Hay Festival, Colombia: Beauty and the books in Cartagena
Michael Kerr takes a literary tour of the magical Colombian city of Cartagena that inspired a Nobel Prize-winning writer and is staging next month’s ‘Telegraph’ Hay Festival.
From The Telegraph
By Michael Kerr
A private security guard of middle age and ample gut sat on a doorstep thumbing the buttons of his mobile phone. Hardly the most inspiring subject for my camera. But the frame around him was irresistible. The door against which he leant in his sky-blue shirt was an imposing studded structure in matt green. The architrave was of creamy honeycombed stone. Either side were peeling, pitted walls of a glorious ochre. Colombia’s Caribbean port of Cartagena makes a trans-formative backdrop.
It was this alluring setting that fueled the imaginative powers of Gabriel García Márquez. The Nobel Prize winner, who served his apprenticeship as a journalist in the Spanish-colonial city, has returned to it in both fact and fiction, building a house there, establishing a foundation to school reporters in the skills and ethics of their trade, and, most famously, drawing on it for magical-realist novels such as Love in the Time of Cholera.
Could there be a better venue for a Telegraph Hay Festival? Only if you’re a bibliophile who hates to see a book wilt. Thanks to humidity of around 80 per cent, my copy of García Márquez’s memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, began curling at the corners as soon as I flew in from the cool of Bogotá.
The locals were in a state of heated anticipation – not over the festival but over the Señorita Colombia contest. A British journalist who has lived for several years in the city told me that the contest (which has been running since 1934 with the declared aim of “integrating Colombia through the beauty of its women”) was “less of a big deal than it used to be”. What must it have been like before?
For days the papers were full of it: the parading through the streets of the girls, the awards for the contestant who cooked best and the one who was most punctual, the what-if-it’s-not-all-right-on-the-night worries of the television producer and, finally, the crowning of Catalina Robayo, of the department of Valle, as Señorita Colombia 2010/2011.
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