Hay Festival, Zacatecas: Day One

Up absurdly early to catch the eight-hour coach from Mexico City’s northern bus terminal to Zacatecas, I was treated to a beautiful sunrise as we set out – all peaches, purples and yellows. The coach climbed out through the northern barrios of the city, and while they hardly looked affluent, the industry and relative order was in marked contrast to the depressing views when leaving via the northeast. Still, as everywhere, the city is creeping up the sides of the surrounding hills; houses precariously perched on top of sheer rock faces, and the detritus of signals and communication on every peak.

Plaza in Zacatecas with Cerro de la Bufa behind

The long drive – around four hundred miles in total – took us through some remarkably green and lush lands to the northwest in Querétaro state before giving way to the scrubland for which northern Mexico is better known. We drove through the city of San Luís Potosí, which appeared to be entirely made up of motels, strip clubs, and derelict car dealerships, before stopping for lunch in the middle of nowhere (evidently a popular little hamlet to stop in, though, since there were five or six coaches there). Barbacoa, tortillas and a cold cerveza later, we were underway, and in little more than an hour were climbing high into the isolated knot of hills which shelters Zacatecas. In some ways a classic colonial mining town, though based on indigenous antecedents (so winding streets and terraces rather than a discernable grid plan), Zacatecas is an unusual place if only for its awkward and precarious topography. The bus station was on a hilltop on the side of town furthest from the historic centre, which itself is wedged right at the top of a tightly-pinched valley. Its position was no doubt determined by the mineral deposits, and the later development into an urban sprawl has pushed the bulk of the habitation down into valleys and up beyond onto other hills, though the town’s cultural centre-of-gravity remains the old quarter. A cable car silently crosses far above – hopefully I will get to take a ride while I am here.

Museo Rafel Coronel, Zacatecas

After dropping off my bag at the hostel, I collected my tickets for the weekend’s events and headed along to the Museo Rafael Coronel to hear Javier Cercas, Jorge Volpi and Sergio Ramírez discuss how (and why) they came to literature. Cercas was sharp and engaging, though he was most animated when talking about the World Cup (seemingly a Barcelona supporter, he was justifiably proud). He described how his ‘model’ for novel-writing developed out of short stories as experiments – often based on those of his literary heroes – before arriving at his own method. Volpi and Cercas both noted the importance of a loss of faith in their transformation into writers. Volpi drew the biggest laugh (and a few audible intakes of breath) when he said that being in a monastery school gave he and his peers a strong intellectual interest in the two things that were absent – god and girls. Ramírez, a little older than the others, noted the influence of radio (as an almost-exclusively verbal medium) and cinema (as a storytelling art-form) in his creative development, and noted that when he was active in Nicaraguan politics he had to put aside his creative endeavours because ‘two passions was too much’.

Jorge Volpi, Javier Cercas, Sergio Ramírez and Juan Cruz

As is standard here, the event began a little late and ended a lot later, so I had to hot-foot it down to the Cineteca Zacatecas, in another beautiful former convent, to see “El Secreto de sus Ojos.” This Argentinean film (which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2009) was adapted for the screen by Eduardo Sacheri from his own novel. He was there to introduce the film and was very amiable – he had the most extremely Italian-Spanish accent I have ever heard, and while an Italian inflection is relatively common in Argentina, his was quite something. The film itself is effectively both a detective story and a love story, but also an indirect chronicle of Argentina’s political upheavals since the mid 1970s. Some of the cinematography was beautiful, especially in the ‘vintage’ sections, and the performances from the leads were particularly strong (though I kept getting distracted by the fact that Ricardo Darín really looks like Gabriel Heinze). It was pretty long, and while the last hour was compelling, the repeated addition of plot developments and twists was exhausting by the end – although having been up since five might have been to blame. Very good film though, a sophisticated weepy and with some action and suspense to boot. After that I went straight to bed with a horrible cold, hoping that tomorrow’s four events would be headache- and sneeze-free.

Eduardo Sacheri

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Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 9:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

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