Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Visit to the Palace & Mario Vargas Llosa

Isabel sent me a photograph of her taken at El Pardo, the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, on October 13th. In the background you can see Queen Sophia, Princess Elena and Prime Minister Zapatero.
She was attending the annual meeting of the Instituto Cervantes, a governmental organization that promotes Spanish language and culture throughout the world. It was Isabel’s first time at the gathering, which was hosted by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. Click here for a mini Wiki crash course on that if you need/want to. 

 photo: Cristóbal Manuel, courtesy of EL PAÍS
Isabel describes it this way:
“The king has the impressive face of the Bourbons, double chin and slightly protruding eyes.  The charming queen was dressed in red from head to toe, very stylish. The princess was dressed in gray and beige.  The palace is large, sober, simple, elegant, nothing baroque or overdone, beautiful bouquets of flowers (blue and yellow) as main decoration.  Military personnel mostly for decoration, unobtrusive (almost invisible) security and a domestic staff of handsome young men in suits and women in black uniforms with white aprons and caps, like French maids in old erotic postcards, only with longer skirts.

After a report of the activities of the Institute in 2009, given by it's president, Carmen Caffarel, and a homage by the king to Mario Vargas Llosa for his recent Nobel Prize in Literature, their majesties offered a lunch to the members of the Patronato Cervantes and all the ambassadors from Spanish-speaking countries.  Long white linen tablecloths, ornate silverware (real antique silver, of course), white plates with a gold trim, five crystal glasses for wines and champagne.  Menu: vegetables wrapped in a pancake floating in tomato soup, (tasted much better than it sounds) filet mignon, white chocolate mousse.  I met interesting people and drank too much of an excellent Spanish red wine.
After lunch I picked up Willie at the hotel and we went to the airport for our flight to the Netherlands.  Willie is wonderful!  He accompanies me on these trips without complaining, all dressed in black, with a Borsalino hat, like a Sicilian godfather in mourning.   He is never bored and he has friends everywhere in the world, so while I work he socializes (unfortunately, most of his friends are good looking women), or he writes on his PC.  He is now working on his fifth detective novel, The Halls of Power.”

On the 14th Isabel has two events, one in Utrecht and another in Amsterdam, both organized by the Cervantes Institute and both very well attended in spite of being in Spanish. That was when I got that email from her about the porn shops and coffeehouses; see post: Porn shops and Marijuana 

The next day she has press and TV interviews and two book signings, one in Utrecht and one in Bussum. 

She writes:
“It was raining but my faithful readers waited patiently in the rain.  The lines went around the block in both cities.  I like the Dutch!  They have bought 120,000 copies of The Island Beneath the Sea in four months. According to my Dutch publisher, they have sold 3 million copies of my books. Considering that the Netherlands has only 17 million inhabitants, we can assume that one in every three families has a book of mine.  Wouldn't it be nice if that were also the case in China?”

Coming home is an ordeal: Isabel and Willie get up at 4:30am and take a plane from Amsterdam to Madrid. Their plane arrives late, so they miss their connecting flight to Chicago.  Iberia's Customer Service is mobbed by dozens of angry, stranded passengers. (A bit of travel advice here: Be nice to customer service people. They hate you as much as you hate them.) They wait almost an hour to talk to a young woman whose computer is acting up, but finally she gives them boarding passes and they run a marathon to another terminal to get on the plane to the U.S.  Once they land in New York, Isabel and Willie realize that they have two tickets on Qantas to Sydney instead of on American Airlines to San Francisco. Sydney and San Francisco both start with S. Personally I would have flown off to Sydney for a week. Instead, Isabel comes home.

P.S. I mentioned there was a little episode in New York in early October. I had forgotten to post it and so I will briefly relay the story:
When Isabel learns that the aforementioned Mario Vargas Llosa is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature she hastily buys a large bouquet of roses and heads off to his house in Manhattan to deliver them personally. (Remember, she is very short and the roses conceal her almost completely) When she arrives at Llosa's house she is greeted with skepticism and doubt that she actually is Isabel Allende. (Sometimes I question this, too, and that is WITHOUT roses.) The doorman tells her, "Anybody can say they are Isabel Allende!" To which Isabel replies, "Suppose YOU say it to Mario then!"

1 comment:

  1. Sarah,

    I was one of these readers waiting in the rain in Utrecht. I was also the one (or perhaps one of them)that started crying in front of her.

    To my surprise (I don't go around crying and admiring much), the emotion to meet her won me.I discovered her when I was a teenager and fell in love with her books full of magic realism but most important, her books and her life taught me to see life with humor and better eyes. There might be better writers than her but she is the one that managed to touch my soul...

    I am still in shock because of the way I reacted but I am really grateful for her comprehension and the way she treated me. Like an old friend that offers her shoulder when I need it... Luckily my shock is a positive one because it has been a little push to start again thinking about what are the next nice things to do to grow as a (good) human being.