By Ernest Barteldes
On its 9th edition, the Dominican Book Fair showcased the work of various authors from the Caribbean nation, who brought (mostly) Spanish –language copies of their books for sale at the outdoor festival, which took place on the weekend of September 25-27 outside the Gregorio Luperon High School in Washington Heights, an area known by some as “the Dominican Center” of New York City.
I’d only heard about the fair last year, but this was the first time I’d actually checked it out. I was surprised to see that the event does not actually take place on school grounds but on a park on the outside, where tents were set up for different publishers and promoters. There were other vendors that were selling food, souvenirs and other products alongside the literary types.
My main reason for heading up there was to meet with Johanna Madera, the founder of Johanna Vinos Artesanales in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. I met her by chance two years ago in Santo Domingo when our friend Paola took us to Agora Shopping mall, where small business owners were showcasing various products – including Johanna’s fruit wines.
After a brief chat with her, I decided to browse the fair itself. There were many interesting books – one was “Historia de la Salsa en la República Dominicana” (History of Salsa in The Dominican Republic), a 400-page book by Eugenio Perez that details how musicians from his nation contributed to the genre, going from its Cuban roots, New York’s Fania label and beyond. He was on hand, and we had a short conversation about it – I asked him about his research, and also wondered if he planned to have it translated and published into the American market, and he said that this was “in negotiation.”
Other books that piqued my interest were a bilingual coffee-table book that contained illustrated history of the Island and a conspiracy theory that purported to tell the “truth” behind the assassination of Trujillo, the cruel dictator that ruled the country with an iron fist over the period of over three decades.
I was really looking forward to buying some books, but was shocked at the prices they were asking – most were priced over $30, and I even found some publishers asking for as much as $ 50. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to any of the authors, but I think that asking for that defeats the purpose of a book fair like this, which should be introducing readers to their work.
After browsing for about 30 minutes, I rejoined Johanna at her stand. I asked her about where the idea of making artisanal wines came from, and she told me that her grandmother used to make wine at home for the family. She’d always wanted to become a doctor, but lacked the resources to do so. She then decided to start the business from scratch, and with its success she’s been able to not only help her family but also fund her own goal – she is currently studying to be a doctor at Universidad Tecnológica del Cibao, UCATECI,.
I stayed at the stand for another thirty minutes and we chatted some more. When it was time to go, I purchased two bottles of her wine – one was made from star fruit (carambola in Spanish), which has a sweet and lightly acidic feel, and also passion fruit (chinola), which is on the sweeter side, pairing well with dessert.
It was a nice way to spend part of an afternoon – I’d never been to Washington Heights before – the only down side was the long train commute, but that was not really an issue – I had a lot to read on the way.
Santo Libre (Dominican Republic Cocktail)
- Start with a tall ice-filled glass.
- Combine a couple oz of dark or white rum (such as Brugal Especial Extra Dry) with lemon-lime soda or club soda.
- Add a squeeze of fresh lime.