One of the authors Claudio acquired last year was the brilliant and wise Deborah Levy, four of her books – Claudio didn’t do things by halves - including her memoir. The second volume of which, The Cost of Living, begins with these words:
As Orson Welles told us, if we want a happy ending, it depends on where we stop the story.
In the short weeks since he so abruptly left us, many stories about Claudio have circulated, as hundreds of people have gathered at his funeral in Barcelona, in Cartagena Colombia, here, and also online (how Claudio would have loved that, or would he?). Out of these stories have come recurring images, which distil into one – the magician. Claudio was a magician. He’s been likened to Prospero in his library, surrounded by his books, watching over everybody.
Most magicians have a mischievous side – why wouldn’t they with all the power they have? And Claudio had his share. Much of it was expressed through his legendary hosting and the alchemy with which he put people together. We’ve heard of how Claudio would organise a dinner full of enthusiasm on Monday, cancel it, rearrange with different guests at a different restaurant, and on Friday everybody would be there, celebrating…but without him.
It was also at play at the Hay Cartagena festival, which Claudio loved and was so central to and where many of us were a few weeks ago – but not with him. In former years, the journalists would take photographs of writers and guests at the parties, then asked who was who – Claudio’s pastime was to give them names of people not there, famous agents or publishers like Jorge Herralde or Carmen Balcells and next day there it was, printed in the newspaper.
And then there was his Instagram feed, filled with selfies with his authors. Claudio, half-headed and mischievous, tilted into the pictures from the edge, his authors in the middle, which now seems like a metaphor for a life in which he put everybody else centre stage.
All good magicians have a robe, and Claudio’s may have appeared to us in the form of his beautiful clothes, but the truth was he had an invisibility cloak: the man with such a big presence made an art out of disappearing, whether from a dinner, a party, a bar or a meeting. He found it difficult to stay in one place for long and this made him something of an enigma.
Claudio’s robe was also a mantle of protection that he threw over the people he loved and believed in: his family, his authors, his colleagues, his international friends. If you were lucky enough to have a place under that cloak, your world felt a better and safer place. Many people here are wrestling with the loss of that, and not just professionally. For Claudio family came first, his own family and his book world family and if you were going through a tough or exciting time personally, that was always the first thing he asked about.
In my casting about for stories I learned that at the Havana Book Fair 2000, Claudio and his gang, some of whom are in this room, got themselves invited by Fidel Castro to his palace. I don’t know if there was magic involved there, but that’s very cool. As has been said, Claudio was cool. You only have to look at the extraordinary list of authors he published at Literatura Random House to understand that.
Donde esta Claudio? Or donde es Claudio? Since his death I have been learning Spanish, and I’ve found out that there are two ways of asking ‘where is?’: one is temporary, the other more permanent. Where is Claudio? A question uttered countless times over the years – but he always reappeared. I, for one, am not yet ready to speak it in its permanent form.
Claudio’s magic is all around. I’m picturing him doing one of the things he loved most, reading poetry, such as this Frank O’Hara poem, read in Spanish by his great friend Andreu Jaume at Claudio’s funeral. Here is the original English:
TO JOHN ASHBERY
I can’t believe there’s not
another world where we will sit
and read new poems to each other
high on a mountain in the wind.
You can be Tu Fu, I’ll be Po Chu-i
and the Monkey Lady’ll be in the moon,
smiling at our ill-fitting heads
as we watch snow settle on a twig.
Or shall we be really gone? this
is not the grass I saw in my youth!
and if the moon, when it rises
tonight, is empty – a bad sign,
meaning ‘You go, like the blossoms.’
Catherine Eccles is the owner of literary agency, Eccles Fisher Associates.