A WELSH CAFÉ PHILOSOPHIQUE – MATT CARR

A WELSH CAFÉ PHILOSOPHIQUE – MATT CARR

 

On Tuesday I appeared at Hay for the first time, in conversation with Abdul Rehman Malik about my book Blood and Faith: the Purging of Muslim Spain.  I had been to Hay-on-Wye in the past, and spent time poring through its secondhand bookshops and grazing in cafés, but I’d never been to the festival itself.  I wasn’t sure beforehand whether a discussion about the 400-year-old expulsion of the Moriscos and ethnic cleansing would be the most enticing subjects on a grey Bank Holiday Monday, but I should have known better.

A large and attentive audience turned up, which exuded the intellectual curiosity and adventurousness that I quickly came to realise was typical of Hay.   The questions were sharp, interested and to the point, without a hint of grandstanding or aggressiveness, so that the whole event felt like a common discussion that we were having between us.

The other events I attended that day had the same atmosphere.   As a writer and a reader, it was an exhilarating pleasure to attend a public gathering of this size dedicated to books and ideas, and to see so many people of all  ages and backgrounds enthusiastically turning up to immerse themselves in books on every conceivable subject.   I felt increasingly, as the day wore on, that Hay had become something of a giant Welsh café philosophique, in which was possible to discuss and find out about anything from the Greek economy, to the librarians of Timbuktu, from mythologies and archetypes to the search for authentic experience in a digitalised world.

Whatever was being discussed, it was clear that there would always be people there willing to listen, reflect and contribute their own thoughts.

Such spaces are increasingly hard to find nowadays.   We should be grateful, inspired and also hopeful, that a festival like Hay can still be thriving 30 years on, and still inviting its participants to ‘imagine the world.’

My only regret was that I wasn’t able to stay longer, but I shall definitely be coming back!