Gabriel García Márquez must certainly be on any shortlist of the best of the writers of the past century. My own favorite of his books, Love in the Time of Cholera, was for me a vivid experience that has defied my sieve-like memory. Rich, romantic images, full of vigor and disregardful of the risks of love, glow in my recollection of this wonderful book. For all this, his memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, aged on my bookshelf for some time before making its way into my carry-on bag a couple weeks ago. Reading it is to understand that the phantasmagorical is part and parcel of the upbringing he lived so richly in his native Columbia.
It is easy to associate the Columbia of today with the unpleasantness of crime and chemical compulsions, but Márquez' Columbia was obsessed with the written word:
It is difficult to imagine the degree to which people lived in the shadow of poetry. It was a frenzied passion, another way of being, a fireball that went everywhere on its own.
One of Columbia's poet luminaries from the 19th century, José Asunción Silva, shot himself at age 31, according to Márquez,
through the circle that his doctor had painted for him with a swab of iodine over his heart.
But it was undoubtedly their communal lives in a turbulent society, not their dramatic deaths, that gave the literati of Columbia their special richness. Márquez repeatedly alludes to the tertulia of his literary upbringing... as explained by the translator, Edith Grossman,
a regular, informal gathering for conversation; it can take place in a cafe or someone's home.
The term recalls my own fond experiences of the Allegro Cafe and the Third Place Books Pub in Seattle. Social discourse is impoverished without such... perhaps even unsustainable.
If we are to believe the rich truths of this memoir, his books are as much written by his family and era as by his own hand. The wonderful, mystical story of Cholera is in part the story of the grand and tenacious love of his parents, full of ardor, determination, and passion that lasted their lives, and lives still in his books. Page after page of this memoir forced me to remind myself that it is ostensibly non-fiction rather than Márquez' imagineering. Or perhaps it is both.
Of his own chaste coming of age, at an impromptu dance, he writes:
In an instant I became conscious of my body with a clarity of instincts that I have never felt again, and that I dare to recall as an exquisite death.
If you associate Márquez with magic, it is perhaps because the distance between magic and reality was not so great in the Columbia of his youth. Exorcisms and the phantasms that flew from them, conjurations, passions, violence, and upheaval are plentiful and convincing. As he writes about a faun having boarded a streetcar on which he rode:
...the essential thing for me was not if the faun were real, but that I had lived the experience as if he were.
So, perhaps it is simply that, in the words of his Dr. Barboza: “Children’s lies are signs of great talent.”
I choose to believe every one of them.
Image: The Reichstag dome is answer to Pei's pyramids at Le Lourve, and the Sony Center is as dramatic as any modern architecture I have seen. Berlin is a forward-leaning city that seems to face up to its past even as it forges the most modern cityscape of Europe. Having a latte in Starbucks on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate brings home how much the world has changed even since 1989.
I wish to gratefully acknowledge the gentle nudgings of a number of my readers who allege having missed my posts in the quietude since my return from the Emerald City to Columbus. I confess to a case of SLD* complicated by two long trips, a bout of flu, and general reorientation.
*Seasonal Lassitude Disorder