viernes, 31 de enero de 2014

Uno de Félix Grande (Mérida, Badajoz, 4 de febrero de 1937 - Madrid, 30 de enero de 2014)

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                      He escuchado en los libros
                      sabias declaraciones de ignorancia
                      El sereno y profundo
                      envuelve sus palabras
                      en un humilde celofán de duda
                      que les hace adquirir la humilde magia
                      de lo sincero. El sabio entre los sabios
                      todo lo más dilata las distancias

                      De todo el inventario
                      de voces y de páginas,
                      en el fondo del pecho sólo queda
                      sones de adiós, palabras de campana

                      Largos millones de vocablos suben
                      por los largos millones de gargantas;
                      brotan alegres de las bocas, cobran
                      en el espacio su silencio, pasan
                      por las viejas fronteras del oído
                      su silenciosa y nueva forma al alma
                      y, una vez en el fondo de los seres,
                      se desnutren, se callan y se apagan.

                      Sólo quedan después tiernos vacíos
                      voces de adiós, palabras de campana.


Madrid, agosto de 1995.

jueves, 30 de enero de 2014

Principios robados


La gracia de Gracián


“No hay bestia sin tacha, ni hombre sin crimen”, leí anoche antes de dormirme. Consideré por un momento las implicaciones de esa frase, hice un repaso general de mis canalladas, me hundí bajo la gruesa cobija que me acompaña en esta Siberia a la que me condujo el destino– y me conduje– y tardé poco en dormirme.
Mi vida pudo haber transcurrido sin encontrarme con Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658), a quien no he podido dejar de leer desde hace seis meses – cuando me crucé con una traducción al inglés de su obra más accesible, la hojeé y me interesó, me pregunté por qué no me había fijado antes en esa reluciente lucidez y decidí traérmela a casa–, pero sin ese hallazgo habría sido menos vida, y la muerte que me espera, menos muerte.

viernes, 24 de enero de 2014

Yzur

La revista de los estudiantes graduados del Departamento de Español y Portugués de Rutgers University. Año 1, número 1. Otoño de 2001.

Leer la revista en la Página de Marcela Ruiz, en Academia.com








jueves, 23 de enero de 2014

Jeremiah de Saint Amour


     Enseño una clase que será memorable. Con doce estudiantes leeremos las novelas ‘cartageneras’ de García Márquez y visitaremos los escenarios de esas novelas. Así he regresado a El amor en los tiempos del cólera. Siempre me pregunté por qué García Márquez empieza su novela favorita con la muerte dos  personajes que no parecen importantes: el Domingo de Pentecostés, el doctor Juvenal Urbino entra a la habitación donde se halla el cadáver de Jeremiah de Saint-Amour –el exiliado antillano con quien solía jugar ajedrez– y percibe un olor de almendras amargas que le recuerda el destino de los amores contrariados. Horas después, el mismo Urbino encontrará su propia muerte. Si me hubieran preguntado hace unas semanas por El amor en los tiempos del cólera, habría dicho que es la historia de un amor –el de Fermina y Florentino– que tarda más de medio siglo en florecer. Quizá no habría mencionado a Juvenal Urbino ni a Jeremiah de Saint-Amour. Ahora pienso que la relación de esos dos es uno de los rasgos más hermosos de esta novela inagotable.

Leer la nota completa en Vivir en El Poblado.

miércoles, 22 de enero de 2014

Una efímera galaxia

De 'Criatura perdida' (2000).


El llamado de Corina volvió a arrastrarlo hacia las olas. Con gritos y gestos lo invitó a acercarse, lo obligó a mirar con atención en el agua, empezó a mostrarle una prueba suprema de su magia.
—¿Ves?
Eric no dijo nada. Siguió maravillado los movi­mien­tos de esas manos delgadas dentro y fuera del agua, tuvo el impulso de darle una explicación racional a aquellas luces, pero ella lo invitó a resi­dir un rato más en la credulidad y la sorpresa: “¿No es hermoso? Mira, también salen de ti”.

Eric vio que también sus movimientos en el agua iban dejando una estela luminosa, una efíme­ra galaxia que a veces persistía unos segun­dos. Apoyados en la oscuridad arenosa, sus pies, encen­dían unas chispas intensas, azules y blan­cas. A medida que se internaba en el agua, iba dejan­do un rastro de luz como la cola de un come­ta. Todo su cuerpo poseía esa desconocida propiedad. Al levantar los brazos, el agua que caía era como una lluvia de minúsculas bombillas. Eric rió, gritó, em­pezó a zambullirse en el agua imitan­do los saltos de un delfín y después se detuvo a mirar fascinado el reguero de luces como una cristalería rota, las chispas minúsculas que se negaban a apagarse, que parecían nadar enloque­cidas de alegría ante el descubrimiento sorpresivo de la vida.

sábado, 18 de enero de 2014

Cartagena, 1741 (the English perspective)

An excerpt from Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollet.
A view to the 1741 siege of Cartagena, from the English perspective, written by one of the greatest writers of the 18th century. 
This text was recovered by Gustavo Ibarra Merlano.

                                                                                                                                          Fort of  Bocachica

CHAPTER XXXI

We arrive at Jamaica, from whence in a short time we beat up to Hispaniola, in conjunction with the West India squadron—we take in water, sail again, and arrive at Carthagena—Reflections on our conduct there


Our fleet, having joined another that waited for us, lay at anchor about a month in the harbour of Port Royal in Jamaica, during which time something of consequence was certainly transacted; notwithstanding the insinuations of some, who affirmed we had no business at all in that place; that, in order to take the advantage of the season proper for our enterprise, the West India squadron, which had previous notice of our coming, ought to have joined us at the west end of Hispaniola, with necessary stores and refreshments, from whence we could have sailed directly for Carthagena, before the enemy could put themselves in a good posture of defence, or, indeed, have an inkling of our design. Be this as it will, we sailed from Jamaica, and, in ten days or a fortnight, beat up against the wind as far as the Isle of Vache, with an intention, as was said, to attack the French fleet, then supposed to be lying near that place; but before we arrived, they had sailed for Europe, having first dispatched an advice-boat to Carthagena, with an account of our being in those seas, as also of our strength and destination. We loitered here some days longer, taking in wood and brackish water, in the use whereof, however, our admiral seemed to consult the health of the men, by restricting each to a quart a day.
At length we set sail, and arrived in a bay to the windward of Carthagena, where we came to an anchor, and lay at our ease ten days longer. Here, again, certain malicious people took occasion to blame the conduct of their superiors, by saying, that in so doing they not only unprofitably wasted time, which was very precious, considering the approach of the rainy season, but also allowed the Spaniards to recollect themselves from a terror occasioned by the approach of an English fleet, at least three times as numerous as ever appeared in that part of the world before. But if I might be allowed to give my opinion of the matter, I would ascribe this delay to the generosity of our chiefs, who scorned to take any advantage that fortune might give them even over an enemy. At last, however, we weighed, and anchored again somewhat nearer the harbour's mouth, where we made shift to land our marines, who encamped on the beach, in despite of the enemy's shot, which knocked a good many of them on the head. This piece of conduct, in choosing a camp under the walls of an enemy's fortification, which I believe never happened before, was practised, I presume, with a view of accustoming the soldiers to stand fire, who were not as yet much used to discipline, most of them having been taken from the plough-tail a few months before. This expedient, again, has furnished matter for censure against the ministry, for sending a few raw recruits on such an important enterprise, while so many veteran regiments lay inactive at home. But surely our governors had their reasons for so doing, which possibly may be disclosed with other secrets of the deep. Perhaps they were loth to risk their best troops on such desperate service, or the colonel and the field officers of the old corps, who, generally speaking, enjoyed their commissions as sinecures or pensions, for some domestic services rendered to the court, refused to embark in such a dangerous and precarious undertaking; for which refusal, no doubt, they are to be much commended.




