Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Cartagena Hay Festival 2011: Anecdotes from the Hay Festival
Jugo de Níspero
After the Buenavista Social Club concert on Thursday night, the exit from the Plaza de la Aduana led us out to the Muelle de los Pegasus, lined with all-night stands selling caldos and ceviches and jugos tropicales. Let's go for juice I said to Sally. She didn't want any but I had a jugo de níspero, a tropical fruit that looks like a small brown potato outside, and that has a sweet, grainy orangey, beige, pinkish pulp that tastes like dates. You never see these fruits in Bogota. This is my favourite juice.
The old city of Cartagena is a fortress town. The streets are designed to mislead invaders. Works on me too. If I haven’t memorized the exact route I need to follow, I am hopelessly lost. Years ago I visited a school here in the old city. Every time I go back I always look for it, but I haven't found it again.
Embassy Cocktail Invitation
Sally had not received her invitation, so on Wednesday evening we decided to wander over to the Sofitel Santa Clara, which is where the authors and dignitaries were being lodged. It was also just down the street from the house where we were staying. As walked in the door, the first person we met was British Council head Bob Ness. Sally reminded him about the invitation that had not arrived. Bob didn't have any on him but he said that we could pick on up from any of several British Council officials who were there. On Friday Sally got the invitation and we RSVP'd.
Friday night. I was seated in the first level box seats at the side of the theatre and saw children's musician and author Luis Pescetti, whose work I adore, in the orchestra seats in front of my line of vision during the Philip Glass concert. Upon leaving the theatre I saw him standing around, apparently waiting for some people. Photo op! I went up to him and introduced myself, told him that I love his music, which I discovered through my children, and posed for a picture with him, taken by Sally. He asked if I was going to his children's concert, one of the festivalito events, the following day. I had seen the concert listed but hadn't been able to buy tickets online. I said I'd see about looking into tickets in the morning. It was a brief pleasant exchange. I may have been a bit overly effusive; I was still operating under the influence of the Philip Glass concert.
Saturday. The arrival of the cruise ships has breathed new life into the city's economy. On Saturday at least two cruise ships must have docked because suddenly the city was inundated with mobs of American and German tourists, following their barely coherent English-speaking guides, or on bicycle tours that blocked the traffic as 50 bicycles went by. No thank you. Never, never, never! I am glad that people who would otherwise never visit Colombia get to see the beauty of Cartagena, and maybe someday some of these people will come back to visit the city and the country properly. But I doubt it.
On Saturday Sally and I got tickets to the concert and went. It was a wonderful mix of his wildly humorous children's songs and games. Sally and I were off to the side in the third row. Being close to the stage he saw us and we exchanged a nodded greeting.
Saturday night. Held at the Palacio de la Inquisición, same venue as last year. There weren't nearly as many people invited as last year. It was easier to get drinks and hors d'oeuvres. But no buffet. The crowd was strictly A list: the authors, the officials, others who have inside contacts (us). I was speaking to a couple of journalists (BBC, Manchester Guardian). Of they asked what I do. Being used to no one having any idea about foreign press agencies, I am always surprised that international journalists know exactly who I'm with. In particular the BBC woman said the Caversham unit was somewhat miffed that we had scooped the monitoring of Latin America media. Yes, that's my job precisely! We talked about our jobs and how they evolve. She recommended that I should consider working with international media as well as media analysis in my upcoming incarnation. I think she's right.
Chatted with the British ambassador's wife (again). We had met the ambassador and his wife at a pastry shop on Friday. They had just come back from touring the flood relief projects that the UK Government is funding. Chatted with Peter from the City Paper (Bogota) and his very charming wife.
I was looking at the exhibit of Enrique Grau sculptures in a side room when Gary Shtenygart came in. He had been bubbly and affable while being interviewed during his conference earlier, but he appeared to be fleeing from the party. We chatted a bit, about Colombian art and sculpture. Nice guy. During his interview he was very quick; one on one, he's quiet.
Back on the party floor. Luis Pescetti was with a couple of people at a table by themselves, so I stopped by to say hello. I tried a few conversational gambits but he was not inclined to engage me in lengthy conversation. So I cheerily wished him well for the rest of the festival and backed off. This was starting to feel awkward. He must have been starting to think that I was stalking him, Oops, sorry! The party was over by 11:00. There were other, more exciting parties happening elsewhere (apparently the Havana Club was the happening place), but Sally and I headed back to the house. The straps on my high heel sandals were digging into my feet. I would have needed far more alcohol to go out dancing so as not to feel my feet.
Sunday. I had brought tickets for the Luis Pescetti conference well ahead of time. I arrived just before the conference was about to begin, but seeing as I was by myself I wasn't worried about finding a single seat. I headed up to the front of the hall and a woman in the second row, who I recognize from several conferences and the cocktail party, called to me and said that she was saving this seat beside her for (renowned Colombian author) William Ospina, but he hadn't arrived and the conference was about to begin. She offered me the seat which I gratefully accepted, with her on one side…and my ex-husband José Miguel on the other side. I introduced the woman to my ex-husband. She could not believe the coincidence. I am not longer surprised. This is the kind of thing that always happens to me.
I am sure that Luis Pescetti saw me there in the second row. Not to mention the fact that José Miguel has the world's loudest laugh and draws attention to himself. While introducing his song about the baby in the womb, Luis pointedly mentioned that he and his wife are expecting a child soon. Now I am sure that he thinks I am stalking him. Oh God, I had planned on being discreet.