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July 8th, 2007

Gijon

There's a lot going on, and I can't possibly do justice to it all. I can't even do justice to a part of it. Each day is so filled with incident that, by the time one thing has gone by and you've thought, "That was cool. I'll have to talk about that," the next thing happens and pushes it out of the way.

Plus, I have a crap memory.

So I'm going to have to content myself with the highlights.

The highest light of all was the Asturcon SF costume party last night. It's really Ellen's story, and fairness dictates that I let her give the full narrative, but I can't resist a teaser. We got on buses and went out into the country, through steep, green hills dotted with whitewashed farmhouses with red tile roofs surrounded by fields. Sunset was coming on, and despite the lowering sky, the light was beautiful--pearly and glowing down through the valleys. We got out at a cider restaurant like a long, low barn, and trooped down to a large room built into the hill with a terrace out back, surrounded by trees. There was much good food and cider and wine, laid out on long tables. Asturian custom dictates that nobody sit down during a espicha (a cider feast), so there were no seats. There was, however, a dj, playing the soundtrack for Rocky Horror, and many young SF fans, some in Goth splendor, some in film noir-ish slinky dresses with guns, some in horror costumes. There was a woman made up like a skull who was truly terrifying to behold, and a Zombie Alice in Wonderland who defies description.

After eating and drinking our fill, we stood to one side and observed. And then came the surprise. It was an astonishing surprise, absolutely unexpected, and all I will say about it here is that I've never seen quite that look of astonished delight on Ellen's face.

The surprise quite broke the shyness that had kept the fans from talking to us before, and we had a lot of wonderful conversations. It's amazing how sophisticated a conversation one can have with even part of a language in common, if it is accompanied by a lot of good will, close attention to body language, concentration, and a little cider to grease the works. We finally rolled out of there on the bus at 1:30 in the morning, tired and very happy indeed.

Other highlights:

The picnic we had with Lawrence and Isma in the park by the sea yesterday, surrounded by sky and wind and seagulls and not much else. We'd bought the food in a covered market, local cheeses and breads and (naturally) cider, with a mousse de foie gras just because. It was just delicious, a wonderful addition to the memory gallery of fun picnics we've had while traveling.

The opening reception of the Semana Negra, with speeches by the Governor of Asturias and the Mayor of Gijon, all in a beautiful old room with a leaded skylight and a marble floor and an ironwork balcony running around it and an installation of highly conceptual modern art of the type that includes Barbie dolls wrapped in cellophane and laid out on a wooden pallet.

Eating a large plate full (and I do mean full) of boiled octopus at the Rey del Pulpo--the King of Octopus. They boil whole, huge octopi in even huger copper kettles, and then they snip the tentacles onto round wooden trenchers with scissors, and then they scoop a portion of boiled potatoes and onions on top of that, douse it with olive oil, shake red pepper over it, stick a handful of toothpicks into the middle of it, and Bob's your uncle. It's really delicious, if you like octopus, which I do. I helped a friend with his plate, then shared another plate with Ellen. That will hold me on octopus for a while, I think. But I certainly enjoyed it.

Our panel this afternoon, which we shared with Anjei Sapkovsky, a Polish fantasist who has written a series of 7 subversive fantasy novels about a monster hunter. They sound fascinating, and I'm glad Gollancz has published the first one (or perhaps more--I can't remember) in English so I can read them. We had earphones for simultaneous translation through which we could hear the questions, but the Spanish-to-English end broke down, and a wonderful young man named Diego came up and translated our answers after we gave them, verbatim, from notes he took in his own particular shorthand. It's a strange experience to hear an audience laugh at a joke you made several minutes ago, let me tell you. We had fun, though, and I think they did, too, which is what it's all about, after all. And then we signed lots of books.

That is not all, but it's all I have the oompha to write about. There's nothing we have to do tomorrow, but I doubt we'll be idle. A great deal of this experience is turning out to be about serendipitous conversations and meals with fascinating people from Mexico, Oregon, New York, Cadiz, Madrid, Paris, Barcelona, Poland. Oh, and freezing. It's downright chilly, and has been raining all day. It cleared around sunset, though, and we're hoping for sunshine tomorrow. I certainly hope so. I didn't bring any cool weather clothes.

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