CHAPTER XXXII

Our Land Forces being disembarked, erect a fascine battery-our ship is ordered, with four more, to batter the port of Bocca Chica—Mackshane's cowardice-the Chaplain's frenzy—honest Rattlin loses one hand—his heroism and reflections on the battle—Crampley's behaviour to me during the heat of the Fight

Our forces being landed and stationed as I have already mentioned, set about erecting a fascine battery to cannonade the principal fort of the enemy; and in something more than three weeks, it was ready to open. That we might do the Spaniards as much honour as possible, it was determined, in a council of war, that five of our largest ships should attack the fort on one side, while the battery, strengthened by two mortars and twenty-four cohorns, should ply it on the other.
Accordingly, the signal for our ship to engage, among others, was hoisted, we being advertised, the night before, to make everything clear for that purpose; and, in so doing, a difference happened between Captain Oakum and his well-beloved cousin and counsellor Mackshane, which had well nigh terminated in an open rupture. The doctor, who had imagined there was no more danger of being hurt by the enemy's shot in the cockpit than in the centre of the earth, was lately informed that a surgeon's mate had been killed in that part of the ship by a cannon-ball from two small redoubts that were destroyed before the disembarkation of our soldiers; and therefore insisted upon having a platform raised for the convenience of the sick and wounded in the after-hold, where he deemed himself more secure than on the deck above. The captain, offended at this extraordinary proposal, accused him of pusillanimity, and told him, there was no room in the hold for such an occasion: or, if there was, he could not expect to be indulged more than the rest of the surgeons of the navy, who used the cockpit for that purpose. Fear rendering Mackshane obstinate, he persisted in his demand, and showed his instructions, by which it was authorised; the captain swore these instructions were dictated by a parcel of lazy poltroons who were never at sea; nevertheless he was obliged to comply, and sent for the carpenter to give him orders about it. But, before any such measure could be taken, our signal was thrown out, and the doctor compelled to trust his carcass in the cockpit, where Morgan and I were busy in putting our instruments and dressings in order.
Our ship, with others destined for this service, immediately weighed, and in less than half-an-hour came to an anchor before the castle of Bocca Chica, with a spring upon our cable, and the cannonading (which indeed was dreadful) began. The surgeon, after having crossed himself, fell flat on the deck; and the chaplain and purser, who were stationed with us in quality of assistants, followed his example, while the Welshman and I sat upon a chest looking at one another with great discomposure, scarce able to refrain from the like prostration. And that the reader may know it was not a common occasion that alarmed us thus, I must inform him of the particulars of this dreadful din that astonished us. The fire of the Spaniards proceeded from eighty-four great guns, besides a mortar and small arms, in Bocca Chica; thirty-six in Fort St. Joseph; twenty in two fascine batteries, and four men-of-war, mounting sixty-four guns each. This was answered by our land-battery mounted with twenty-one cannon, two mortars, and twenty-four cohorns, and five great ships of seventy or eighty guns, that fired without intermission.
We had not been many minutes engaged, when one of the sailors brought another on his back to the cockpit, where he tossed him down like a bag of oats, and pulling out his pouch, put a large chew of tobacco in his mouth without speaking a word. Morgan immediately examined the condition of the wounded man, and cried out, "As I shall answer now, the man is as dead as my great grandfather." "Dead," said his comrade; "he may be dead now, for aught I know, but I'll be d—d if he was not alive when I took him up." So saying, he was about to return to his quarters, when I bade him carry the body along with him, and throw it overboard. "D—n the body!" said he, "I think 'tis fair enough if I take care of my own." My fellow mate, snatching up the amputation knife, pursued him half-way up the cock-pit ladder, crying, "You lousy rascal, is this the churchyard, or the charnel-house, or the sepulchre, or the golgotha, of the ship?"—but was stopped in his career by one calling, "Yo he, avast there—scaldings!" "Scaldings!" answered Morgan; "Cot knows 'tis hot enough indeed: who are you?" "Here's one!" replied the voice; and I immediately knew it to be that of my honest friend Jack Rattlin, who coming towards me, told me, with great deliberation, he was come to be docked at last, and discovered the remains of one hand, which had been shattered to pieces with a grape shot. I lamented with unfeigned sorrow his misfortune, which he bore with heroic courage, observing, that every shot had its commission: "It was well it did not take him in the head! or if it had, what then? he should have died bravely, fighting for his king and country. Death was a debt which every man owed, and must pay; and that now was as well as another time." I was much pleased and edified with the maxims of this sea-philosopher, who endured the amputation of his left hand without shrinking, the operation being performed (at his request) by me, after Mackshane, who was with difficulty prevailed to lift his head from the deck, had declared there was a necessity for his losing the limb.
While I was employed in dressing the stump, I asked Jack's opinion of the battle, who, shaking his head, frankly told me, he believed we should do no good: "For why? because, instead of dropping anchor close under shore, where we should have to deal with one corner of Bocca Chica only, we had opened the harbour, and exposed ourselves to the whole fire of the enemy from their shipping and Fort St. Joseph, as well as from the castle we intended to cannonade; that, besides, we lay at too great a distance to damage the walls, and three parts in four of our shot did not take place; for there was scarce anybody on board who understood the pointing of a gun. Ah! God help us!" continued he, "If your kinsman, Lieutenant Bowling, had been here, we should have had other guess work." By this time, our patients had increased to such a number, that we did not know which to begin with; and the first mate plainly told the surgeon, that if he did not get up immediately and perform his duty, he would complain of his behaviour to the admiral, and make application for his warrant. This remonstrance effectually roused Mackshane, who was never deaf to an argument in which he thought his interest was concerned; he therefore rose up, and in order to strengthen his resolution, had recourse more than once to a case-bottle of rum, which he freely communicated to the chaplain, and purser, who had as much need of such extraordinary inspiration as himself. Being thus supported, he went to work, and arms and legs were hewed down without mercy. The fumes of the liquor mounting into the parson's brain, conspired, with his former agitation of spirits, to make him quite delirious; he stripped himself to the skin; and, besmearing his body with blood, could scarce be withheld from running upon deck in that condition. Jack Rattlin, scandalised at this deportment, endeavoured to allay his transports with reason; but finding all he said ineffectual, and great confusion occasioned by his frolics, he knocked him down with his right hand, and by threats kept him quiet in that state of humiliation. But it was not in the power of rum to elevate the purser, who sat on the floor wringing his hands, and cursing the hour in which he left his peaceable profession of a brewer in Rochester, to engage in such a life of terror and disquiet.
While we diverted ourselves at the expense of this poor devil, a shot happened to take us between wind and water, and (its course being through the purser's store room) made a terrible havoc and noise among the jars and bottles in its way, and disconcerted Mackshane so much, that he dropped his scalpel, and falling down on his knees, pronounced his Pater-noster aloud: the purser fell backward, and lay without sense or motion; and the chaplain grew so outrageous, that Rattlin with one hand could not keep him under; so that we were obliged to confine him in the surgeon's cabin, where he was no doubt guilty of a thousand extravagancies. Much about this time, my old antagonist, Crampley, came down, with express orders, as he said, to bring me up to the quarter-deck, to dress a slight wound the captain had received by a splinter: his reason for honouring me in particular with this piece of service, being, that in case I should be killed or disabled by the way, my death or mutilation would be of less consequence to the ship's company than that of the doctor or his first mate. At another time, perhaps, I might have disputed this order, to which I was not bound to pay the least regard; but as I thought my reputation depended upon my compliance, I was resolved to convince my rival that I was no more afraid than he of exposing myself to danger. With this view I provided myself with dressings, and followed him immediately to the quarter-deck, through a most infernal scene of slaughter, fire, smoke, and uproar. Captain Oakum, who leaned against the mizen-mast, no sooner saw me approach in my shirt, with the sleeves tucked up to my armpits, and my hands dyed with blood, than he signified his displeasure by a frown, and asked why the doctor himself did not come? I told him that Crampley had singled me out, as if by express command; at which reply he seemed surprised, and threatened to punish the midshipman for his presumption, after the engagement. In the meantime, I was sent back to my station, and ordered to tell Mackshane, that the captain expected him immediately. I got safe back, and delivered my commission to the doctor, who flatly refused to quit the post assigned to him by his instructions; whereupon Morgan, who I believe, was jealous of my reputation for courage, undertook the affair, and ascended with great intrepidity. The captain, finding the surgeon obstinate, suffered himself to be dressed, and swore he would confine Mackshane as soon as the service should be over.
                                                                                                      Castle of San Felipe.


