The time compression and expansion that occurs when so much is going on, so many conversations are being had, effects the ability to realise it is about to end, that it only lasts a very finite number of days. This last day was as wonderful as the rest, but tinged with the sadness of it ending. The experiences have not just been engaged and intense, but also rich, very subtle at times, the connections between people that happen when so many are brought together with varying interests of a similar outlook.
We began by seeing Tom Bunstead chair a talk between Adam Thirlwell and Hari Kunzru, and the open, conversation nature of their discussion fitted very much with the sunday morning feeling of Xalapa, gentle and laid back. We split from there, and I joined those in the discussion and Katie Kitamura, who shares my passion for Mixed Martial Arts, for a long lunch, being able to see more of the city centre and talk with novelists whose work I have followed for awhile. All very humble, funny, affable people.
Returned to the hotel I talked more with the volunteers who really have been the backbone of the festivals daily vibrancy and friendliness. They are a massive cadre of students from Veracruz university, all with amazing humour and kindness, they tolerated my repeated attempts at making them laugh. I then went to what I thought a simple interview but turned out to be the beginning of what I am now sure will be a long friendship. One of the volunteers, Montserrath, and a photographer Citlalxochitl, took me to the oldest park in Xalapa, the botanical park. It was tropical, with enormous trees, and fenced in, in a valley, it seemed like a forgotten world. It was teeming with families and couples on the sunday, and there to have my picture taken I soon discovered Citlal was Nahuatl and the daughter of the wonderful poet Juan Hernandez Ramirez, who I had read alongside. We spent a long afternoon in the park, talking, through Montserrath mostly, Citlal and I not sharing a language, as she posed me from place to place, on bridges, playgrounds, with giant fish and turtles, and murals of animals. We bumped into friends of Citlal, who talked with us and I felt completely removed from my own world and for the first time, the day before I am to leave, completely inside of Xalapa.
After a horrid gym session while carrying a cold, and another beautiful dinner of Mexican food, we attended the absolutely packed Concha Buika concert. The Mexicans went mad for her, and she was like nothing I've seen before. Half black Spanish Nina Simone, half scaling melodrama. Real moments of brilliance, others of excess for my British sensibilities. But it was immense as an experience, overpowering at times. I had to stand because my legs were cramping and bumped into Montserrath and we found Citlal, who was photographing the event, and we all sat on a balcony watching. Montserrath whispered translations to me as Concha Buika joked and spoke through her work. The concert ended and after hugging and saying thank you to a dozen or so volunteers, students and people who recognised me from my reading, I said goodbye to Citlal and Montserrath. They both had gifts for me, even after the amazing hospitality I had experienced. A book, and from Citlal, a handmade Nahuatl necklace. I felt like it was the last of a line of privileges I was profoundly aware I was lucky to be receiving. I said goodbye too to many friends I've made from England, America, Canada, Chile and the rest of the world and went back to my room to listen to Daniel Johnston and feel pleasantly sad.