Segovia’s cathedral towers over the Plaza Mayor are like a gothic wedding cake. Towers and domes and crenellations accreted over two hundred years, the result a beautiful blend of La Sagrada Familia and Hagia Sofia. Its rich, almost creamy Bath-like stone basks in the soft September sunlight and the balmy air of evening.
There’s a noise like thunder, military drums, and a platoon of soldiers in olive-green uniforms trimmed with black and gold marches into the square to parade in front of the town hall. The gathered crowd bursts into applause from behind a hastily erected temporary railing. People appear on balconies, holding up mobile phones to capture the moment a clutch of young women in traditional dress emerge to meet them, a flurry of black and red skirts amid a flash of fluorescent yellow. Men in tabards marked Academia de Artilleria discuss some technicality with the Policia Local. A grey-haired officer emerges and gives a gloved salute.
The café terraces are packed. I watch people doing what people do: people watching people watching people. It is a quarter past eight, but there is not an evening meal in sight; it is far too early. Beer, brandy, white wine and bottled Orangina stand out like early autumnal leaves, amber against the pristine white of tablecloths. As I scan the crowd of faces, suddenly I hear my name.
Hay Festival director Peter and publicity director Christopher are sitting at a table a little way off. Peter rises from his chair and greets me with a warm embrace. He jokes that people might think this procession is the opening ceremony of the Hay Festival, given that its banners are draped from the bandstand in the centre of the square. My Fellowship journey is underway.
Later, much later in the evening, when it is time for the Spanish to eat their evening meal, we find ourselves in the garden of a large and ancient house, sharing a table with a famous film director. The house itself, which belongs to Javier Giraldez Ceballos-Escalera, descendant of the penultimate viceroy of Peru, is like something from a film set, its high walls covered floor to ceiling in an eclectic range of art works spanning centuries, its antique furniture piled high with books and artefacts. I have been to many less interesting museums. In the garden where the dinner is served, we are told that the metres-thick cedar that dominates the place is two hundred years old and the largest in Segovia.
People ask where I’m from and what I do. Where I’m from is easy, but what I do? I’m a secondary school teacher from south Wales. But tomorrow I’m appearing at an event to promote my book. Even if I can’t quite pronounce myself with the pomp of being an ‘International Fellow’, I must get used to introducing myself as a writer.
Dylan Moore is Creative Wales Hay Festival International Fellow 2018/19, travelling to each Hay Festival edition, exploring issues of displacement and exile. His debut collection, Driving Home Both Ways, is out now.