Brief aan de volgende schrijver

Writers-in-residence schrijven elkaar brieven met hun ervaring bij de uitwisseling. Deze brief is gericht aan Eduardo Halfon, schrijver uit Guatemala.

Saint-Nazaire, April 14, 2010

Dear Eduardo,
Welcome to this writerís den in the industrial landscape of the port of Saint-Nazaire. The apartment is white and clean now, it reflects even more light than it did before, if you want to work here you will have to be able to cope with the light (find cover for your computer screen, withstand the temptation to go out all day and be on the bike, two things I struggled with while here).

I have 'written in residence' before. One year ago I was in an old captainís villa at the Baltic sea. The National Park started in our garden. One day me and the other writers ran out to look at the footprints of a brown bear and her cub in the sand on the beach. As remote as the place was there, as central does Saint-Nazaire feel: a pivotal spot where all ways cross, where objects are exchanged, where people take leaps. I was here for four weeks. I am now handing over the stick to a writer from Guatemala, a country where I have never been, but this does not feel odd at all. Thanks to Saint-Nazaire it feels natural, with all its crossings over the Atlantic, boats from here to there, the transatlantic telegraph line coming ashore here, airbuses to bridge the distances assembled at this very spot.

The reason I came to this writerís house was the need of time to work on my next novel. I am writing about the Huguenots who fled the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (!) in the 17th century and went to settle on the Cabo da Boa EsperanÁa. I have been working on this book for over three years now. Last Spring, while I was working in the captainís house at the Baltic Sea, I discovered a hump in the story. There was a hitch I could not get past. Not because I did not know what to say, but because the sequence I had thought up lacked logic and lyric. It took me a week to straighten out the obstacle. Iíve had to walk in the woods for days (the woods where moose lived, and the brown bear). On the sixth or seventh day, I managed to flatten the obstruction, and after that, I went through my story like butter.

When arriving in Saint-Nazaire, I wanted to work on the same scene in the story. And guess what I discovered? I had not read the section for months, and now that I looked at it more closely, the hump was back. The solutions that I had found in the woods of Estonia where not satisfying. The moment of action was still problematic, with characters behaving against their temperament, in uninspired locations, arousing problems of rhythm and sound in the wording.

I have had to look through the majestic windows of the writerís apartment for days. What I saw was quite different from what I saw last year. I looked at a manufactured landscape this time, saw the moving of ship vessels, at one point in history the fastest way of travel, even when only powered by the wind, now the more unfathomable way of moving, a hovering which seems at certain moments very focused and efficient, but not always. I have seen the strangest maneuvers from the windows of this 10th floor. One morning, a platform came floating into the dock. Over the traffic road at the other side, four trucks filled with sand arrived. One after the other the trucks drove onto the platform, very carefully not to capsize. When the four trucks were finally parked, one in each corner of the platform, the whole stage was pushed into the dock by towing boats. Consequently, it headed towards the open sea.

How strange, one thinks, to be bringing trucks full of sand into the open seaÖ

But that was not the end of it. That same evening, I saw the platform coming back. I saw it crossing the estuary, go past the breakwaters, then go into the lock, and return back to the dock. The trucks were still parked in the four corners, and they still were full of sand. As a writer, I have found the witnessing of these motions very comforting. I have felt that, in the real, economical and industrial life, the same things happen as in my fictional world. Work that costs you hours and days may seem efficient and fruitful at first, but you may at some point discover that you have only run a circle. Your movement was useless, it has served no purpose at all, you only came back where you started. Does it make your work useless? I do not think so. What is Ďusefulí is not what you achieved, but the wake, the flow you leave on the water. Even if we have sailed a circle, the pattern of that wake will be in our story. That is how the view on the port of Saint-Nazaire has comforted me. I hope it does the same to you.