Last Thursday was a comedy of errors for me, but it also had some beautiful moments. For Semana Santa (Holy Week), I went to Huila, a neighboring department that Bogotá D.C. just barely nuzzles. We went to the Desierto de la Tatacoa on Wednesday, and that night we slept in hammocks under low trees with leaves like filigree beneath a noche estrellada. Around 1:30 in the morning, it started pouring and we had to make a run for it, and the rest of the night I slept in a rocking chair on a porch, two green parrots singing ditties overhead. Very memorable.
I found out on Saturday that Gabriel García Márquez had died on Thursday, making the day memorable for a much sadder reason. Everyone knew it would be any day now, of course, but I was caught off guard to learn that I’d been unaware of his passing for several days. When I found out from another tourist during a tour of the prehistoric sculptures of San Agustín, I couldn’t help but cry a little and mostly zone out for the rest of the tour, feeling off-kilter. It’s one of those times you want to call just the right person and nurse a glass of wine or a bottle of beer. What a loss for Colombia! García Márquez was 87.
I’ve blogged about García Márquez and his works several times–vocabulary in Cien años de soledad, the experience of rereading Cien años de soledad, and analyzing the marginalia of my copy of El amor en los tiempos del cólera, among others. I haven’t come close to reading all of them (El otoño del patriarca seems to be my most serious lacuna), but the ones I have read have moved me deeply. The theme of solitude seems inescapable, and I can’t help but think of the loneliness of Colombia as a country, as well as its estranged departments. (Maybe Latin America as well, but I don’t know enough about its history to say.) As people, families, towns, and civilizations turn into themselves and lose touch with reality, they become eccentric, impenetrable even to themselves, cruelly selfish and self-defeating, and trapped in marshes of loneliness. This theme moves and fascinates me, but it’s also extremely depressing. Something constructive has to be taken away, because the books certainly aren’t how-tos. Are the books universal? I’m not sure how that could be as place is so critical in them, and some say that Colombia is fetishized and exoticized almost beyond recognition. But timeless, yes. The language is beautiful, concepts of time and lineage are rendered powerfully, and–their inherent solitude exposing their naked essences and longings–the characters are unforgettable.
So, how to best pay homage to García Márquez? By reading his works, of course. Any language will do. On Wednesday, there’s going to be a mass public reading of El colonel no tiene quien le escriba from 10 am – 3 pm in all of Colombia’s public libraries, and over 12,000 copies of the book will be given away. This falls on April 23, which is the International Day of the Book, Spanish Language Day (the day after Cervantes’ death), and the date recognized as when Shakespeare died (though, going by modern calendars, it was actually ten days later; England was still using the Julian calendar at the time). Whichever calendar you use, the day after tomorrow is as good a day as any to start reading the Colombian master. That book’s not amazing, in my opinion (it was clearly chosen for its brevity); try Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), El amor en los tiempos del cólera (Love in the Time of Cholera), Del amor y otros demonios (Love and Other Demons), or Ojos de perro azul (Eyes of a Blue Dog).
I wish I could say that García Márquez’ books–Cien años de soledad, especially–brought me to Colombia, even before I had read them, but for all I know they did. It’s not like it would be a difficult thing for a magical realist to arrange. And in large part they brought me back and help keep me here. Gracias, Gabo. QEPD.