It is a fact universally acknowledged that there are few commodities that I love more than books.
Perhaps motorbikes come a very close second, with ice-cream and calamari tying in third place.
Which is why the following event, announced this morning, would be a dream jaunt: touring the Palestine Festival of Literature (PALFEST) on a ramshackle dirt bike, with nothing but a back pack and an itinerary of eateries.
The second Palestine Festival of Literature will be taking place between 23rd-28th May, and in understanding of the challenges confronted by Palestinians under military occupation, the Festival will travel to its audiences.
The troop of 17 international authors will visit Ramallah, Jenin, al-Khalil/Hebron, and Bethlehem.
Marking Jerusalem’s status as the Cultural Capital of the Arab World for 2009, the Festival will begin and conclude within the city.
If the route is not enough to raise heckles of envy and a rampant desire to fling over my laptop and dust off my helmet, then the participating authors are nudging me towards wailing tantrum territory, comprising as it does:
Michael Palin, Victoria Brittain, Suad Amiry, Carmen Callil, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Suheir Hammad, Nathalie Handal, Jeremy Harding, Rachel Holmes, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Brigid Keenan, Jamal Mahjoub, Henning Mankell (accompanied by his wife, Eva Bergman), Deborah Moggach, Claire Messud, Alexandra Pringle, Pru Rowlandson, Raja Shehadeh, Ahdaf Soueif and M G Vassanji.
Founded and chaired by Soueif, the Festival’s Patrons include Chinua Achebe, John Berger, Seamus Heaney, the late Mahmoud Darwish and Harold Pinter.
For Soueif, PALFEST is not only an opportunity to celebrate literature, but an ode to the great works that continue to blossom amidst the conflict in Palestine:
We were overwhelmed by the responses of both our audience and our authors last year; so we can’t wait to go back. We found that Palestinian cities – even in the extraordinarily cruel circumstances in which they find themselves – manage to produce brilliant art and top class education. PALFEST aims to help them carry on doing that.
Perhaps most poignantly, the ethos of the Festival originates from the late Edward Said: to “reaffirm the power of culture over the culture of power”.
I don’t think I need to add anything else, for as always, Said captures the sentiment with succinct profundity and truth.