We drove past Brussels out to a canal dock area. We were stuffed into Jan’s car and I was buried in my book – Zoli by Colum McCann. By this stage I couldn’t put it down. A powerful portrait of an individual and of her people and time.
When I looked up we were pulling in to the yard of what looked like someone’s home. Boats and maritime bits and pieces were here and there. A boy of about nine appeared upstairs. We climbed to the balcony and came to a glass door. Inside were tables, a bar counter with a rope and bell. Lifebuoy and canal maps on the walls. This was our venue for the night.
Klaus greeted us. His eyes spoke for him. He showed us all we needed to be shown and put food on the table for us. I feel like we were really somewhere that is cared for and loved. This is where the canal workers, the sailors, the locks men and their friends and families come to eat drink and be merry. Klaus told us that he worked a lot with and for the Roma/gypsy musicians. This resonated with me as my book was all about the life of a brave woman who came from these nomadic people.
Luc was our man. He booked this show for us and I am glad he did. The view from the window was of the great canal which to my understanding connected much of Europe’s waterways. It was all about the nomadic today!
Peter and I felt completely at home here and played for around two hours. Later we sampled beer made by the Trappist monks and played some more at our leisure. This was a European crossroads. I could have rested on a couch there for some hours and grabbed a lift east or west on a barge. Who knows where I would end up! The world is small but the possibilities are infinite.
Bert sat at the bar and was all about the power of a handshake. Gurt had the kindest face and served behind the bar. He worked the canal bridge by day and said that some days no one was happy. He drew my profile with pencil and I drew his.
In the rain there appears a pale circle above the motorway as you enter Belfast from the M1. It looks like a perfect circular cloud over the silver light of the wet road. There is a subtle beauty to it.
On closer inspection it is in fact a sculptural construction. Made me think of wire type metal. It is a sphere within a sphere and is locally known as the balls in the falls. The next exit after this structure brings you into the city.
There is snow on the mountains and the heater doesn’t work in my car! The windscreen is fogging up and when I crank up the fan the air that comes is freezing. We’re nearly there.
Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill is traveling with me. She is a singer and multi-instrumental composer. She co-founded Skara Brae and The Bothy Band. Her bass lines are some of the most jubilant and brilliant in Irish music. One of my all time favourite albums is ‘After Hours’ by The Bothy Band. Exciting is a word that only begins to describe the music recorded in a night in Paris back in nineteen seventy something.
Tríona and I are joining ‘Guidewires’ at the féile an phobail…People’s festival tonight.
The Magyars are a Hungarian people. Magyar means tall one. They are horse people. Masters of the six horse chariot. We payed a visit to Ishteban in Kanizsa last week in his farmstead on the outskirts of the village. Kanizsa, and the surrounding countryside, reaches out into the far distance. It is flat. You could walk in any direction and imagine getting to where you had to go, in a straight line. East to Turkey and further. West to Paris and Britanny.
Kanizsa is built on what was once the sea floor. There is water here underground that has healing qualities. Sulphurous water springs right beside the farm and is called miraculous by the local people.
Ishteban’s mustache brings attention to his laughing eyes. Bright blue…he is a Magyar. He was wearing white pants and shirt with a black waistcoat and black circular hat with feathers when we went to visit him. He embodies an image of east and west. He has white horses. He raises turkeys, goats, sheep, dogs, geese, rabbits and hens. The farmhouse is old and warm. The fireplace is fed from outside heating a cone shaped wall that radiates a glorious warmth at the heart of the house. He, his partner and his sister treated us to a feast of goose and home produced vegetables. The wine was also from the area and there was no shortage of it that day. They spoke no English and we spoke no Hungarian or Serb so we used German as a middle ground…the eyes did most of the talking anyway and we laughed a lot.
It was a wet day but we were warm in their company and enchanted as they described the sun as it rose in the east and set in the west. In a place so flat, this would be quite a powerful image. We were sitting in a temple to the sun. I imagined coming here on holiday to this flat country to listen for the traces of our human tapestry in their music. From east to west, cultures and traditions must have come and gone leaving echoes for the likes of us to discover and re-kindle.