| ARACATACA, Colombia, April 18
ARACATACA, Colombia, April 18 The sleepy
Colombian town that was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's birthplace and
inspired him to write "One Hundred Years of Solitude" mourned
its Nobel Prize-winning author on Friday with music, candles and
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 pig's tail.
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.
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 "Gabo".
"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
"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 Kieran Murray)