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Newsletters No. 680, 681 and 682  
Newsletter No. 680 Live from Hotel Josef
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Prague Writers' Festival, J Haynes' blog, 31st May 2008

Saturday: Alarm rings and gets me up and into action. Quickly wash, pack and out the door. Walk the short distance to Denfert-Rochereau and the RER to Charles de Gaulle 2 and the flight to Prague. Manage to check my small bag, get a boarding pass, clear passport and security controls and head for the duty free shop. Michael said that Vlasta, his attractive wife as well as co-organizer of the Prague Writers' Festival, likes cassis. Alas, the duty free store is out of stock.
Sit near Gate 70 where the flight is to board. Begin a conversation with a fellow sitting next to me and he is from Managua, Nicaragua. His name is Octaviano César and he is the Czech Honorary Consul General as well as the representative of the Czech company, Lom. His wife is introduced to me. We three have a stimulating conversation. People are beginning to boars for the flight. We discover we will be sitting on the same row. It is a low number so no need to rush. When finally we do elect to board, it is a shock to discover that our Prague flight gate has been changed. Gate 70 passengers are on their way to Munchen. We are at another gate. Needless to say, we rush to this gate and discover no one from Air France is present The Czech Air Lines plane is parked down below, still connected to us. So near yet so far. We ask various Air France staff for assistance. But all report the flight is closed and there is nothing that can be done. We are too late. Another fellow has also failed to make the flight. His name is David and he is from Chicago. None of us heard any announcement. David, in fact, checked his computer for flight information and learned that the flight had been delayed for 20 minutes.

We rush to an Air France desk. The next flight departs at 13.10. Both David and I need to go out to the booking desk and get new boarding passes. What a pain. Finally all is accomplished and we are ready for the next departure. Once again I am sitting on the same row with the couple from Nicaragua. Bizarre. But not as bizarre as some years ago when I sat next to a young couple from Budapest on a flight to Warsaw that was followed a year later on another flight from Budapest to Warsaw with the same young couple sitting next to me. There have been even more bizarre incidents like this. But now is not the time or place to relate them.

Smooth flight. Change 200 euros. Say farewell to Octaviano and his wife. Stand with David. Will our checked luggage arrive or not? Get a message from Michael March wondering what has happened to me. Give him a call and report missing the flight, that I am at Prague airport and will be coming to the Hotel Josef as soon as I can. Suggest to David that we share a taxi into Prague. To my pleasant surprise, my bag appears. David doesn't get his. He reports the missing bag to the Czech Airlines and they promise to deliver it later tonight to his hotel, the Intercontinental. It's a beautiful warm sunny day as our taxi makes its way to the two hotels. Give David the Chicago Tribune article and invite him to dine when he is next in Paris. Continue to the Ministry of Education hotel that is around the corner from the Hotel Josef. Tonight the Hotel Josef is full, but I can move there tomorrow morning. Leave my bag in my room and walk the short distance to Hotel Josef.

 

