Farah, whose spoken word style reminded me of someone and I could not work out who, except maybe it was a young Josh Idehen, which tells you how good she was. She read in Arabic and in English. One poem in particular was really well put together, I think called The Dinosaur, which was all about the Palestinosaurus Rex. In fact (and I guess that it’s not uncommon for the region) almost all the poems had a background that referenced wars, conflicts, Arab identity, the idea of a lost homeland. I guess it’s everyone’s minds right now because of what is happening in Gaza (there were many Syrians there as well, displaced by the recent conflict. A seventeen-year-old gave a very passionate account of how something as simple as a chocolate cake can be a symbol for an entire lost way of life). I’m sure people in London feel strongly about it as well. But not in a way that is so utterly involved and bound up in their beings.

I also felt the difference not just in the subject matter but the way of describing it. The poems that I heard were very emotive. Ok, so I know in spoken word this tends to be the case more than in what one might call a “regular” poetry reading, but I got the feeling that this is more acceptable here. Anyway, one person read what I would have, had I been in Europe, described unreservedly as sentimental drivel. But she was clearly speaking from the heart, and the power of her emotion was respected. Perhaps the reason that more overt sentiment is respected is because the subject matter is so moving that it can’t be approached drily. Because it touches everyone present. No one is an observer in this conflict.

Except me, the European minority. I think it was the first time in my life that I have felt racially in a minority (not the first time I’ve felt in a minority at a spoken word reading, but that’s another topic!). It really made me wonder, not a little guiltily, about all the things I take for granted. Like, I have absolutely no worries that my homeland is going to bombed/invaded any time soon. The last time we were successfully invaded was nearly a thousand years ago. That’s a hell of a lot of time to become complacent. I don’t worry that I might never be able to go home. I am an expat through choice, not necessity. I don’t worry that my native tongue is going to die out. English is more and more bastardised, but it’s going nowhere.

It also made me worry though how I am going to connect with people here. I read my short love poem and wasn’t sure how it went down. I guess that’s another difference, mine was the only love poem to a person. Everyone else’s was about love of country. I should save a last word for Rewa’s remarkable poem though about her beautician. She nailed (ha) exactly for me the feeling I’ve had here when people do things for you, taxi drivers, concierges. Because here, unlike at home these people aren’t the same as you. They are a different race and they live a different life. They are indians, filippinos. Your barman at your local is not going to became your mate. You are not going to go to the pub and bump into the guy from the cornershop. I’m still waiting to see how much this disconcerts me as I continue living here.

Anyway, I have to go now and make supper for myself and my two flatmates, who consist of a tiny stuffed tigresse and a slightly larger stuffed chiot. Tigresse is getting sick, which she informed me entirely due to all the nightclubs being closed because of Ramadan. She is a party animal and used to sneak out all the time in Paris. I think she is going to try and steal away in my suitcase when I leave to go to Jordan. Chiot is having some trouble with the heat so I have left the AC on for him the last two nights and he seems much better. He could probably do with a break from his boisterous girlfriend so maybe I will take her on holiday after all. He will be very good at guarding the flat in our absence.

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