There are many, many reasons – those that are tangible, those that aren´t, some that are shallow, others that speak deeply to my soul and some that are purely weather based – why I love Madrid. However, it is possible that I have found the very best reason yet. Every year on the 23rd of April – along with the rest of Europe, though arguably much more enthusiastically (certainly than the UK) – Spain celebrates El Día del Libro. It is the day of Shakespeare’s and Cervantes´deaths and the tag line is: “¿Me regalas un libro? Te regalo un libro” (will you buy me a book? I´ll buy you a book) and thus is the tradition; it is a day when people buy each other books. As if this weren´t wonderful enough, in Madrid there is also an absolute ton of book talks and events, all across the city, all for one day only and all for free. If you love books, it is heaven, and if you love books and you love Madrid it is pretty much the ultimate.
The fact that all the events are concentrated into one day gives the city an excited and festive feel, but it also limits the events you can attend. My sister and I chose to see Salman Rushdie. His áutobiography´, Joseph Anton has just come out in translation and the talk was snappily titled, ´from magic realism to harsh reality´. He was interviewed by a local journalist and a local philosopher, the Spanish counterparts speaking in Spanish and Rushdie answering in English, and heightening the thrill of the day with the egotistical rush my sister and I got from being some of the few in the audience who didn´t need the headphones for live translation from one language to another.
The talk itself felt celebratory, perhaps less staid than in the UK (unless I´m already generalising about the UK only three weeks after having left it) and Rushdie was charming and bloody clever, as to be expected. I liked his assertion that – when asked about the Fatwa – people´s right to their religious beliefs is sacrosanct, but that does´t mean that the beliefs themselves, like all other beliefs, shouldn´t be up for discussion. Neat, kind of obvious when you get to thinking about it, but very eloquent and nicely summed up a confusing issue, for me anyway.
We finished the evening by waiting to get copies of our books signed. Amy had bought me Shame in Spanish, as my gift for El Día del Libro and as we queued to meet him, we were reminded of another time we had done the same. It was at Cheltenham Literary Festival, perhaps five or more years ago. We chatted constantly and animatedly in the queue then clammed up completely and didn´t say a word apart from hello and thank you once we met him. I remember his bemused expression. This night he also wore a similar expression, but in contrast I think it was due to the torrent of words we rained down on him, things like ´we just moved here!´ ´we´re looking forward to reading you in Spanish!´and on and on. It´s amazing what a change of location will do to your personality.