Michael March welcomes me. After our warm embrace, he reports he is tired and needs a nap and some rest and suggests I get some as well. He leaves me with Guillaume Basset. He is from Lyon, is in Prague more or less by accident (because his girlfriend, Laure, got a job here teaching French and he followed her). He discovered Michael March and the Writers' Festival Guillaume also obtained a teaching job and became involved with the Writers' Festival. He introduces me to another assistant, Helena Stingova. She rushes off to change clothes for tonight's welcome dinner in the Prague mayor's residance. Another woman comes up to speak with Guillaume and we are introduced. Her name is Sophie Pons and she is a correspondent with AFP.
I spot Margaret Atwood and get up to greet her. She and her husband, Graeme Gibson, just arrived from Toronto, She goes upstairs to rest a bit before tonight's dinner.
A woman approaches. It is Milena Findeis. She has been involved with the Hotel Josef since 2002, the year we were introduced. She apologizes that the hotel is full and I must stay elsewhere tonight. It is not a problem. She also tells me that Rudolf Ploberger, the proprietor of the Hotel Josef, sends his greetings and best wishes to me. I ask her to return my good wishes to him. I have come to love the Hotel Josef and to greatly appreciate the kindness of Rudolf Ploberger. I know that Michael March is grateful to him for allowing the Prague Writers' Festival to base its operations here and the fact that he extends hospitality to such a large number of writers. Milena and I talk about her life and about her son, Jan. She seems to be involved in journalism this year and will be interviewing a number of writers attending the festival for Kurier, an Austrian newspaper based in Vienna.
Michael McClure looms into view. I get up and tell him that he and I met in the mid-60s when his play, The Beard, was presented in the Royal Court Theatre in London. One evening Michael and Rip Torn read poetry in my Arts Laboratory in Drury Lane. He smiles
and says he remembers the evening with great pleasure. I am introduced to an attractive woman named Amy who I believe is his wife. They excuse themselves and go up to their room to get ready for tonight.
Mollye Miller, from Baltimore, who was one of the assistants last year, is once again involved with the festival. She says that both she and Hannah Brooks-Motl are hostesses for the writers' festival again this year. Hannah will be flying into Prague from Scotland tomorrow. Hannah, from Madison, Wisconsin, lived in Prague for almost four years. She spent the past year studying in St.Andrews University. (Also Votech "PJ" Brtnik is on the team again and will handle my blog material for the Prague Writers' Festival web site.)
Martin Belk, one of the people responsible for the publication One Magazine, is here from Edinburgh. I tell him I dined last night with Mary Folliet, Sheila Colvin and John Calder in the Terminus Nord in Paris and that they all send greetings to him. Martin introduces me to Geraldine Sweeney and Jonathan Pryce who also are involved with the magazine. He thanks me for the help and support I have given the magazine. I tell him that I read the new issue, that Mary Folliet gave us copies in Paris and that I found it to be better and better as it evolves. Because I am a Consultant to the Calcutta Film Festival, I found the article, '"Europe's New Faces" - the second annual New Europe Film Festival piece in the current issue extremely valuable. Martin says that he is pleased I like the magazine and that he will put me into contact with the Festival Director, Jan Naszewski
About 19.30, Michael March gathers a number of writers in the lobby of the Hotel Josef and leads us via a scenic route to the residence of the Mayor of Prague. I walk with Gunter Kunert and his wife, Erika. He and I discuss our obligations to past events. He feels the havoc Germany unleashed upon the world means he can never forget and that he must bare this like a heavy weight on his shoulders for the rest of his life. I suggest that if his grandfather kicked my grandfather in the ass, it has nothing to do with our present relations, that we must live in the present and forget the pain and injustices of the past He disagrees. He feels we can never forget
The hip mayor of Prague, Pavel Bém, is hosting a welcome dinner in his fabulous residence. It is an amazing building. See lots of faces I recognize including the attractive Ambassador to the Czech Republic from Sweden, Catherine von Heidenstan. She gives me a warm smile and tells me that she is sorry not to have attended a Sunday dinner since our meeting last year. I tell her she has another year to make it. I see Larissa Vergou. She is visiting her mother. I also learn that Michael and Vlasta have created a literary award in honor of her father, Spyros Vergou. Roots in Time. The Spiros Vergos Prize for Literature will be awarded for the first time this year to Natalia Gorbanevskaya tomorrow night at the Theatre Minor. Larissa is here tonight with her mother. I remember meeting her mother last year, so go over and throw her some kisses. I tell Larissa that I miss her father, that he had a great spirit and that he contributed so much to the Prague Writers' Festival. It is so good of Michael and Vlasta to create this award in his honor.
Meet Michael's surgeon and we discuss medical practices in Britain, France and the Czech Republic. See the fellow who is the proprietor of the Big Ben Bookshop. His name is Miro Peraica and he introduces me to his lovely wife, Ana. He is with two assistants from the shop, Matt Murphy and Radana Stasna.
Rossano Maniscalchi and I meet once again. We first met at the Prague Writers' Festival in 2002. Then last year we crossed paths again and he reported he has just had a new daughter. Now this daughter is walking around and enjoying the evening, looking absolutely breath-taking, a future heart-breaker.
Michael March introduces me to a group of people that includes the current Ambassador from Mexico, Jose Louis Bernal.
As we all know, there is no such thing as a "free lunch". Next we have the speeches that welcome the writers to this delightful event. It is a small price to pay. Vlasta Brtnikova gives a welcome in Czech that is translated into English. Michael March also thanks a number of people. The Mexican Ambassador relates how the events in Mexico and around the world in 1968 shaped contemporary Mexico for the better. Then we are encouraged to eat and to drink and to enjoy ourselves. The food is excellent, especially the duck. I thank the chefs.
Walk into the back room and find the dessert. Discover once again how pleasant these rooms are. I remember them from 2002 and last year. Sit with Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson and we enjoy the peace and fresh air. Draw them a map back to the Hotel Josef and cross my fingers that they will make it.
Join Martin Belk and his group. They introduce me to a woman named Susan. She is with the National Library in Great Britain. I mention that I will be giving a talk the 24th of June at the National Library of Scotland. Susan mentions Jim Naughton and says that he will not be here with us now because he has been promoted and that he must over-see examinations at Oxford.
It is getting late. The five of us cuddle under two umbrellas as we make our way back to our hotels in a heavy falling rain. It has been a long day for most of us. I fall into bed and sleep

