… FROM OUR INTERNATIONAL FELLOW (PART 3)

… FROM OUR INTERNATIONAL FELLOW (PART 3)

Jenny Valentine is Hay Festival International Fellow 2017/18, travelling to each Hay Festival edition to meet with young people and explore the experience of adolescence. Here the award-winning writer offers her first dispatch from Hay Festival Segovia 2017…

Segovia’s main square. The bells mark the hour and my second beer. The birds scatter and regroup on the spires of the Cathedral, an alternately modest and opulent building, spacious and rich, which took over 240 years to complete. “Nobody builds things like this anymore,” says my companion, mourning devotion and sacrifice, I suspect, more than architectural vigour.

The aqueduct is theme-park immaculate and close to miraculous. As I follow the line to to its beginning, and see its narrow, shallow channel, I realise once again how good the Romans were at showing off, as well as everything else.

The line of the mountains here is distinctly human. They call it La Mujer Muerta – the dead woman. When I ask why she is dead and not sleeping, nobody can tell me. Someone says I need a Feminist for that.

Young tourists leap and twist for their cameras. At La Concepcion, birds hunker on the backs of chairs and, with increasing daring, tear pieces of tortilla from someone’s abandoned plate. My mixed salad has had the fish picked out of it, and I remember that being a vegetarian in Spain is a big headache for everyone concerned.

I have been learning about maths. About probability. I now know how many people you need in one place to have a 50/50 chance of someone sharing a birthday.

I have learned about creative thinking, about how to solve a problem by beginning to do the opposite.

The answer is 23.

I have been taught about the Monty Hall Question – how to improve my chances if I’m ever on a Game Show.

I have learned to say both, “I am ready” and “I was born ready” in Spanish, just in case that ever comes up.

And I have learned to stop talking when my instincts tell me. The students we met today were articulate, outspoken, brave, honest, open. Beyond brilliant, about the Catholic Church and Politics and gender and identity and family and ambition. About being young and being heard.

They are alchemists, these people, once they get going. It astonishes me. Every single time.