Monday, March 12, 2012

The 303rd good thing about Lagos: A weekend celebrating the Nordic spirit

A couple of weekends ago we enjoyed some of the events that were sponsored by the embassies of Finland, Norway and Sweden to celebrate the "Nordic Spirit in Business and Culture."  There were some great activities open by invitation and some to the public and there was no charge to us, which was a nice bonus.

On Friday we had a lovely evening at the new Radisson Blu hotel which is just up the street from our apartment.  We had never been in this hotel before, but it was really lovely.  It had been under construction since we came here over 6 years ago -- I heard there were problems with subsidence in its foundation right by the water.  But they finally fixed whatever was wrong and now it is a really lovely and very modern hotel. 

There was a really nice program with readings of poetry of the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, who won the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature.  The reading was done by Leif Olsson, a Swedish dramatist, translator, teacher and a personal friend of the poet.  He did a lovely job reading and teaching us about Tranströmer's poetry, which is really beautiful.  The extra special part of this program was that the poetry was interpreted and accompanied by music, mostly Nordic, by the Norwegian pianist Geir Henning Braaten, who was also in Lagos for the occasion.  The two had just met that morning, having communicated by email previously.  Braaten had chosen music to accompany many of the poems that Olsson was going to read.  They said they spent a couple of hours putting the music together with the poetry, and it was just spectacular. 

The poetry has a lot of strong images, many of nature and it lended itself well to musical interpretation.  One interesting thing I learned was that Tomas Tranströmer was also a pianist -- a video was shown of him playing a piece with only his left hand.  He had suffered a stroke in 1990 which left his right side paralyzed and he is unable to speak.  But with his wife's help, he is able to function and attempt some communication and still has written poetry.  I thought it was quite sad that this man who created such beautiful poetry and was also a respected psychologist would suffer a brain injury leaving him inable to communicate freely.

 I did a quick search on the internet for a short poem or two that I could copy here.  Here's a "city" poem and a "country" poem. There were not read during the evening, but I think the clear images in both of them are each beautiful in their own way:

by Tomas Tranströmer
translated by Robert Bly
Men in overalls the same color as earth rise from a ditch. It's a transitional place, in stalemate, neither country nor city. Construction cranes on the horizon want to take the big leap, but the clocks are against it. Concrete piping scattered around laps at the light with cold tongues. Auto-body shops occupy old barns. Stones throw shadows as sharp as objects on the moon surface. And these sites keep on getting bigger like the land bought with Judas' silver: "a potter's field for burying strangers."
Here's one more:
April and Silence
Spring lies deserted. The velvet-dark ditch crawls by my side without reflections. All that shines are yellow flowers. I’m carried in my shadow like a violin in its black case. The only thing I want to say gleams out of reach like the silver in a pawnshop. Oh, I do love poetry! It was such a treat to hear the poetry of Tranströmer! After this program, there was a reception with tons of really delicious Nordic food -- it really took us back to our years living in Norway. After some good eating, we found a seat out on the terrace by the pool. It was a pleasant evening with nice breezes for the fashion show. There wasn't anything paraded that was remotely like anything I would wear, but it was still fun to see some fashions and beautiful models and be amazed at how they are able to walk on those super high heels.
On Saturday evening we went to the Muson Centre for a concert sponsored by the embassies. There was music, Nordic and Nigerian and more. There was a Nigerian choir that did a fair job with a variety of pieces.
There was a solo by a Nigerian and this duet by two counter-tenors -- Rossini's "Cat Duet."
Those "fake" sopranos were upstaged by the true soprano, Norwegian opera singer Ingrid Vetiesen. She had a lovely voice, with a crystal clear tone.
There were also some truly beautiful piano solos performed by Geir Henning Braaten, who has made a number of trips to Nigeria to teach and mentor young Nigerian pianists.
He is a wonderful musician -- skilled at solo performance and accompanying.

(Tried to put a video of her singing here, but it wouldn't upload -- maybe I'll try again later...)
Cultural performances (at least of European culture) at standards that we have in the States are few and far between here in Lagos, so it was a real treat to have two cultural evenings in a row with such quality performances. Thank you to the embassies of Finland, Norway and Sweden for a very pleasant weekend!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So good to read about it all. You captured the atmosphere, the quality and the emotions. Thanks, and I long to go back to Nigeria. After my reading I gave a long workshop with the most talented and warm hearted students at the university. May I meet themm and you, again. Yours Leif Olsson, Tranströmer reader.