Thinking and drinking

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

My last day in Cartagena, I woke up to a very nice mention in the newspaper describing my performance of Leonard Cohen’s songs as “magisterial”. It was a beautiful morning, already 80 degrees and the air as soft as a kiss. I went sight-seeing, looking for a place some locals told me about where they’d built a statue to Prince Charles and Camilla to commemorate a royal visit and someone pulled it down. The city is walled with ancient fortifications built to keep out the English invaders, so you can’t really blame them.

The night before, I’d been to another after-hours party, this one thrown by the British Embassy. They held it in the Spanish Inquisition building – a beautiful edifice but with a chilling history. There were torture instruments on display in a room downstairs and a guillotine in the garden where waiters glided round with trays of bottomless Pimms.  One of the fellow-Brits I ran into was the Guardian and Observer journalist Ed Vulliamy. I had just seem him onstage on a panel chaired by Rosie Boycott, in which five journalists – including two Latin Americans and two from the US – discussed Charlie Hebdo, the murder of journalists, the right of satire to provoke, and the fear and capitulation of some editors and governments.

Vulliamy, an extremeley brave writer who has spent a great deal of his life on the frontline, reporting on the atrocities of war and terrorism, said something that stayed with me. Laughter, he said – the punishment of laughter, the mockery of power – is the greatest weapon we have against terror of any kind, be it extremist fanatics or governments or anything. “That is the one thing they can’t stand, mockery”, he said. “If there’s no-one there to pull down their pants and moon, what is there left?” Important stuff.

And now I’m back in San Francisco and about to go to another party, of sorts. Last time I agreed to do one of these, I broke my toe. My big toe, which meant having to wear Ugg boots with my little black evening dress, being the only footwear I could get into. It’s an Authors Dinner – a charity event, a bit like a cheaper version of those Democratic Party dinners where you stump up a whole lot of money to sit at the same table as your favourite famous politician and watch them eat. Or talk to them so much they can’t eat and can only drink, which means you might get your money’s worth from watching them fall over drunk. Especially if they only have one working foot. But tonight I am bipedal, and the good cause the money is going to is Berkeley Public Libraries. Libraries are also important stuff. Also, come to think of it, a good idea: Foodstarter! Kickstarter without the kick but with a starter, and maybe a main course too cooked for you by the writer or musician of your choice! .