Ten years of Hay Carta­gena

Thanks to Car­los Fuentes and Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez, Hay Carta­gena has be­come world class, writes Gaby Wood

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Cover Story -

The first Hay Fes­ti­val in Carta­gena de In­dias, Colom­bia – a trop­i­cal out­post of the famed fes­ti­val of ideas in Wales – took place 10 years ago. The idea had been sug­gested to fes­ti­val di­rec­tor Peter Florence by Car­los Fuentes, the great Mex­i­can writer. Florence was keen to ex­pand his fes­ti­val beyond the An­glo­phone world, and Fuentes said the Colom­bian city would be an ex­cel­lent place to be­gin. Not only is it a beau­ti­ful, colour­ful, con­vivial city, cul­tur­ally in­clined and man­age­able in scope, but it bears the mark of lit­er­a­ture. Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez set his novel Love in the Time of Cholera there, as well as draw­ing “loose threads” from it, as he once said, for other books, and the place had a for­ma­tive ef­fect on him. He moved there from Bo­gota in 1948, worked as a jour­nal­ist at the news­pa­per El Univer­sal, and later built a house there. Although he set­tled in Mex­ico City, he re­turned of­ten to Carta­gena, even­tu­ally help­ing to make it a Unesco World Her­itage Site and set­ting up a foun­da­tion for Iberoamer­i­can jour­nal­ism. So it was “Gabo”, as he was known, who be­came the pre­sid­ing spirit of the lit­er­ary fes­ti­val in Carta­gena. It’s dif­fi­cult to de­scribe the ex­tent to which its cit­i­zens took pride in his pres­ence. Even now, there is huge plea­sure in the cul­tural his­tory he be­stowed on them. In the city cen­tre, a man named Martín Murillo Gómez – a for­mer wa­ter seller – has trans­formed his cart into a mo­bile li­brary; it is painted in the colours of his favourite edi­tion of One Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude. Vis­i­tors to Carta­gena can book a Gar­cía Márquez au­dio­tour. The first year of the fes­ti­val, the au­thor was mobbed by lo­cals as well as vis­i­tors. By then, he had stopped writ­ing al­to­gether – his last, brief novel, Mem­o­ries of My Melan­choly Whores, had been pub­lished not long be­fore. But he at­tended the fes­ti­val with grace, and was applauded as he rose from his seat to take a bow. Car­los Fuentes died in 2012. Gar­cía Márquez died last year. It seems fit­ting that the first Hay Fes­ti­val in Carta­gena since his death should com­mem­o­rate not only the writer but the 10th an­niver­sary of the fes­ti­val he in­au­gu­rated – and that the spirit of nov­el­ists who brought Latin Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture to the world should con­tinue to haunt an event that an­nu­ally in­tro­duces great books to new read­ers in their hon­our. Hay Fes­ti­vals have now ex­panded to many parts of the world, from Spain to Bangladesh and Beirut to Bu­dapest. But Carta­gena was the first, and it re­mains the best model: small in scale, mag­nan­i­mous in at­mos­phere, demo­cratic and in­tel­lec­tual. This year, its or­gan­is­ers – led by the ex­cep­tional Cristina Fuentes (no relation) – have put to­gether a web page that re­minds us of the in­cred­i­ble events that have taken place there over time: Ju­lian Barnes and Mario Var­gas Llosa dis­cussing Flaubert, Christo­pher Hitchens ar­gu­ing about God with Rosie Boy­cott, Diego Luna read­ing from Allen Gins­berg, Philip Glass per­form­ing his pi­ano études, Jonathan Franzen launch­ing an at­tack on dig­i­tal books, Nobel Prize win­ners Herta Muller and Wole Soyinka show­ing, in dif­fer­ent years, the ways in which the pen can be might­ier than pol­i­tics. The 10th an­niver­sary event – which takes place at the end of this month – prom­ises to be just as charged with cel­e­bra­tion and thought as the fes­ti­val has al­ways been. With mu­sic legend Brian Eno, evo­lu­tion­ary psy­chol­o­gist Steven Pinker and Nobel-win­ning French writer JMG Le Clézio all wan­der­ing around a rav­ish­ing colo­nial city, who knows what world-class ideas might take shape? The Hay Fes­ti­val Carta­gena de In­dias, Colom­bia runs from Jan 29 to Feb 1. For more in­for­ma­tion visit hayfes­ti­val.com/ carta­gena. A spe­cial 10th an­niver­sary web­site with pho­tos and audio of past events can be found at hayfes­ti­val­carta­gena.org

A beau­ti­ful, colour­ful, con­vivial city: Carta­gena de In­dias in Colom­bia will host the 10th an­niver­sary of its own Hay fes­ti­val

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