Saturday, July 12, 2008
The Black Train to Gijón
1st day Friday the 11th
On Friday, I took the famous Black Train to Gijón. I still get the chills when I pronounce these words, although the train is not black (as I had excitedly imagined), the people who get on it definitely are. Not because of their skin hues, of course, but because the train is full of people who write detective fiction, thrillers, horror, fantasy, comics, testimonial, historical, and science fiction books and the rest of us who love these genres.
The writers, visitors, and the press (which I’m part of) met at Hotel Chamartín, which is located in the middle of the train station in Madrid. It was a big group of people from all over the world, with luggage, cameras and smiling faces. My first concern was the organization, how would they keep us together. It seemed as if everyone was in their own little world, but soon I discovered their formula.
Most people participating in La Semana Negra, have attended the event more than once. The famous Chicano writer Rolando Hinojosa told me, “like me, out of the twenty-one years of la Semana Negra, I’ve only missed one, back in 2005”. Everyone knows each other; if one gets lost, someone will notice and look for you. The second way of keeping everyone together is by walking as a group; yes, I felt I was back in middle school and taking a field trip to the museum.
Paco Ignacio Taibo II, la Semana Negra’s founder and continuous organizer, is the leader of our group. With his emblematic cigarette on hand, he lead the group to the train and another member of the organization made sure no one was left behind. What seemed as an impossible task was handled by old-fashioned comradeship.
Before we got on the train, the first issue of A Quemarropa was distributed. This newspaper details the agenda of day, news of invited writers, conferences, concerts and other events at Gijón. The paper is released every morning of la Semana Negra. After we took a look at the newspaper, a group picture was taken and we finally got on the train. My adventure was starting.
As soon as the train left the Madrid train station, writers and reporters alike started walking the aisles, talking and telling each other jokes, laughing and overall having a good time. That’s the other outstanding thing that I would like to highlight about the people who attend this event. Although the genres paid tribute at la Semana might be considered too “black” for every member of the family, it’s still a family event.
Imagine a crime friction writer, a comic writer, and a fantasy writer having a deep conversation about their latest works, while the Cuban writer Amir Valle’s son is pulling down his pants, and the Spanish comic writer Juan Diaz is trying to put his baby to sleep, with no success, to say the least. Not the typical picture of writers smoking cigars and drinking Mojitos in the middle of a smoke cloud, but there is still great conversation, respect for each other, and love. Truly a family event.
We left the station at 8:00am and arrived at Gijón at 6:00pm, a long ride, which included a press conference: Chilean writer Roberto Ampuero talked about his latest book, El Caso Neruda; Colombian writer Mario Mendoza about his book Sátanas. And many others, a long list of new titles and writers that I would share through email.
There was also a concert by Yampi, a Spanish artist, and a funny, but short talk with American writer George RR Martin. At around 4:00 we stopped at the little town of Miéres, where a typical Asturian (northern Spain) band led us into the town to a place where Asturian sidra and appetizers were quickly consumed by us all.
In Gijón, after a short stop at the hotel, all of us headed to playa Poniente, where la Semana Negra tents are set-up. There were already a great number of people looking through tents full of books, sweet desserts or clothing--a weird mixture of items, but this is what makes la Semana Negra a warm, popular event: it's dedicated to literature and to the people who love it.
The inauguration black ribbon was cut by Gijón’s mayor Paz Fernández Felgueroso and Paco Ignacio: la Semana Negra was officially inaugurated!
Great first busy day of a long awaited event. Looking forward to the rest of la Semana Negra. Hope everyone enjoys the post.
Saludos desde Gijón!
Rolando Hinojosa talks about his 10-year experience in la Semana Negra.