I wanted to rename this 'Community' but it buggers up some links. So I can't. And also note that there has been some discussion over this entry, and I want to state that these observations were based on a one night only visit. As a result, some of them are probably not fair and I have changed the entry as a result. It has been a valuable lesson in humility for me. And I want to acknowledge both Patrick and Ken for their work at Alchemy. End of note.
I've been in Prague these past four days to see the city and to catch a poetry reading by one of my favourite poets, Taylor Mali at the Alchemy club.
Prague is a beautiful city.
The Alchemy club is an english literature group who meet once a month in the cafe to here performers and to read their own work. Essentially it feels like it's one of those 'expat communities in a foreign language city'.
The reading was held in the Tulip Cafe, and it had two parts. The first part was Taylor's reading, most of which I had heard before, but he did offer to Anita and myself over dinner (yes, we had dinner with the talent) to read a couple we hadn't heard. Gotta like that about the man. Anyway. The second part was an open mic session where anybody could read work, so long as they had registered with the organiser. The vast majority of the work, most of which was poetry, but also included a letter, a couple of songs, an instrumental guitar piece and a synopsis of a novel, seemed totally hopeless. Which is not to deny the talent of the writers, but it seemed there was no hope. The notable exceptions was Jeff who played songs. He was very talented and seemed to sing of something he had lived.
And it made me wonder. How does a bunch of people get together and lose hope? Human experience is about highs and lows, but I believe that one of the most valuable experiences of the low is the hope that arises from and because of it. I don't want to deny the writers pain, but I did want to scream "move on with your life" at one person. The other thing I wondered about was the sense of community. It seemed to me that the only thing these people had in common were the English language and an interest in literature. But it seemed that the literature aspect was secondary. Expat communities seem to me to be a dangerous thing, they don't really encourage the members to move beyond their comfort zone. They always have their uses - in terms of developing contacts and sharing information. Maybe I'm missing something here, but I figure a key thing is to know when to move on from them.
Hammer and Tongue, which isn't an expat community, on the other hand has a sense of joy that is attractive. There are real expressions of pain and sorry and hate, but there is also hope and the joy of life in more than equal measure.
But then I guess you could also make a similar comparison when looking at different churches...