Tuesday, October 28, 2008

DAY FIVE: Reading The Riverbones (and meeting Dervla Murphy)

The Green Room above the Studio Theatre at the Harbourfront Centre is, well, an "intimate" sort of space (ie. small and very hot). This is where Julie Angus and I met Dervla Murphy - Irish travel writer extraordinnaire, the First Lady of Far-Flung Adventure - with whom we were about to share a stage. Dervla was hard at work, scribbling notes for her talk. She looked up as we arrived and gave us a smile I will never forget. Through the heat, and the confusion ("I don't even know what a PowerPoint Presentation is!"), Dervla seemed almost happier to meet us than we were to meet her. I laughed when she asked me what my book is about. My book? What does it matter? You're Dervla Murphy!

We sat and chatted for a good while, as if Julie and I weren't nervous at all (we were). I almost sweated through my suit jacket. Julie was wearing wool. Dervla signed a book for Julie's mother-in-law, while telling us her next trip was to Gaza. The Gaza Strip. Dervla was going there straight from Toronto next week.

In case you weren't aware, Dervla Murphy is in her late-seventies.

We walked downstairs to the backstage area. Dervla came last, a bit slowly down the steps, and Julie went onstage to a roar of applause. Dervla and I walked around to grab a seat at the back of the theatre, where we watched Julie describe her row across the Atlantic to a rapt audience. I couldn't help thinking I was witnessing some kind of ceremony, a passing of the torch from one generation of courageous women travelers to the next. Julie, though she may not have known it, was absolutely riveting as a guide across the ocean; Dervla kept looking over at me, her eyes wide, smiling in awe.

Then it was my turn on stage. I think we had some fun. I taught the crowd how to speak Sranantongo (Efu yu no go leri, yu lasi), and then I read a chapter from The Riverbones called The Red Road. Efu yu no go leri, yu lasi means, roughly, "If you don't learn about something, you will lose it." It was only when I was preparing for IFOA that I realized this is actually the point of my book. Suriname is one of the world's Last Edens. It is the middle of nowhere, but it is also the middle of everywhere.

Dervla came last. She offered some very kind words to myself and Julie (see below). And then the audience pummeled her with a million questions. A little later, as I signed a few books for a few lovely strangers, Julie and I marveled at the length of the line-up for Dervla's autograph.

"Someday," we thought to ourselves. "Someday."


Quote of Day Five:
(sorry, but I gotta do this)
"I have had a number of depressing conversations lately about the future of travel writing. But having shared the stage with Julie and Andrew today, I am relieved to find travel writing is in very good hands."
- Dervla Murphy

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