Once Upon a Time in a Bookshop

"Can I talk about poo?" asked the story-teller hopefully, to the parents gathered in the cosy Bellavista bookshop/café. A handful of conservative mums and dads choked on their coffee but most nodded their ascent. "Once upon a time there was boy called Neville, who pooed like the devil" began Carlos Acevedo’s wonderfully scatological rhyming story about a group of friends who learned to love each other’s differences. “He was best friends with Lars, whose poos were filled with stars. Lars liked Grace who had poo on her face”.


It was an explosive start, to this, a children’s event for Santiago’s 10th Festival de Cuentacuentos (Storytelling Festival), performed by Chilean/Argentinian partnership Había una Vez..truz. Clearly delighted by the lack of traditional dragons and damsels, the little ones sitting crossed-legged at the front looked on wide-eyed with glee at the rude words. Meanwhile, the grown-ups appeared to be having as much fun as the kids, as they revelled in the collective thrill of being told a good yarn and trying to anticipate the rhyme.

And this is kind of the point of the Festival de Cuentacuentos; no-one is too old for a story. Scheduled each year to mark el Día del Libro (Book Day) in April, the festival brings together story-tellers from around the world, with events for both adults and children. In the modern world of instant internet communication, the festival seeks to keep alive a global, oral tradition that is as old as language itself.

Librería Mundo de Papel, in the bohemian heart of Bellavista on Constitución, was the perfect setting for the children’s strand of the festival, even if the harassed bookshop staff who had to pry tiny, sticky fingers off once pristine books may have begged to differ. Airy and homely, with a lovely patio and cardboard chairs for the kids, families settled down together among the books to hear the storytellers tell their tales.

Edel Arriagada and Carlos Acevedo (collectively known as Había una Vez..truz) have been working together for 7 years.


Arriagada admits that it’s not always easy entertaining youngsters (their attention spans are fiendishly short), but they made a fine job of it here, zipping between jokes, stories and riotous songs and even persuading embarrassed parents to join in.

With charm, wit and silly voices, Acevedo kept the front rows transfixed with stories of hapless thieves, cats with shoes and a lion-taming mouse who liked to be paid in cash. Sadly we never did find out what happened to Paco the depressed penguin who felt the cold. Arriagada, who had been telling stories non-stop throughout the festival, got a frog in her throat and couldn’t finish. How the frog got there in the first place, is no doubt a tale for another time.

If you miss those innocent days of huddling up under the covers at bed-time to hear a story, you don’t need to wait until next year’s festival for a fix. The art of story-telling is alive and well in Santiago and La Casa en el Aire in Bellavista is one of several venues that hold regular story-telling events for adults throughout the year. Check ‘the Agenda’ for details.


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