CHAPTER XXXIII

A breach being made in the walls, our soldiers give the assault, and take the place without opposition—our sailors at the same time, become masters of all the other strengths near Bocca Chica, and take possession of the harbour—the good consequence of this success—we move nearer the town—find two forts deserted, and the Channel blocked up with sunk vessels; which however we find means to clear—land our soldiers at La Quinta—repulse a body of militia—attack the castle of St. Lazar, and are forced to retreat with great loss—the remains of our army are re-embarked—an effort of the Admiral to take the town—the economy of our expedition described

Having cannonaded the fort during the space of four hours, we were all ordered to slip our cables, and sheer off; but next day the engagement was renewed, and continued from the morning till the afternoon, when the enemy's fire from Bocca Chica slackened, and towards evening was quite silenced. A breach being made on the other side, by our land battery, large enough to admit a middle-sized baboon, provided he could find means to climb up to it, our general proposed to give the assault that very night, and actually ordered a detachment on that duty. Providence stood our friend upon this occasion, and put it into the hearts of the Spaniards to abandon the fort, which might have been maintained by resolute men till the day of judgment against all the force we could exert in the attack. And while our soldiers took possession of the enemy's ramparts without resistance, the same good luck attended a body of sailors, who made themselves masters of Fort St. Joseph, the fascine batteries, and one Spanish man-of-war; the other three being burnt or sunk by the foe, that they might not fall into our hands. The taking of these forts, in the strength of which the Spaniards chiefly confided, made us masters of the outward harbour, and occasioned great joy among us, as we laid our accounts at finding little or no opposition from the town: and indeed, if a few great ships had sailed up immediately, before they had recovered from the confusion and despair that our unexpected success had produced among them, it is not impossible that we might have finished the affair to our satisfaction, without any more bloodshed; but this step our heroes disdained as a barbarous insult over the enemy's distress, and gave them all the respite they could desire, in order to recollect themselves. In the meantime, Mackshane, taking the advantage of this general exultation, waited on our captain, and pleaded his own cause so effectually that he was re-established in his good graces; and as for Crampley, there was no more notice taken of his behaviour towards me during the action. But of all the consequences of the victory, none was more grateful than plenty of fresh water, after we had languished five weeks on the allowance of a purser's quart per day for each man in the Torrid Zone, where the sun was vertical, and the expense of bodily fluid so great, that a gallon of liquor could scarce supply the waste of twenty-four hours; especially as our provision consisted of putrid salt beef, to which the sailors gave the name of Irish horse; salt pork, of New England, which, though neither fish nor flesh, savoured of both; bread from the same country, every biscuit whereof, like a piece of clockwork, moved by its own internal impulse, occasioned by the myriads of insects that dwelt within it; and butter served out by the gill, that tasted like train oil thickened with salt. Instead of small beer, each man was allowed three half-quarterns of brandy or rum, which were distributed every morning, diluted with a certain quantity of his water, without either sugar or fruit to render it palatable, for which reason, this composition was by the sailors not ineptly styled Necessity. Nor was this limitation of simple element owing to a scarcity of it on board, for there was at this time water enough in the ship for a voyage of six months, at the rate of half-a-gallon per day to each man: but this fast must, I suppose, have been enjoined by way of penance on the ship's company for their sins; or rather with a view to mortify them into a contempt of life, that they might thereby become more resolute and regardless of danger. How simply then do those people argue, who ascribe the great mortality among us, to our bad provision and want of water; and affirm, that a great many valuable lives might have been saved, if the useless transports had been employed in fetching fresh stock, turtle, fruit, and other refreshments from Jamaica and other adjacent islands, for the use of the army and fleet! seeing it is to be hoped, that those who died went to a better place, and those who survived were the more easily maintained. After all, a sufficient number remained to fall before the walls of St. Lazar, where they behaved like their own country mastiffs, which shut their eyes, run into the jaws of a bear, and have their heads crushed for their valour.
But to return to my narration. After having put garrisons into the forts we had taken, and re-embarked our soldiers and artillery (a piece of service that detained us more than a week), we ventured up to the mouth of the inner harbour, guarded by a large fortification on one side, and a small redoubt on the other, both of which were deserted before our approach, and the entrance of the harbour blocked up by several old galleons, and two men-of-war that the enemy had sunk in the channel. We made shift, however, to open a passage for some ships, that favoured a second landing of our troops at a place called La Quinta, not far from the town, where, after a faint resistance from a body of Spaniards, who opposed their disembarkation, they encamped with a design of besieging the castle of St. Lazar, which overlooked and commanded the city. Whether our renowned general had nobody in his army who knew how to approach it in form, or that he trusted entirely to the fame of his arms, I shall not determine; but, certain it is, a resolution was taken in a council of war, to attack the place with musketry only. This was put in execution, and succeeded accordingly; the enemy giving them such a hearty reception, that the greatest part of their detachment took up their everlasting residence on the spot.
Our chief, not relishing this kind of complaisance in the Spaniard's, was wise enough to retreat on board with the remains of his army, which, from eight thousand able men landed on the beach near Bocca Chica, was now reduced to fifteen hundred fit for service. The sick and wounded were squeezed into certain vessels, which thence obtained the name of hospital ships, though methinks they scarce deserved such a creditable title, seeing few of them could boast of their surgeon, nurse, or cook; and the space between decks was so confined that the miserable patients had not room to sit upright in their beds. Their wounds and stumps, being neglected, contracted filth and putrefaction, and millions of maggots were hatched amidst the corruption of their sores. This inhuman disregard was imputed to the scarcity of surgeons; though it is well known that every great ship in the fleet could have spared one at least for this duty, an expedient which would have been more than sufficient to remove this shocking inconvenience. But perhaps our general was too much of a gentleman to ask a favour of this kind from his fellow chief, who, on the other hand, would not derogate so much from his own dignity, as to offer such assistance unasked; for, I may venture to affirm, that by this time the Demon of Discord, with her sooty wings, had breathed her influence upon our councils; and it might be said of these great men (I hope they will pardon the comparison) as of Cesar and Pompey, the one could not brook a superior, and the other was impatient of an equal; so that, between the pride of one and insolence of another, the enterprise miscarried, according to the proverb, "Between two stools the backside falls to the ground." Not that I would be thought to liken any public concern to that opprobrious part of the human body, though I might with truth assert, if I durst use such a vulgar idiom, that the nation did hang on arse at its disappointment on this occasion; neither would I presume to compare the capacity of our heroic leaders to any such wooden convenience as a joint-stool or a close-stool; but only to signify by this simile, the mistake the people committed in trusting to the union of two instruments that were never joined.
