Friday, June 20, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Bogotá Years

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's portrait in the exhibition in the National University's library.
In 1942, the teenage Gabriel Garcia Marquez arrived in Bogotá, and found the city dark, rainy and generally depressing. Nevertheless, it would be the place where he would find his leftist ideological formation, enroll in university, publish his first poems and short stories and get his start in journalism.

Publications by and about Marquez
in the Nacho's library.
Unfortunately, however, you won't learn much of that from the sparse exhibition about Marquez on now in the lobby of the National University's main library, which was renamed after the Nobel Prize-winning author after his recent death.

Paradoxically, a lot more information about Marquez was on display recently in an interesting and detailed exhibition that was up only during a brief book fair on the university's Ché Plaza.

The exhibition in the library will interest Marquez fans: there's his university inscription document, as well as editions of books by and about the novelist. But it's embarrassingly sparse for a man of such accomplishment and the university's most famous ex-student.

I wish I knew where the book fair exhibition is stored away. Perhaps somewhere in the university's
Marquez's Universidad Nacional registration paper.
literature department. It's worth seeking out for anyone wanting a fuller picture of Marquez's life.

That exhibition included Marquez's famous (or infamous) description of the Bogotá he encountered in 1942  on arriving from the warm and sunny coast.

"Bogotá was then a remote and sad city, where a drizzle had been falling since the beginning of the century."

But Marquez grew to like - or at least appreciate - the Colombian capital's quirks and characters, including its spark-throwing streetcars and dignified funerals. He also became an habitué of the cafés in the city center, where he debated literature with other intellectuals.

Marquez enrolled in a high school in Zipaquira, north of Bogotá. The school was incorrigibly leftist,
and Marquez later recalled that even his physics professors graded students more on their ideology than their learning.

"I dare to think that most of my professors graded me more on my personality than my tests," Marquez wrote.

But, he added, a professor named Calderon saw talent in one of Marquez's short stories and urged him to continue writing, despite classmates' teasing, "if only for my mental health."

Marquez's first published
story 'The third resignation.'
In 1947, Marquez enrolled in the National University to study law, primarily to please his parents. But his university career cut short by the April 1948 Bogotazo riots, which sent the budding author to Cartagena. His memories of the University are less pleasant: He describes law school as "an alley with not exit" and didn't understand the subject - despite having Alfonso López Michelson, son of a president and later president of Colombia himself, as a professor. Marquez's best memories of university life were his long walks and talks with other leftist intellectuals, including priest Camilo Torres, the university's chaplain, who two decades later would claim his own place in Colombian history by joining the ELN guerrillas and finding martrydom in his first battle.

It was in Bogotá that Marquez read a version of Franz Kafka's 'Metamorphosis' rewritten by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, which revolutionized Marquez's literary mindset. In 1947 and '48 he published his first three stories in El Espectador: 'The third resignation,' 'Eva is inside her cat,' and 'Tubal-Cain forges a star.' The three displayed the influence of Kafka and of the Bible.

 Marquez later recalled how he'd been told to climb to the second floor and hand his manuscript to the
Marquez admired populist politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitan,
whose 1948 assassination sent Marquez to Cartagena.
paper's literary editor. However, terrified, Marquez simply left the pages in reception and ran away. Nevertheless, two weeks later the story was featured with its title in grand letters.

Four years earlier, Marquez's first published work, a poem called 'Song,' (Canción), appeared in El Tiempo's literary supplement.

Marquez later became a reporter for El Espectador. In 1955, the paper's editor asked Marquez whether he had plans for the following Friday. Marquez did not, and the editor assigned him to a two-week trip to cover a political meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. Marquez's reporting trip to Europe would extend to five years, during which, while living in Paris, he wrote his first novels.

In 1955, El Espectador sent Marquez to Europe to
cover a political meeting. He stayed for five years.
Marquez eventually would warm up to the cold city of Bogotá. He later said that he had "5,000 anecdotes about Bogotá, the city where I was formed."

And he even reconciled the Andean city with his coastal roots. Bogotá, he would later write, "is a green and endless beach at 2,600 meters above sea level."

'Insomnia' by Marquez.
Marquez with friends in Bogotá.
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