Image: Czech Republic – Woods in the Moravian Cast by Lukes_photos, under a Creative Commons licence.
Last night at Summerhall, a unique event took place bringing together Czech-o-Slovak filmmakers and Scottish authors, literature, films and live action. Don´t Worry Be Scottish was the UK premiere of a unique series of 16 short film essays about contemporary Scottish writers and poets created by Czech and Slovak filmmakers, the fruit of a month long literature festival in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland in 2014.
Below, Richard Price recalls his visit to the Czech Republic for the festival.
I had set my phone alarm for a very early morning hour, ghost-walked out of the house and saw the only human being out in the city, Mr Fox, homo vulpes vulpes, old Red, crossing daintily, looking right and left in the yellow, right and left in the grey, and then another dream to the airport and a sleep and touching down at Bratislava Airport.
I shook the unreality off – was it unreality? – as I began to be met, gradually, by my hosts.
First, my translator for the day met me at the barrier and introduced herself with the credentials “because I lived in Scotland for a time” and “it’s recognised Scottish English is not English English – it can be hard.”
I was taken to a small café and then, my next instalment of welcomes, introduced to Viera Čákanyová, the director whose mission was to make a film about my poetry and make it fast. We had to be racing down the motorway mid-afternoon at the latest for a reading that night, in another country altogether, from one corner of Slovakia to one corner of the Czech Republic.
The rush was mostly of my own making. I had already lopped a day off my tour because of a certain Master Rory Price-Lowe, our six month old boy who back home was making life difficult-wonderful (wonder-cult, if you like). So this first day felt especially compressed.
I’d soon find out that the whole tour, just four days, would have that feeling of extreme – Bratislava to Brno to Bratislava to Košice to Ostrava to Wrocła. Like all the other Scottish guests, I would cover hundreds and hundreds of miles, through breathtaking scenery – plateaux and pristine forested mountains as well as post-industrial terrain. I was reading each night to a great range of audiences: a theatre crowd, an arts centre, a library, and an open air venue built on an old barracks – swords to ploughshares at Košice, where the poet James Sunderland-Smith was in the audience. I had rooted out his Slovak translations in a local bookshop and that evening we found a Vietnamese restaurant and dined on catfish and waspish stories of contemporary British poetry. Reader, you know I can’t say anything, so why raise that eyebrow?
The layering of cultures on top of each other – one city was once Hungarian (now Slovakian), one city was once German (now Polish) – was especially striking and how arbitrary it all could be to a bystander, how empires and war had raked identities back and forth across the European plain. As one of my volunteer drivers, from Košice, explained, identity continues to trouble, but quietly: his mother was Hungarian in a Košice that ‘belonged’ in her lifetime to a succession of three maybe four different countries in her lifetime but he himself seemed relaxed enough about such co-existences. Maybe maturity is accepting some degree of multiple identity, while knowing when to call time when a caricature of one of them tries to unduly smother the others.
Soon I was hurtling in a van round the outskirts of Bratislava with further introductions – a full film crew. Viera made me wash my hands in the Danube as a dredger noisily permutated its heavy geometrics close to the other side of the bank. She made me climb a high bing of newly harvested gravel – I could hear my quantity surveyor father in my head, warning me about the danger of those slopes. She made me recite poetry, sing poetry (I really shouldn’t be encouraged), answer unscripted questions. My ums and ahs were dignified by the Slovak landscape, by the astonishing construction projects, and the beautiful poetry film she made. Thank you Month of Reading, and thank you Viera Čákanyová.