Hay Festival, Zacatecas: Day Two

Today’s first event was about the contemporary history of Cuba and the discussants were José Manuel Prieto and Wendy Guerra. For the first time this weekend I struggled with accents, which meant I no doubt missed out on some of the subtleties involved. Essentially, Prieto was the more critical of modern Cuba and talked about the benefits of exile, whereas Guerra concentrated on the positive aspects, notably the different kind of freedom one has in a society without ingrained taboos about the human body and its functions.

Jon Lee Anderson

After a rather timid güero lunch and a wander around the picturesque city centre, I was back at the Antiguo Templo de San Agustin to hear Jon Lee Anderson, who spoke in excellent Spanish. He talked about his work on both Che and Pinochet, giving insights into his methods both for book-length work and for his New Yorker pieces. The questions, from Juan Villoro, really drew out some fascinating ideas and anecdotes. Anderson talked about residual pinochetismo in Chile, and the fear of ‘communists and homosexuals’ which still pervades in more conservative areas. He said that his maxim, when writing, is to think as big as possible without becoming pretentious.

Fifteen heavily-armed security personnel on the tranquil streets of Zacatecas

Unfortunately Nick Broomfield in conversation with Rosie Boycott was cancelled, so it was back up to the Museo Rafael Coronel for a panel talk on violence in literature, which was great. Élmer Mendoza, Yuri Herrera and Martín Solares, moderated by Francisco Goldman, spoke at length not only about how they write violence into their own work, but, in the question and answer session at the end, about the violence endemic in modern Mexican society. They felt that the dangers which have become inherent in journalism in Mexico have not yet affected fiction writers, even when using similar subject matter, though they jokingly put this down to the fact that neither narcotraficantes nor corrupt politicians read books.

Panel on 'Literature and Violence'

The last event of the festival day was a concert by Óscar Chávez, who regaled us with songs from various periods of Mexican history. He went as far back as the independence period, and included popular corridos from the Reforma period, the Porfiriato and the Revolution. It was the acme of traditional Mexican music in one way, as – though Chávez himself has a beautiful baritone voice – there were plenty of bum notes, dodgy harmonies and stumbled entries. All told it was a very interesting show, at least from the historical perspective, and the clutch of songs performed with the harp were particularly stirring.

Óscar Chávez and his band

I finished the night with a quite extraordinary trip deep under the hill (by a small ‘train’) to La Mina, which claims to be the world’s only subterranean nightclub. (I know for a fact that it isn’t, but it is certainly much further into the ground – about ¾ of a mile from the entrance on the side of the hill – than the bunker and tunnel clubs I know of in Britain.) It was a bit like the volcano lair from ‘You Only Live Twice’, particularly early on when there were few people there besides the uniformed staff. Once it got a bit more lively, the appeal of being deep underground in rock became clearer – it stays very cool (and, probably of less interest to most people, the acoustics were much crisper than a normal club).

The dinky train to La Mina

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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