The International Book Fair of San Juan took place next week, and I volunteered for the Alliance Francaise during the first two days. It was fun to participate in such a literary event since I love reading. However, my expectations were not too high – Puerto Rico doesn’t have a big reading culture* and the event didn’t seem to be very well publicised…
One of my Puerto Rican colleagues was a little disappointed when we entered the Centro de Convenciones on Wednesday evening for preps and compared it to the book fair she’d been in… in Paris. Of course that was a very unfair comparison! The Convention Centre itself is a beautiful modern building (if you are into modern buildings à la Calatrava) but the big hall where the book fair was to be held was maybe a little… too big and echoing.
The new Sheraton hotel opposite the Convention Centre, part of the new neighbourhood being built around the centre and the yacht harbour, with apartment complexes and shops planned… I have no idea if all the plans are still going through with the current crisis?
The book fair got off to a slow start, which was expected (on a Thursday), with most school children arriving with their teachers. They were very curious though about the Alliance Francaise stand and the French volunteers gave some improvised French lessons to their delight.
Unfortunately the explosion and consequent fire at the oil / petrol depot on Thursday night meant that quite a few schools in San Juan and the neighbouring municipalities were closed on Friday, and even fewer visitors came than Thursday. It was a pity because Friday was the Alliance Francaise’s day and we had planned lots of cultural activites.
However, two brave groups of French students performed during the afternoon, singing French songs (La Marseillaise) and reciting poems and stories in French. They were very motivated and talented - quel dommage that not more people heard their performances!
Friday evening the number of visitors picked up a little and the little Alliance Francaise apéro turned out to be very popular. I mingled in Spanish, French and Swedish! Afterwards a French editor from the publishing company Acte Sud spoke about her job and told the audience about the incredible and unexpected success in France of the Swedish author Stieg Larsson (book rights owned by this particular company and more than 2 million copies sold just in France).
Another special guest of the Alliance Francaise was the French author, Céline Curiol, who was “interviewed” about her writing and books - one is called “Voice over” and tells the story of a woman who works at the train station Gare du Nord as a train announcer. I haven’t read any of her books yet but have ordered ”Exil intermédiaire” (not yet translated into English), which is set in New York City where the author has lived.
All in all the experience of the book fair was positive and I hope that there will be more visitors next year!
*) My Puerto Rican colleague told me that her parents had never read to her as a child (which is also the case of O who cannot recall anybody reading books in his home – is it a Hispanic thing??) and she only discovered the world of books as a student.