 

more on the Prague Writers' Festival Website
Jim Haynes
31st May 2008

Atelier A-2,
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,
75014 Paris

 

Newsletter No. 681 Live from Hotel Josef
prague Writers Festival 2008 banner
Prague Writers' Festival, J Haynes' blog, 1 June 2008

Sunday: Up early and stroll around the corner to the Hotel Josef. Fairly quickly I am told my room is ready. It's 202 in the front building. I feel at home immediately.
Sit downstairs with Guillaume Basset and Mollye Miller. Betty and Homero Aridjis arrive from Paris. Hannah Brooks-Motl arrives from Scotland. Sit briefly in the computer room and talk with a woman from London. Her name is Joanna Ball and she is with Gary Younge. I ask her to pass my greetings to Gary. She tells me that everyone calls her Jo. She is with Channel 4.
There are book signings today in Big Ben Bookshop. Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson at 14.00 and Paul Auster and Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke at 15.00. Graeme Gibson looks like Harrison Ford and/or Indiana Jones with his elegant hat
In the afternoon a heavy rain falls. Lara Woolstom, who is with Amnesty International in London and who was here helping the festival, is also here again this year. She runs into the lobby dripping wet with a fellow named Sebastian Lupak. He is from Gdansk and is with the Polish newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza.
Another journalist covering the festival is Adrana Pitesa. She is with a newspaper in Zagreb. Tell her that I was just attending a conference in Ljubljana. Also mention the fact that I spent some time on the island of Dugi Otok (which means Long Island). She says it is her favorite island. Tell her that I pondered editing a guide book to Yugoslavia back in the late 80s. But gave up the idea for a number of reasons. I did go on to edit a series for Canongate Books in Edinburgh that eventually became five books dealing with 10 Eastern European countries and Russia. These books were unlike any guide books ever; they contained only people one could meet. One thousand short biographies. The series won a prize, received rave reviews, but small sales. Still the few people who did use the books reported loving them and meeting lots of people in their travels. Some people even journeyed to Paris to take me out for a meal in order to introduce me to their spouse that resulted from using the guides.
The rain continues to fall. Hannah, Lara, Helena, Mollye organize taxis to take everyone to Theatre Minor for the opening evening event. Pavel Bem, the Mayor of Prague, and a firm supporter of the Prague Writers' Festival, will officially open the Festival.
I am put into the back seat of a taxi. A couple is already there. The fellow is sitting in the front seat and a lady friend of his sits in the back with me. They non-stop chat away in Greek. Neither acknowledge my presence. When we arrive at the theatre, they exit quickly. I ask the driver if he needs to be paid. And he says yes. So I pay.
Inside the theatre encounter straight away Larissa Vergou. Tell her my strange Greek story. But she cannot guess who the couple might be. Larissa looks extremely lovely tonight. She will be giving the first Spiros Vergos Prize for Literature tonight to Natalia Gorbanevskaya.
Martin Belk is with Geraldine Sweeney and Jonathan Pryce and another fellow named Stefan Pearson. It seems Stefan also is involved with One Magazine. One of his early stories, it seems, was extremely controversial. (Note to myself: read it.)
Michael March is at the theatre door greeting arrivals. He asks me how I am enjoying myself and I report I am having a superb time. Go down to the cafe and order a coffee latte from one of the festival sponsors, mama & coffee. Get a large bowl and am not allowed to pay for it. But there is a tip bowl, so drop a bunch of coins in it. Sit in a corner and engage a lovely woman in conversation. She is from York, studied French and German at Edinburgh University and currently lives in Brussels. We have a good talk about Edinburgh. Tell her that I, too, studied at Edinburgh University, that I lived in that fabulous city for ten years, created a bookshop & gallery, co-founded the Traverse Theatre and co-organized the Writers' Conference in 1962 (with John Calder and Sonia Orwell) and we had 75 writers from all over the world attending (including Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, William Burroughs, Angus Wilson, Alexander Trocchi, etc etc). We had another Conference in 1963 that caused a scandal and ended our series of conferences for the Edinburgh Festival. I tell her that I have never missed a Festival. She has a copy of today's Observer and reports there are copies by the coat check. The Observer is a part of the Guardian group and therefore a sponsor of this Writers' Festival. I excuse myself to get a copy. Discover that she also knows Gary Younge because he also studied languages in Edinburgh.
Spot an attractive woman with a Faber & Faber shoulder bag. Ask her if she is a Faber author and she is. Her name is Clare Wigfall and her novel, The Longest Sound and Nothing, was published last autumn. Tell her that I am a Faber author as well, that my autobiography, Thanks for Coming!, was published in 1984, that it caused a minor civil war inside Faber. She introduces me to her friend, Wendy Wrangham. Wendy is a free-lance journalist who happens to look like an actress I know in Paris, Natasha Cashman. Wendy was born in Calcutta, but left the city aged 5, so has no memories. I tell her it is one of my favorite cities in the world, that I am a Consultant to the Kolkata Film Festival (10 to 17 November). That I have been there the past two years and plan to be there every year for the foreseeable future.

