La Casa del Hielo, esquina con Barrio Boston, Aracataca. Comienzo la historia del Macondo real en el mismo punto donde comienza la historia del Macondo ficticio. Viajeros de todo el mundo visitan este lugar de vez en cuando, admiradores de Gabriel García Márquez que esperan encontrar aquí, en el pueblo que lo vio nacer, elementos tangibles de su universo literario.
Cuando ciertos lugareños indiferentes se enteran de estos extranjeros en las calles del pueblo, entienden que es hora de meterse en el personaje. Macondo puede ser pura ficción en las páginas de Cien años de soledad , compadre, pero aquí en Aracataca existe, es materia genuina, física, lo ven todos los días y lo pueden hacer visible a los visitantes que tengan fe en encontrarlo. en algún lugar más allá de la literatura. Esta casa de la esquina, por ejemplo, fue donde el coronel Aureliano Buendía descubrió el hielo que tendría motivos para recordar muchos años después, como se sabe, ante el pelotón de fusilamiento. Pásame la cámara, si quieres, y te saco una foto aquí con tu novia.
Si el turista pide más detalles, están disponibles. La casa de madera fue construida en 1923. En su patio se almacenaban hasta doscientos bloques de hielo cada semana durante los días de la United Fruit Company, la corporación multinacional que controlaba la producción de banano en estas tierras en ese momento. Para los ancianos que vivían en Aracataca en aquellos días, la llegada del hielo representó un avance notable. Acababan de descubrir una maravilla que serviría para conservar los alimentos y combatir el calor abrasador.
A veces los guías espontáneos añaden que, durante gran parte del siglo pasado, el hielo fue un símbolo de estatus. Sabes a lo que me refiero, viejo gringo, un poco de hielo para tu limonada del mediodía y un poco de hielo para tu refresco de la tarde. Un lujo que nunca podría estar al alcance de todos, solo de las familias ricas de Aracataca y los peces gordos de la bananera. Los bloques llegaron desde Ciénaga en un tren de la United Fruit Company. Se cubrieron con aserrín para evitar que se derritieran, ya que la madera sirve como aislante térmico. Cualquiera que quisiera una bebida fría tenía que ir al patio y picar unas hojuelas.
“Así es, señor , ya sabe cómo andan las noticias por aquí con este calor”.
A veces, mientras el guía atiende a los extranjeros, aparecen unos pibes en chancletas: niños que ahora se ganan la vida vendiendo bolsas de agua helada. El guía turístico les lanzará una mirada de complicidad y una sonrisa.
“Los altibajos de la vida: antes era demasiado caro beber agua fría y ahora es lo más barato del mundo. Sólo trescientos dólares, señor . Hoy el hielo es el aire acondicionado de los pobres”.
El guía retoma su discurso justo donde lo dejó cuando hizo la digresión. Luego dice que en la década de 1920, a los niños les encantaban estos bloques, ya que estaban marcados con grietas que brillaban como si fueran iridiscentes a la luz del sol. Y así, uno de los planes favoritos para una tarde familiar era venir a esta casa y mirar el hielo. Gabito –casi todos aquí lo llaman así– seguramente vino muchas veces con su abuelo, el coronel Nicolás Márquez. La única diferencia es que en la novela quien vino a descubrir el hielo fue el coronel Aureliano Buendía. ¡Ese Gabito es un embaucador!
En el Macondo real, mucha gente vive convencida de que conoce cada elemento del Macondo ficticio como la palma de su mano. Citan a sus personajes como si los hubieran visto en el barrio, describen sus espacios como si estuvieran ante sus ojos. Eso me dice el poeta Rafael Darío Jiménez mientras entramos a la Casa del Hielo.
¿Casa del Hielo? casa de hielo?
El nombre suena irónico: cuando cruzamos el umbral, nos encontramos con una bocanada de aire caliente. En el suelo hay un montón de cables eléctricos y muchas partes de automóviles desmontados.
“Ahora es un taller mecánico”, dice Jiménez.
Muchos visitantes buscan en el Macondo real la resonancia poética del Macondo literario. Pero aquí el hielo no es un témpano reluciente que permanece intacto en la memoria sino una vulgar sustancia que se desliza entre tus manos. Sin embargo, Jiménez el poeta me dice que algunos visitantes insisten. Quieren saber, por ejemplo, cuál de las mujeres del pueblo fue el molde original de Petra Cotes, la amante de Aureliano II en Cien años de soledad . Siempre se puede encontrar un local astuto para proporcionar la información solicitada.
