Culture & Conversation

A Pole, A Croat, and a Gay Guy…

Eastern Europe. It has been parcelled, shared, sold, invented, reinvented. Many of its people grew up in countries that did not exist. Others do not live where they grew up. We can almost universally understand each other, but sometimes—geographically, politically, in regard to desserts—pretend not to. You would think there’d be a lot to cry about, but it’s like they say, a crooked penis blames every hair. There are different alphabets and the letters tend to be variable, ornamented, or traded for cigarettes. You’ll not find toilet paper under t, and you may question my priorities and my inclusions. Herewith, an Eastern European abecedarian.

An American woman behind me is standing. I offer her my chair. She refuses. At least three others offer her their chairs, one woman twice. She refuses. She whispers in my ear, Canadians are so polite.

Josip Novakovich interrupts himself, footnoting the narrative as if asserting its plausibility. In the requisite brandy anecdote, there’s the time the boys drank all the šljivovica and then refilled the bottles with, um, their pee, hoping the pater wouldn’t notice.

Cell phones in Eastern Europe are über-ubiquitous, more common than plumbing. Yet the phonedemonium has not been restricted to just this panel; the festival as a whole seems to be zone libre to let the things ring, unabashed.

Daniel Allen Cox: going underground when half of a continent spent the better part of a century shovelling themselves aboveground.

After the reading (I am getting ahead of myself here, but pfaw), how earnestly audience members approach the three writers. Everyone has a story to tell. Freedom.

According to Anna Porter (I have never observed this myself), the odd, nationally specific gesture of Poland is the heel click.

Host with the most David Homel was perfect—an expert writer-wrangler and a long-time Slavophile, he is thoughtful and commanding. Both Porter and Homel toot Skvorecky’s Bass Saxophone on the salutary jailbreak of jazz.

Keening and lustration: does throwing light on the crimes of the past cast more shadows elsewhere?


What makes us human is our morality. Discuss.

Not one of the human species’ most functional ideas, nationalism is best restricted to soccer. That said, my marriage could well fall apart if Croatia ever met Argentina in the final.

Outside, the conversation continues. It is the kind of day when everybody seems to have spent the winter procreating and getting better looking. The sparrows have been practicing indoors for months in a warehouse in Mirabel.

Pride comes to Moscow, for the first formally organized time, this May. Thousands practice spelling И-М-К-А.

There is no Q in Slavic languages. Some day I’ll tell you the one about the Northern-Ontario foreman who lost in on my father—“where is fucking Q?”

Josip Novakovich’s latest, Three Deaths, reviewed for the Rover by the sharp and foxy Leila, is more about childhood than nationhood.


Partial truth may as well be a lie.

The actual numbers, uncountable, and unaccountable, are incidental, Anna Porter tells us. What matters is the deed, the intention, the cruelty, the compassion.

Maybe if it were all run by artists, as in Václav Havel’s Czechia, the world would be more like Blue Met. Yes, the world could use a hospitality suite.


And finally, Zappa, Frank: the reason Josip learned English. The road to revolution is paved in rock and roll.

Poet, editor and translator Katia Grubisic is secretly a goblin girl from a mystery world.

The 13th annual Blue Met Festival Metropolis Bleu continues through May 1, 2011, at the Holiday Inn Select centre-ville (in Chinatown). For more information visit

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