A tiled Cartagena street sign tells me I am in Calle de la Amargura, “The Street of Bitterness”.
If it sounds like a name from a novel by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, the local writer whose novels of magical realism won him a Nobel Prize for Literature, that might be because it is. Florentino Ariza, the romantic hero of Love In the Time of Cholera who waits for Fermina Urbino, the love of his life, during “53 years, seven months and 11 days and nights”, dances on the plaza here with an escaped lunatic.
“Gabo”, as he is known throughout Latin America, worked in Cartagena as a cub reporter and the film was shot here too. “I am really a journalist who just happens to write some fiction on the side,” he claimed and the story is based on his own parents’ love affair. When making the film, actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno, who plays Fermino, stayed in an old house that she began to believe was haunted. The strange sounds she was hearing, however, turned out to be two owls who had made their nest behind a closet.
For his most famous novel, One Hundred Years Of Solitude, about the life and times of the Buendía family, Márquez created the fantastical town of Macondo, which he described as “not a place but a state of mind”. Despite its absence on the map, most Colombians will nevertheless say it exists – the universally recognizable scene of weird Caribbean happenings.
Shrugging his shoulders, Mauricio Rodriguez says he spent his summers in Macondo, “I grew up with the Buendía family, I know those characters. You go to Colombia’s coastal towns and all you hear are stories and legends and secrets. Macondo is Colombia.”
And if Macondo is to be found anywhere, it is in Aracataca, where the Casa Museo Gabriel Garcia Márquez recalls the writer’s childhood home. This quiet town with unpaved roads looks as if the world has passed it by. Donkey carts roll down the main street and the only excitement comes with the arrival of a coach bringing cruise passengers to see the Casa Márquez. Haggling with the hawkers for a few souvenirs, they walk in and out of the house and then move on.
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