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No one doubts anymore that Enrique Vila-Matas is the living –and active– writer in his country, Spain, with the greatest international projection and one of the most original of the Spanish language. It would be enough to read the novel-essay Bartleby y compañía, that prodigy of inventiveness and imagination, to confirm there is no exaggeration in that hypothesis. So far this century, the prestige of Vila-Matas has surged until reaching that place reserved for the great, as well as being a rare case of a cult writer who sustains a high level of sales and nearly unanimous acceptance from critics in the thirty languages into which he has already been translated.

Few know that Enrique Vila-Matas maintains close ties with Venezuela, and in particular with the city of Mérida. Our author’s first incursion in the equinoctial regions of the New World, under the guidance of Sergio Pitol and Juan Villoro, in search of the oxygen that was scarce in his native peninsula, was to Mexico Tenochtitlán at the beginning of the nineties during the previous century.

Then in 93 we see him strolling with his figure of a Catalonian dandy through the hallways and salons of the Mérida hotel where the II Bienal de Literatura Mariano Picón Salas was being held. On that memorable occasion he coincided with Pitol and Villoro, César Aira, Jesús Díaz, R. H. Moreno Durán, Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá, Sergio Chejfec, Pepe Barroeta, Salvador Garmendia and many others, establishing with some of them affectionate ties that still persist today. As an opening, Vila-Matas read at the Bienal a curious and original essay: “Recuerdos inventados” [Invented Memories], that in itself constitutes, beyond being a stupendous ars poetica for fiction, the enunciation of an aesthetic and of a writing project to which the author has remained faithful to this day. In the realm of the intimate and the personal, Enrique remained attached to the city in the mountains.

In August of 2001, Enrique Vila-Matas traveled to Caracas to receive the coveted Premio de Novela Rómulo Gallegos in its XII edition, which he was awarded because of his novel El viaje vertical. He stayed in Caracas for three days and then, in the company of Paula de Parma, he went to Mérida. In the tranquil Andean city, the recent prizewinner who was starting to savor the fruits of a success that was moreover well-deserved, found peace and calm. For twenty days he became a citizen of the city of students and he was recognized and greeted in plazas, cafés, parks and markets. Some identified him with the friendly name of Rómulo. “There goes the Rómulo,” they’d say when they saw him walk by. Enrique traveled throughout the mountainous region on a Homeric mule following the trail of the great artist of the Páramo region Juan Félix Sánchez, he ran like a teenager along a hill in Valle Grande, visited the Museo del Café in Tovar, learned the names of towns he’ll never forget: Mucujepe, Mucurubá, Tabay, Mucuchíes, Cacute, Escurufiní, Jají. And in a hotel more than 3,000 meters above sea level, a hotel amidst the clouds, with a tower that’s a perfect replica of the one in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” he suffered nightmares in which Belgian nurses in baby doll dresses appeared milking docile llamas imported from Peru.

It’s not so strange then that when invoking this second incursion in the city of his loves, Vila-Matas uses the word happiness without any prejudice.

Eight years later, invited by the VIII Bienal of Mérida, Enrique Vila-Matas returns to the city where, in one of his evening walks, followed by the elegant shadow and wearing a Fernando Pessoa hat, he discovered the authentic “Aleph” of Jorge Luis Borges on a corner of Avenida Tres.

In the interregnum, the life of Vila-Matas has been a true whirlwind, full of creativity, prizes and recognition, invitations to Chiromantic and Egyptologist conferences, Internet conversations, trips by canoe, airplane or train and cheerful appearances in the gossip newspapers. “The flirt with a certain Rita Malú they attribute to him is false,” affirms his life-long companion Paula de Parma, very seriously and trying not to laugh, shielded behind her savage detective glasses on a TV show.

Beyond the fame and the tinsel, the truth is that Vila-Matas has grown enourmously as a writer. His quick, terse and original prose has become more taut and refined like the chords of a lute played by a virtuoso musician. His most recent book, an exquisite hybrid: Dietario voluble, is one of the happiest events in recent years in our language.

Ah, and the romance of the famous writer with the mountainous city –which has extended to the entire country of Ramos Sucre and Eugenio Montejo– cannot be interrupted just like that, because from his luminous apartment in the city of Condal he welcomes visitors who bring him news from the other side of the ocean. He debates with Diómedes Cordero about the contents of Walter Benjamin’s lost suitcase. He answers a phone call from a friend of his –from Mérida– who is lost in a Tokyo neighborhood. He punctually responds to the e-mails of a girl from the Universidad de Los Andes writing a dissertation poisoned by Derrida. He collaborates with a bizarre and youthful magazine in Caracas called Plátano Verde. He forges alliances with photographers, journalists, students, bloggers, writing apprentices and trapeze artists, merely because of the fact, which is more than enough for him, that the tri-color band of a country named Venezuela appears on their passports.

Who should find it strange, then, that the Universidad de Los Andes in Mérida has awarded Enrique Vila-Matas, by virtue of his artistic and humanist merits, the Honoris Causa Doctorate in Literature. Tell me, who deserves it like he does?

When you see Enrique walk by on any street in Mérida or Tokyo, perhaps on the tree-lined avenue at the end of the earth –like his colleague Pasavento–, call him Doctor, Doctor Vila-Matas. You’ll see how he smiles mischievously.

Text read by Ednodio Quintero at the inauguration of the VIII Bienal de Literatura Mariano Picón Salas in Mérida on Wednesday, the 8th of July, 2009.

{ Ednodio Quintero, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 5  September 2009 }
Posted by Guillermo Parra in VENEPOETICS at 5.9.09

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