International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner’s speech 2010

Alastair Smeaton: Ladies and Gentlemen, our
winner, Gerbrand Bakker Gerbrand Bakker: Lord Mayor, thank you very
much. Good evening everybody. Sixteen years and 48 days ago, a terrible thing happened
here in Dublin. About a mile and a half from here, across the river. It was April 30, a
very special day in Holland, as it is the day the queen has her birthday party, even
though her birthday is January 31. It is a day filled with festivities: running sack-races,
games of biting the cake, people selling and buying stuff in parks, children earning some
money playing the violin or singing a song. But above all it a day for hard drinking in
the streets, and making a mess of it, and that’s the reason Queensday is April 30,
for usually it’s to cold to drink or make a mess in the streets on January 31st. Here
in Dublin another queen was preparing for the evening, hoping to earn something by singing
a song, wishing it to become an orange night. After a couple of years of relatively unknown
singers or musical stars, The Netherlands had decided to bring a heavyweight into action,
a singer almost fifty years old, who was a woman of great merits, both as a singer and
an actress. A woman who could, or so we thought, just stand on a podium, and sing a song. No
dancers, no show, just a singer and a spotlight. She wore a black dress with organic-like appliqué-stuff
on half of the upper-body. She was number 13. Number 12 were Chris and Moira of Malta,
who performed ‘More than Love’ and number 14 was MeKaDo from Germany with ‘Wir geben
‘ne Party’, with the unforgettable lyrics ‘Wo ist die Party Baby, wo ist die Party
Baby’. After the applause had died away there were
a terrifying full ten seconds of utter silence before the orchestra finally set in. The song
was called ‘Waar is de zon’ ‘Where is the sun’, and it is probably or so many
people in Holland think one of the best songs ever from Dutch Eurovision song contest-soil.
It is sentimental up to a point where sentimentality doesn’t count anymore, but its lyrics are
also shockingly honest and the build-up is perfect. And Willeke Alberti, for it was she
that performed the song, sang like somebody who has sublimated all the things that had
happened to her in the previous almost fifty years of her life into those three minutes.
Her marriages and her divorces, her hits, her flops, her children, her dead dogs, the
smell of rain after a hot day in the middle of Amsterdam. “Where is the sun, that will
have to warm me? Where are your arms, and where is the source? Where is the light that
will shine at last, and that will drive away the cold? I’m looking for your face.”
All this in Dutch of course, in those days it was not a choice to sing in your own country’s
language, it was an order. I forgot about all this, I am not a big song
contest-fan anyway. Until last week, when I was listening to a male-choir performing
in Amsterdam. The evening was hosted by Dolly Bellefleur, a famous transvestite, and she
couldn’t resist the opportunity to sing a song herself. She sang ‘Where is the sun’
and she talked about Willeke Alberti and 1994 and Dublin. About the outrage when, at the
end of the evening The Netherlands were left with 4 points, quatre points, all from the
Austrian jury, for which we thank them eternally. We repay it by going skiing there every year,
in our hundred thousands. Dublin, I mused, and the terrible thing that happened there.
When I came home I listened to the song a couple of times, on YouTube, I reconstructed
the evening, that’s why I know that Willeke was wedged in between Malta and Germany, and
that’s why I could describe her dress. I thought: how is it possible that nobody in
Europe, on that night of April 30 1994, felt what Willeke was doing? In a strange and for me rather inexplicable
way, I feel very connected to Willeke Alberti this evening. I feel it’s fitting that this
literary prize is not awarded in Cork or Limerick or Waterford but here in this city. I will
not dedicate this prize to her. I am quite sentimental, being from West-Friesland –
a part of Holland where farmers cry when a cow dies, but keep a straight face when
their mothers are buried – but I am not that sentimental. I could say that after this
I will go home, and try to get in contact with Willeke Alberti and tell her that I
– in the city where she, in a field of 25 countries, became 23rd, with only Estonia
and Lithuania doing even worse – have found the sun, the strong arms and ‘your face’,
whoever that face belongs to. But I know that I am to shy to do such a thing. The simplest way to end this speech is by
reassuring you about this Dutch singer: her career did not end here in Dublin, she went
on singing and acting, and is still going strong. And of course by thanking the jury
for rewarding my ‘song’ with this wonderful prize. And instead of going on for another
three minutes, which I could easily do, I will have Willeke sing her song one last time.
It seems the right thing to do. (clapping) Willeke Alberti (singing ‘Waar is de Zon?’):
Waar ben je gebleven Waar ging je naar toe
Ik heb nog geschreven Maar nu ben ik zo moe
Ik had mij begraven Ik was alles kwijt
Mijn veilige haven Mijn vrede, mijn strijd Waar is de zon die mij zal verwarmen
Waar zijn jouw armen en waar is de bron Waar is het licht dat eindelijk zal schijnen
Dat de kou doet verdwijnen Ik zoek jouw gezicht De pijn is verdwenen maar de kilte die blijft
Ik wacht op dat ene dat de stilte verdrijft Ik wacht op een teken, een stem of een woord
Die dit zal doorbreken als jij me maar hoort Maar Waar is de zon die mij zal verwarmen
Waar zijn jouw armen en waar is de bron Waar is het licht dat eindelijk zal schijnen
Dat de kou doet verdwijnen Ik zoek jouw gezicht En plotseling was jij daar, ik zag je weer
gaan Ik ging nog opzij maar jij bleef naast mij
staan Jij bleef naast mij lopen, je ging weer mee
naar huis Mijn hart ging weer open, ik voel mij weer
thuis Jij bent de zon die mij zal verwamren
Jouw sterke armen die vormen mijn bron Jij bent het licht dat nu weer zal schijnen
Dat de kou doet verdwijnen Ik zie jouw gezicht…

One Reply to “International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner’s speech 2010”

  1. I found the speech, rather funny. It's typically Dutch to try and win on someone more famouse than yourself, but its done with honesty and lets face it, Gerbrand did do better in Dublin.
    Your book deserves every credit it gets, I could not put it down, I could relate to it because I'm a Twin (triplet actually) and I live not far from Monnichdam, in Den Helder. All I can say is thank you and please write again soon.

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