“Esa era la chica de fulana de tal como se llame”.
Luego agregan los guías que, según contaron sus padres sus abuelos, el Mauricio Babilonia de la novela era un electricista que cada vez que pasaba por la casa de los Márquez Iguarán –abuelos de Gabito– dejaba un enjambre de mariposas amarillas en su sendero. Curiosamente, muchos de los nativos nunca han leído un solo libro de García Márquez. Pero llevan años escuchando hablar de sus criaturas e historias, saben muy bien cómo explotar ciertos códigos macondianos. Es más, sienten que el Macondo de la literatura es un simple reflejo de sus propias vidas. Y entonces, ¿para qué perder el tiempo buscando en novelas cuando lo pueden ver en sus propias esquinas?
“¿Todos quieren saber quién era esa chica Rebecca que comía tierra? Una señora llamada Francisca que vivía en la calle Monseñor Espejo.
I tell Rafael Darío that if I was from around here and I had no formal education, I would also think I knew my town’s most illustrious resident without having read him. After all, I’ve been seeing him in the press for years, I’ve heard his voice in the voice of the entire world. If I were just another townsperson and I shut my eyes so someone could read me passages from One Hundred Years of Solitude out loud, I would feel that they were naming my close relatives, I would feel that they were leading me down familiar paths. I would recognize the basin where my aunt washed her hands and the mosquito net that sheltered my uncle. I would rediscover, in fiction, certain objects of reality that are no longer seen in reality itself: the folding bed, the gramophone, the pewter chamberpot. I would identify my compadre’s fighting cock, I would suppose that Remedios la Bella ascended to the heavens wrapped up in white sheets that my grandma washed that morning. I would see Úrsula Iguarán as the personification of my great-grandmother: blind and indestructible.
I understand that these folk don’t see the stories of García Márquez as a poetic transposition of reality, but rather as the simple documentary reproduction of the everyday events described by the neighbors.
“You got it, gringo, who ever said Gabito made those stories up? He said it himself in the interviews, he was just taking notes. So there you have it, on my madre.”
Gabito’s townsfolk know that he is a very important man whose wings spread wide, of course, they know he is renowned, celebrated, funny, distinguished, but many of them don’t see him exactly as a fabulist, as someone who created the universe for which he became so famous. They see him only as a scribe, as a guy who was able to capture in his books the heritage passed down from his elders, a compadre who stuffed his suitcase with all of their stories and made them spread to the furthest corner of the planet.
At that moment, the poet Rafael Darío Jiménez hands me one of the many newspaper clippings he has been collecting throughout his long life as a researcher of García Márquez’s work. A few years ago, he founded a restaurant called “Gabo” in Aracataca, a sort of altar visited by the author’s devotees. There they can pay homage to him and, while they’re at it, eat a nice filet of red snapper with fried plantains. On the walls there are magazine covers dedicated to Gabito, photographs of Gabito, autographs from Gabito. While you sit down on a leather barstool to wait for your lunch, you can listen in fascination to your host, who speaks with the typical grace of the wordsmiths of the Caribbean.
“The first Macondo to exist was a tree,” he says. “It’s originally from Africa, and it can get to be three hundred fifty meters tall.”
“Like the bonga.”
“Like the bonga. In the area where they grow bananas there’s a plantation that still exists to this day. They call it Macondo because they had a lot of those trees.”
“So the plantation would be the second Macondo.”
“Exactly. The third is Gabito’s. In his memoirs, he says he was on the train one day and he suddenly saw the plantation by the side of the track. He read the sign that said ‘Macondo’ on the front of the building, and he was impressed.”
“Sure, the story of the plantation is also a well known part of the myth.”
“Gabito says that before the journey was over he knew the town in One Hundred Years of Solitude would be called Macondo.”
“The third Macondo, then.”
“Yes, the third. The first and second were real Macondos. Gabito’s Macondo is an imaginary world, like Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.”
I tell Rafael Darío that, in principle, the Macondo of fiction was fueled by the Macondo of reality, but then the opposite began to happen: the writer’s voice—irresistible, contagious—imposed certain codes upon reality. The proof of the pudding is in the eating: there was never an exact register of the workers massacred during the banana strike of 1928. Gabito wrote in One Hundred Years of Solitude that there were three thousand deaths, and so it passed into history. Later, a congressman proposed a moment of silence in honor of the three thousand victims of the massacre.
