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corner corner BookCrossing Anniversary Convention 2010, Amsterdam: It was a Blast!

The Convention That Got Thwarted By A Volcano.

by Phoenix-Flight
May 8, 2010

April 15, 2010: Two-and-a-half years of preparations. Five women, one man, organising the biggest party for BookCrossing ever. Countless volunteers and donators. Nine sponsors. Three Mystery VIP Guests. Sixteen people who will perform, speech or lead an activity. Two hundred and twenty four confirmed guests. One day to go. One volcanic eruption.


It sounds like the storyboard for a really bad disaster movie, doesn't it? And when the news just hit us on Thursday the 15th of April, it felt like that. A really bad disaster movie. A nightmare. Mount Eyjafjallajokull (also known as Mt. Whotsit or Mt. Unpronounceable) had erupted in Iceland during the night, and was spewing ash into the atmosphere, seriously disrupting air traffic. Many of our guests were due to fly in that day, or the next, and nobody could tell them if their flight would go or not. Eventually, all of Northern Europe airspace was closed down.


Some were mighty creative and took a train or ferry instead, just so they could be there. Others had flown all the way from Australia, but stranded in Edinburgh.. on the doorstep, so to speak. Many simply couldn't make it, and they were sorely missed indeed.
As an organiser, I personally wasn't sure whether to laugh or despair. We had planned for almost anything, considering all that could go wrong. Or so we thought. Mother Nature decided to prove you really can't plan for everything, and threw a tantrum. But hey, if it takes a _volcano_ to disrupt our plans, we didn't do too bad, right? Despite the many absent conventioneers, there were about 175 who did make it, and we had a show to run for them!


And a good show it was! People started coming in during the afternoon of the 16th at the Griffin (our venue), chatting, browsing the book tables, getting acquainted, trying to get their favourites from the tombola prizes. Goodie bags were handed out, old friends welcomed, new friends met. At around 8PM the convention was officially started and the organisers were introduced to the crowd (Need help? Just tackle one of the Red Shirts).
The Pedersens were introduced as well, they flew in just before the airports started closing down. Then, the icebreaker game started. Seven seemingly simple questions about other bookcrossers. Find your neighbor and see if they keep a rodent as a pet, ride a motorbike, have grandchildren and so on. On your marks.. get set.. and enter the mayhem! It was chaos, and a merry time was had by all! Some questions proved harder then others, and there were prizes on the line for filling out the form completely, and fast!
The evening ended with more chatting and more books, as you'd expect on any BookCrossing event.


Saturday was the official 9th anniversary of BookCrossing and the main day of the event. We started off in the morning with a speech by Bruce, our CEO, who showed us some tantalizing images of what the new, soon to come website will look like. And the crowd went 'Ooh!' and 'Ah!'. We also got a scoop on the new LabelWizard, where we will be able to create our own personalized print-on-demand BookCrossing labels. It all looks very promising!


There was a talk with Matt scheduled next, but unfortunately, Matt had missed his flight and didn't make it. So instead, we moved on to Frans Wildenborg, who spoke to us about e-books and e-readers, part of the future of literature. When he raised the subject of whether or not BookCrossing is a form of copyright infringement (he works for a publisher), this was food for some discussion between BookCrossers, the speaker and Bruce. From our point of view, BookCrossing isn't copyright infringement. Wildenborg didn't necessarily seem to disagree, but did want to challenge us to think about it. When the speaker said lending a book to a friend is always okay, but doing it on a regular, wide-spread basis (such as BookCrossing) might not be, the comment from an audience member 'But we are all friends!' was supported by applause. It was an interesting discussion for sure.


© Stefani Buijsman



We then had lunch, which had been prepared by many hardworking volunteers behind the scenes, and was varied and lovely. Lottery tickets for the night's event were selling, and the Supply store did some good business too it seemed. Since the weather was lovely, many chose to sit outside in the sun and enjoy their lunch there.

Our next programme slot was filled by the storytellers Sahand Sahebdivani and Rik Vuur, followed by Dutch-Iranian poet Babak Amiri. The storytellers told us ancient stories from India and Persia and modern tales of fathers fleeing a country because reading too many books was considered dangerous. There were cunning parrots and angry goddesses, pining elephants and trips over mountains on horse back. It was magnificent. From the future of books, the e-books, all the way back to how the passing down of stories through the generations began.

© Stefani Buijsman

Babak Amiri has translated Iranian poetry into song, and accompanied by his own guitar and Sahand Sahebdivani (song, various instruments) he sang words my head didn't understand for they were in a foreign language, but my heart heard and understood all the same. It was wonderful, magical, calming, but also made your blood rush. I've heard from quite a few people who enjoyed this bit of the programme just as much as I did, and I am so happy to hear it. They got a standing ovation! You will find some clips on YouTube (the ones over 5 minutes are full songs, and the best image quality).


Now it was time for some improvisation, as we had arranged for Matt to join us through Skype. With some help from the wonderful technicians at the Griffin, we managed to get Matt on the big screen through the beamer, and the crowd was able to ask him some questions (and only one of them was related to his shirt). It was great to see him 'live' and being able to ask questions and make suggestions for the new site. Thanks for getting up early and joining us, Matt!


