Reykjavik 14th of August 2023
I’ve always been living in in-between spaces: in between languages (Romanian, English, Italian, German), in between genders, in between social and cultural contexts, and realms. Not until recently, the in-betweenness was the source of energy, movement, pain, constant running, searching, and sorrow. Artistic residencies are condensed, materialized in-betweenness of being – removed from daily chores, pampered in a hotel, while pushed to the limits of the comfort zone by the novelty of the new surroundings. Not until recently, even when things went well, it was impossible to settle, to pause, to take a breath. When things were good, I would make up something to ruffle them up, flip them around, and turn them bad. If I felt good, something must be wrong, and if there was nothing wrong, I would do all it takes to make it that way.
One of my most efficient tools in feeding the permanency of never belonging was the two gears double standard shift stick, one for me, one for the other one, and a fine delicate ear for disharmonized tuning.
I arrived in Iceland, walked out of the airport and the fresh strong air hit me hard while I was taking a deep puff of my rolled tobacco cigarette, which people, horrified, think it’s a joint, I was sharing my enjoyment with a French man about the air’s freshness.
The first place I ran into is the bankrupt café Transylvania. I am from Transylvania. On the café’s windows are left only a few stickers with the name and some traditional graphics representing men and women in a dancing procession holding hands called hora. I remember that design from the technical education classes. We were split into boys and girls, in separate rooms. The boys would have to use heavy pieces of machinery to build chairs, drill holes and cut with electric saws, surrounded by warning posters about how each of those devices can seriously or fatally impact your life. I as imagining blood bursting like fountains out of classmates and myself dismembered and hopping around with absent limbs, still, hopping. It was full of dust and smelled like metal and Vaseline and acidic sweat. The girls’ room is where I actually wanted to hang out, and where our male teacher was also hanging out during all the classes, except for the short moments when he would pop in to shout at us that we can die if we touch those machines that surrounded us and then hit us with a piece of wood over our legs or back or hands. The girls were doing crochet and embroidery and those were the activities I was always passionate about and learned to do starting at age four from my mother and grandmother and really enjoyed. But this was out of the question and I was threatened with repetency if I wouldn’t build my chair, so I learned to use glass paper, drilling, and sawing wood.
This pattern Transylvania Café in Reykjavik displays on its walls and windows was something we learned doing with colored strings of paper, braiding with paper. I learned it from my cousin, Teodora, when I was around 4. Then I saw the menu of Transylvania Café and I realized why it might have gone bankrupt – Transylvania “Bruschetta” (the ‘s’ was left out), Transylvania Ciabatta, Transylvania Salad. I spent there my first eighteen years of life – they don’t exist.
I take a few more steps and I run into a poster displaying in oversized fonts my birthday and I really start feeling special and welcomed. This residency was meant to be. I didn’t stop to find out why my birthday was on that poster; I just ran with the high feeling of being in the right place at the right time. I found out later that my birthday is also the national day of Iceland, the day the “fucking” Danish “fucked off”, to quote a local acquaintance.
I’ve always been living between spaces, places, and languages, but here it became visible on a level of urgency. I found a bench where I could have my morning coffee, too many, smoking rolled cigarettes that would horrify some early joggers and I would like to try to push the smoke out of the way and excuse myself for smoking on their path. The bench is facing an old house, relocated in the center of the city, next to the parliament, a house that belonged to the poetess Theodóra Thoroddsen. She’s named poet on the UNESCO plaque, not poetess, and the plaque says “She is one of Iceland’s best-known poets of the so-called “thula”, a genre of long poems or enumerations that have their origin in the oral tradition of Icelandic and Nordic poetry.” And the quote continues: “Theodóra renewed this tradition and thus had a part in the recreation of Icelandic poetry in the twentieth century. Many of her poems take themes from Icelandic folklore and Theodóra also wrote extensively about the reality of women, herself being a mother of thirteen.”
“In this world it was my work/
on days both hot and cold/
to wipe kids’ bums and comb their hair/
and race to mend their clothes/
I yearned to leap and run free/
Like a lamb loosed from its fold.”
Theodóra Friðrika Guðmundsdóttir Thoroddsen
I ran to this beautiful three-story bookstore in downtown Reykjavik – Bòkin Books – proudly founded in 1872 – to buy all Theodóra’s books available in English, only to find out that her writing is not available even in Icelandic, and that they’ve never heard of an English translation. They offer me instead a poem anthology beautifully bound in leather with a goose etched on the cover, sealed in plastic. The man there hesitates to take the plastic off to check if there are any of Theodóra’s poems collected, but he eventually gives in. I start searching for women’s names in the collection and, after thorough research and with the gentleman’s help to identify the Icelandic women’s names, we find three. But no poem of Theodóra.
Back on my bench, I’m learning more about its positioning and discover that facing Theodóra’s home there’s a little soil bed surrounded by a low rock fence, with trees and plants and a plaque next to it, informing the by-passer that there’s a high chance that that place is the eternal resting place of thirty generations of Icelanders. My head is spinning trying to place thousands and thousands of people underneath that tiny surface, right behind my bench, on top of which is growing what’s thought to be the oldest tree in Reykjavik.
Sitting there smoking and sipping on my Colombia Santos Te und Kaffi’s coffee, backed up by Icelanders buried for 600 years right behind me, I imagine walking up the door, knocking and, if answered, saying to them I just came by to say hi and to take a look inside, because not much makes sense to me from outside anymore. And I’d love my books to be available in Icelandic and also other languages.
It wasn’t until here, in Iceland, where I realized the overlapping meaning of light/light in English. In the summertime, there’s only light. I’m sharing with you a story of a woman who, while raising thirteen children, found the energy and lightness to write poetry, having the feeling there’s always light in Reykjavik.
The non-binary artist and social activist Bogdan Georgescu works as a theatre author, performing arts curator and cultural manager. The basis of their work is the Active Art method (transform everyday life into a collective work of art – def. Georgescu), which they had developed over the last 15 years. Their projects are characterized by close social observation and artistic intervention together with under-pressure communities.
In 2020, Georgescu initiated, together with Alberto Orlandi, dramaqueer – an international program dedicated to non-conforming gender theatre makers. In 2007, Georgescu co-founded O2G – Generosity’s Offensive – an organization with a core mission to strengthen various communities through the arts. Georgescu initiated in 2005 tangaProject, a theater group dedicated to developing new drama and new forms of dramatic expression reflecting social realities through collaboration with various social groups. As a theatre author, speaker, and lecturer, they have participated in numerous international theatre festivals and conferences in the United States, Italy, Austria, France, Spain, Poland, Ireland, Serbia, Moldova, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, Germany and Romania.
This bilateral initiative is financed with the support of EEA Grants 2014 – 2021 within the RO-CULTURE Program
ABOUT THE FINANCING ENTITIES
The EEA Grants represent the contribution of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway towards a green, competitive and inclusive Europe. There are two overall objectives: reduction of economic and social disparities in Europe, and to strengthen bilateral relations between the donor countries and 15 EU countries in Central and Southern Europe and the Baltics. The three donor countries cooperate closely with the EU through the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA). The donors have provided €3.3 billion through consecutive grant schemes between 1994 and 2014. For the period 2014-2021, the EEA Grants amount to €1.55 billion.
More details are available on: www.eeagrants.org and www.eeagrants.ro.
RO-CULTURE is implemented in Romania by the Ministry of Culture through the Project Management Unit. The Program aims at strengthening social and economic development through cultural cooperation, cultural entrepreneurship and cultural heritage management. The total budget amounts to almost 34 million EUR. For more details access: www.ro-cultura.ro