My favourite day (and night) of the year fell last weekend – bookworm Christmas as I like to call it: International Book Day. Every year in Madrid there are a ton of activities and, in addition, there is always a headline act who gives a talk at the Real Casa de Correos, right in the centre of Madrid, in Sol. This year the it was Irvine Welsh.
He was really funny, and charming. I liked his un-writerly way of talking about writing and the writing life. The first question from the interviewer was whether Welsh thought Margaret Thatcher was the primary reason for the increase in heroin consumption in Scotland in the 80s, drugs always seeming to become a recourse for the dispossessed. Welsh agreed that the politics of the time had an clear effect, and he described how life was where he grew up, in Leith, during that time.
The talk finished and my sister and I queued up to get a book signed (my sister told him how the first book her Venezuelan boyfriend read in English was Trainspotting, and we talked a little about translation as he signed my sister’s copy of his latest book in the Spanish edition) and I didn’t think too much more about Thatcher and heroin, until the following day…
The description of the next event I went to sounded to me like music and readings and projections, well, actually, that was the exact description in the programme. However, by total coincidence, it was in fact a talk by a local author who had written a trilogy about the area he grew up in, in the suburbs of Madrid, that had a big problem with heroin addiction in the 80s, thanks to feelings of political and social dispossession. Without meaning to, I had come to exactly the same talk as the night before. I had stumbled upon the Spanish Irvine Welsh.
From there I went onto an event that is run every year, which is a continuous reading of Don Quijote, it takes around 48 hours and goes through the night without any pauses. I love anything that runs through the night, for some reason it seems romantic, such physical dedication to art. There are famous people who read their favourite parts, there are live video links with Spanish citizens all over the world, it is a real celebration of Spain’s most famous book. I walked in and it took me a while to realise someone was reading the text in English. It turned out that there was a delegation from the US Embassy in Madrid taking part.
It seemed it was a weekend of reflections, or refractions – I had heard the same talk by two versions of the same author, discussed translation of Scottish colloquialisms for South American readers, and heard a Spanish classic read in English.