A day or two after the attempt on St. Lazar, the admiral ordered one of the Spanish men-of-war we had taken to be mounted with sixteen guns, and manned with detachments from our great ships, in order to batter the town; accordingly, she was towed into the inner harbour in the night, and moored within half a mile of the walls, against which she began to fire at daybreak; and continued about six hours exposed to the opposition of at least thirty pieces of cannon, which at length obliged our men to set her on fire, and get off as well as they could in their boats. This piece of conduct afforded matter of speculation to all the wits, either in the army or navy, who were at last fain to acknowledge it a stroke of policy above their comprehension. Some entertained such an irreverent opinion of the admiral's understanding, as to think he expected the town would surrender to his floating battery of sixteen guns: others imagined his sole intention was to try the enemy's strength, by which he should be able to compute the number of great ships that would be necessary to force the town to a capitulation. But this last conjecture soon appeared groundless, inasmuch as no ships of any kind whatever were afterwards employed on that service. A third sort swore, that no other cause could be assigned for this undertaking than that which induced Don Quixote to attack the windmill. A fourth class (and that the most numerous, though, without doubt, composed of the sanguine and malicious), plainly taxed this commander with want of honesty as well as sense; and alleged that he ought to have sacrificed private pique to the interest of his country; that, where the lives of so many brave fellow-citizens were concerned, he ought to have concurred with the general without being solicited or even desired, towards their preservation and advantage, that, if his arguments could not dissuade him from a desperate enterprise, it was his duty to have rendered it as practicable as possible, without running extreme hazard; that this could have been done, with a good prospect of success, by ordering five or six large ships to batter the town, while the land forces stormed the castle; by these means a considerable diversion would have been made in favour of those troops, who, in their march to the assault and in the retreat, suffered much more from the town than from the castle! that the inhabitants, seeing themselves vigorously attacked on all hands, would have been divided, distracted, and confused, and in all probability, unable to resist the assailants. But all these suggestions surely proceeded from ignorance or malevolence, or else the admiral would not have found it such an easy matter, at his return to England, to justify his conduct to a ministry at once so upright and discerning. True it is, that those who undertook to vindicate him on the spot, asserted, that there was not water enough for our great ships near the town: though this was a little unfortunately urged, because there happened to be pilots in the fleet perfectly well acquainted with the soundings of the harbour, who affirmed there was water enough for five eighty-gun ships to lie abreast almost up to the very walls. The disappointments we suffered occasioned a universal dejection, which was not at all alleviated by the objects that daily and hourly entertained our eyes, nor by the prospect of what must have inevitably happened, had we remained much longer in this place. Such was the economy in some ships that, rather than be at the trouble of interring the dead, their commanders ordered their men to throw their bodies overboard, many without either ballast or winding-sheet; so that numbers of human carcases floated in the harbour, until they were devoured by sharks and carrion crows, which afforded no agreeable spectacle to those who survived. At the same time the wet season began, during which a deluge of rain falls, from the rising to the setting sun, without intermission, and that no sooner ceases than it begins to thunder, and lighten with such continued flashing, that one can see to read a very small print by the illumination.










CHAPTER XXXIV

An epidemic Fever rages among us—we abandon our Conquests—I am seized with Distemper—write a Petition to the Captain, which is rejected—I am in danger of Suffocation through the Malice of Crampley, and relieved by a Serjeant—my Fever increases—the Chaplain wants to confess me—I obtain a favourable Crisis-Morgan's Affection for me proved—the Behaviour of Mackshane and Crampley towards me—Captain Oakum is removed into another Ship with his beloved Doctor—our new Captain described—An Adventure of Morgan

The change of the atmosphere, occasioned by this phenomenon, conspired, with the stench that surrounded us, the heat of the climate, our own constitutions, impoverished by bad provisions, and our despair, to introduce the bilious fever among us, which raged with such violence, that three-fourths of those whom it invaded died in a deplorable manner; the colour of their skin being, by the extreme putrefaction of the juices, changed into that of soot.
Our conductors, finding things in this situation, perceived it was high to relinquish our conquests, and this we did, after having rendered their artillery useless, and blown up their walls with gunpowder. Just as we sailed from Bocca Chica, on our return to Jamaica, I found myself threatened with the symptoms of this terrible distemper; and knowing very well that I stood no chance for my life, if I should be obliged to be in the cockpit, which by this time was grown intolerable, even to people in health, by reason of the heat and unwholesome smell of decayed provision, I wrote a petition to the captain, representing my case, and humbly imploring his permission to be among the soldiers in the middle deck, for the benefit of the air: but I might have spared myself the trouble; for this humane commander refused my request, and ordered me to continue in the place allotted for the surgeon's mates, or else be contented to be in the hospital, which, by the by, was three degrees more offensive and more suffocating than our own berth below. Another, in my condition, perhaps, would have submitted to his fate, and died in a pet; but I could not brook the thought of perishing so pitifully, after I had weathered so many gales of hard fortune: I therefore, without minding Oakum's injunction, prevailed upon the soldiers (whose good-will I had acquired) to admit my hammock among them; and actually congratulated myself upon my comfortable situation; which Crampley no sooner understood, than he signified to the captain my contempt of his orders, and was invested with power to turn me down again into my proper habitation.


martes, 14 de enero de 2014

Gabriel García Márquez and Cartagena de Indias: A Love Story

Paper presented at the Litteratur Huset, Oslo Norway, on April 14, 2008, during the event García Marquez’s Colombia, organized by Golden Colombia Foundation.



