The Hay festival is moving across the world now, this year to Cartegena, Colombia. Interestingly half of its turnover are accounted for by the Spanish speaking world. Gabriel Garcia Marquez- “Colombia’s best known export after cocaine”, is the chief patron at the festival. The British presence is marked by two un- British names: Hanif Kureishi and Vikram Seth.
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.