View from the hotel. That's the direction we came from (I think)
Erbil is a city in Northern Iraq, not too far from the Iranian and Turkish borders. It is in the autonomous region known as Iraqi Kurdistan or the Kurdistan Region. In any case the the Kurdish Parliament is here and Erbil is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. In any case Wiki will tell more you about the city than I have a mind to do here.
Erbil, should anyone wonder, is a great deal safer than Baghdad and while we have to be careful we don't have to go around in armoured cars, wear body armour or have security guards. Not that we'll go far because the programme is pretty full.
This is the second year of the festival involving the British Council. Here's the link to the festival itself. We are led here by Rachel Holmes of the BC (see link) who was here last year too. The writers include Lucy Caldwell, Adam Foulds, Hameed Al-Rubayee, Samarqand Al-Jabery, Omar Al-Sarai, Muhsin Mohammed, Gulanar Ali, Kakamam Botaniwe and myself, but also many others. We also have Megan Walsh from The Times. Adam has got married to a lovely Canadian photographer whose name begins with C but I have just forgotten it. It's my age. She is taking photos of the festival.
It is of course interesting watching the British Council thinking. I have been a grateful beneficiary of their good offices, most often in the days once the cold war had grown lukewarm but was still a major issue. Then Central Europe was an important place: now it is less so.(I rather hope it will remain relatively unimportant for its own sake.) Sometimes I was invited abroad, or so I think, to represent the multi-cultural aspect of UK writing. I would go with other writers who were not fully 'English'. That goes on I suppose but I am not sure I was ever an ideal representative of multi-culturalism. Who knows, though. I might have seemed that way, and I'm not the best judge. One can't help wondering why the favour has been bestowed on oneself on this or that specific ocasion.
Now the important places are China, Africa, India, the Arab world and places like Kurdistan. The 'happening places'. There are some 40 million Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and elsewhere still looking for a state of their own. They are beginning to prosper now but there is a long way to go.
The relationship between politics and culture runs deep everywhere: there is nothing shallow about it. My job here is simply to engage in dicussions on translation, the idea of national literature, to run a writing workshop and to read a few poems. Beyond that I hope to be an articulate, friendly, intelligent face. This too is a happening place.
That is my own background thinking. I wouldn't have thought of coming to Iraq myself, but having had the good fortune to be invited (I like being invited, most writers do, it's flattering) I thought a little about it. The security question in the first place. Then there is my family history.
The flight from Vienna is about 5 hours, comfortable, the plane no more than three-quarters full. The sun was out and it was warm. Having had a total of about six hours sleep the last two nights, I eventually dozed off for an hour or more. Erbil Airport (built 2005) still has the sense of a building site - not the main building but the views. The air foggy, possibly smog. The passport control checks eyes and fingerprints. The bus ride from the airport to the hotel - much the tallest building in the district - takes about 40 minutes. The houses are low rise, solid, arches, recessed balconies, quite clumpy like Froebel Blocks. The road is dusty and busy and the view from my room is plain. The true beauty of Erbil remains to be seen. Now it is dark and in half an hour or so we are going for a meal. A few more notes later.
A big meal with people from Reel Iraq, that's four more poets including Jen Hadfield, John Glenday and William Letford. I don't recognise Jen fully at first so we meet again this time with a big hug. Reel Iraq have been working with Iraqi poets on translation. The meal is buffet style and it's hard to know where to beging, or indeed end. After it we go to the bar on the top floor and look out on Erbil from the terrace. It looks better by night with its regular lights. The air is cleaner now. The citadel is some 10km away behind us. The bar duo do hits of the seventies and eighties. Two women dance. The rest of us shout. It is overwhelmingly loud. I drink one Bush Mills then retire. Work tomorrow.