Gabriel García Márquez and Cartagena de Indias:  
A Love Story

One of the greatest pleasures literature has to offer is found in the smallest details. After reading several books by the same author, it is possible to feel the emotion of the explorer when some recurrences and subtleties begin to be visible to the faithful eye. Some of them are as visible as Edgar Allan Poe’s purloined letter, hidden in the open.
A question I have asked myself for a while is why did Gabriel García Márquez repeated the word Love (amor) in two of his book tittles: Love in the Time of Cholera, and Of Love and Other Demons.
Writers usually don’t like to be caught in repetition, it is like a minor sin, like a symptom of lack of resources. Today I want to tell you what I have been thinking about this little fact.
García Márquez said that he has three different kinds of lives: his public life, his personal life and his intimate life. We could try to guess what that repetition means for each one of those lives. But it’s fair to restrain ourselves to the public life.


We all are these days in the mood of loving Love in the Time of Cholera. Although the film version has been criticized to death, the book has been resurrected from a short period of oblivion. Two years ago, it was almost impossible to find the book in the United States. But this changed in 2007, a year of many anniversaries: the sixtieth of the publication of  García Márquez first short story, the fortieth of the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude, a quarter of century of the Nobel Prize, and García Márquez’s eightieth birthday.
In the middle of the celebrations Love in the Time of Cholera came back to the front, even as a part of the mainstream of the American culture, when it was included in the Oprah Winfrey’s Book of the Month Club: the swiftest road to big sales.
Garcia Marquez’s novel did not need to be part of that club ­to be popular –but it doesn't resent it. Published in 1985, when its first English edition appeared, in 1988, the book placed itself in the coveted New York Times Best-seller List, and remained there for more than a year.
García Márquez name has been traditionally associated with One Hundred Years of Solitude.  The success of that novel is unprecedented in the Hispanic world. A few weeks after being published, in 1967, the saga of the Buendía family had become a best seller and a classic. It has been published in every written language in the world, and has sold more than a hundred million copies (including illegal editions). For the critics, A Hundred Years of Solitude is like the bible of Latin American culture.
But many times García Márquez has said that Love in the Time of Cholera is his best book. Perhaps it is time now lo listen to him.
(Actually it is time to listen to Shakira, singing one of the songs she composed for the film based on Love in the time of cholera. Please pay attention to the locations where the film was made, most of them are located in the Cartagena de Indias)



 Love in the Time of Cholera has not been an underestimated novel. The story of a love that survived, against all odds, for more than fifty years, is the favorite of many readers. With this novel García Márquez confirmed once again that commercial success and literary quality sometimes can be found in the same place.
Last year, the story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza received a second chance and, perhaps, we are now beginning to see the image that García Márquez will have for posterity.
A Hundred Years of Solitude will continue being a classic and a necessary reading for every one interested in the culture and history of Latin America. With its universal themes, it will keep mirroring all the societies in the world.  In that book, García Márquez’s style is the one of a dedicated artist that has mastered his art.
But Love in the Time of cholera is a novel written by someone who knows the human heart.
There are many reasons to explain why Love in the Time of Cholera would be García Márquez’s most important book for the years to come.  Its intimate tone is more appealing, than the epic tales, for the loners of this times.  Love is, and always will be, an interesting subject, particularly when it is everlasting.  But besides of being a love story, Love in the Time of Cholera is an ethical story. It is a book about the word given, about promises and vows, those things we are very afraid of making, or we just make them lightly, because we don’t believe enough in ourselves.
García Márquez was very fond of the success of Love in the Time of Cholera in the United States. Not because of the sales themselves (his books have sold in magic-realistic terms), but because of the meaningful fact of having placed the underdog Hispanic culture in the forefront. For him, leading the Hispanic culture’s conquest of the United States is one of his main responsibilities as a public figure.


In 1994, García Márquez published Of love and Other Demons, a golden age prose poem of 160 pages, inspired by the sweet sufferings of Garcilaso de la Vega and the awe inspiring abysses of Thomas de Aquinas.
Perhaps, after a few decades admiring Love in the Time of Cholera, posterity will discover that the real masterpiece is Of Love and Other Demons. This is a novel written by a wise man that has discovered, after years and years of fidelity to his art, that “poetry is more visible when style is transparent”.
The first thing to be noticed when we consider the two love titled novels is the fact that their setting is inspired by a real place, Cartagena de Indias.
Stealing a sentence by García Márquez, Cartagena de Indias is a city so beautiful that it seems to be a lie.
Cartagena was one of the first cities founded by the Spaniards in the Caribbean Coasts of South America.
A few years earlier, Santa María la Antigua del Darien –the first Spanish settlement in South America- had succumbed to the rigors of the jungle and a decimating pest of modorra (drowsiness), a rare illness whose victims are incapable of being awake and starve to death.


The Spaniards decided to move to the north, and found a group of islands leaning to the continent. The natives called the place Kalamary (the squid) because from the birds perspective it resembled the shape of that animal.
The new city grew fast, and soon it became the center of  trade and the seat of the viceroyalty of Nueva Granada.
Its peaceful bay was the ideal refuge for the galeones. The harvest of gold began to fly to Europe and the African slaves began to come to hell.
Merchants arrived, religious people, soldiers of fortune; and each traveler contributed to give to the city its rambunctious appearance.
By the way, that newly born place where diverse worldviews are colliding is the city in which Of Love and Other Demons takes place.
It didn't take long to Spain to perceive the necessity of exercising some control over its most important city in South America.
The inquisition came, military castles and fortified walls sprouted when the news of the prosperity began to be divulged, and the city began to be the objective of pirates and other nations.


Many years before World War I, Cartagena was the stage of another world war.
In 1741 British troops, leaded by Admiral Edward Vernon, besieged the city decided not to fail. Even before the formidable attack, they coined commemorative medals celebrating the acquisition of those lands. But the city, defended by Blas de Lezo, a one legged one handed warrior, resisted for weeks while thirst and an army of mosquitoes were doing their part.
For us, it is possible to see that war from the defeated side. Tobias Smollet, one of those unbounded English writers of the 18th  century, like Fielding and Sterne –by the way, many of them inspired by Cervantes in their dare- wrote in Roderick Random his view of the episode:


