I don’t want to give the impression that a reading tour of the Antioquia region of Colombia is a picnic, as there are workshops to be given, schoolchildren to speak to about the arduous apprenticeship and perils to be overcome when embarking upon the writing life, interviews with zealous journalists to carry out; but yesterday’s visit to the colonial town of Santa Fe de Antioquia was a true pleasure. Apparently it is a popular tourist destination, but I didn’t see any. So what follows is a purely touristic and pictorial post, intended for family and friends, without any literary qualities at all.
I was accompanied on my reading by a Colombian poet, a Mexican poet, our Colombian presenter and my charming reader, Santiago Hoyos. The reading was attended by the good solid folk of Santa Fe, who particularly appreciated a poem of mine that makes mention of the Virgin Mary, and loudly applauded every poem that made mention of God (even when used ironically) by my Colombian collegaue, who goes by the splendid name of Robinson Quintero, pictured below, with arms and legs akimbo (there’s a word you don’t hear very often these days). I was touched that shortly after arrival we were presented with a fruit cocktail drink, made of watermelon, mango and pineapple, with a dollop of strawberry ice cream, the kind of thing that used to be called a knickerbockerglory. Mouthwatering. We were driven in a moto-taxi (a kind of lawnmower, with a bench for passengers) down to the Puente de Occidente, a famous bridge over the River Cauca, constructed by the engineer José María Villa (b. 1850), a local lad made good, who won a scholarship to New Jersey Institute of Technology and assisted in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. José María Villa never quite managed to oversee the entire building of the Puente de Occidente as he was (as the Spanish Wikipedia entry has it) ‘carried away by alcoholism’ and his German assistant saw the project through.
After our reading a delightful pair of chaps played Colombian folk songs for half an hour and then we all went off for dinner. The return trip late at night, in a very bumpy pickup truck was reminiscent of a passage from Kerouac, enlivened as some of the company were by an organically grown herbal product, and when the lights of Medellín appeared below us, after ascending from the valley of Santa Fe and then descending in hair-raising fashion from a pass in the high cordillera, it felt as though we had returned from another epoch, another world.
Over lunch today the Colombian poet Juan Manuel Roca asked me what my impressions had been of Santa Fe. I thought it was wonderful, I replied, a kind of paradise. Colombia is a land of many paradises, he said, but also of many serpents.