On Thursday, April 16, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1982) took leave of this earth. I learned of his passing late in the evening while perusing the day’s news and was immediately saddened by his passing. The first thing I envisioned was Mexico City blanketed in tiny yellow flowers, as in the passage from One Hundred Years of Solitude etched upon my heart the moment I read and reread the last paragraph of what, if numbered, would be chapter seven:
” Then they went into José Arcadia Buendia’s room, shook him as hard as they could, shouted in his ear, put a mirror in front of his nostrils, but they could not awaken him. A short time later, when the carpenter was taking measurements for the coffin, through the window they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling. They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who slept outdoors. So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by.”
While many offered and still offer their interpretations of those flowers, the imagery of those magical flowers, the weeping of those petals from the skies, drew me nearer to the language of the novel, immersed me fully in the telling of the story of the Buendia family. I fell in love with the imagination of Señor Garcia Marquez. I prayed my own imagination would blossom from his writing.
In this post, I am not interested in the author’s longtime relationship with Fidel Castro, nor whether or not Garcia Marquez was the first true author of magical realism. Garcia Marquez brought a passion to writing I often lacked. Plus, his ability to weave the magic from an ordinary or extraordinary day, the fantastical elements of nature, and the “Surrealism (that) comes from the reality of Latin America” into his novels captured the story telling I’d heard from various aunts and uncles growing up. Whether at small kitchen tables, back porches, or crowded living rooms, the stories shared were embellishments of a youth long past or the brightened coloring of an impoverished household. Children grew like weeds over night, boys ran faster than the train engines crossing 21st street, tortillas melted like butter upon the tongue, women sang like lipsticked nightingales, and men drank gallons of tequila before passing out upon tiny beds made from serape-draped guitars. Gabriel Garcia Marquez could have been one of my uncles drinking beer at the table with my father. The first time I saw a photo of Garcia Marquez, I knew his laugh would surely be the same as my Uncle Marshall or his brother, my Uncle Jimmy.
So, I was surprised this morning when I learned my parents, especially my mother, were unfamiliar with the author’s works. Following Easter Mass, as we ordered breakfast at Red Bean’s Bayou Grill, my mother asked if I could help her download to her Kindle a book or two “by the writer in Mexico City who just died. The news piece said one of his books is the greatest book ever written and has been read all over the world in many languages.” I felt ashamed I had never introduced my mother, the one who walked with me to the local public library, the one who fueled my passion for books, to the one author who’d captured glimpses of those baritone voices in song around our kitchen table. I told her I would not download to her Kindle, but would bring her my books. She was thrilled.
I will now enjoy rereading Garcia Marquez through my mother. I know she will have questions, and I know she will want to see the film Love in the Time of Cholera, as she always likes to view those movies inspired or adapted from novels. And I will wait to see if she glimpses the magic of her own hard-working life or the realities of the community in which she planted her own trees and flowers. And as she reads, I will begin to write, drawing from the idea of Garcia Marquez, “…there’s a learning process you have to go through again before you rediscover the warmth that comes over you when you are writing.” For my own arm is cold, but with the great author’s passing, my soul is warm with inspiration and I am hopeful it will spread to my hands and fingers, but more importantly, my imagination.
An excerpt from Garden (2011)- Olmsted
“Her grandmother pinched the live flowers from their stalks, catching their vibrant heads that immediately shriveled and dried as they fell into the woven basket on her arm. As her abuela moved through the garden, she never looked at her granddaughter, and Amalia was relieved. But, why was she afraid of what she might see in the face of her grandmother? Would she look into those brown, almost apologetic eyes, the eyes she recognized in the mirror when she gazed upon her own small face? Would she see the freckled, sagging cheeks Amalia used to hold between her tiny hands. Or would she see something she didn’t recognize? Something long dead. Amalia listened as her grandmother began to sing, her words echoing against the side of the house and filling Amalia with a familiar sadness, “In the train of the absent, I go away, my ticket does not have a return…”