"(Some) swore that no other cause could be assigned for this undertaking, than that which induced Don Quixote to attack the windmill (…). Such was the economy in some ships, that, rather than be at the trouble of interring the dead, the commanders ordered their men to throw their bodies overboard, many without either ballast or winding-sheet; so that numbers of human carcasses floated in the harbor, until they were devoured by sharks and carrion crows, which afforded no agreeable spectacle to those who survived. At the same time the wet season began, during which a deluge of rains falls from the rising to the setting of the sun, without intermission; and that no sooner ceases, than it begins to thunder and lighten with such continual flashing, that one can see to read a very small print by the illumination. The change of the atmosphere occasioned by this phenomenon, conspired, with the stench that surrounded us, the heat of the climate, our own constitution impoverished by bad provisions, and our despair, to introduce the bilious fever among us, which raged with such violence, that three- fourths of those whom it invaded died in a deplorable manner; the color of their skin being, by the extreme putrefaction of the juices, changed into that of soot (190-1)."
 If the coins with the Spaniards on their knees in front of the Admiral Vernon had become accurate, it is possible to imagine that a big part of today’s Spanish America would be an English speaking region.
Cartagena remained a small city, sometimes devastated by attacks, by fires and plagues.  The seat of the viceroyalty didn't stay long because the heat and the wet air made it difficult to rule from that place. It was also impossible to keep the archives out of reach from the moth, and Santa Fe de Bogotá became the center of Nueva Granada.
By the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon was in rise, and Cartagena was the first city to utter the word independence. The King Fernando VII was in prison, Napoleon’s brother was ruling Spain, and if it wasn’t for the revolt, a big part of Latin America would be speaking French.
But soon the criollos realized that they weren’t Spaniards anymore, and decided to have the place for their own. Some of them stayed in paradise, surrounded by poor mestizos and people of African descent, while other cities were growing inland.


At the beginning of the 20th century (by the way, that’s a central moment in Love in the Time of Cholera) Cartagena de Indias was in decline. A hundred kilometers to the north, a new city was growing. Barranquilla had the privilege of being settled at the mouth of the Magdalena River, a strategic path of water easily navigable far inside the country, and Cartagena became a city of ghosts and abandoned houses, now and then awaken by the visit of travelers and artists.
That was the city Gabriel García Márquez saw for the first time in April of 1948, a place out of time that seemed created by a delirious God.
García Márquez was 21 years old, and he came to the city running from the violence that devastated Bogotá and other cities, after the assassination of the political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitan, on April 9th.
He wanted to continue his studies of law at the local University, and the city made an immediate impact on him. 
The young writer had published two short stories in the newspaper El Espectador, of Bogotá, and was fascinated by this place where the whole history of humankind seemed to be still alive. He never had seen a place like that before. Entering to that place was like stepping in some imaginary land.
His testimony of that moment is eloquent.
 “Me bastó con dar un paso dentro de la muralla para verla en toda su grandeza a la luz malva de las seis de la tarde, y no pude reprimir el sentimiento de haber vuelto a nacer”. (Vivir para contarla, 367)
"It was enough for me to take a step inside the wall to see it in all its grandeur in the mauve light of six in the evening, and I could not repress the feeling of having born again." (306)
Allow me to stop for a moment at this sentence. It is kind of lost in the middle of García Márquez’s last tour de force, his book of memories, Living to tell the tale.

As I mentioned before, he was 21 years old and came to Cartagena running from the violence that besieged the country. His life until that moment can be easily summarized: Born in March 6th, 1927, in Aracataca, another ghost town that had its time of glory when the United Fruit Company took over the place with the banana plantations, García Márquez lived there his first eight years: far from his parents, under the powerful influence of his grandfather, Nicolás, a war veteran, his grandmother Tranquilina, a natural storyteller, and a court of magical aunts that would provide him with a treasure of experiences against all logic and reason.
Then, exile began. After the death of his grandfather, García Márquez went to a boarding school in Barranquilla. His first literary pieces were written at that time. He published several chronicles in the school journal, about trips to the ocean, about parties at the school, and signed them with the name Gabito, the name he always has considered his own.
 Barranquilla wasn’t Aracataca, but still it was part of the Caribbean. The real exile began six years later when, at fourteen, Gabito (and allow me to use this name for the rest of the story) was sent to Zipaquirá, a cold, gray, gloomy town lost in the Andes, where people had to deal with clouds when walking by the street.
There are many testimonies of how this change affected Gabito. His own writing mirrors the state of his soul. The lack of color, the lack of warmth, the lack of music and sounds, nurtured stories influenced by Franz Kafka, plenty of death, and stagnation.
After graduating from high school Gabito went to Bogotá, and the setting was almost the same, with the only advantage of having found there more Caribbean friends and writers who encouraged him to follow his inclination to literature. At twenty he published his first short story in El Espectador, and knew for the first time the ironies of the glory, for he didn’t have the money to buy the newspaper.
He was a student at the law school in Bogotá when Gaitán was assassinated and the world around turned apocalyptic. After weeks of fear and uncertainty, his family advised him to go to Cartagena.  And that was the moment of rebirth.
It is possible to say that without that experience of exile in the Andes Gabito would have never discovered his own Caribbean culture as he did. He was now ready to live and grow to be the writer we know.
For a period of twenty months Gabito had decisive experiences in Cartagena, most of them associated with his work as a journalist for the liberal newspaper El Universal. His life, at that time, was plenty of first times.
By the end of 1949, after his first and longest stay in Cartagena, Gabito went to Barranquilla, a more worldly city, determined to make a living from his own writing.
But he always returned to Cartagena, and made of that city the center of his personal and public life.
In 1951, Gabito’s parents and a crowd of siblings came to live to Cartagena, and he often returned to the city. But Barranquilla was more attractive for him at that time because that city gave him the feeling of progress in his literary career.
Then Gabito began a long journey to Bogotá -where he worked as a journalist-, to Europe -where he wrote No One Writes to the Colonel-, to Venezuela, to the United States -as a correspondent of the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina-, and finally to México, where he and his wife Mercedes, and his two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo, settled down, in 1961.
There were many returns to Cartagena. In 1966 Gabito was part of the mexican delegation to the prestigious Film Festival that takes place in the city. He had written the script for Arturo Ripstein’s film “Tiempo de matar” (Time to kill), and was about to change the history of Latin American literature.
A year later, in September of 1967, right after the first success of One Hundred Years of Solitude he returned to the city being a continental celebrity, and at that time nothing seemed to announce the importance that Cartagena would have in his literary work.
The imaginary town Macondo was his most relevant literary space. But Macondo had disappeared from earth taken by a biblical hurricane and now he was in need of another place.
In my opinion, during his many returns to Cartagena, Gabito began to realize how important that place had been for his life, and became aware of the possibility of setting his new novels in that “old city of viceroys and buccaneers”. 
It might sound a little obvious, but it is necessary to point out that the city that appears in The Autumn of the Patriarch, Love in the time of cholera , Of Love and other demons, and some short stories, is not the real Cartagena de Indias. The “city of the viceroys”, the denomination he most uses, is never identified directly as Cartagena, in spite of the similarities and the repetition of some proper names. The city of the viceroys bends itself to the necessities of the stories, sometimes it has a landscape of mountains, sometimes it has cliffs over the ocean, and almost all the time Gabito clarifies in the text that it is not Cartagena.
But it is licit to see Cartagena in those stories. Gabito has said that some of his experiences had taken twenty years or more to appear on his books. Almost twenty years after being born again in Cartagena, “the most beatiful city in the world”, as he describe it in Love in the time of Cholera (la ciudad más bella del mundo”) (El amor, 290), began to have a presence that no other real city has had in his literary work.
At the beginning of the eighties Gabito was back in Cartagena and he seemed decided to stay. But in 1981 he abandoned Colombia after being informed of a plot from the government against him.
In 1982, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize of Literature, Gabito said in an interview that he wanted to build a house in Cartagena, in front of the sea. By that time, it was evident that he had for the city the same “maniatic love” (25) that Juvenal Urbino, one of his characters, had.
It was at that time when Gabito began to write Love in the Time of Cholera. Many of the spaces in the text are easily identifiable with actual places. We can see the big mansions of Manga, la Bahía de las Ánimas (or Bay of the Spirits), the strait of Boca Chica, the portals and buildings of the colonial city and even the sunk galleons filled with gold and skeletons.


