Jorge F. Hernández: “Whoever wants to find Mexico in Madrid will find it and, vice versa, too”

In the oldest bookstore in Madrid, on a wall, there is a small text hanging. It is a piece of writing that never saw the light of day, although it was scheduled to be published in the Spanish edition of this newspaper, sometime between 2015 and 2018. Accidents of the job: the unforeseen death of someone took away the space on the paper. That text was a tribute to that same bookstore, the Pérgamo, founded in 1946 and rescued from closure a year ago; and the author of the column, the Mexican writer Jorge F. Hernández, who now serves readers from the other side of the counter. Ironies of life. Hernández (Mexico City, 61 years old) has gathered in a book all the pieces that he wrote weekly for the newspaper under the title Madrid coffee, the same one that gives its name to the compilation (La pereza, 2023). All, or almost all, except that one, which was never published and can only be read on the wall of the old business, saved in the discount period from becoming a pizzeria.

The bookstore combines the two vocations of this Mexican turned Madrid native who, if he has dedicated himself to anything in life, is reading and writing. He has navigated through the short story, the novel and the essay, but along the way he has become an expert opinion maker for the press, a task for which he has special appreciation. “It is beautiful that every eight days you know that someone reads you. The Madrid Coffee“, recognize. In reality, not all followers of the column were readers. “They were divided between those who read it and those who did not read it, but they liked the drawing that accompanied it. For example, in a Chinese restaurant on Jorge Juan Street, they pasted the drawings on the window. She didn’t know what he was writing about, but it was still like a tribute to the column. I liked that,” she remembers tenderly.

He owes the habit of illustrating his own pieces to the Mexican designer and artist Alejandro Magallanes, whom he admires, and who one day saw his notebook “and told the gossip” to an editor from Almadía, who decided to publish a book of his works. chronicles with their own drawings. Since then he hasn’t stopped doing it. “Kafka was a great draftsman. Gabo, Ibargüengoitia… Carlos Fuentes could have dedicated himself to being a caricaturist, but he discovered that he was a great writer”, he lists his idols, to whose shared habit he would like to dedicate one of his next texts.

Above all, his writings are an alliance between Mexican and Madrid culture, a reflection of his own experience and an imagination that always flies between the two sides of the Atlantic. In reality, they are not that far from each other. “Whoever wants to find Mexico in Madrid will find it, and whoever wants to find the longing for Madrid in Mexico, too,” he says. Some of his characters think the same thing, like the protagonist of his novel. The Empress of Lavapiés (1999), which confuses Madrid’s Paseo de la Castellana with Mexico’s Paseo de la Reforma, or the Plaza Mayor of one capital with the Zócalo of the other.

He, from Madrid, especially likes to walk it. He also used to do it in Mexico City, but he gave up due to insecurity, and when he went to study in Spain, 40 years ago, he was “impressed by the possibility” of walking again. He is also fascinated by the “extraordinarily good” food there but, above all, he is fascinated by how much he talks about the city. “Every day someone comes into the bookstore and tells me their version of Gulliver or his interpretation of The search, by Quevedo. Pérgamo is a bookstore to talk about and Madrid is that. The cafes in Madrid are for social gatherings,” he enthuses. “You sit down and you can make out with the person next to you. Most of my friends from Madrid started out as strangers,” admits the one who was also Mexican cultural attaché in Spain.

The anecdotes pile up and they have all fed into his columns over the years, where the topics never run out: the subway, street musicians, book fairs, bullfighting… Along with the one he brings together now, Jorge F. Hernández tells two other sections in this same diary: Letters from Cuevano and be without being. “The first is a tribute to Ibargüengoitia and I only write things that could be related to the wonderful surrealism of Guanajuato, my family and him,” she explains. “The second is about things that have to do with Mexico, even though I am not here,” he concludes. He speaks from a bookstore in the Mexican capital, after the emotional hangover of the Guadalajara Book Fair, but the next day a return trip to Madrid awaits him.

There the bookstore and new ideas await him with which to continue writing his novels and his columns, which draw somewhat from each other. “I believe that a column should have what a story has: that it be a contagious plot, that you manage to condense without straw who the character is, and that it has a strong ending, always cool. If not, it’s no joke,” she admits with humor. In short, “windows that remain open” – he concedes more poetically in the prologue of his book – and that “they are often nothing more than a pure story, an attempt at an essay and an appetizer for a chronicle.”

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