Passporting in June

This is a busy month for the ‘anti-passport’, with events organised by readers of the poem in different places and across different ‘genres’. An exhibition in Paris, a solidarity action with refugees in Zagreb, a multilingual choir in the Jura mountains, and a theatre production in Athus, Belgium.
From 10th June, as part of the collective exhibition Passeport(e) at the Maison des métallos in Belleville, Paris, Katelia’s Arbre de la diversité is a part-real, part-fictional representation of a ‘family tree’ of diversity. Each frame represents a different family member, and contains a portrait, an object, and a personal story of migration. I feature as ‘le petit-fils / in-neputi’, together with a French Passeport booklet, a short piece on my (complex) relationship with the Maltese language, and a copy of my maternal grandfather’s fake French id card, from the years in which he took refuge in Millau during the German occupation of WW2. More about that story another time, in a future publication of his wartime memories.

zagreb

At sunset on 13th June in Zagreb, members of the Centar za mirovne studije (Centre for Peace Studies) teamed up with the Zagreb Light Brigade and the migrant cooperative Okus doma / Taste of Home, at the Hotel Porin, where asylum seekers are housed. They broke the Ramadan fast together, and an Arabic translation of the final stanza of the Passport was given out to some of the refugees.

The Croatian adaptation of the poem and booklet by a team of ten students of the CMS is almost ready, and will hopefully be presented after the summer. The ‘official’ (or for want of a less bureaucratic word, ‘recommended’) Arabic translation of the Passport by Walid Nabhan is also on its way; the Arabic translation distributed in Zagreb was done by hand, spontaneously, by the mother of a student who came to the poetry workshops I gave in Saint-Claude, in the French Jura mountains, during the second week of May.

On Saturday 18th June, at La Fraternelle / Maison du Peuple in Saint-Claude, a multilingual choir will be singing the final stanza of the Passport in French, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Greek, Italian, Polish, Romanian, and even Maltese (maltais de vache française ?!  😃 ) The choir will be joined by the allophone children (a ‘neutral’ term for immigrant, French as second language) I taught last month, performing their own writings from the workshops, plus extracts of the Passeport poem that they re-wrote according to their own experiences of borders and playground discrimination. One of the writing tasks was to invent and conjugate a verb related to migration, and one of the kids, Lara from Portugal, created the verb passeporter. This conjugation and other writings have been set to music by choir director Stéphanie Barbarou, with whom I gave the workshops. This will be the third time that the kids will be reciting and singing their poems, after performances in front of the town museum and in the school hall.

On Sunday 26th June, at Centre Culturel Athus (a town in southern Belgium bordering France and Luxembourg), actors of Cie Le Grand Asile and Studio Théâtre Luxembourg will be performing Frontières, including extracts of the French Passeport as adapted from the Maltese by Elizabeth Grech. The spectacle is directed by Déborah Barbieri and Fabrizio Leva.

Luckily I’ll be present at Athus, the day after a performance at the Kulturfabrik in Luxembourg, accompanied by actress Sophie Langevin. We’ll be reciting poems from the forthcoming 40 Jum / 40 Days, a book about domestic violence, childhood trauma, and walking as self-therapy. The French translations from the Maltese are also by Elizabeth Grech.

logo-cits-1
In the mean time, I’m also preparing for the Crossing Borders – CITS conference in Mytilene, Lesbos (7-10 July), where I’ll be reading a paper on examples of creative no-border activism. Poetry, cartoons, independent journalism, graffiti and street stickers, and more.
To see the no-borders poem travelling through the voices and efforts of others is at once energising and exhausting – these offshoots of the ‘Passport’ keep me going, but I’m finding it very difficult to keep up. I collaborate with many wonderful people, and I wish I could give each one the time and attention they deserve.

