On China and other niceties

Hay Festival

Epictetus in the garden: Hay Festival 2020

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At the Hay Festival in Segovia 2020: Aurora Luque, winner of the XXXII Loewe Poetry Award 2019, The Ambassador of the Neederlands, The Ambassador of Portugal, The Ambassador of Austria and the Portuguese Tourism Office Director recited poetry at El Jardín del Romeral.

Juan Carlos Galindo of El País opens his coverage of the 2020 Hay Festival Segovia (Una arcadia cultural en el corazón de la pandemia) recalling that the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus said that what causes suffering in life it is not so much what happens to us but what we say about what happens to us.

Or, as the Spanish theologian and success writer Pablo d’Ors might say, this year’s event, staged against all the odds, amid uncomfortable but necessary hygiene, is not so much about welfare, but well-being.

For our well-being, the instincts of the body and the desires of the mind must be satisfied, as well as the longings of the soul. After all, longing is what all culture, all poetry, addresses.

As we do every year during the Hay Festival, we’ve addressed those longings, telling stories and reciting poetry in the Jardín del Romeral, not so much in tongues, but certainly in several languages, and not just with the invitees who were on the program (Maria Vale Portuguese Tourism Office Director, Joao Mira-Gomes  Ambassador of Portugal, Jan Versteeg Ambassador of the Neederlands, Christian Ebner Ambassador of Austria), but with impromptu guests I like to take the liberty of joining us, who this year included Aurora Luque, winner of the XXXII Loewe Poetry Award 2019, Amanda Kelly, a specialist in art communication, Dutch poet Bärbel Geijsen and Raphael Minder, The New York Times’ correspondent for Spain and Portugal.

Epictetus is recorded as saying in The Discourses that the rational animal is only unbearable for the irrational… Each of us understands in our own way what is rational and irrational, as happens with good and bad and useful and useless.

But reality is contradictory. So much depends on how we talk about reality, our distance from it, and what it tells us. I’ll leave you with some videos and one of the poems I recited at the festival, Distance, from my collection The Geography of the Sea Urchin.


There is a point
at which pain and joy
are equidistant,
and beyond which,
mine, yours,
the spines,
hurt more than they bring joy.
There’s nothing sad about them.
There’s no pain in things.
It’s the gaze.
Keep your distance.

The Poet

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The incredible story of Andrés Mirón and how in an irony of fate, right before being killed in a road accident, he won the Villa de Aoiz International Poetry Competition in 2004 with the poem When nothing matters any more.

Most of the time in the IE China Center’s blog On China and Other Niceties I write about China, but just as we can’t eat our favorite dish every day, to hell with China this time, and instead here’s a nicety as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary: “the small details or points of difference, especially concerning the correct way of behaving or of doing things.”

On June 14, while enjoying a coffee together, my colleague Soledad Mirón told me the story of the renowned poet Andrés Mirón, who was killed in a road accident two days before winning the Villa de Aoiz International Poetry Competition in 2004. In an irony of fate, the poem that earned him the prize was called When nothing matters any more. His death brought an illustrious career to an end, with more than 30 collections of poetry published, along with numerous prizes. Soledad collected the Villa de Aoiz prize on behalf of her father.

This October will be the 15th anniversary of Andres Mirón’s death and Soledad wants to pay tribute by reading one of her father’s poems on September 22 in the Jardín del Romeral at 11 am during the Segovia Hay Festival.

P.S.: We are grateful to the Segovia Hay Festival Director Sheila Chremaschi and the Managing Director of IE Fund Geoffroy Gerard for their help on this matter.


Watercolours by Painter Manuel Chaves, a friend of the poet Andrés Mirón



You ask me to forget you and what I forget
is to do just what you ask me.
In the ice of my life, you decide.
I decide in the honey of what’s been lived.

Forget you, why? What hurt you so
that you say goodbye to me with such indifference?
If perhaps my fire doesn’t suit you,
then neither does your ice suit me.

I fear hurting you by saying that I still kiss
the silk of your voice and am enraptured
remembering the brilliance of our story.

and this is how I forget to forget you.
Now, while I live, I will live to love you,
because you live forever in my memory.

Hay Festival and Mr Independence

By | Hay Festival, Literature, Short story | No Comments

Photos: Jesús Pascual – IE Business School


Among the works I read out or recited at the Jardín del Romeral, the garden created by the reputed landscaper Leandro Silva, at this year’s Hay Festival Segovia 2018, this version of my short story Mr. No stands out. I have retitled it Mister Independence, from my book Dibugrafías, co-created with artist Miguel Panadero.

Mister Independence

Mister. Independence is very much at home in Indepenland, as one might well expect. The country is his. Streets, avenues, monuments, when not expressly dedicated to his personality cult, at one moment or another, all refer clearly to him. Needless to say, in general, the atmosphere in Indepenland is an Independent atmosphere.

Nevertheless, certain voices have highlighted not just the opportuneness of a certain independence, but furthermore, the need to resume talks with Depenland and Mister Dependence, because at the end of the day, they point out, it makes as little sense to go around shouting and asking for independence the whole time as it does to go around shouting and asking for dependence, and that’s without getting into the childishness involved in being surrounded by so many peers.

At the poetry recital in the Jardin del Romeral, which once again I coordinated, I was joined by writers such as the British-Egyptian Sabrina Mahfouz, Wales’s Dylan Moore, German poet Michael Krüger, Brazil’s Alexandre Vidal Porto, Polish poet Dorota Maslowska, British-Spanish poet Bek Clark, and poet and journalist Carlos Aganzo. Also taking part were, among others, Caroline Michel, the President of the Hay Festival, Simon Manley, the UK ambassador to Spain, and the ambassador of the Netherlands in Spain, Matthijs van Bonzel.



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