Food for thought inside the Salon

Over the past few years, Le Salon have been organising social events with a twist: like the literary salons of yore. Warren Bugeja and Miriam Calleja gather creatively-minded individuals to share their artistic pursuits and experience.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
19 April 2016, 9:00am
Le Salon founders Warren Bugeja and Miriam Calleja (Photo by Kurt Paris)
Le Salon founders Warren Bugeja and Miriam Calleja (Photo by Kurt Paris)
Could you tell us a little bit about the Salon initiative? How did it get started, and how has it evolved since its early days?

Warren Bugeja: Le Salon was first conceived as an intimate and animated cafe on the move – a moveable feast if you like, encouraging social interaction, and the meeting and exchange of ideas, concepts and artistic expression.  

Back in the 90s a group of friends and acquaintances would meet on a regular basis in my then seaside home in St Paul’s Bay. We would discuss, debate all things under the sun, watch documentaries together, cook and create, however it was not until I was living in London, about six years ago that I thought of opening the Salon theme up to a wider audience. 

My idea was to come up with a concept where individuals could turn up at an event and socialise on their own without feeling awkward, where they could share an idea, an inspiration, something they had written or composed or painted or something someone else had. This was the year of the first iPhone and surrounded by strangers I was yearning for good old-fashioned face-to face conversation. 

The idea behind the Salon was for it to be held in a different location each time, preferably somebody’s home and for it to follow a theme or be guided by one of the artistic muses (dance, painting, poetry, music and so on). There would be food to draw people, inspired by and mirroring each event and for people to socialise over. 

Some of the Salons are on a larger scale, are more curated and might feature acting, dance and musical performances and an entrance fee to cover catering. The emphasis however is on participation and interaction. There is no segregation between audience and performers. 

Otherwise, it would be just like going to the theatre, everybody is encouraged to share and contribute in an uncontrived and natural way as possible. Striking a balance however between not being elitist and keeping numbers low was difficult, so enter ‘Le Salon Intimates’. This series is free and draws a smaller crowd, where there is more opportunity to listen to each participant’s point of view and which have over the years, collected a bunch of  regulars. Le Salon Pop-Ups are more spontaneous, might not necessarily be held in somebody’s personal space and be prompted by an impromptu connection, such as the one recently organized around by UK poet Ian D Hall visit to Malta.

You must have gathered some Salon ‘regulars’ over the years. What keeps them coming back, and what does it say about the culture of creative writing in Malta?

Miriam Calleja: The regulars are very important. Knowing that someone is looking forward to the next session, that they are using Le Salon sessions to encourage them to get writing their next piece, is encouraging for us, as hosts and coordinators, to dedicate our time to Salon. What keeps them coming back is the opportunity of having a room full of ears eager to listen, a safe place to perform, and a challenge to write about a certain topic that perhaps they wouldn’t have tackled otherwise. There is a strong sense of community, camaraderie, and support. 

We watch each other grow as writers, we celebrate each other’s courage and feel comfortable to criticise. It’s lovely to welcome new people into our circle, especially if these have not previously had a place to share, have kept their writing or other art to themselves before coming to Salon, or have had a limited audience because they weren’t surrounded by like-minded people before. 

What got you thinking about ‘A Movable Feast’? Did you always want to combine food and literature for one of your events? How do you hope it will pan out? 

MC: When Warren and I first met, it was at a Le Salon do. I really didn’t know what I was getting into that day, having just heard of this event, I decided to attend to find out what it was all about. Warren and I became fast friends that night, and just couldn’t stop chatting. It was clear that there were a couple of things we were both extremely passionate about, namely literature, art in general, and food. I think that it was only a matter of time until food was at the forefront of one of our events. Actually, it is surprising that it didn’t happen before, although emphasis was placed on food at other times. For example the first time I attended salon the topic was love and the foods offered were the ones considered aphrodisiacs. At another event, Warren actually matched dishes to my poetry. Whenever we meet, the conversation inevitably gravitates towards food. 

We hope that for this Salon, guests will take the time for some research, and will be as excited as we are to combine their passions into something they can share with other patrons. This time we will be meeting not only to share literature and other art, but also to share food with friends and strangers. We expect that this will be a further help to breaking the ice, and will definitely have plenty of conversation starters as everyone gets to explain their offering.

A Moveable Feast will be taking place at Dar tal-Kaptan, Ghasri, Gozo on April 30 from 14:00. Entrance is free but all participants are encouraged to bring their own food, which should be inspired by a literary meal. For more information log on to: http://tinyurl.com/javpd6l

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...