If, in the remote lands of the capital, the senators of the Republic invent reality based on fiction, the inhabitants of this burning, real-life Macondo, where the trick was born, have all the more reason to do so. That’s how things go, leading us to an exotic conclusion: it’s also possible to reinvent the quotidian through illusions. Reality as an image of itself, the image as a new reality.
I hold before my eyes, at last, the newspaper clipping that Rafael Darío just passed me. He smiles and puts his right index finger on a paragraph written by García Márquez himself. I read it aloud:
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for the readers who search for the hidden reality behind my books. But I have more respect for those who find it, because I never have. In Aracataca, the town by the Caribbean where I was born, this seems to be an everyday task. There, in the last twenty years, a generation of astute children has been born who wait at the train station for the myth-hunters to take them to see the places, the things, and even the characters of my novels: the tree where José Arcadio the elder was tied up, or the chestnut under whose shadow Colonel Aureliano Buendía died, or the tomb where Úrsula Iguarán was buried—maybe alive—in a shoebox.”
I smile and take a sip of the lemonade, heavy with ice, that the waitress just brought me. I keep reading.
“Those kids haven’t read my novels, of course, so their knowledge of the mythical Macondo doesn’t come from them, and the places, things, and characters they show the tourists are only real to the extent that they are willing to accept them. That is, behind the Macondo created by literary fiction there is another Macondo, yet more imaginary and mythical, created by the readers, and certified by the children of Aracataca as a third Macondo, visible and palpable, which is, without a doubt, the falsest of all. Luckily, Macondo is not a place but a state of mind that allows you to see what you want to see, and to see it however you like.”
And so, Macondo is carried not on the outside but within. It’s in the soul, far beyond the stones of the real Macondo, far beyond the pages of the literary Macondo. Macondo is a myth that ascended forever to the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach it.
Macondo is an invention as much of the author as of his readers. That being said, the literary licences with which one kills are the same ones with which one dies. In the epigraph of Living to Tell the Tale, his autobiography, García Márquez says: “Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.” This is no more and no less than the strategy of those who make tourism out of the elements that served Gabito to make literature. They also have their stories, they also narrate. You got it, gringo, now don’t go trying to find out if what you heard is true or false. We’re not interested in that sort of rubbish. If we told you it, it’s because it’s true. In the Caribbean the truth doesn’t happen: it’s told.
Not long ago, another great writer of this region, Ramón Illán Bacca, told me one of those stories that demonstrates that, in the Caribbean, what matters is not knowing the answer but saying it, and saying it with grace. On one occasion, Ramón was talking to a guy who suddenly mentioned “the sword of Demosthenes.” Ramón, in all his erudition, couldn’t resist the temptation to correct him.
“It’s the sword of Damocles.”
But the guy, far from developing a complex, struck upon a more than worthy argument.
“Well, it doesn’t matter if it’s Demosthenes or Damocles, because these days everyone goes around with a sword on them.”
That morning, on the other end of the phone line, Ramón blurted out his brilliant conclusion between guffaws: in the Caribbean, no one wants to kill themselves over confusing Achilles’ heel with Atilla’s, or for washing Herod’s hands and leaving Pilate’s dirty. So you can save those rational scruples, míster, you didn’t come from so far away just to ruin the story.
Every person you bump into has their own Macondo, everyone around here carries the story that chance assigned them. Now, while Rafael Darío Jiménez puts away the newspaper clipping, I remember an anecdote the poet Juan Manuel Roca told me when I announced my journey to Aracataca. One afternoon, after a reading in Santa Marta, Roca came to this town with several poets from other countries, among them the Cuban writer Eliseo Alberto. The guide who met them was the most loquacious guy in the world. With no shame, he sought in the real Macondo certain equivalencies with the fictional Macondo. The insomnia plague, according to him, began at the Puente de los Varaos; the trickle of blood that ran down the Calle de los Turcos in One Hundred Years of Solitude came from a guy who had been a friend of his grandfather’s, and so on.
One of the poets, half in jest and half serious, paid him a compliment.
“How intelligent you are!”
Then the guide expressed his gratitude in the finest Macondian style:
“I’m glad you say that, poet. You see, here in Aracataca we’re all intelligent, but Gabito’s the only one who knows how to write.”
