Wednesday, 10 January 2007



Up and Down the Blue Danube and the Black Sea


Episode One: A Short Flight Across Europe

The word Europe is popularly held to have meant “the land of the setting sun”. However, more prosaically it also meant “broad”, namely a region narrow from north to south, wide from east to west. Little wonder, then, that many countries behind the old Iron Curtain are now returning to the fold to restore the correct shape of this continent.

One such nation is Romania. Of all her characteristics (language, race, religion, culture, people’s features etc.) the new name of the country itself after the Ottoman Turk's rule is the most eloquent testimony to her claim and desire to be part of Europe. On a sunny day in June 2005 I flew from London to Bucharest. Weaving through Brussels, Antwerp, Cologne, Frankfurt, Prague, Vienna, Zagreb, Budapest and Belgrade, my plane crossed the Mtii Carpatii Meridionali (Transylvanian Alps) to reach the capital of Romania, Bucharest. Just over three hours to cover the distance of 1,298 miles (2089 kilometres).

toyo no hajimaru kiwa ya natsu no sora

flying to the edge
where the Orient begins…
the summer sky


At Otopeni airport I joined Sonia Cristina Coman, Director of the World Haiku Festival 2005 in Romania who organised this unforgettable event in the capacity of World Haiku Ambassador and WHChaikujunior Associate Director of the World Haiku Club, to greet some of the registered participants who were arriving on the same day. In different flights and at different times, they came from different parts of the world. This allowed us to introduce ourselves at leasure and even start discussing haiku issues. After the evening of renewing old friendship and creating new ones over Romanian cuisine and wine, we set off the following day for Constantza, the ancient city on the Black Sea, where the first three days of world haiku conference was to take place.

aoki kisha mie-gakure suru natsu-no kana

a blue train…
appearing and disappearing among
summer fields


Romania is more or less the same size as the UK (i.e. the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island). Her physical shape reminds the Japanese of a blow fish, the Chinese of a peony flower and the French of a fat oyster. Like the ying-yang sign, mountainous areas roughly form the north-western half while the flatland forms the south-eastern half. The River Danube plays vital roles in the country’s economy, transport, landscape and culture and runs all along her southern side, until it flows into the Black Sea, forming national boundaries with Bulgaria and Serbia & Montenegro. Crossing seven countries, the Danube is a quintessentially European river indeed.

umi ni kite mittsu ni nari-shi natsu no kawa

nearing the sea
it divides itself into three…
the summer river

Episode Two: Long Days of Speeches and Debates

A haiku conference is a busy place with all these conflicting demands to be met. Like Polonius, every speaker says, “…[since brevity is the soul of wit,] … I will be brief.” However, many overrun their allotted time, often twice as long. Translation is demanded as if it were free. The cost of hiring a professional interpreter would more than wipe out the whole budget of the conference. No one wishes to foot the bill. Besides, translation makes a speech more than twice as long but no time is allocated or allowed for it. As many speeches by as many speakers are also demanded notwithstanding.

However, at the same time all kinds of breaks are also demanded: tea breaks, coffee breaks, toilet breaks, shopping breaks…, all eating up the precious time for speeches and all ending up twice as long as allotted. This is because private conversations and making and renewing friendship, in addition to gossipping, during these breaks are just as important for the participants as the papers. There is no time allotted for speakers to collect their papers and get down from the rostrum, to stand up and walk up to the rostrum, adjust the microphone, drink some water, clear the throat or prepare the OHP, but they do all of them nevertheless.

In Constantza in spite of all these difficulties, good papers were read, friendship flourished, gossips were exchanged, showers used, dinner eaten, jokes were cracked, drinking sessions never abandoned and people managed to go to bed before midnight, all the days procedures having completed, well, nearly all. Magic must have been played.

hai-go yori mimi ni iri-kemu suzume kana

haiku speeches…
my ear tuned to
sparrows’ chirps

[to be continued]