Andanzas at the 2009 Bogota Book Fair

Sunday, August 9th...

Sunday, August 9th
I had planned to attend Bogota' Book Fair as it was being held at the same time as a conference on Iberoamerican University Presses , where I had managed to get myself invited as a “ponente.”
As I waited to board my flight in Los Angeles, I looked over the reading materials I had gathered for the long overnight trip (past issues of the New York Times Magazine & Book Review…). One of the other pieces was a very timely front page story on ebooks which I plan to highlight in my “ponencia.” Later I will find myself being cited after my presentation…but I am getting too far ahead… too soon.
Monday, August 10th
The flight arrived “sin novedad,” other than it was 6 in the morning and we have just been welcomed in that clear Colombian Spanish to “Santa Fe de Bogota, la Atenas de America.” It's been more than 4 years since my last visit and I noticed several new buildings that have sprung up along the road from the airport. Soon we go by the much transited street with Transmilenio buses. The mass transit project had recently received good press and is being emulated in other cities. One of the “taxistas” in Santiago had noted last year that people should come to see how it was operating in the Chilean capital so they could learn “como NO se debe hacer.”
Later in the day a Stanford student doing field work in Colombia called it “transmilleno” as local bogotanos seem to refer to the perpetually over-crowded buses. The next day, my driver (sharing a bit of “taxista” wisdom) had his own theory: it's a government ploy, have few buses that are always full to make it look good. According to him they should build a metro, adding that any comparable big city had one. Bogota, he felt, could not claim any share of “modernidad” without an underground mass transit system.
The hotel is located in the Zona Rosa, half way between downtown and the Corferias section where the 22nd International Bogota Book Fair is being held (August 12-23). This

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time the fair will not compete with Buenos Aires and the hope is to attract many of those Southern Cone publishers that could not attend in the past. Mexico will be the featured country. In spite of initial press reports, neither Carlos I (Fuentes) nor Carlos II (Monsivais) will be attending. But, again, I am getting ahead of myself.
It's past noon and I get call from Arte Dos Grafico inviting me to lunch. They are familiar to SALALMistas from our Cartagena meeting in 2003 and I had reconnected with them earlier in the year at the 2nd Biannual Codex Book Fair in Berkeley. They will host book artists from Germany and Argentina in an effort to highlight the book arts at the fair.
For dinner, I will meet a friend from my graduate school days in Wisconsin, an anthropologist well known for her pioneering work on violence in war-torn Colombia. Her next project, entitled “almas en pena” is almost "garciamarquesco" as it focuses on the guerrilla soldiers, some of whom are afraid of ghosts. Yes the “fantasmas, o almas en pena” from the many mass killings the country has endured for more than 40 years now.
Tuesday, August 11th
A horrible headache awoke me at 3 in the morning, probably a combination of the altitude (8678 feet) and a glass of red wine during dinner the previous night. I opt for reading the local daily and catch an interesting article on the most trusted/respected entities in the City of Bogota according to a recent survey, the local Bibliored comes in 2nd place, and it is no surprise given that in 2002 the library network was recognized by the Gates Foundation for its innovative way of providing access to information technology.
But I am scheduled for an 8:30 morning meeting with staff from the office of Libros Andinos, our approval vendor for Colombia and much of the Andean region. Having identified a gap in non-governmental organization (NGO) coverage the plan is to visit some local entities and try to fill that void as part of our cooperative collecting agreement with UC-Berkeley.