Breathe in, breathe out. I’m now dedicating the bulk of my time to the Passport project, and have quite a mountain to climb – 18 months of activities to document, accounts to sort out, donations to give to the migration associations and collectives I collaborate with, and several new translations to follow up. Step by step. Pass pass. 

Nevertheless, I’m finally realising that the name Passaport Project, the label with which I attempt to englobe the various initiatives born of the poem and booklet, no longer makes sense. It’s all too organic for the word ‘project’; there’s no purposeful direction as such, no mid- to long-term plan, other than catharsis, awareness raising and solidarity through poetry and performance. The poem has taken a life of its own in the voices and actions of others, and it’s better that way.

Still, the presentation of the booklet needs a re-think. It needs to be more solid, clearer in intention, and more easily available. I’ve long been debating, at the back of my mind, whether or not to re-name the booklet with the title Anti-Passport. For more immediate clarity, though I’m not too in favour of beginning with a negative prefix. The inner message is a positive one: a protest poem, a long yet non-exhaustive list of border absurdities and atrocities, but nested in a love poem to humanity as a naturally migrating species. I’d appreciate any comments or suggestions. Time will tell.
I write this at home in Malta, a few metres away from the Mediterranean shore. Why the sea continues to caress the lands that have turned it into a grave, I do not know. Hoping for a clement summer. Judging from the cold numbers of the past few weeks, it’s difficult to be optimistic. The sea rescues continue, not far south from here. Médécins Sans Frontières are busy in the waters of Libya and Greece, and have just announced that they will no longer be accepting donations from the EU, Britian and other states hell-bent at making borders progressively more brutal for the people who have little option but to cross them. A very brave and coherent decision.
Donate to MSF here.
corderaide

 

Meanwhile, we continue ‘passporting’. Heartfelt thanks to all the people accompanying me on this crazy, unpredictable journey. I’d like to say we’re united by the poem – in reality, we’re all over the place, but moving in similar directions. Hopefully, toward a world with open nation-state borders – or no borders at all.

 

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Daqshekk ilbist il-vjola

lottubiljettId-disgħa u għoxrin ta’ Frar. Jum barrani fil-kalendarju. Tiftakar? Ma ntikx tort jekk le; wara kollox, jien iktar iffissat fis-simboloġija tan-numri minnek. Namra ċkejkna li writt min-nanna, avolja, hi kienet tikkalkula ħafna aħjar minni, u ġieli kienet tirbaħ xi ħaġa bil-berdejs u dati oħra tagħna. Meta lgħabt in-numri tiegħek b’nofs ċajta xi ġimagħtejn ilu, lanqas saqsejtni fuq id-29. Numru prim, ta’ waħdu, ta’ darba f’mitt qamar, jew imqar nofshom. Ma telax, u lanqas l-erbgħa l-oħra. Ma ġibtlekx risq, għidtli. Kemm ridt immerik! Iktar risq milli għali, niżgurak, minkejja kollox. Imma kif taf, għandi ħabta kerha niġbed is-sens imnejn mhux bilfors ikun hemm, il-ħin kollu nfittex il-metafori u s-sinjali ta’ warajhom. Speċjalment fi lwien is-sema, fil-forom tas-sħab jew ta’ dellhom fuq il-baħar, fil-qmura. Vizzju perikoluż, li daħħalni kemm-il darba f’basal minn dak li jaħraq u jdemma’. Il-ħin kollu ngħarrex għax-xbihat biex imbagħad nifhimhom ħażin. Daqslikieku d-dinja ktieb, u inti persunaġġ, minflok bniedma. Iva. Dik il-problema. Naf.

