Published February 26, 2013
This poem about the EuroZone Crisis was written by Hallgrímur Helgason this summer for the International Literature Festival in Berlin and was published on the festival website in English and German along with 30 some other entries by fellow European writers. He describes it as an ironic poem in which he imagines himself at a fictional reading somewhere in Mittel Europa.
It was during the crazy euro days,
I came down from the furthest of the far.
An e-mail said the reading would take place
“In the famous Europa Restaurant & Bar”.
The taxi driver, a man of the mustached world,
Drove me madly, cursing each traffic light,
While telling me in an accent I hadn’t heard:
“I know this bar, is problem, sometime fight.”
He entered a dead end street, with foreign skill,
Then suddenly stopped, and in the rear-view grinned.
In the face of his face my euro bill
trembled like a candle in the wind.
The place was packed, with people sitting outside
Conversing loudly, a table sang in Greek.
Down the street the day was out of light
A bit like me, the arctic circle freak…
Inside, the barscape breathed with old and cozy.
Every mouth was stuffed with sound and sausage.
And every table seemed to be a country
For every table spoke its private language.
Some English breakfast types were having dinner,
While the Slovakian couple in the corner
Had finished theirs, and the gayish guys from Finnair
Were ordering a round of “Bakaardi Briser”.
A chubby bald man came waving from the bar
In a bright red jacket, a button on his breast:
A deep blue sky with many a yellow star.
“Oh, here you are, our literary guest!”
“I’m Andy Freude. Welcome to our club!”
He seemed half German, half Pit Bull Terrier,
Looking like he owned an Irish pub.
“So finally we have our Icelander!”
“Can you read in Icelandic? Wait! Let me fetch
You a drink!” He left me reading the atmosphere:
A swarming sea of countries, laughing heads,
But still, a touch of tension in the air.
A longhaired girl came rushing from outside
And gravely whispered into the bald man’s ear
Something about “Italians” and “tight”.
I helped them out by grabbing the bald man’s beer.
“Oh, sorry! Let me tell you about our team!
We work across all borders, day and night,
Realizing the European dream
Of one heart, one goal, one gezelligheid.”
“We do believe that by connecting different countries
Different people will find a different substance
That differs from their different differences.
It’s sort of a different way of making a difference.”
I managed to nod in the middle of a sip.
“And all the people who are gathered here
Have been aboard our continental ship
Sailing from Brest to Brest, since early this year.”
Suddenly there was a waiter who said:
“The people outside, they do not want to pay.”
Mr. Freude immediately turned his head
Towards the windows. “Why? And who are they?”
“They tell me that they’re also with the group.
Even though their bill says otherwise.
Instead of having the sausage and the soup
They ordered steak béarnaise and a barrel of fries.”
The longhaired beauty stepped in: “It’s the Greeks.
They’re drunk and shouting about the credit crunch.”
The national red of Austria lit her cheeks.
Waiter: “They’ve been sitting there since lunch.”
“They say that you, or “the Germans”, have to pay,”
The server insisted, waving the heavy bill.
“This is not our European way…”
The man in the bright red jacket said with chill.
“Why on earth should others pay their food?!
Why on earth should they not pay themselves?!”
“Their travel fund got stolen by their dude
So now they want some help from our reserves.”
Now Freude’s face was totally ohne Freude,
His yellow teeth like stars in a bluish face.
One could read his forehead: Diese Leute…
While dandruff hovered like satellites in space.
After a heavy silence, he finally said:
“OK. Let me talk to Angela.”
Where is she?” The Austrian pointed ahead:
“She’s there with Nicolas, no… Francois.”
And in a moments time they all came over:
Angela, Francois, Andy and some others,
While from behind the counter rushed the owner
To have a little talk about the Commerz.
But in the middle of this hasty meeting
From the kitchen came two waiters ailing
Holding plates containing chocolate pudding
And on their heels the calvados came sailing.
“Who ordered dessert? We’re only having coffee!”
Angela thundered, glaring at the dishes.
The three young waiters paused, one saying softly:
“The happy people outside had those wishes.”
“We all agreed on cuts in travel spending!”
The sturdy looking woman almost shouted.
And as the angry sentence gets an ending
Exclamation mark, the place exploded.
They all ran out, their hairdos swiftly shaking
From angry voices attacking the table of Greece.
There was some finger-pointing (and fingered pudding)
And counterattacking: “We have no money! Please!”
Soon all of Europe was outside the Europa
With only the lonely writer left inside.
Ég fylgdist með og fékk mér annan sopa.
The verbal war was now a bloody fight.
Then Andy came back inside with a bunch of sorries
And one shoulder aching from a beating.
“Though we now could do with some ice cool stories,
I’m afraid we have to cancel the reading.”
“Still I want to pay you what we promised,”
He grimaced, pulling out an envelope.
I didn’t feel like accepting, to be honest,
But of not accepting there was no hope.
So when he left for the toilet I started thinking
And asked a waiter for the Greek amount.
“Three hundred forty nine,” he told me, blinking.
I opened the envelope and made a count.
It proved enough, and thus we had a bailout
The waiter rushed outside: “It’s all OK!
The bill’s been paid!” And soon the bloody breakout
Was back inside and asking: “Who did pay?”
I felt the pressure, they wanted me to say
Something, made me stand upon a stool:
“Who did pay and who did not want to pay?
It’s not a question from economic school.”
Their intercontinentally colored eyes
Lit up with egonomical confusion.
Who got this Santa Claus from the land of ice?
Yet I carried on with his conclusion:
“Sometimes a reading is worthier than the eating,
Even when no reading has taken place.
You got me here to give your souls a feeding
But ended up by stuffing it in your face.
Now there’s nothing left for us to eat
Except those things in life that come for free.
So if you want, I might as well just read
The lines your little brawl evoked in me:
The Greeks have taught us everything we know
Even though they themselves forgot it all.
It’s only normal they now think we owe
Them a little trip to the Euro Mall.
An icy evening ends with the warmest greeting,
From literature, this economic nurse.
We hope you’ll get the message of our meeting:
That the pen is mightier than the purse.”