Right after the lockdown -which ended up around June 2020 in France- the mailboxes of Mulhouse were filled with letters from Abd Al Malik, in partnership with the city concert hall La Filature. In this letter, the famous French singer/rapper/poet/writer who grew up in Strasbourg, was calling us to write back letters. Letters addressed to Mulhouse, our city, to tell her about our lockdown since the city had been the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic in France last February. Everybody here knows someone who has been infected, hospitalized, or someone who has died… Everybody here knows someone who was in the first line, care and health workers, cashiers, transportation workers.
Everybody here has known about fear.
Besides our lockdown stories, we could tell our stories. Love stories, unlove stories, struggle stories, pleasure stories. As an industrial and multicultural town with a high unemployment rate, Mulhouse has a bad reputation, compared to her Alsatian sisters, Strasbourg and Colmar. She’s nothing like a touristic postcard, and yet… Abd Al Malik offered us the chance to tell and tale our city, to talk to her, to resonate with her. He would then read our letters during two shows in September at the Filature.
Here’s my participation, which helped me reconcile, for a night, with writing:
Because when I left you, 12 years ago,
I didn’t think for a second I’d come back to live in your streets.
I favoured Strasbourg, with her arrow piercing through the fog,
On Autumn nights.
I favoured other countries,
And I ended up knocking on your door in October 2018,
A bit ashamed.
I had nowhere else to go.
I told myself once I’d be back on my feet,
Once I’d be cured,
I’d leave you again, quite fast, for better horizons.
You know I only serve the law of movement.
I’m still here.
It’s because I took pleasure to discover you again Mulhouse!
It’s because you’re bursting with dreams, projects and creativity!
I surprised myself being welcomed with open arms in your alleys,
Founding a job in my favourite area:
You know how I always adored being a bookseller…
Over the (almost) two years here, Mulhouse,
I’m still thrilled to taste a chaï latte at the Kôhi coffee shop,
To write in my journal and chat at the Tilvist coffee shop,
(Yes, I love hanging out in coffee shops)
To ride my bicycle until I lose my breath and my knees are squeaking along the canal,
To contemplate the stars lying on my back on the Chinese Bridge,
To try new cheeses at the local Market,
To party on my beloved Rue de la Loi street,
After eating the best wrap falafel at Food Link.
There was only silence coming from my window.
A wrapping silence.
Broken down from time to time by the neighbour’s greetings,
From one balcony to the other,
From one window to the other,
And the birthday songs,
And the helicopters,
And the evening claps.
How I feared for you Mulhouse,
I was afraid I won’t find back your animated streets,
Your good vibes,
I was afraid the independent shops and the cultural structures wouldn’t recover.
(I still am.)
You showed up being brave,
I’m glad to see you come back to life,
Little by little.
Dreams, projects can start unabated,
To make you a better city!
I know it. That I won’t be part of your future,
My feet are still itching.
But this interlude,
You gave me,
I won’t forget it.
While waiting for my departure,
Let’s go grab drinks down the street, shall we?
Céline, Letter to my city, July 2020
On September 22nd (2020), I was invited to the first of the two Abd Al Malik’s shows. It was incredible. He came with his musician, who animated the poet’s flow with his guitar and bass. Abd Al Malik gave a voice to the inhabitants of Mulhouse. With his peculiar eloquence, his tone sometimes touching, sometimes sharp, he seized our voices, our hearts with such amazing accuracy. It was about fear and anger, because of that Covid-19.
But it was mostly about daily life. Our daily life, the daily life of inhabitants, invisible, from all generations, who, under the ominous sky of a disastrous event, got organized to live, to survive and help each other. What a beautiful lesson of solidarity!
It was also about History and our history, those ways that lead us to here, in Mulhouse, because of genealogy, spite, dismay, love, hope. I was delighted to hear about all those people’s stories.
Unfortunately, my letter hadn’t been read that night. That letter I posted with affection, putting one of my precious origami cranes inside the envelope. At the end of the show, Abd Al Malik admitted he couldn’t choose amongst the letters… so he chose to read them all and will continue his reading the following night! As I couldn’t go, I can now just imagine my letter being read, to another audience, to other inhabitants of Mulhouse, hoping my words warmed up their hearts.