Playing in The Shadow of The Volcano: The Franco-Irish Literary Festival 2010 and Stranger Than Fiction 2010

I don’t know about you, but here in Dublin life sure feels a bit like being in a science fiction movie at the moment. Life ‘AV’ that is,  after the volcano that erupted in Iceland last week. It’s somehow more immediate, much more of an adventure. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated just how much havoc such an unusual natural occurrence actually wreaks on people’s lives. Phew, I thought on hearing the volcano news, thankfully I’m not travelling anywhere by plane in the next few weeks. Topic closed. But I somehow hadn’t quite considered how all those lovely filmmakers and authors invited to the festivals I had been looking forward to for weeks would actually get to Dublin. Oh…hm…exactly!

True, some of the events at both Stranger Than Fiction and the Franco-Irish Literary Festival had inevitably had to be cancelled courtesy of the volcano ash clouds sabotaging the European airspace. Luckily, however, this freak event also brought out the best in the festival organisers and participants, many of them creatively filling in for their absent colleagues at the last minute. That way I was very pleased to be able to attend some very informative talks at STF on ethics in filmmaking, libel issues and funding questions without any major hiccups. This was followed by two days of French, Canadian and Irish authors reading from their books and speaking about not only their writing but also, you guessed it: volcanoes, which seemed to be the conversation topic number one everywhere you went. In fact I’m surprised nobody has come up with a coffee creation based on the ash cloud invasion yet. Watch this space.

But I digress, back to last weekend’s delectable cultural menu. This year’s festival theme at Dublin Castle was ‘The City/La Ville/An Chathair” which didn’t spark quite as many humorous and lively presentations and discussions as last year’s ‘Love and Death’. It did, however, make everyone reflect quite a bit about the urban and rural spaces we inhabit and everybody’s topic number two: the impact the recession has had on all our lives compared to the Celtic Tiger years. Some of the conversations drifted a bit too much into melancholy and nostalgia territory for my liking, especially as I see modern technology including the internet and social media as a fabulous playground for creative ideas (think positive people!). Luckily, most of the gloomier bits of the talks were being rescued heroically by spirited presenters such as JP Lynch and his absolutely adorable children’s book illustrations.

Other favourites included Claire Kilroy, who said she very much enjoyed the warm and welcoming atmosphere at the festival, and Catherine Mavrikakis, who luckily must have arrived in Dublin from Montreal before the volcano chaos started to unfold. What struck me as très intéressant was the apparent capacity of the French for philosophising on any (!) topic in a way which to me far, far outstripped any Irish attempts at the same. Yet, what makes this kind of festival so lovable is the balance it struck between the philosophical, the humorous and the very down to earth aspects of life. Having a city like Dublin with such a colourful and diverse history as the backdrop for a French-Irish literature festival added another dimension to the conversations which reminded me not only of my own roots but also of how all our lives are so much about being in tune with the society we live in and the people we spend our lives with. Maybe the ginormous ash cloud is actually a blessing in disguise. It sure has sparked some interesting discussions not only in Dublin Castle this weekend but also in many places where stranded people randomly struck up conversations with strangers on the way back to the place they call their home.

P.S. A lovely, lighthearted moment happened towards the end of the festival at the start of a reading with French author Jacques Réda when Joe Woods of Poetry Ireland asked him to read out some of his poems. ‘You choose’, Joe offered politely. ‘Me??’ asked Jacques slightly mischievously. ‘They’re your poems!’ Joe replied while we all chuckled at their playful interaction. I couldn’t help thinking that there is so much fun and learning to be had wherever we are that even an ash cloud can have a silver lining if we care to see it.


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