Tonight's events are about to start. Go inside and sit near Adrana Pitesa, the journalist from Zagreb. When the lights go out in the auditorium, notice she has a small light that enables her to take notes. A well-prepared journalist!
It is a delightful evening. I kick myself for not taking the head-phones that would have enabled me to hear the English translations of the Czech contributions. Talks from the mayor, from the host, Marek Eben and from Petr Kral, who is on the panel with Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, and Michael McClure. But before we have this "1968" discussion, Larissa presents the award to Natalia Gorbanevskaya. Natalia protested the invasion of Prague in 1968 and for this was given a prison sentence.
The contributions from Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, and Michael McClure are superb. Gary Younge is an excellent moderator. I am sorry that I did not have head phones for Petr Kral's contributions. (Petr and I met some time ago in Paris when he attended one of my Sunday dinner parties. My dear friend, Ted Joans, who alas is no longer with us, suggested he attend.) It would take too long to repeat all that was said by everyone tonight. I remember well the 60s, was in the middle of it all in London and Paris. I have strong feelings about the period. Life constantly changes. Slow change is called evolution; fast change is called revolution. The 60s were a period of fast change in so many areas of human experience. As Margaret Atwood pointed out, it was the beginning of the second period of women's revolution. I was involved with sexual liberation and the fight against racism.
The Canadian Ambassador, Michael Calcott, announces that food and drink with be provided in the theatre to all. He invites everyone to join the writers and enjoy themselves with more conversations. What an amazing invitation! Thank you, tax-payers of Canada.
Go out and join the fantastic party. Get in a queue. Spot Betty Aridjis. And Homero Aridjis is with the Mexican Ambassador. See Paul and Dominique Kahn. They live in Paris and publish New Magazine. Vlasta Brtnikova is standing near one of the chefs and tells him to fill my plate. Thank you, Vlasta.
Go up and sit near the Big Ben Book stall. A woman named Martina sits next to me and we have an interesting conversation. Wendy Wrangham joins us and I introduce them to each other. Then Hannah Brooks-Motl appears and she and I talk about Scotland. It has been a wonderful evening. Stimulating and provocative. Time maybe to head back to the Josef Hotel. Hannah calls a taxi for me. I offer a number of people rides, but no one is going to the hotel.
There is a round table in the lobby. Join it and sit between Gary Younge and Graeme Gibson. After a bit, slip away and go upstairs to my room. There is a large envelope on my bed with my name written on it. I recognize the hand-writing. Open the packet and it contains a book, The body grows dark together with the day, by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, published by Prague Writers' Festival & Vlasta Brtnikova Publishers. Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Vlasta.

