The Olmec Head – Laia Jufresa

The Olmec Head – Laia Jufresa

When you arrive at the Hay Festival, the first thing you see is a head sticking out of the ground. It is made out of stone and is a miniature reproduction of an Olmec head, something that, as the child of a Mexican anthropologist, I was dragged around museums to see. The Olmec were the oldest civilization in prehispanic Mexico and only a few of these giant rock heads remain. This particular replica was a gift of the Mexican government to the festival. I’m curious to see what people, who probably don’t know any of this, think the head is.

I hang around the entrance for a while, asking around. I get all kind of answers; Latin America is mentioned a couple of times, but not Mexico directly, although someone does bring up the Aztecs. My favorite answer is given by a young man who says: “This is the head of a man waiting for the rest of his body to emerge from the ground.”

A mother gestures to the head and says, “This? I’ll tell you what this is, this is the only thing my kids will remember. This and the coloured flags and the ice cream, nothing else.” She seems rather frustrated by all the wholesome literary literacy her children will forget. I look at them. They are around seven years old and covered with chocolate ice cream up to their foreheads, climbing the giant head in ways we would never be allowed in museums back home. And I think to myself, “That isn’t so terrible, is it? If they forget the lectures but retain the fun? Shouldn’t we all?”

Perhaps that’s why we need this kind of gatherings, where reading can merge with more congenial verbs, where ideas and books are not a solid thing you put in a pedestal, but things you can approach and climb with your own, dirty hands.