Maria Teresa Carbano, as of this past September, is the new president of Fundación El Libro. From the first moment you are with her, you realise she knows how to listen and she knows how to laugh. That she has a pleasant predilection for good conversation and tries to avoid the noise of this era of immediacy and emotional and informational fast food we live in. You also realise, right away, that she likes books and, particularly, her fascination with holding one in her hands, on her tongue, and in her heart.
As the newest president of the organisation that holds the Feria Internacional del Libro de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires International Book Fair), Carbano is tackling the challenge of having Barcelona as the guest of honour for 2019. “It is an honour for us,” she says, with absolute frankness and honesty, excited to go over an intense programme, full of delights, with an avalanche of authors, interests and lives that will bring colour to one of the longest running, most popular fairs in Latin America.
– Here in Catalonia and Barcelona, we see the Feria Internacional del Libro de Buenos Aires as a huge opportunity: projection, dissemination, a chance to share with publishers and authors, to open up a window on our culture. What is the impression from the other side, in Buenos Aires?
– For us, it is a very important presence! Why? Because it is Barcelona and, for Argentinians (and Porteños) Barcelona is a desirable city. Imagined with all the benefits of a city looking out over the sea, a cosmopolitan city, with a very rich culture, with singers we adore like Joan Manuel Serrat, and with writers we read with delight. Barcelona denotes a series of elements indicative of beauty, culture and social life.
– For the Feria, but also for Porteños in general, this is very important.
– Yes. And it is an important visit because it is the realisation of the dream of getting to know Barcelona better. I’ve been here these days to present the events and noticed how important this presence at the fair is for you, above all (and beyond just Barcelona) for Catalonia. In this regard, I think being at the fair is a great way to export Catalan culture. I think all those years that the Catalan language was prohibited, when it could only be spoken at home, has given Catalans a huge desire to communicate this culture everywhere possible. And I’ve also seen that Catalans value Buenos Aires and the Feria as a privileged place to do so.
– Before you said that Barcelona is a ‘desirable city’. The connection between Buenos Aires and Barcelona seems to have a magical component, mystical.
– There’s a good vibe (she laughs). It may have to do with the exiles in both directions. The Catalan writers who moved to Buenos Aires after the Spanish Civil War set up publishing houses, such as Editorial Sudamericana, which first published One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. On the one hand, you have this influence of Catalan writers who moved there between 1936 and 1939, settled down, had families and created culture in Buenos Aires, and further strengthened an already very powerful publishing industry in Latin America. That, in terms of what Argentina has received from Barcelona.
– And in the other direction, what has Barcelona received from Buenos Aires?
– It has welcomed exiles after the dictatorship, too. The city is home to psychoanalysts, writers, a cultural movement of those who flee. And why Barcelona? There’s this feeling that we are cut from the same cloth, that our paths run parallel, that they have been quite similar. I think this happens because of the idea of creativity, the pre-eminent position culture has in Barcelona.
– What will Catalan writers achieve by participating in the Feria Internacional del Libro de Buenos Aires?
– It will allow you to raise awareness, absolutely. In Argentina, we have Programa Sur, a programme to foster translation that is very similar to what you are doing at Institut Ramon Llull. The opportunity to speak with Catalan publishers at FIL and explain the programme and grants available to translate from Catalan to Spanish, and vice versa, I think, can open a huge door for translations and joint publications. I think the FIL will be important in this arena.
– Is literature from Barcelona and Catalonia well known in Buenos Aires?
– Spanish literature is widely known. In Catalan, not so much. However literature written in Catalan (and the Catalan language itself) is perceived as a huge cultural privilege. Meaning, Catalan has prestige. And this is for the same reasons we discussed before. There’s an important Catalan presence in Argentina and we hope that after FIL Catalan literature will be much more widely known. This is one of the big goals.
– In Buenos Aires, the ratio of bookshops per inhabitant is spectacular. The same is true of Barcelona, with a flourishing scene of small, independent, neighbourhood bookshops that generate loads of activity and many book clubs. How are books faring right now in Buenos Aires?
– For us, unfortunately, the opposite is happening. We are in the middle of an economic crisis, which is a crisis of consumption. Food consumption has fallen, so how could book purchases not! Or going to the theatre or the cinema, which has also dropped. But it’s normal, because these things aren’t necessities. And this means, in terms of publishing, that we are facing hard times. We have to see how to stop this. But we can’t get discouraged! We are organising a powerful fair, with draw, looking for new resources, implementing austerity in any way we can.
– The fair has been held for 45 years. Feria Internacional del Libro is completely consolidated. For those of us who have never been there before, what is the feel of the fair?
– It’s a party, absolutely! And it is one of the jewels of Buenos Aires. And organised by the private sector, not the government. People can’t wait to go to the fair; it’s an honour. Everyone wants to go, even if just for a day or a few hours. The fair welcomes people who don’t go to bookshops the rest of the year, because it democratises and desacralises books. It is a place where everyone can go and look at books, without feeling out of place.
– Why do you think it has been so successful?
- Because there is a lot of direct contact between readers and authors: loads of book-signings, lots of face-to-face opportunities. In total, there are 1,500 cultural events, with a programme I don’t think any other fair like this in the world can boast. It is a unique programme, which showcases the country’s publishing diversity. And it is worth highlighting that we are not pressured by anyone, publishing houses or companies, or anything: unlike most other fairs, which have a sponsor, we always have limited resources but absolute freedom.
Article by Esteve Plantada / @eplantada
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