When I first pulled One Hundred Years of Solitude from the shelf in my local bookshop, aged 14, and quickly parted with the princely sum of eight pounds to take it home (mainly because I loved the sound of the author’s name and the cover-art,), I could never have anticipated that I would end up living in the country of Macondo and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It would have seemed even more unlikely that I would end up attending (albeit briefly) the great man’s memorial service in Bogota’s cathedral….
I woke up early yesterday and jumped on a packed Transmilenio service to La Candelaria to be present in Plaza Bolivar when Colombia remembered it’s greatest son. I owe a lot to Gabo’s writing: it was him who first inspired my interest in the Spanish language and Latin America; so I felt it was only right to be there at his memorial. When I arrived the square was still quiet: a few people were standing near the metal barriers and a vallenato band were sound-checking. I leaned against a barrier and took some photos, then quickly spotted a press section right in front of the cathedral, and a lady with a clipboard looking official and checking people’s names off on a list. Why not!? I wandered over, presented her with a See Colombia Travel business card and my most dazzling English grin, and before I knew it, I found myself front-row in the press section, surrounded by glamorous reporters for all major news networks! Aside from a touch of camera-envy, I was buzzing that I had managed to get this far.
As the square filled up, and the attendees began to file solemnly into the cathedral, the sky grew dark and the rain came. It was the grey days and rain that Gabo had most hated about Bogota when he first arrived along the Magdalena River as a boy: it almost felt as if the city was toying with us. President Santos was the last to arrive, then the doors were closed and the service began; broadcast at the same time on 3 outdoor screens.
I was preparing to leave the press cordon and watch the service in the Plaza, when the (very nice) lady with the clipboard came over, read out my name and proceeded to usher me and another man with a (much bigger) camera inside the cathedral to take a few photos as a member of the press. I was inside the service only briefly: enough time to take a couple of pictures, marvel at the remarkable atmosphere created by the choir, and say a brief, quiet thank-you to a man who has inspired so much of my life to date.
The service was magnificent, and, as the vallenato band played the mourners out of the cathedral, a cannon shot yellow paper butterflies into the air. Unfortunately, the rain took its toll on these, and most people ended up covered in dissolving yellow paper: I like to think Gabo would have raised a wry smile at this little detail…it reminded me of something he would have written himself.
So, goodbye Gabo: you were an inspiration to so many people and a legend to your people here in Colombia. You will be sorely missed, but never forgotten. I am incredibly grateful that I was able to play my own tiny part in celebrating your memory.