dinjaId-disgħa u għoxrin ta’ Frar. Jum barrani fil-kalendarju, imdaħħal minħabba l-kejl impreċiż tal-ħin u taż-żmien, ta’ kemm id-dinja ddum iżżagrag fuqha nfisha u madwar ix-xemx sa tagħqad ċirku għat-tul u ssib ruħha fl-istess pożizzjoni mnejn kien beda l-kejl. 24 siegħa żejda biex jagħmlu tajjeb għas-sitt sigħat li nitilfu ma’ kull sena. Dan ifisser li, f’ċertu jum u ċertu ħin, il-pożizzjoni tad-dinja fis-sistema solari ma tkunx eżatt l-istess bħal ta’ sena qabel, u lanqas bħal ta’ sena wara. Għax sena tal-arloġġ mhix sena tal-ġebla li minnha jsiru l-arloġġi. In-numri tas-sema u dawk tal-bniedem jaqblu biss darba kull erba’ snin. Mument ċkejken, fin-nofsillejl li jifred illum minn għada. Mela f’sena bisestli bħal din, ix-xitwa tkun ġurnata itwal, imma fil-kalendarju biss. L-istaġuni tal-ġebla ma jaqblux eżatt ma’ kif inqassmuhom aħna. Il-bniedem ma jafx ikejjel bi preċiżjoni, mingħalih li jista’ jqassar u jtawwal l-istaġuni, u iktar jgħaġġel milli jistenna. Jew għax ottimist iżżejjed, jew għax ma jafx jieħu paċenzja, jew għax ma jafx jitrażżan. Jew forsi t-tlieta f’daqqa. Hi kif inhi, il-bniedem jgħix eżiljat mill-verità, mill-perfezzjoni kożmika, f’ċikli ta’ erba’ snin.

hemm fejn gheriqtGħal min iħobb li l-affarijiet ikunu tondi u sħaħ, ġurnata barranija bħal-lum tkun xierqa għall-bidu u t-tmiem ta’ kejl, jew ta’ ċiklu magħqud, jew ta’ storja magħluqa. Ma niftakarx fi x’ħin iltqajna eżatt, dakinhar tad-29 t’erbgħa snin ilu, u lanqas niftakar kinitx taħt it-tieni jew it-tielet siġra. Imma niftakar li kont qiegħda tfur bil-ħlewwa, liebsa l-vjola, vjola bħalma ġieli jkun il-baħar tal-Wied mal-għabex, l-iktar meta l-qamar ikun qed jimla fil-baxx. U dak il-ħin kelli naqdef u nissara minn ġewwa biex ma tindunax li dak il-mewġ vjola kont qiegħed negħreq fih.

sabbara

Vjola, bħall-għeneb li minnu jsir l-inbid aħmar, tajjeb għall-qalb u għall-ħbiberija. U sirna ħbieb, anki jekk b’nofs ta’ baħar u nofs t’art bejnietna. U minn dakinhar ‘l hawn ktibt, u ktibt, u kull ħaġa li kont inħażżeż kont nistħajlek qiegħda taqraha b’dawk iż-żewġ qmura taparsi par għajnejn. Italo Calvino, xi mkien fil-ktieb Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore, jitkellem dwar il-‘lettrice ideale’. U donnok kont taf, għax ma’ kull xbieha, ma’ kull metafora li kont niġbed waqt mixja jew insomnja, kont tagħfas mill-ewwel. It-telegrammi tal-grillu. Is-sabbara twila tmil lejn Filfla. Ir-ramla f’tarf il-ġuf tal-Wied, tistenna l-għawwiem. Possibbli m’indunajtx min kien il-grillu, is-sabbara u l-għawwiem, u min il-gżejra u r-ramla t’tarf il-Wied?