But if we follow the texts literally, the only novel in which he mentions Cartagena, for obvious reasons, is The General in his Labirynth, the historical novel about Simon Bolivar. In this book, fiction invades the space of reality, a practice of which Gabito is very fond.
As a curious fact, the arrival of Bolívar to Cartagena, as described in the novel, resembles Gabito’s first impression of the city, in April of 1948. The words used in the novel and in the memories are almos the same.
The texts that have as a setting the city of the viceroys are interconnected in many ways. The characters of the early twenty century novel live in the house where the characters of the seventeenth century novel lived. The dog that bit Sierva María de Todos los Angeles was, apparently, an ancestor of the dog that was biting people hundreds of years later in the novel about Bolívar. In The General in His Labyrinth, el Libertador held in his arms one of the characters of Love in the Time of Cholera, León XII Loayza, when he was a toddler. I could continue giving examples but I don’t want to kill you with the pest of modorra drowsiness.
Let’s go back to the chronology.
By the end of the eighties, Gabito tried to settle down again in Cartagena. And when he finally did it, Cartagena was and has been his city. Many of his family members still live there. He was an active participant in the Film Festival, and thanks to his connections the event had the most prestigious visitors.
Cartagena is everywhere in his books.

Foto Eduardo Herrán.

Probably, the place of the city with the most important role in his novels is the old convent of the Clarisas nuns. In the nineteen forties the place was a hospital, and Gabito went there many times as a reporter. We can see how the place was by reading the prologue to Of Love and Other Demos. The building was abandoned for many years until fifteen years ago, when a luxurious hotel was built there.
Right next to the convent, Gabito finally had the house of his dreams, a fortified castle facing a sea in which chickens and hens fly to the horizon. 
In 1995, while living there, Gabito created the Fundación para un Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano, a foundation dedicated to promote excellence in journalism among young writers of Latin America. As a notable fact, the Foundation has its offices in the same street where Gabito has his first job as a journalist in the late forties.
Of Love and other Demons was the last novel in which Cartagena had a central role. After that book he published Noticia de un secuestro and his memories, Living to tell the tale, a book in which he confirmed the importance of those years in Cartagena for his future as a writer.
His most recent novel Memories of my Melancholic Whores might reveal itself as an encrypted confession about his life in Barranquilla in the early fifties.
I have made a recount of Gabito’s relationship with Cartagena de Indias, now we are ready to start the presentation (I’m kidding, we are almost finished). In my opinion, the meaning of the relationship between the writer and the city can be found in a condensed form during the first twenty months he lived in the city, in 1948 and 1949.
In the same way as each one of us is just the child we were, but covered with the dust of time, our experiences of places and people are just a series  of layers in whose center lays, trembling and alive, the initial experience.
As an additional curiosity, Gabito –the newly born- spent in jail his first night in the city, in April of 1948. He wasn’t aware of the prohibition of being in the street after nine o’clock. But that first encounter with the city wasn’t bad at all. The policemen took him to eat to the public market before locking him in, and since he hadn’t been able to find a place to stay, prison was a blessing for him.
Many important things were about to happen in his life.
It was in Cartagena where Gabito had for the first time the experience of working in a newspaper.  It was at that time when Gabito began to understand the entanglements of politics that we can see reflected, for example, in One hundred Years of Solitude.
At that time, El Universal was under the censorship of the conservative government and Gabito learned how to inoculate political commentaries in the middle of apparently innocent articles. One of his articles talks about the "pugilistic dictatorship" of the boxer Joe Louis, and any awaken reader could have understood the allusion to the regime of that time.
Through this contact between writing and politics, Gabito learned in Cartagena how substantial can be the consequences of the written word in real life. In another occasion, after a massacre in el Carmen, a town near Cartagena, Gabito published a series of articles asking for active efforts of the government to find and punish the people responsible of the crime. The threats began, and Gabito had to stop publishing those articles, learning by the way how writing can be sometimes a matter of life or death.
But perhaps the most curious anecdote, about this learning under the political pressure, refers to an article that I’m glad to mention today here.
And I say this because Norway is involved in the story.
On November 19th, 1949, Gabito wrote a review of John Steinbeck’s novel “The Moon Is Down”, the story of a Norwegian town invaded by a foreign army. Using always the references from the book, Gabito managed to comment about the political violence in Cartagena, the lack of civil liberties, and the abuses of the state.
Apparently, all what he said in that article was about the courageous Norwegian people and the town where the novel takes place.
Another curious thing about this article is that, after reading it, the censor assigned to El Universal said to the editor: “I know that this article is a criticism of the government, but I can’t prove that. Besides, it is so well written that I have to let it be published.”
The only suggestion the censor made was that the article didn’t appear with its author’s name. The review of The Moon is Down was published anonymously and was one of the most important findings I made while writing the book Un ramo de nomeolvides, the story of those years in Gabito’s life.
It was also in Cartagena where Gabito was a celebrity for the first time. In July of 1949 he was the main speaker during the coronation of Elvira Primera, a candidate for a Beauty pageant. Gabito’s words were transmitted by radio stations and then reproduced by the press. But those weren’t his own words. Gabito was reading a speech written by his friend Ramiro de la Espriella, and Dela Espriella would read a speech written by Gabito during the proclamation of another participant in the pageant.
During those days, in an article in which he was calling for temperance, because politics had began to mix with the celebrations, Gabito used by the first time the only pseudonym he has ever used: Septimus, the lord of men, a poor exhausted clerk plenty of eternal visions. The name comes from Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway, and a quick look to the character reveals a big deal about what was going on in Gabito’s mind at that time, about his fears and aspirations as an artist.
"So they returned to the most exalted of mankind; the criminal who faced his judges; the victim exposed on the heights; the fugitive; the drowned sailor; the poet of the immortal ode; the Lord who had gone from life to death; to Septimus Warren Smith, who sat in the arm-chair under the skylight (…)"
 And in another passage, Septimus is described as:
"him who was the greatest of mankind, (…) the Lord who had come to renew society, who lay like a coverlet, a snow blanket smitten only by the sun, for ever unwasted, suffering for ever, the scapegoat, the eternal sufferer."
(…)
It was also in Cartagena where Gabito wrote his first film reviews and his first journalistic chronicles, and even the first draft of his first novel: Leafstorm. One of his chronicles was published in El Universal , on October 25 of 1949, just a day before the date he mentions in the prologue of Of Love and Other Demons. As in the prologue, the chronicle mentions the exhumation of a body, in this case found by a dog.
And since every time we talk about Gabito, mystery appears, I can’t let the opportunity pass without pointing another rare fact. Right next to the article, there was a crossword puzzle. I always have seen as a sign the fact that the first question of the puzzle asked for the name of a Swedish scientist all we know about.


