A day after Garcia Marquez's death, his cousin Nicolas
Ricardo Arias leafed through dog-eared photographs and recalled
with a smile the family reunions on the rare occasions when
Aracataca's famous son returned home.
"I remember him with his whisky and his jokes," said Arias, 78,
on the porch of his humble home in the town near Colombia's
Caribbean coast. "This is a very special day of sadness and
memories ... Today we will just remember Gabriel."
Garcia Marquez, who died at his home in Mexico City on Thursday,
spent the first years of his life in Aracataca and drew on it
for some of the characters and tales in his masterpiece "One
Hundred Years of Solitude".
Dozens of mourners gathered on Friday at a shrine of flowers and
candles on the piece of land where he was born. Musicians played
guitar and sang ballads commemorating his life.
"We heard he had died, and we rushed right here," said one
resident, Sara Parodis, as she made cut-out yellow butterflies,
a tribute to the swarms of butterflies that appeared in the
classic novel whenever one character's forbidden lover arrived.
"This is the end of a very important era," Parodis said, pinning
one of her butterflies on the lapel of a mourner.
"One Hundred Years of Solitude" tells the epic, dream-like story
of seven generations of the Buendia family in the fictional town
of Macondo, based largely on Aracataca.
Garcia Marquez said he drew on the stories that his grandmother
told him when he was a child, laced with folklore, superstition
and the supernatural.
The novel sold over 30 million copies, helped Garcia Marquez win
the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature and popularized the genre of
magical realism. In it, characters are visited by ghosts, a
plague of insomnia envelops Macondo, a priest levitates above
the ground and the child of an incestuous couple is born with a
It made Aracataca famous and drew literary pilgrims hoping to
absorb some of the bewitching energy he wrote about.
But there is little magic in the Aracataca of today, and it
retains no evidence of the banana wealth which washed over
northern Colombia in the early 20th century.
Concrete buildings have replaced the elegant wooden homes and
offices set up by plantation owners, political slogans splash
the walls and residents sit on street corners sipping beer and
complaining that the government has failed to harness the
opportunity that Garcia Marquez's fame brought.
A wooden replica of his grandparents' home seeks to create a
sense of the past. His comments are displayed on giant posters
above his bed and at the dining room table plates are laid out
as if waiting for him to join the family for dinner.
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Photos show the appalling conditions endured by workers at a nearby
banana plantation that led to a 1928 strike and the massacre of
thousands. He portrayed the slaughter in "One Hundred Years of
Solitude" and used the real name of the military officer who led the
attack, General Cortes Vargas, the only historically accurate name
in the entire novel.
Since Garcia Marquez's death on Thursday, tributes have poured in
from U.S. President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and
poets, presidents and pop stars from across Latin America. He was
the region's most famous and beloved author, known affectionately as
"When someone like him writes that way, he ties you to them like a
brother and makes you love him as if you had known him," Arturo
Covarrubias, a 46-year-old mariachi musician, said at a book fair in
Mexico City on Friday.
"The work of men like him is immortal," Cuban President Raul Castro
said. Garcia Marquez, a leftist who flirted with communism, was a
decades-long friend of Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel Castro,
Raul's older brother.
In Aracataca, residents are clearly proud of their native son but
some feel he could have done more to ease poverty here.
"He brought nothing at all to the town. We have his house, and a few
murals, but nothing much else," said Osvaldo Bergara, selling water
on a street corner close to the house.
But others, like his cousin Nicolas, say Garcia Marquez is not to
blame and that local corruption has sapped the town of its
"It's totally unfair; he gave and the administration took it and did
nothing," Arias said, pointing to the muddy road that floods his
home during storms. "We don't even have drainage. It's the
government that should pay for this, not Gabo."
"He would ask me 'How is Aracataca?' And I would tell him: 'It's
abandoned.' That made him sad."
Garcia Marquez left Aracataca to attend high school and never lived
there again, though he visited occasionally.
While Aracataca's past glories have faded, residents still remember
their own grandparents' tales of years ago.
"My grandmother told me of the music and dancing in the square, of
the plantation owners who would come by, and Gabo and his visits,"
said Parodis. "The memories are from another time."
(Additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota and Noe Torres
and David Alire Garcia in Mexico City; editing by Daniel Wallis and
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