A report from the Hay festival Cartagena
Deckchairs, umbrellas, bookshops at every corner, people stuffed into marquees apologising profusely as they bump the elbows of their tweed jackets into one other. The Hay festival is a special literary event, a place for readers and writers to come together, to relax in the picture-postcard village of Hay-on-Wye in the hills of the Welsh countryside.
The Hay festival Cartagena is an altogether different proposition. Long-eared donkeys pull carts through the 16th-century walled city. Vendors shout at the inhabitants of the burnt ochre houses. At every corner stand armed police. Rumour has it that for every one in uniform, two more in plainclothes stand idly watching over the city. For this week Cartagena - or Cartagena de Indias to give it its full name, known as La Heroica - has special visitors. Authors from Britain, Europe, and North and South America have converged on the dank, narrow streets of this Colombian city for the four-day festival.
There are the new writers of Latin America such as Colombia's Jorge Franco, who places Romeo and Juliet in the mean streets of Medellín. There is Francisco Goldman, born in the US, who writes in the Spanish of his Guatemalan parents. There is the waspish intellect of Spain's Enrique Vila-Matas. And then there are the British. Hanif Kureishi sits in a hotel lobby receiving visitors with surly charm; Vikram Seth plops himself down in a chair, almost disappearing.
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