From BBC Mundo. Read the original in Spanish here.
On the day of Gabriel García Márquez’s farewell, it was hot in Mexico City. For hours the sun persistently beat down on thousands of people who patiently waited to say goodbye to the writer, but later the climate changed mood and suddenly the muggy heat gave way to furious gusts of wind, unusual rain and an electrical storm.
At times the air picked up dust that surrounded the Palace of Fine Arts, in the centre of the Mexican capital, where the national tribute to the writer took place.
Heat, dust, water. Like ” in that Macondo forgotten even by the birds”, according to a sentence in the masterpiece of the Nobel Prize for Literature laureate, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
A climatic coincidence to say farewell to the most loved Colombian in Mexico, the country where he chose to live for more than 50 years.
Yago and Martín, two Colombian teenagers who happily showed off the flag of their country, understand the reasons for this choice. “Gabo loved Mexico and he will continue loving it wherever he is”, they told BBC Mundo.
Once García Márquez said the One Hundred Years of Solitude was a long vallenato. It was that music that accompanied him in his farewell: amongst the large queue that at times reached almost two kilometres in length, a group of this genre appeared. In front of the urn which holds his ashes, they dedicated a few harmonies to him.
One verse stood out in the song. “his name is García Márquez, but we call him Gabo”.
“He means everything”
Many, especially amongst his new readers, thought that Gabriel García Marquez was Mexican. It was easy to believe: a few months ago the writer walked calmly in a shopping centre near his house in the south of the city.
He was pushing a shopping trolley beside his wife Mercedes and like anyone was stocking up on groceries and cleaning supplies.
He smiled at those who greeted him, as he had always done since arriving in this country in 1961. The writer Javier Aranda Luna says that he was in a good mood, without evident signs of a sickness that within a short period of time would take his life.
García Márquez is “perhaps the greatest Colombian we have ever had” the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos tells BBC Mundo.
“He gave Colombia its full splendour, there are many people who know Colombia because of García Márquez. He is the greatest man of letters we have had in our entire history, so that means a lot, he means everything”, the president insists.
For that reason, in his native land a ceremony is also being prepared for this Tuesday. ” There, we are also going to pay tribute to him with the same feeling, with the same gratitude, because all, all Latin Americans owe García Márquez immense gratitude. That is also what defined Gabo”.
His work is eternal
Arturo Dávila waited for four hours to enter the Palace of Fine Arts and to see, for 30 seconds, the small brown urn which contains the ashes of the writer.
It was worth it, he tells BBC Mundo, because “el Gabo”, as he is known, brought him happiness and comfort with his books in a time of personal crisis. “I admire him, I can’t speak of him in the past tense because for me he is always here”, he explains.
In contrast, María Guadalupe Juárez met him at closer range. She was a flight attendant with Mexican de Aviación which was for years the only airline that flew from Mexico City to Havana, Cuba. Among the frequent passengers was García Márquez.
“Everyone who travelled first class paid tribute to him, they really enjoyed seeing him and greeting him”, she tells BBC Mundo.
Guadalupe waited three hours to reach the Palace. During all this time she held a photo of the writer seated in the cabin of a plane, looking happy while the flight attendant smiled by his side, leaning against the seat.
Like her, there are many in the long queue that have a story of a close encounter with Gabo. Diana Pantoja is Colombian but she lives in Mexico and when she heard about the tribute she knew that she was obliged to farewell him
“His work is current and will continue to be for many, many years, it will be eternal”, she tells BBC Mundo.
The Palace of Fine Arts is the most important cultural place in the country. In the lobby of this emblematic building, President Santos recalled that Gabo, in 1982, spoke about the solitude of Latin America.
During the tribute the leader highlighted that “upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature he said that it is not too late, it is never to late to believe in a utopia. A new and devastating utopia of life in which nobody can decide for others their method of death. Where it will be proven that true love and happiness are possible”.
In Mexico, the president Enrique Peña Nieto recalled, the writer formed his family and found “the space and opportunity to live his vocation and dedicate himself to literature”.
It was in this country that the story began which turned him into “the greatest novelist of Latin America of all time”. In hispanic literature, he added “he has even been compared by critics with Miguel de Cervantes himself, the creator of the moren novel”.
The ceremony lasted less than an hour and upon finishing the procession of thousands of people, who put up with sudden rain and wind which blew away the heat, resumed.
Rafael Tovar y de Teresa, the president of the National Council of Culture and Art said it was like the hours in which Gabo left this world, on April 17, when Mexico City lived strange episodes.
He left us a holy Thursday, between a red moon, a historical hailstorm and a frightening earthquake. A worthy cosmic setting for the departure of Latin America’s magical realism chronicler.