Wagner students in the Expanding Your Horizons program explore the real world on which Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez based his stories. In the process, they discover how to believe in the incredible.
Story by Laura Barlament
Photographs by Laurence Nolan and Angela Willis ’12
In the preface to Gabriel García Márquez’s 1994 novel Of Love and Other Demons, the author writes that he was working as a newspaper reporter back in 1949, when his editor sent him to investigate the emptying of the burial crypts in the old Convent of Santa Clara.
The human remains were being moved because a new five-star hotel was to be built on the site of the neglected historic building. Most of the crypts yielded dusty piles of bones, along with some gold and jewels; but when one tomb was opened, he reports, out poured “a stream of living hair the intense color of copper. … [T]he more of it they brought out, the longer and more abundant it seemed, until at last the final strands appeared still attached to the skull of a young girl.” The hair measured 70 feet long.
With scenes like these, blending the real and the fantastical, the Nobel-Prize-winning Colombian writer fondly known as “Gabo” has fascinated and mystified readers around the world.
During the 2010 spring semester, one group of Wagner students not only studied García Márquez’s writings in a Grymes Hill classroom, but also visited his real-life world on Columbia’s Caribbean coast, in one of the short-term study-abroad trips offered by Wagner’s Expanding Your Horizons program.
Their travels took them to sites such as the Sofitel Santa Clara in Cartagena, the five-star hotel built from the ruins of the Santa Clara Convent; the crypt is still accessible from the middle of the hotel’s luxurious lounge.
“Before the trip, we had the problem of trying to comprehend what was real in his stories and what was — um — magic,” says KariAnna Eide-Lindsay ’13. “After the trip, we had a greater understanding of how real the works were, and how many things are actually inspired by reality in his novels.”
The students’ guide into this magically real world was Margarita Sánchez, associate professor of Spanish and chair of the Department of Modern Languages at Wagner. Not only is she a scholar of contemporary Latin American literature, but she also grew up in Cartagena, Colombia, the coastal city García Márquez used as a setting for some of his best-known fiction. Because of her depth of knowledge and connection to this region, the students were able to stay with local families, spend time with experts and friends of García Márquez, and visit the new García Márquez museum house in his hometown, Aracataca, before it opened to the public.
For all those who have read and loved — or been puzzled by — Love in the Time of Cholera, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Of Love and Other Demons, or other works, we here offer a snapshot into Gabo’s magically real world, courtesy of the photos and impressions students and faculty gathered on the trip.
And if you haven’t yet read the works of a writer Sánchez calls “the Shakespeare of Latin America,” we hope you’ll be inspired to give them a try.
(Shown above: In Cartagena, the “Arcade of the Scribes” from Love in the Time of Cholera. Photo by Angela Willis)
A house in Cartagena, the model for the home of Fermina in Love in the Time of Cholera. Photo by Laurence Nolan
The replica of García Márquez’s childhood home in Aracataca, model for the Buendía home in One Hundred Years of Solitude. “The spirit of Gabo still lives in this little cottage, in the dirt roads of Aracataca, and especially in the hearts of his people,” wrote one of the student travelers. Photo by Angela Willis
The Aracataca train station; the yellow butterflies are a prominent motif in One Hundred Years of Solitude. “Before we started our tour around the town, our guide inspired us to look around and find inspiration for Gabo’s novels, and if we happened to see an older man sitting on his front porch, taking his siesta in the midday sun, perhaps we might stop and think, ‘Ah sí, es el Coronel Buendía.’” Photo by Laurence Nolan
Jaime García Márquez, brother of Gabriel, spent a morning with Professor Sánchez and students in Cartagena. “[He] demonstrated with his stories that magical realism is part of daily life in the Colombian Caribbean.” Photo by Laurence Nolan