Our last regular talk of the day was done by Rob Ruggenberg, an author who writes historical novels about and for children, and he spoke to us about his latest book, Manhatan. It tells the story of the island we now call Manhattan, and some children who lived there centuries ago, fighting for their survival. In particular a native American girl called Waupatukway, who was introduced as a side character, but refused to die under the author's hands, and became the heroine of the story. Rob also told us how his book has not been translated into English yet. Not because it talks of slavery. Or brutal treatment of children. Or supression of Native Americans. But because he uses the word 'sodomy' when describing an awful event that happens to one of the children. At the end, Rob Ruggenberg gave one copy of his book, personally signed, to a member of the audience. And each was allowed to take a copy of the first chapter translated into English and a small Cowry shell, to remember the book, the author, and their story. He had brought some books along to sell, and he'd sign them on the spot. I believe he sold out!


In the evening, I laid down for a nap. And so did Moem, and KomradRikardo. Simultaneously. Or did we? While we were napping, there was a surprise visit of one of the oldest, best known and most loved VIP's of the Netherlands: Sinterklaas! Also known as Sint Nicolaas, the Dutch name of Saint Nicholas. He's Santa's predecessor. Usually he arrives in November from Spain, and celebrates his name day on December 5th, delivering presents to all the good children and many adults together with his trusted helpers, the 'Zwarte Pieten' (Black Petes or Peters). It seems he had decided to spend his spring vacation in the Netherlands as well this year, and delighted us with a visit. He had two of his many Zwarte Pieten with him, and was greeted by the Dutch bookcrossers with a traditional welcoming song while kruidnootjes were flung into the audience. When he was done making his acquaintance with some of the BookCrossers up close and giving them some presents, Saint Nicholas started drawing some tickets for the lottery, handing out some of the main prizes. There were clogs to win (although the Piet wearing them was very reluctant to give them away), Wings for a year, a gift certificate to the supply store, some very much sought after Olympic mittens in a Canada gift package and much, much more! The main prize however was very special: a brand new Be-Book e-reader, donated by (an) anonymous sponsor(s)!


After drawing the main prize, Saint Nicholas was a little tired (he is about 1600 years old, granted) so he and his Pieten took their leave, while being sung to by the Dutch BookCrossers again, with a goodbye song as is the tradition. The other prizes were then drawn and could be picked up. When Moem, KomradRikardo and myself returned from our nap, we learned about the special visit, and how we missed all the gift giving. Shame, really ;)




Luckily, Moem and I made it back in time to join the rest of the team to receive some kind words and a thank you from Heather, and a standing ovation from the crowd (Aww, shucks, you guys!)
The whole crowd then sang 'Happy Birthday' to BookCrossing, and a Dutch birthday song.


Our last two items of Saturday evening involved future conventions. First, Wyando, hon-no-tomo and inkognitoh made the bid for Dublin to host the convention of 2012. The Irish members who had planned to come and do the bid sadly were stuck back home due to the closed airports, but their replacements did a great job and I believe Dublin got a consensus. There were no other contenders so they won the vote unanimously. I think the promised trip to the village of Ballycumber did the trick! Or maybe it was the Irish dance lessons...


Last but not least on the list of programme items was a presentation by BookCrossing exchangers melydia and crrcookie, who told us about the Convention of 2011, which will be in Washington DC, USA. There will be plenty to do during this convention, so many sites to see, their main temptation being a warehouse full of free books (limit of 25.000 a day, I believe)!


Of course, not everyone saw all of the programme bits, there was much chatting to do, books to browse and read and so on. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There were lots of smiles and happy faces, chatter and laughter all around.


On Sunday, the conventioneers had several options: Visit the Anne Frank House with a group, go on a guided release tour through either the Old City (Jordaan) or the Red Light District, follow a Haiku writing workshop, fold miniature books or create magnetic bookmarks.


We were once again blessed with gorgeous weather, and many of the conventioneers set off on the release walk. I heard about 300 books were released during the walk, and in fact, when I went to hunt in the area 5 hours later, I still saw a dozen or so books here and there. One of the groups apparently formed a cult on the spot when they discovered a gable stone depicting a reading chicken, and made a shrine with offerings of books. I also heard both groups stopped by one of the best ice cream shops in town. The release walk was ended with a flashmob.


Those who stayed at the Griffin seemed to enjoy themselves with the various workshops or just chatting with one another while the team started cleaning up with help of our fantastic volunteers. I've seen many wonderful bookmarks and people were earnestly concentrating on making miniature books, while others dove deep into the art of haiku writing. At 1 PM, the party was over, we cleared the grounds and went home.


Well.. the team did. Many of our guests have gone through quite an odyssey to get home. Roadtrips were moved from the USA to Europe, flights postponed for a week or more. People stayed with other bookcrossers, roamed through the country, and one even bought a car to drive 1500 kilometers home. By now, I think everyone is where they planned to be at this point, be it home or on their travels. Pictures are being uploaded, stories told. You can find many of them in the flickr photo album and there is also a forum thread where you'll find other pics.


My heartfelt thanks to every one of our guests, those who were there in person and those who were there in spirit. Thank you for the smiles, the compliments, the good times, the hugs, the laughter and the joy. You made almost three years of work on a crazy undertaking completely worth it! Hopefully see you again elsewhere!


PS: I can't resist to repeat one joke I used on Saturday morning:

Dear Iceland,

We said 'Send CASH.' Not ash.

Yours etc.

The BookCrossing Convention 2010 conventioneers.



Pictures taken from the various public convention photo albums.

Copyrighted pictures by professional photographer Stefani Buijsman used with permission.

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