dinjaqalbVjola, bħal dawk il-pirmli li jqabbdu l-istħajjil psikadeliku. Wara xi sentejn, forsi proprju għax inbati bil-qamar, tlift il-kejl. Kelma waħda bħal suffarina, u d-dwejra tal-karti li kont bnejt, bil-mod u bis-sod, vers ħdejn vers, strofa fuq strofa, inħarqet f’ħakka t’għajn. Għajn imċajpra li insistiet li taqra u tifhem ħażin. Kont għaġġilt l-istaġuni. Kont qrajt xi ħaġa fiż-żewġ qmura jimlew f’wiċċek, iżda mort żmerċ. U sibt ruħi f’eżilju doppju, dak tal-mappa u dak tal-qalb.
Vjola, il-kulur tal-penitenza. Bqajt nikteb u nimxi, nimxi u nikteb. Sakemm sibt il-passaport biex stajt erġajt qsamt il-fruntiera ta’ skietek, kellhom jiqsaru u jimlew xi 15-il qamar ieħor. U xorta waħda ma tgħallimtx naqra sew ix-xbihat. Il-ġimgħa l-oħra rġajt tlift il-kejl tal-qmura, erġajt għaġġilt ir-rebbiegħa, u issa hawn jien, b’dis-sensazzjoni stramba li tħossok id-dar u fl-eżilju f’daqqa.
triq muntanji

Vjola, kulur li mhux suppost tilbsu fit-teatru għax iġiblek xorti ħażina. Forsi tgħodd għall-poeżija wkoll. Kumbinazzjoni, u veru b’kumbinazzjoni, dan l-aħħar xahar inzertajt tlift flokk vjola għal tliet darbiet. L-ewwel darba waqt kunċert. Ftit jiem wara mort lura fuq il-post, iżda ma sibtux. It-tieni flokk tliftu f’dari stess. Wara din it-tieni telfa, ħabib ħareġ b’metafora sabiħa – kull darba li nitlef flokk vjola qiegħed ninża’ qoxra, għax inkun qed nimmetamorfizza. Dak il-ħin m’għamiltx ir-rabta mal-libsa vjola tiegħek t’erba’ snin ilu. Dak il-flokk sibtu fil-magna u onxortu, u mbagħad, l-għada tal-ġlieda u tar-ritorn fl-eżilju, tellajtu miegħi f’safra – anzi, għamilt kuraġġ u mort -, iżda lejn tmiem is-safra serquli l-barżakka, bil-flokk vjola u l-passaport ġo fih, kif ukoll ċitazzjoni ta’ speeding li kont għadni ma ħallasthiex.

Prince-purple-RainVjola, bħal dik il-kanzunetta tal-1984, dwar ħbiberija li marret il-baħar, ħbiberija impossibbli, għax il-kantant ried wisq, u għaġġel, u kejjel ħażin. Il-vjola hija wkoll il-kulur tal-ħniena, iżda naf li mhix ġejja. Illum, id-disgħa u għoxrin ta’ Frar, jum barrani fil-kalendarju, ġejt lura taħt is-siġra. It-tieni waħda, kważi ċert li kienet dik. Iktar milli biex niftakar, ġejt biex nagħqad iċ-ċirku, biex nagħlaq l-istorja. L-erba’ snin mhux se jsiru tmienja, numru li jekk timbuttah bil-ħlewwa jsirlek l-infinit. Naf. Mhux se jkun hemm 50 qamar ieħor. Lanqas dawk il-par qmura li kont nistħajjilhom jaqraw il-metafori ta’ moħħi jibla’ l-pirmli vjola. Qisu diżgwid bejn kittieb li ma jafx jaqra, u qarrejja li ma tafx tikteb. Kliemek dan tal-aħħar, ma naqbilx miegħu. Tikteb sabiħ, b’ħafna spirtu, imma jien ma nafx naqra, dik il-problema. M’hemmx soluzzjoni. L-unika perfezzjoni li jista’ jkun hemm f’din il-ġrajja kollha hija l-għeluq taċ-ċiklu f’mument preċiż. Issa li d-dinja tinsab eżatt fl-istess punt tas-sistema solari milli kienet l-aħħar 29 ta’ Frar, ġurnata barranija fil-kalendarju, nista’ ntella’ l-lapes minn fuq il-karta, u neħles. Neħles lilek. U lili. Għax meta teħles lil ħaddieħor, tkun qed teħles lilek innifsek fl-istess ħin.
filfla vjola

Ma ġibtlekx risq, għidtli. Kemm ridt immerik! Iktar risq milli għali, niżgurak, minkejja kollox. Ma nistax ma nniżżikx ħajr ta’ kulma ktibt f’dan il-baħar vjola, fil-mewġ kalm u fil-mewġ itella’, taħt qmura ta’ kull forma, jimlew u jiqsaru.

