Tuesday 5 November 2013

Heritage, storytelling, and more food than you can shake a stick at

Today was my final day in the province of Antwerp, and it went out with a bang! I spent part of the morning exploring the city of Lier (the fabulous toothy fish above is part of a public water fountain close to the centre of the town), and then headed to the Urban Academy for Music, Word and Dance, to teach a workshop for a storytelling class taught by Veva Gerard.

Veva's class is part of an impressive program, where storytellers have the option of studying together for six years, allowing for very deep exploration of the art of storytelling. It was fantastic to be a room of people who are so enthusiastic about local stories, dialect, oral tradition and the contemporary art of performance storytelling.

The afternoon was divided into two halves. First, I presented a slideshow on the work that is happening in Newfoundland and Labrador around all kinds of oral traditions, ranging from the work we've been doing documenting oral history and traditions with the Intangible Cultural Heritage program, to the St. John's Storytelling Festival, to the [Here]Say story map, to my own work with the St. John's Haunted Hike, books, iPhone apps, and storytelling programs with children, seniors, new Canadians and everyday people who have stories to share.

After the break, I talked about the work I do training storytellers and museum professionals in historical storytelling. Then we talked about how stories and places are linked, and I had everyone draw memory maps of the places where they grew up, and then got them walking people through their maps and sharing memories, and eventually, telling stories they had learned from their classmates through the experience. It was great fun, and I heard some wonderful local stories.

At the end of the class, they had all prepared a rather amazing gift for me. Veva knows me well enough to know that I love local foods, and exploring a place through it culinary traditions. So each student had brought some kind of traditional or local item, much of it food related. They each got up, gave me a gift, and told me a story about what it meant, the associated legend, or where the tradition came from.

So I left to catch the train to Brussels with a suitcase bulging with troll beer, print-outs of Flemish stories to learn, Maneblussers chocolates from Mechelen, vegetable crackers, Natuurboterwafels, Amandelbrood, hand-shaped biscuits from Antwerpen commemorating the cutting off of a giant's hand, Belgian milk chocolate truffles, Leuvense Fonskes, Advokaat, a hand-made witch, Snaps Antwerpse Jenever, kweeperenbier (quince beer!), Wycam's Echte Oude Borstebollen, Belle-Vue Kriek beer from Brussels, handmade patatjes (marzipan balls),  and a jar of Limburgs lekker peren-appelstroop (pear jam). It is probably the most astonishing gift I've ever been given as a storyteller.

One of the participants was the very funny Mia Verbeelen, a Flemish storyteller I met several years ago at the storytelling festival in Alden Biesen. She recently had an operation on her foot (you can guess which one she is in the photo above).  Mia made for me a slightly disfigured foot, a reasonable facsimile of her own, all out of marzipan, in honour of her hobbling her way to the workshop.  I will let you know how it tastes.

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