 

more on the Prague Writers' Festival Website
Jim Haynes
1st June 2008

Atelier A-2,
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,
75014 Paris

 

Newsletter No. 682 Live from Hotel Josef
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Prague Writers' Festival, J Haynes' blog, 2 June 2008

Monday: Another superb breakfast. Sit next to Michael McClure and Amy. They are deeply involved with today's Guardian. Paul Auster walks pass us and we exchange greetings.
Today I will seek help from PJ to get my Saturday's blog posted on the Prague Writers' Festival wet site. But first I will attend Michael March's Municipal Library conversation. It is entitled "Eyes to See Otherwise" and it is with Jiri Grusa and Homero Aridjis. Walk there via The Big Ben Bookshop. The conversation has started, but manage to catch most of it. It's a tender and intimate affair. Back to the Hotel Josef. Michael asks me to sign a few papers. Look up and see that Jim Rubenstein is standing next to us. He and I had a silly falling out some years ago in Paris. But I see no reason to continue it. We get in his car and drive to The Municipal House for an ice cream and an iced coffee. And a long catch-up conversation about his life, my life, our friends in common, Jack Henry Moore and Jim Naughton, summer plans, his current lady friend etc etc After a quick look around the concert hall and the Paris Hotel across the street, Jim drops me back at the Josef Hotel.
Begin a conversation with Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson and then PJ arrives. We go up to the wee computer room and are unable to find my Saturday report. Fortunately I printed out one copy. PJ suggests we go to the Festival office and he will scan the pages and I can make corrections and leave it with him to put up on the Festival web site. We walk back to the Paris Hotel and enter the metro at Republic Station. A short two stop ride and we are at the festival offices. PJ scans my pages and I start to make corrections. We finish about 16.45.
We walk the short distance to the Theatre Minor for the Guardian conversation, "1968: Czechoslovakia". This time I collect the head phones and am able to listen to the panelists: Ludvik Vaculik, Ivan Klima, Arnost Lustig, Antonin Liehm and Jiri Grusa with Jiri Pehe acting as the moderator. While on one level I can follow the conversation, on another level I am in the dark. I know so little about the panelists, their inter-personal relations, what really happened in Prague when the Russian tanks rolled in forty years ago. I have the feeling that this is an extremely important blood-letting. The theatre is packed. In fact I have never seen it so full. I manage to find a seat up front and next to a fellow named Miro Prochazka. He is a theatre director and lives in Bratislava. We exchange cards and talk about the session we have just witnessed.
Outside for some fresh air. See Adrana Pitesa and give her my Ljubljana newsletter. See also the Polish journalist from Gdansk, Sebastian Lupak. He and I have a long talk. I tell him that Jan Kaczmarek, who won an Oscar for his film-score for the film, Neverland, is an old friend of mine. (I think that was its title.) Also Ryszard Kapuscinski, who tragically died recently, is an old friend. I relate yet again the story of how I came to deliver a letter from Solidarnoc in Warsaw in late October 1981 to Vaclaw Havel in Prague.
Soon it is time for the evening session to start. Sebastian and I sit together. It is an international evening which starts with Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke. Gary Younge is the host, but he turns the position over briefly to Michael March who interviews Katerina. And then she reads some of her poetry in English. And one poem in Greek. Gary comes back to introduce Siri Hustvedt. They have a short dialogue and then she reads from her new novel, The Sorrows of an American. (The novel received a rave review in yesterday's London Observer.) The evening ends with Margaret Atwood. It is a superb climax. I will never forget her remark: "to be world famous in Canada" to mean, as she points out, not to be famous at all. She reads some short prose pieces then some of her poetry. What a talent.
Later I walk back to the Hotel Josef. A bunch of writers are sitting once again in the lobby. I choose to do some e-mail and note-taking. Then it is upstairs for an early night. It has been another superb day here in Prague. The Prague Writers' Festival is a warm and intimate occasion when and where a few writers, journalists, and the general public can meet and bond. Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Vlasta.

 

 

read the blog on the Prague Writers' Festival Website

Jim Haynes
2 June 2008

Atelier A-2,
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,
75014 Paris

 

 

 

 

 

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