Daqshekk ilbist il-vjola. U daqshekk tellajtlek il-metafori minn ġol-mewġ. Imlejt żewġ kotba. Grazzi. Mill-qalb, mil-lapes, mill-istħajjil ta’ moħħi. Nixtieqlek ir-risq. Dak kollu li jiena ma ġibtlekx, u aktar. Attenta biss mill-kittieba li ma jafux jaqraw.

Se jdoqqu nofsillejl. Il-qamar fuq il-Wied qed jitla’ u jiqsar. Se niftakrek b’għożża, bi ħlewwa, mhux bil-melħ tad-dispjaċir. L-ittri t’ismek, li ilhom erba’ snin jitlaħalħu f’dan il-Wied, se jitkaxkru lejn ix-xefaq, lil hinn mill-gżira ssellmilhom b’dak il-kappell miftuq li għandha. Biex żgur naqta’, se nitfa’ l-lapes ħalli jsalpa magħhom. Ktibt biżżejjed. Il-vjaġġ it-tajjeb. U s-sliem.

qattuskobbamhabbla
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The shape of Lampedusa (reprise)

(Written following a trip to Lampedusa, two years after writing The shape of Lampedusa – part 1)
Detail of mural on the side of the Biblioteca di Lampedusa per bambini e ragazzi, Via Roma

Detail of mural on the side of the Biblioteca di Lampedusa per bambini e ragazzi, Via Roma

After having visited Lampedusa, I see four new shapes in its map.

As suggested by this mural on the side of a children’s library in Via Roma, Lampedusa is the shape of a red-hot iron. Not for flattening the waves, which have long been corroding its surface. Nor for straightening the eddies in the air, the wind is much too strong. In fact, this burning iron is pretty much useless. It could have served to smooth out and erase the creases on the map of the Mediterranean – the imaginary border between north and south, for example. Yet it’s not only the elements that have stopped it from doing so: the continent has decided to put the island to other uses.

Lampedusa is the shape of a rifle. One of countless firearms roaming across this heavily militarised rock. Radar stations pin down its three major capes. Outside the port and town that straddle the trigger, every third vehicle is an army jeep, carabinieri, or guardia di finanza. At the end of the barrel is Albero Sole, the highest and windiest point of the island, with an altitude of 133 m. Just before the cliff, a crucified Jesus keeps his gaze down, avoiding the sight of the 190.5 m NATO-installed transmitter, shooting out radio signals to aid navigation. The barrel points to the sunset in Tunisia, but the signals are intended for travellers from other lands. Among them, the Frontex ships circling the island, sliding steadily along the horizon.

Lampedusa is the shape of a key. It may have dropped into the sea a long time ago, as it has become rough and rusted. It’s been tried on a few doors up north, without any luck. Sometimes it enters, but doesn’t turn. Sometimes it turns, but in a vacuum. The right door may not even exist any more. Or perhaps the door still needs to be built, with its corresponding keyhole. Time will tell.

Lampedusa is shaped like the minute hand of a clock. On Lampedusa, it’s always a quarter to. The population lives in a permanent state of standby. Too little time to start or finish anything, nothing to do but wait for the next scheduled surprise. It may come by sea, it may come by air. A surprise which is always on its way. The iron grows hotter, the rifle continues to aim, the key rusts a little more. Yet time refuses to pass, and the sun remains low in the west. As if the entire planet were still, even as the wind continues to howl, or to whistle its way up the coves.

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