Close and distant in time with García Márquez

A man who lived to create beauty.

Thirty-seven years later I can still remember that shiny Sunday afternoon in which, with the persistence of a long-distance runner, I devoured the last 150 pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude to be able to understand why lineages condemned to such a fate exist in the world. My first encounter with García Márquez’ literature was overwhelming and definitive, like the arrival of the apocalypse that erases Macondo from the face of the earth, and drove me on to the stunning reading of all his work until then existing and available in Cuba. With his literature García Márquez indelibly marked my aesthetic tastes and, as I would know several years later, my own search for a literary journalistic style in which the king of language is the adjective, that ability to describe that no one like him dominated in the major art that is writing in Spanish.

I won’t talk about Gabo’s recent death. Nor about the void he leaves. Rather about the space he filled for always and about the relationship that, without him knowing so, in the distance, I had with his work and his person – similar to the one the majority of us readers had.

Because I only spoke to him once and it was barely a few words. The meeting took place in 1982 or early 1983, during one of his many visits to Cuba. Around that time Gabo shared an animated friendship with poet Eliseo Diego – one of the few Cuban writers who went from the affectionate greeting to the personal relationship with the Colombian Nobel Prize winner. Eliseo Alberto, Lichi, Eliseo’s son, who was the person who fostered that single meeting with García Márquez, benefitted from that relationship. Because of some reason I don’t remember, Gabo had told Lichi that he wanted to meet some young “promises” of Cuban fiction, and Lichi prepared a chat in which Senel Paz, Luis Manuel García, Lichi and I participated. The place in which the meeting took place was the Riviera Hotel, where the maestro was staying, and it took place during a luncheon. To the desperation of our young stomachs then, Gabo got to the meeting almost two hours late, said he was in a hurry, and asked the waiter to bring him “a small plate of soup,” with which he cut short our possibility of launching ourselves on the menu. Half an hour later, when he had finished his soup, García Márquez’ meeting with the young “promises” of Cuban literature…about whose literature he didn’t ask a single time, had come to an end.

Perhaps with Gabo never knowing so, around that same time a journalistic chronicle by him had been the cause of a debate that ended with the censuring of the text written by the Nobel Prize winner. The chronicle in question was the one that the Colombian wrote right after the murder of John Lennon, and which he had published in Mexico, I believe in the magazine Proceso, with which he collaborated at that time. I know that I put away that chronicle in one of my files, a text in which Gabo paid tribute to the ethical and civil sense of Lennon and to his artistic greatness and ability to create beauty…. And the problem emerged when those of us who worked at that time as writers of El Caimán Barbudo decided that reproducing that text would be, of course, the best way to pay tribute to the ex Beatle murdered by a fanatic gone crazy. But one thing was what the young “promises” of Cuban journalism thought and another what those who led us thought, who I don’t know why (understanding the motives of the censors is at times complex) considered the chronicle was inappropriate and, in passing, that the fact that we had proposed its publication in the cultural monthly publication was a display of our ideological problems.

A few years later, already expelled from El Caimán Barbudo because of my obvious ideological problems, I had the luck of sharing several times with García Márquez a Sunday page of Juventud Rebelde. It was the golden age of the daily, when careful Sunday editions were prepared and one of the main dishes was the reproduction of a chronicle by Gabo on page 3 of the newspaper, accompanied by that of a Cuban author, which fell on me on several occasions. That terrible competition, however, was meaningful; I believe the most appropriate for me to make an effort around those years to write a different type of journalism, in which literature, the use of narrative techniques and the care of the language played the same leading role as the story chosen as the journalistic theme.

I believe that luckily my literary relationship with Gabo concluded with those controllable and beneficial influences. García Márquez’ literature marked many other writers in such a way that, with great difficulty or never, they knew how to or were able to overcome the overpowering state of imitation, toward which García Márquez’ style, aesthetics and delirious universes so easily led. I think, on the other hand, that I would have greatly enjoyed establishing a close personal relationship with him, about whom so much witticism and jokes were told, born of the Caribbean character that always accompanied him. But, perhaps to preserve his privacy or perhaps for other reasons, García Márquez was not especially open to establishing personal ties with Cuban writers, despite his frequent stays in Cuba. His circle of friends was closed and select.

The last time I saw him in public I also felt in an overpowering way the certainty of life’s cruelties. It was two or three years ago, during a concert by Ernán López-Nussa in Havana, which the novelist attended with his wife Mercedes and writer Wendy Guerra, who insisted that I approach and greet him. I then saw before me an elderly man with an empty smile and whose eyes did not shine, who maintained lethargic contact with reality, almost like all the Aurelianos of his great novel. I had the certainty that García Márquez was no longer the creator of Macondo, but rather a living inhabitant of the lost town, without memory or possibilities of returning to the reality of this world, from which the writer has now departed, causing a commotion similar to that which he praised in John Lennon: because García Márquez lived to create beauty, and that is what’s important, transcendental, respectable, beyond the personal closeness or distancing, of close encounters or insuperable distances. (2014)

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