I came to the banana-growing region of the Magdalena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, because they told me that here I would find Macondo, the mythical town created by the writer Gabriel García Márquez. I’ve spent four days in this area, and I’m still wondering where Macondo lies, what are its boundaries.
“Macondo’s just up there, compadre. It’s a plantation.”
“Macondo? Shit, man, I owe you one: I don’t know.”
“Macondo is all the land we’re standing on,” says the poet Rafael Darío Jiménez. “Where we came from was Macondo and where we’re going will be Macondo.”
“Damn, I miss that question. Macondo is in the books by García Márquez. Haven’t you read One Hundred Years of Solitude?”
I’ve found Macondo in various elements throughout my journey. In the banana plantations that stretch out on both sides of the highway. In the afternoon heat at two o’clock. In the speckled hen who laid an egg on the altar and then disturbed the whole neighborhood with her clucking. In the streets by the big house where this fable was born: dusty, winding. Without a doubt, in these lands the world is still so recent that many things still lack a name, and in order to indicate them it is necessary to point.
I’ve found Macondo, I’d say, in that sadness that people sometimes feel even when they have a smile on their faces. In the conversations about the war, the forever war that passes from the real Macondo to the fictional Macondo and vice versa. In the old lady in mourning who, despite her fragile appearance, shakes the house with her commanding voice. In the chaos, in the lack of memory, in the cyclical repetition of our calamities. In the stories they told me about the eternal political disputes and the systemic corruption. Macondo is this Aracataca through which I walk, although it’s no longer a village of twenty adobe houses, like in the novel, but a real town with forty thousand residents.
Macondo is also all I have heard during the trip. I went to the Colegio Gabriel García Márquez to interview Professor Frank Domínguez, an expert on Gabito’s work. He told me that Macondo is a spark, an act of witchcraft. Stay alert and you’ll hear its music. Macondo plays, Macondo sings, Macondo enchants.
“If you’re going to write about Macondo,” Professor Domínguez told me, “you have to read Friedrich Nietzsche.”
At that moment, I must admit, I felt like I was hallucinating.
“Nietzsche in Macondo?”
“Of course: Nietzsche. He said the best phrase I know to describe Gabito: ‘The intellectual power of a man is measured by the dose of humor which he is able to use.’”
“What a good phrase.”
“It’s the epigraph of the book I wrote to celebrate Gabito’s humor.”
When I was leaving the school, I ran headfirst once again into the ludicrous spirit that Ramón Illán Bacca had told me about. On one of the walls, I read the following quote, attributed to the poet “Pedro” Neruda: “One Hundred Years of Solitude is perhaps the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes.”
By this point, I understand the rules of the game. In Macondo, it doesn’t matter if you call him Pedro or Pablo because we’re all poets here, dammit.
I already said that Macondo is what you hear while you travel through the banana-growing region. Prick up your ears, stay still when the breeze buzzes by. Then you walk a little further and you hear Professor Aura Ballesteros, who they call “Fernanda del Carpio” because she’s “the highlander of the story.” She was born in Simijaca, close to the cold city of Bogotá.
“Macondo is a ray of light,” she says. “Here, the sun never hides for long.”
Searching for Macondo in the landscapes and voices of the banana-growing region, I stumbled upon an unusual story: the story of the Dutch traveler Tim Aan’t Goor, who came to Aracataca with the same intention as all the other visitors: he wanted to find, in reality, the magic that had dazzled him in literature. He came for a week and he’s been here for three years. Not long ago, he built a vault in the town to symbolically bury Melquíades, the unforgettable gypsy of the fictional Macondo.
Cuando vi la tumba, me pregunté si el Macondo de mi crónica también llegaría a un final alegórico. Pero ahora estoy aquí, en Bogotá, frente a mi computadora, convencido de que Macondo es mucho más que todo lo que vi y escuché en la región bananera. Macondo vino conmigo porque siempre ha estado dentro de mí. Es la pasión por narrar que bebí de las palabras de Gabito, mi profeta, el único brujo en el que creo. Muchas personas pueden contar bien una historia, pero pocas son capaces, como él, de crear un universo personal que sea fácil de identificar desde la primera línea hasta la última. Y por eso me parece justo cerrar los ojos para que Macondo viva en mi memoria y las razas condenadas a cien años de soledad tengan por fin la segunda oportunidad que se merecen.
Traducido por Arthur Dixon