Yes, Ocean Mouse. Sea Mouse, more accurately. The pun took me almost three days to figure out, and it's a cute one, so I just had to share it with you all. 'Mar' is Spanish for sea, 'ratón' is Spanish for mouse. Hence, Maratón.
Of course, I am talking about the 2011 Maratón de Cuentos (Story Marathon) in Guadalajara, Spain.
My first storytelling festival experience was Jonesborough in 2007; ever since then, every storytelling event (including our own festival) I involuntarity compared to that one. And let me tell you, it is hard to measure up to Jonesborough. Not really in numbers or quality, or the tellers; not even tradition or fame. It was the unique feeling of a whole town living our of time in some fairy tale world for days and nights.
Guadalajara brought all those memories back, and more.
We arrived Friday afternoon, just after the Marathon started; Pep was nice enough to take me to my hotel to get rid of my luggage; after that, I was on my own to walk downtown and find the Palace.
It took me about half an hour, but it was worth it.
The closer I got to the Palace, the more people I saw; music floated above the palace gardens and the green labyrinth, and I saw all the colors of the rainbow on the walls. As I got closer, the crowd began to grow, and the music with it; and suddenly, I turned a corner, and there it was: banners, flags, colors and the marvelous old building of a palace filled with stories.
Maratón de Cuentos.
I wandered into the gardens first. They were filled with colorful little tents selling colorful little things; jewelry, dresses, trinkets. And of course under the colorful arches there were long tables filled with books. I dove into the thrill of the book-hunt (with what money I had left from the travels and Toledo) and spent a lot of time (I mean, a lot) wandering shiny-eyed and bushy-tailed along the tables, turning pages and admiring covers, and generally enjoying the fact that I understood what was written in them. I was finally surrounded by a crowd of Spanish-speaking people, and I loved it.
(Spanish was my second language in high school, and my mother used to teach it too; I grew to love this language when I was a kid, but I only visited Spain once before, and I was eight years old then)
I finally settled for buying one book (ONE!) - a collection of Spanish gypsy legends and tales, and wandered on. A little farther down the road by the green labyrinth there was another tent, with a sign that said Taller Cyrano - Poems and tales for measure. For one Euro, you could sit down and have a poem or a story written just for you on the spot. Of course I had to buy a story, how often do you get to buy stories tailored just for you?! So I sat, and talked to the nice guy wo sat at the table, and he wrote me a story (in Spanish!) and I paid for it with one Euro and a 200 Forint coin. We were both satisfied with the business. How awesome is that.
Finally, I wandered inside through the main gates, and walked right into the story.
What you are seeing now on the photos is the inside of the Palace, an open courtyard covered with a roof against the sun, filled with chairs and hundreds of people listening to tales. In the back, under the green tents, sat the artists who illustrated every story as they were being told, and hung the pictures on the walls for veryone to see!
I grew to love this idea during the Marathon. Every time I walked along the long rows of pictures, I admired how beautiful they were, and tried to guess the stories they illustrated. It was great fun, and a beautiful addition to the lively colors of the festival.
So, I sat down, and listened. I spent a long time listening, drinking in the language and the stories from the ever-flowing fountain. The Marathon is really what its name suggests: non-stop storytelling for three days in a row, day and night.
Around ten o'clock at night (still not dark outside) I joined the other storytellers who came with us from Toledo to the marathon. We met outside the Palace, and talked, and laughed, and then the local tellers and the organizers of the festivals took us upstairs to the balcony for a welcome dinner. It was amazing; we stood on the balcony above the crowd and the colorful tents, watched the sky turnd dark, watched the swallows flying in great numbers, nibbled at stawberries, cherries and cookies, talked and laughed, drank champagne, and listened to the music from below (in th gardens, simultaneously with the Marathon, there was a marathon of music going on. Inside the palace, not a note could be heard, but outside it was magic)
Once dinner was over, we all returned to the inside court to wait for our turn in the telling, which, according to the program, was about to happen at 3 in the morning. So we wrapped ourselves in blankets, sleeping bags, and some of us even in banners and pieces of courtains, warmed our fingers on cups of boiled wine and listened to the tales.
We had audience all night. Even if most of the people went home, after midnight we still had about fourty or fifty people listening to our tales. I almost fell asleep once or twice, but when the FEST tellers started telling, I felt awake again. I told my tale around 5 in the morning, in Spanish (try telling on stange in your second foreign language... I would love to hear what I said, but the audience seemed to like it). My first official Spanish telling. It was fun :)
I waited till the sun came up before I walked back to the hotel to sleep. I woke up at 3 in the afternoon, got dressed, and walked back to the Palace. This was enough to mess up my perception of time; from that on (well, even from before that) the whole three days in Guadalajara felt like being out of time. Days, nights, light, dark, it didn't really matter; I slept and I woke randomly, I listened to enought stories to last a lifetime, I laughed, I cried, I wandered in the city, I ate when I felt like it, I hung out with other tellers, some of them disappeared and some stayed, and it was all very colorful, and very exciting, and magical.
The whole city was full of story people. They were eithr storytellers, or friends of storytellers, or listeners, or writers, or musicians, or just tourists who wandered into the city and got trapped in the Marathon like flies in honey. We couldn't walk ten meters down the street without meeting someone one of us knew; we always found each other at the oddest places (I ran into Birgit and Brendan in an alley at an open bazaar once).
And then, all of a sudden, after a century or two, we were in the courtyard again, and colorín colorado, the Marathon was over.
So, we danced.
We danced to the music under the yellow-red-orange banners that hung low from the ceiling; we waltzed and polkaed (however you spell it) and danced in circles, and laughed, and spun, and had a great time while the decorations of the festival were already coming down around us. We went to have dinner together, courtesy of our generous hosts and the festival's organizers; and by the time we returned to the palace, the square was empy, the banners gone, and not a soul wandering around in the garden.
It felt like a fairy market; for three days and nights, it was there, filled with magic and colors and laughter; and suddenly, it was gone with the light of the day. It left the same sweet heartache behind, the same exhausted happiness and memories like trapped butterflies. One could only sit in a quiet park, smell the freshly printed pages of the book of tales, and make a quiet promise - see you all next year...