The first stop is the Bogota Office for the UN. The librarian, perhaps somewhat perplexed by our visit, nonetheless explains the purpose of the Colombian office and the scope of the resources available at their library. While much of it is available online, there are local publications that seem to elude the mandate of their local collecting. It is that “grey” area that is equally important to our collection.
The excursion continued to the other end of town, at the headquarters for Colombia Diversa, a local NGO working with LGBT issues which has just been noted for its “good practices” at an International Conference on LGBT Human Rights.
The group's leader had been told of my visit by our mutual friends from Arte Dos Grafico and awaited us. After explaining one of my many roles as a librarian striving to document the publishing output of civil society groups she brought out copies of several of the reports they have issued in the past. Most of it is available on line at their site (Proyectos > derechos humanos > informes):
*Informe Derechos Humanos 2006-2007
*Informe de Derechos Humanos 2005
*Voces Excluidas (OCLC: 72805773 / 318282587
*Diversidad sexual en la escuela: dinámicas pedagógicas para enfrentar la homofobia
I asked about their source of funding and she noted that at present it came from some progressive European groups. Later on I wondered what would happen to those documents online if their funding ends. Do we run and print out the PDFs while they are up? UT-Austin has been harvesting official publications on the web from several government ministries, but I am not sure if a similar project for NGOs is being considered, certainly a worthy effort.
There was one more group to visit before lunch but the adept taxi driver and our guide from Libros Andinos could not find the address we had been given. I had another commitment and we all concluded: “se hizo el esfuerzo.”
We finished just on time for my lunch meeting back at the Arte Dos Grafico workshop. The 2 book artists from Argentina have arrived and the afternoon turned out to be a “gran deleite visual” as each one explained the meaning of their visual work. One of them, a book editor from Buenos Aires, remarked that he preferred no comments, feeling that if something needed to be explained, as in the text of novel, then the artist/writer had not done his/her work. This sentiment was enough to provide competing comments that lasted until dinner, when we were treated to a delicious soup to end the long day. My humble contribution was to suggest ways of marketing their artist books at various book fairs/conferences, including our very own 2010 SALALM conference.
Wednesday, August 12
Although I have gone over the notes for my presentation, I discovered I brought a printout of an older version of the power point. At least the one in my flash drive is current.
The opening of the Conference on Iberoamerican University Presses had an almost surreal start. It is customary at these events to sing the Colombian national anthem but the recording did not work. Not to be deterred, the panel's leader decided to carry on with the song, without music. Later on, at exactly noon, and in the middle of a presentation, a recording of the anthem starts to play, catching us all by surprise. But we are reminded that by decree, Colombia's national anthem is played at noon and at 6pm every day at public functions.
The key note speaker's flight is running late and he has not arrived so we are given an early coffee break. When he does arrive, he does not disappoint. The “ponencia magistral” takes a refreshing anecdotal mode of presenting that would differ from some of the most formal papers. One of the points highlighted is the role of the university press at time when discussion of e-books is ever present. He encourages publishers to see it as an opportunity to reach a public whose reading habits are changing. Those remarks would frame my presentation later in the day when I will face an after lunch lethal time as a well as a jack-hammering noise from the construction crews who struggle to add the last finishing touches to the space where Mexico's and Colombia's president will attend the opening ceremony. In the end, I prevailed as I kept raising the level of my voice and was happy to see not a single snoozing head. It could have been the noise from next door or just the “colorful” images accompanying my power point slides.