The list of significant experiences in Cartagena is a long one. It was here where Gabito met legendary figures like the circus director Emilio Razzore and the magician Aben El Kady, who would contribute to shape the character of Melquiades, in One Hundred years of Solitude.
Gabito had his first own business in Cartagena, a very small newspaper, “Comprimido”, which only survived for a few weeks.
He even had the opportunity to live for a time in Cartagena as a bureaucrat. Thanks to family connections he received an official check for doing nothing, as a supposed employee for the census. But that dubious privilege didn’t last either.
And if we keep mentioning the list of first times, we have to say that it was in Cartagena where he signed for the first time a political manifesto, repudiating the deportation from Colombia of a Dominican student, Manuel Lorenzo y Carrasco, who was fighting against Trujillo’s dictatorship.
In Cartagena he lived at night, after finishing his work at the newspaper, he drunk and smoked a lot, among sailors and prostitutes, learning with insatiability about the world he wanted to commit to writing. He soon realized that he didn’t want to be a lawyer and never returned to classes at the university.
And finally, it was in that city where he had decisive encounters with writers such as Clemente Manuel Zabala, his editor, Héctor Rojas Herazo, an explosive poet that would help him to understand the symbols of the Caribbean, and Gustavo Ibarra Merlano, who taught him to read the Greek classics and the poetry of the Spanish Golden Age.
Gabito has been paying his debt with Clemente Manuel Zabala, mentioning now and then how important he was as a mentor. Using a red pencil Zabala took Gabito out of the literary darkness and showed him the possibilities of modern literature. 
He has also mentioned hou much he learned Gustavo Ibarra Merlano, who also gave him to read Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables. The relationship between Hawthorne’s novel and One Hundred of solitude hasn’t been interpreted yet, but the influences are notorious.
With Héctor Rojas Herazo things were a little different.  When Gabito arrived to El Universal, Rojas was a more mature writer, and a well known painter. In front of Rojas, Gabito felt insufficient, and weak. They both emulated each other, and that situation implies a mixture of love and hatred. But there is nothing reproachable about that friendship colored with rivalry. Any writer has been jealous in some way about some of his contemporaries. Those subtle rivalries are forces that sometimes move an artist to excel in his work.
There is a curious anecdote between Gabito, Rojas Herazo and Gustavo Ibarra. On certain occasion they decided to invent an imaginary writer, the Nicaraguan novelist César Guerra Valdéz. They did a full coverage of the supposed visit of the artist to Cartagena. They even published a polemic interview in which Guerra Valdez criticized the excess of landscape in Latin American literature at that time. The text of the interview appeared in the first page of El Universal and many were convinced that the author really existed. That interview allowed them to express their own ideas about what the role of the new novel should be.

But Gabito’s friends in Cartagena lacked the ambition and practical sense that he found in other places. When he left Cartagena to go to Barranquilla, at the end of 1949, he chose a literary career in which he would be able to see the results of his work during his lifetime. Had he stayed in Cartagena, his literary work probably would have been completely different, less successful, probably open to other dimensions of life, and at the mercy of the uncertain posthumous validation, as is the case of the poetry of Gustavo Ibarra Merlano, and Rojas Herazo’s novels.
But there were other reasons to leave Cartagena at that time. The city still had the secluded colonial atmosphere, with its criollos still dreaming with the return of the viceroys. It was a place where nobility and names were still important. Beyond his small circle of friends, Gabito wasn’t accepted by that society. For them he always was a poor boy from the countryside.
His reaction to prejudice was visible. Gabito used to wear eccentric clothes and to assume irreverent postures. The father of one of his friend used to call him, “Valor Civil”, because, he said, it required a lot of civil courage to wear those dazzling yellows, those electric greens that could make people blind. In truth, at the end of the forties Cartagena looked at him just like a crazy lad, not to be taken seriously, and that was a burden he wasn’t interested in keep carrying. 
What we have seen after that, in some sense, is a compensation against the discrimination he suffered at the beginning. Now that he is welcome in any social circle of the city, and even begged to visit them, Gabito seems to have received his payback from that society.
Entering in the field of metaphors, Cartagena de Indias is for Gabito like Fermina Daza, the character of Love in the Time of Cholera. She was for a long time the wife of the most prestigious doctor of the city, but she ended with an underdog that never ceased to worship her and kept, for more than fifty years, his promise of love. As Florentino Ariza, García Márquez “made a fierce decision to win fame and fortune in order to deserve her.” (“tomó la determinación feroz de ganar nombre y fortuna para merecerla”).
The end of this love story took place last year, when Gabriel García Márquez had the most important public act of his life. For his eightieth birthday, and the many anniversaries that took place that year, the Hispanic world paid to him a very emotional homage that included the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude in a commemorative edition that appeared simultaneously in all the countries in the Hispanic world, an honor that only Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote had had before.
The ceremony took place in a convention center built in the place where the public market used to be.
While he was reading an emotive and vacillating discourse, it was possible to discern under the layers of time, the long love story of the writer with Cartagena de Indias. That day, in some sense, the consummation of that love finally occurred, and at the center of that moment it was still happening the first “historic” night Gabito spent in the city, almost fifty years before.
The previous days had been a nightmare. Gabito had left like a fugitive a Bogotá devastated by riots. After descending from the plane in Barranquilla, he had taken an autobus to “La heroica”, “the heroic city”, where he was supposed to meet with some friends.
But his friends weren’t there and he didn’t find a place to spend the night. He had four pesos in his pocket and one cigar. He had been carrying for hours the hunger of a long trip.
The soldiers found him in the ghostly solitude of a park, and before taking him to jail, they stole his cigar and took him to a restaurant in the public market. There they found the few people allowed to be in the streets at that time. A mature couple of “disoriented” cartageneros invited him to eat. In the more nostalgic corner of the city, a cook of “uncomfortable beauty” with a carnation in his ear, who would end as a character in at least three of his books, gave him the first dinner of his new life. In front of the Bay of the Spirits, in that quagmire lost in centuries, at the exact place where years later his immortality would be proclaimed, Gabito soothed his hunger of newly born.
I dare to say that the remote happiness of his first night in Cartagena is still bigger that the many others that life has given to him.
Foto Eduardo Herrán

There are different kinds of love. Affection is the one we have for our families, for people and places with which we find together by chance. Friendship and eros are moved by affinities and desire. But agape is the best of loves, because is the willing love, the one that comes from freedom and choice.
Agape is a good word to name the relationship between Gabito, or Septimus, the poet of the immortal ode, and “la heroica”,  the most beautiful city in the world.