Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Ocean of Stories - Guadalajara 2012

"Things that make stories entertaining are cultural,
but things that make stories powerful are universal."
(Paraphrasing David Ambrose who said this in a lot more and much nicer words, as storytellers usually do)

First of all, I have to state up front that the Mysteries of Europe seminar in Guadalajara last week was one of the best organized storytelling events I have ever been to. When you are trying to herd dozens of storytellers from 30 different countries, with travel, and lodging, and food, and lectures, and performances, and translation, and interpretation, and wishes and worries and concerns and invoices and Certificates of Financial Residency in 20 different languages, you have your Work cut out for you, with a capital W. And the team of the Maratón de los Cuentos did such an excellent job it all worked like a well oiled machine, and they did it with smiles and kind words for everyone. As a festival organizer myself (on a much smaller scale) I understood what an incredible job they had done to make us all feel at home in Guadalajara.
And we did.

The seminar that ran parallel with the Maratón was titled Mysteries of Europe. What they meant by that was a mystery for everyone, which resulted in a wide variety of stories brought from the different storytelling traditions all around the continent. Even before the seminar started you could see groups of excited storytellers comapring notes in every corner, discussing their views on the meaning of 'mystery'. It was great fun.
In the end, everyone got a turn to tell their story on the stage of the seminar. All the stories were traditional, but they ranged from mythology to urban legend, from folktale to family memories. It felt so comfortable, so European, so natural, that I just sat back in my chair and allowed the stories to carry me away. Most of them were either told in English or in Spanish (with simultaneous interpretation to Spanish or English in neat little headphones we could borrow), but some were done in the original language, and there were subtitles to be read on a screen.
The organizers dealt excellently with the issue of languages and translation. Storytellers are generally good at that too - we communicated in all the languages we knew, sometimes all of them at once, and by the end of the week, even in the ones we did not know. Hearing the original lagnuages of stories was great fun, especially with Maltese or Lithuanian or the dialect from Liechtenstein, that you don't hear as often as Spanish or French (very pretty languages by the way). Also, the stories were all fascinating, lively, and completely uncensored; we heard about Romanian vampires (and they were not romantic at all), Norwegian trolls (and women who have their way with them), Greek fairies, Portuguese fauns, Maltese ghosts, Bulgarian warrior women, Taliesin, Aphrodite, the Flying Dutchman, and many, many, many more.

Between performances and sessions, we put the 'work' in 'networking'. We mingled. Storytellers are champion minglers. At any given time of the day you would see us in smaller or bigger groups, wandering the streets, having coffee (or beer), going to get lunch/dinner, sitting in the shade, wandering the fairy market in the palace gardens, admiring the illustrations on the walls, and talking, talking, talking. We compared stories, and languages; we talked about our festivals and our experiences with festivals; we discussed the past, present and future of storytelling in our countries, in Europe, and all over the world. You could see all the combinations you can think of with 30 storytellers; we circulated and spent some time talking to everyone else. We made new friends and acquaintances, we exchanged knowledge, sources, and tales - and we all argeed we should be doing this more often.

The Maratón was just as amazing as last year (and probably all the years before, but I can only compare it to last year since I was there). Hundreds, probably thousands of people, all through the 46 hours of the marathon, college students, children, families, it seemed like everyone in Guadalajara came to listen to stories (and tell!). The illustrators are still the best you can find; I completely fell in love with Spanish book art, they have so many beautiful and adorable picture books I didn't even know which ones to buy. Talking about books, they also have a publishing company for storytellers, and I bought some of their books too, among them a collection of Berber folktales told by women, for my further research into that tradition. So many treasures...

I will probably be writing more about this week soon and in more detail. For now, I just wanted to write a post to sum up the awesomeness so I can sit down nd catch up on more boring stuff. Check back later for more!

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