The appetizers were already on the table, a street cat had threatened to pounce on them, and the Peruvian guest of honor had yet to arrive. In the meantime, one guest arrived after another: Navtej Sarna, the Indian ambassador to Israel and an author, and our writers - Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and their wives - who had requested an early meal because they're used to going to bed at 9 P.M.
I thought of Latin meals and how they sometimes don't start until midnight. But we didn't have to wait that long until they arrived, an hour later: Mario Vargas Llosa, his wife Patricia, and his son and daughter-in-law Alvaro and Susana.
My life partner, Swedish author and journalist Catrin Ormestad, and I referred to the dinner we hosted as the "Nobel meal"; we hoped that one of the three candidates for the Nobel Prize for literature who were sitting in our garden would become this year's Nobel laureate.
Our Nobel meal continued into the magical and unforgettable night, with little ego and many bottles of wine.
That was about four months ago, and yesterday, one of them - Vargas Llosa - did indeed win the Nobel Prize.
Long before he won it, the Nobel Prize saved him. He was standing in a despair-inducing line at the border crossing between Jordan and Iraq, as a journalist who had come to cover the Iraq war. He had a high fever and felt faint. Suddenly, a Jordanian officer appeared and said he had heard there was a Nobel laureate in the crowd. Vargas Llosa tried to explain that he hadn't won the prize and had no chance of doing so, but his daughter Morgana, a photographer, hushed him and the two soon found themselves in a room with a fan that revived the author.
Whenever I saw him, I always raised the possibility that he would win the prize - and he always said that would never happen. "I say the wrong things at the wrong time," he liked to tell me. Yesterday he was proven wrong.
I met Vargas Llosa for the first time in the fall of 2005, in Hebron, of all places. I saw a respectable-looking man walking along a desolate street in a refined manner, wearing fashionable safari clothes and a wide-brimmed hat. He came over to me and introduced himself. I could hardly believe my ears.
When he came here for the fifth time in June this year, the 74-year-old author asked us to take him again to Hebron and Gaza, and we did so. He sat for hours in the caves of the southern Hebron Hills, listening with astounding curiosity and modesty to the troubles of shepherds harassed by settlers.
He considers himself a true friend of Israel and keeps coming back, looking around in wonder. "Jorge Luis Borges once wrote a wonderful story about a group of sages who planned a world and succeeded in fulfilling the fantasy," Vargas Llosa once told me, to the best of my recollection. "That's Israel's situation: a fantasy that managed to be fulfilled."
Bravo, Mario, I am so happy for your joy.
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