An earlier version of the presentation was included in the conference papers.
Relieved that my presentation was over, I will spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the book fair and run into several of the other SALALMistas whose visit has been sponsored by Corferias, the entity organizing the book event. Attending were Hortensia Calvo (Tulane); Teresa Chapa (UNC-Chapel Hill); Edmundo Flores (Library of Congress); Martha Mantilla (Pittsburg); Phil Macleod (Emory) and Lesbia Varona (Miami). Among the vendors present were Alfonso Vijil (Libros Latinos); Howard and Beverly (Howard Karno Books) and local dealer Noe Herrera (Libros de Colombia). Alfredo Montalvo (Libros Andinos) would attend the following week.
I will miss the opening ceremony where Colombia's president was interrupted by a heckler who urged him to reconsider plans to give US military bases in Colombia. Hortensia Calvo was seated within range of the president's opponent and appeared in an online photo the next day. Certainly more than my 5 minutes of audible fame I could claim from the 2 university radio station interviews after my presentation earlier in the day.

Thursday, August 13

Before heading to the Corferia fairgrounds I catch a ride with SALALM dealer Alfonso Vijil for a visit to Bogota's legendary Libreria Lerner. As the taxi made its way through the narrow and crowded downtown streets, I noticed an image in one of the walls “que vuelva el amor a las calles.” It seemed familiar and indeed it should have been. I had seen it the day before in a book just released, Amor a la colombiana and which had been reviewed the previous day in Colombia's leading daily El Tiempo.
On my first trip to Lerner's in 2003 I spent several hours taking copious notes of interesting journal titles and then lost the notebook. This morning, pressed for time, we could only spend 2 hours, which was just enough to jot down a few titles as well as asking the Lerner staff to run a report of the sections on Blacks in Colombia, Colombian Music, and Violence in Colombia, all very timely topics for our collections. I can share with any one interested that LONG list.
For recent journals, here's a brief listing and the new/recent issues I consulted:
*Actualidad Etnica (ISSN: 2145-0242). Issue 1/2009
*Polemikus (ISSN: 2027-081X). Issue 1/2008
*(Pensamiento) (Palabra) y Obra (ISSN: 2011-804X). Issue 1/2009
Now I had the rest of the afternoon to explore the book fair. Unlike others familiar to us all, there are several “pabellones” housed in separate buildings. The one for “Edicion Universitaria” was a very logical stop for SALALM librarians and vendors. Materials for academic libraries were also available at the upper level of the pavilion that included publishers from “Empresas Publicas” and “Gobernaciones.” Teresa Chapa and I conversed with the representatives from the “Procuraduria General de la Nacion” and they gave us some sample publications when we explained to them the work we did in our libraries.
Here we also found a collective stand of independent publishers, REIC: Red de editorials independientes de Colombia . One that caught my attention not only for its catchy name, La Iguana Ciega but also for the list of “novedades” on display, covering a variety of interesting titles: Cantadoras Afrocolombianas de Bullerengue, Jazz en Colombia, and Locas de felicidad: Crónicas travestis y otros relatos.
It is gratifying to see that independent publishers are now coalescing in an effort to compete with the media conglomerates. In the last few years Spain has seen Bibliodiversidad and now there is Observatorio Iberoamericano de la Edición Independiente which joins similar groups like Editores Independientes. The city of Buenos Aires has also included independent publishers as part of its “industrias creativas.” Mexico's Alianza de Editoriales Mexicanas Independientes made a strong showing at Guadalajara's 2008 FIL.
At the “pabellon intenacional” I found a recent Atlas Electoral de Colombia and a revised (6ht edition, 2008) of the Atlas Basico de Colombia at the Imprenta Nacional booth, which complemented related titles Teresa Chapa and I had discovered the following day at Consulturia para los Derechos Humanos and the Cuadernos de Cine Colombiano (OCLC: 56332662 / 22196442) . But the issues on display were not for sale. By now I have accumulated more than I could fit into my suitcase but fellow SALALM librero Noe Herrera offers to include it all with the next shipment of Colombian journals for our library.
I have one more day left (tomorrow) and I want to catch a movie that has been getting good reviews. It means leaving the fairgrounds soon to avoid the rush hour traffic. The film is playing at the Centro Andino shopping center, only 2 blocks from the hotel. It appears the general public is starting to arrive so it becomes a very logical farewell from the many books on display.
The film, “La pasion de Gabriel” seems to be the only Spanish-language option currently in “cartelera.” It does not disappoint to experience on screen the life of priest mindful of social justice ideals and in love with a woman. Somewhere in a lost corner of Colombia, Gabriel is in the midst of the ongoing conflict between guerrillas and the army. In the end no one is spared critique as the Church, the Army, and the Guerrillas appear to care little for those caught in the middle of the “conflicto armado” Colombia currently faces.
I get back to the hotel and end up writing down titles of DVDs of Colombian cinema that Teresa Chapa and Alfonso Vijil have purchased. Of the 40 something films, we own only a handful in VHS which we received as a donation from the Ministry of Culture several years ago as part of the “La Maleta de Películas Colombianas” that was distributed through out the country.
Friday, August 14
It's the last day and as always I am hoping for an extra 24 hours so I can visit the new Museo del Oro and La Candelaria, Bogota's historical downtown. But I have agreed to meet my anthropologist friend at the fairgrounds and forgo that possibility.
I do a last minute visit through several stands to make sure I have collected publisher's catalogs and verify titles I could not decipher from my notes. I convince Teresa Chapa to accompany to the Arte Dos Grafico booth as I know there are some artist books she will like. Right on target, she acquires several and this time we don't fight over them as we did several years ago at the Belleza y Felicidad gallery in Buenos Aires.
While browsing through some of the limited edition titles, some one asked if Adan Griego was around. I thought it would be another radio interview to continue an additional 5 minutes of fame. But it was a friend of my anthropologist lunch date. She was running late and wanted me to meet her friend from CERLALC, one of the groups sponsoring the conference on university publishing in Latin America. I wanted to thank him and since he had missed my presentation we were not able to meet at the conference. He was also part of the group that has sponsored our visit to the book fair and I thanked him profusely, yet again. Not to miss an opportunity, I made my SALALM chamber of commerce infomercial!
We did a last minute visit to the pavilion where Mexico was showcasing an array of cultural artifacts, not to mention a very large space displaying a wide selection of its varied publishing output as the fair's featured country. But it was time to leave before the Friday rush hour.
Back at the hotel, it was the usual packing, trying to get everything to fit in the carry-on suitcase and find something to read for the long (8 hours) flight to California. I selected the sample journals I had picked up at Lerner's and a copy of Locas de Felicidad only to find out that SALALM's keynote speaker (Jaime Manrique) from the Santo Domingo conference was thanked in the book's preface.
Adán Griego