horas de junio
a meeting of writers in the desert

FOR THE PAST sixteen years on the first weekend in June, Mexican writers and their guests from other countries have gathered in Hermosillo.

In the blazing Sonora desert capital, three or four days will be spent reading to each other, eating, drinking, talking.

The full name of this literary conference is "Encuentro Hispanoamericano de Escritores Horas de Junio" (Spanish American Meeting of Writers Hours of June), but it is more commonly called just plain "horas de junio" – the title of a series of sonnets written by Carlos Pellicer.

Roughly half the writers are from the northern states of Mexico: Sonora, Baja California and Baja California Sur, as well as Chihuahua, Coahuilla, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa and Durango. The other half of attendees hail from the remaining twenty-one states of Mexico and from other nations in Spanish speaking America, including a handful of USA gringos (both Latinos and Anglos).

This writer has had the pleasure of being invited to participate each year since 2006, and I have missed only once: in 2009, when I could not attend due to a prior family commitment.

This year, 2011, I will be taking an overnight bus from Tijuana, arriving at Hermosillo early in the morning of the 2nd of June, and not leaving to return home until late on Sunday, the 5th.

The city, capital of the state of Sonora, is an active, booming metropolis, a vibrant mix from old cowboy (vaquero), colonial, revolutionary, and native Indian roots. The classic government palace and cathedral face off against each other across the calm oasis of the tree-filled central plaza, and factories hum and buzz in the suburban sprawl.

It is always quite warm there in summer... no wait, it's simply hotter than hell.

Every time I have complained the local people just laugh and say hey, this is nothing, you should come back in August!

The organizers and sponsors lodge all the writers in a big old hotel, right downtown, The Hotel Suites Kino, a more than hundred-year-old edifice that's been a hostelry since the late1800s, when stagecoach and horseback was the only way to get in and out of town.

Hermosillo has its own frontier history, with a very northern flavor, and it is very far and very different from the distant colonial lands of central Mexico.

This city is a sprawling desert metropolis which has expanded outward from an old, inner town. The ancient center has a strong collection of "colonial frontier" style Mexican desert buildings, many with their high ceilings (which was how people defended themselves against the heat before the invention of air conditioning).

If you walk through the old "centro" or downtown, you will encounter an eclectic mix of 19th and 20th century architecture, complete with a spectacular gem: a large, traditional municipal market, where you can eat for cheap, or pick up just about anything you might need. The surrounding blocks are jammed packed with hundreds and hundreds of large and small shops and stores selling everything and anything required by modern civilization. Fortunately for the writers, the hotel Kino is only a five or six block walk from the central market.

The big rocky hill above downtown is called El Campanillo, the Belltower, because at one time some of the large rocks rang like bells if you hit them just right.

Any reader who has been to a convention or large banquet meeting knows all about eating meals with a crowd of people. You all crush forward into the dining area and grab tables, and then either get served en masse by over-worked waiters, or struggle together to make your way down the buffet. The one difference with the writers in Hermosillo is that since it hardly ever rains here, we often eat outdoors, at dozens upon dozens of folding tables and chairs crowded together under huge plastic tent-tarpoulins (to keep off the harsh Sonora sun). Sometimes this is in a makeshift open-air party area outside a local bar restaurant, and quite often the meals are a delicious mix of northern-style Mexican tacos (soft, not crispy) and quesadillas, with beans and rice and salad. And beer. Lots of beer to drink. Or soda, for those who don't.

Perhaps the best part of meal time here is the chance just to kick back and talk with someone from another part of the Spanish-speaking world. Lunch, or the main meal of the day, is never hurried, and often will take two hours or so.

The afternoon readings will not resume until four o'clock, and after a few more hours of literature, climaxed by a special evening presentation, we will all go to dinner around nine, which will often be served outdoors under a beautiful calm sky, finally turning dark and cool (well, not really cool, just no longer broiling hot).

Then we will dance and sing until eleven or twelve or one, when the venue finally throws us all out, and only then, after small minibusses and vans carry the last stragglers back to the hotel, only then will the last die-hards host two and three a.m. parties in their rooms until...

Well, the early morning readings don't start until ten a.m. or eleven, so what's your hurry to bed, eh?


Oh, no, wait! I almost forgot! On Saturday, we all pile onboard a pair of busses and drive for two hours until we get to the beach! There, under the shade of a huge plastic tarp, we listen to several more hours of readings, and then plunge into the warm waters of the gulf. Ah, yes. Sweet.

The next day, Sunday, we must all go home. Sigh.

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