Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Train of Ice & Fire , Ramón Chao, Insituto Cervantes 22 October

One of the joys of a literature festival is being introduced to authors and worlds which you’ve never encountered before. The elegant surroundings of Spanish language and cultural centre, Insituto Cervantes, was the setting for Ramón Chao’s interview and tale of endurance. ‘Train of Ice & Fire’ recounts Ramón’s journey with his son Manu’s musical group, Mano Negra, as they play free concerts – sponsored by the French Embassy – across Colombia.

Ramón, a broadcaster of 40 years, is a natural storyteller and has us enthralled with his tales of the 15km an hour Colombian railway; encounters with guerrillas; the public mourning for a drugs baron and the experience of tropical diarrhoea on a train full of 99 people but not one toilet. Most endearingly, he describes dressing in a suffocating bear costume, to do his bit for the show. Ramón also develops a taste for tattoos, which causes his son to adopt Fatherly despair.

Family is a central theme of the evening. Ramón’s initial reason for joining the tour is an anxiety about his sons’ safety. It is family, however, which is also one cause of the disintegration of Mano Negra, when the demands of home-life become too strong.

The audience includes a healthy contingent of young people and is a mix of Spanish speakers and those, like myself, who don’t speak a word of the language. The United Nations style headphones are abandoned as a solution for this when, at Ramón’s suggestion, the translator joins him on the podium. Questions from the audience explore further the Father-son relationship. They also bring out Ramón’s concerns about press freedom, especially in the context of the power of multi-nationals. Most controversially, he speaks about the freeing of hostage Ingrid Betancourt, from Colombian revolutionary group FARC, in terms of a publicity stunt for French President Sarkozy. He also refers to Ingrid Betancourt as a self-proclaimed heroine figure. Given Ramon’s obvious humanity, this attitude is slightly surprising and it required further exploration. However, all good things must come to an end and Ramón clearly has more journeys ahead and more audiences to charm.

The Train of Ice & Fire is published by Route Publishing


David Keyworth’s poetry has been published by Smiths Knoll, Other Poetry, Rain Dog and other magazines. He is part of the POETICA group, which meets fortnightly at Manchester Central Library.

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Allen Smith said...
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