Once upon a time we listened to stories avidly, and wouldn’t go to bed until we’d heard one. Then we grow up and start reading them for ourselves, and in some cases writing them. But somewhere along the way we somehow lose the pleasure of actually listening to a story read out loud, though we devour them as drama and hear them constantly in songs.
There’s a cure for that lack in our lives, though, and you can find it in Edinburgh every autumn at the annual Scottish International Storytelling Festival. (I’ve already written about attending one of its guided walks here: A Close Encounter in Edinburgh.)
I was personally drawn to the theme for 2015, Stories without Borders, as our home in Arizona is close to the Mexico border and we live surrounded by border stories – and not always pleasant ones. Borders are fascinating places. Sometimes one country and culture turns slowly into another, like one of those morphing faces. Sometimes borders are abrupt and arbitrary, political and divisive.
In his opening talk, Stories of the Stranger, author Martin Palmer gave a stimulating, funny and thoughtful discourse on the role of the stranger, the exile, the mysterious person who turns up in our midst and is often discovered to be a Godlike figure of wisdom. Strangers have stories to tell, and lessons to teach us about ourselves.
Palmer’s talk was followed by Iran vs Israel, in which two storytellers, Raphael Rodan from Israel and Dutch Iranian Sahand Sahebdivani, discussed their relative cultures – and their relatives – over a game of backgammon. It was a comedy act, a drama, each in turn exploring in stories and song and frequently in arguments, their cultural traditions, their love of music, of family, of food. It was an exploration of how it’s possible to be similar yet different, how to be friends and enemies at the same time.
Rodan and Sahebdivani were exploring their own cultures. At another session, Visions of Nicosia, Angus Reid and Dinda Fass showed how the visiting artist can explore someone else’s culture by being outside it. The advantage the stranger has is that they don’t know the rules and the restraints, they don’t know what they can and cannot do and say, and in this way can sometimes uncover uncomfortable truths, or find that people will often say things to strangers that they won’t say to neighbours.
These were some of the more serious issues, but the Storytelling Festival was several days of great fun, too. From Syria and from the Scottish Highlands, in song and poetry, indoors and outdoors, in streets and in castles and in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, from the Jacobites to didgeridoos, each kaleidoscopic day ended in an Open Hearth session where anyone was free to bring guitars or stories, and share.
Not everyone may have lived happily ever after, but if they were anything like me they certainly went away happier than when they arrived. The End.
For more information on the 2015 Storytelling Festival, see:
The theme of the 2016 Scottish International Storytelling Festival is Festival of Dreams, which takes place from 21-30 October 2016. The festival connects with our ability to dream something different into existence. It flows out from Spain and Portugal to Central and Southern America, and then back home to Scotland.
For more information on Edinburgh visit www.edinburghfestivalcity.com.