Friday, March 29, 2024

Gabo the Pilgrim

Note: This piece was originally published on August 5, 2022, in PNM.

Full disclosure: Although I’ve read a few of the major works of beloved Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez (“One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “The Autumn of the Patriarch” and “Love in the Time of Cholera”), I have never read his short story collection “Strange Pilgrims.”

So when the Museum of Modern Art (MAM) in Mexico City invited journalists to a literary talk — titled “Gabo the Pilgrim” — on Wednesday, July 27, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the publication of “Strange Pilgrims,” I was both excited and quite unsure. Excited because I’ve always been a big Gabo fan, but unsure because I didn’t know what to expect in the talk, and I would have wanted to come prepared — I would have read the book first, so I could ask more informed questions.

I discovered quickly that my doubts were unfounded: I not only discovered a great deal about the book, but also about the life of García Márquez and a few little-known tidbits about him.

“Strange Pilgrims,” a collection of 12 loosely related short stories, was not published until 1992, but the stories were originally written by García Márquez in the ’70s and ’80s, during a period of his travels.

The speakers at the literary talk — Orlando Oliveros, Jaime Abello and Alvaro Santana Acuña — discussed why the short stories in the collection had an autobiographical bent in them, and that readers will not only find Gabo the fictionist, but also Gabo the pilgrim in the book’s pages.

Abello, director general of the Gabo Foundation, discussed how García Márquez had travelled all his life: first exploring his beloved Colombia, going around Latin America and then finally hiking off to Europe.

García Márquez, who worked as a journalist before he found his true calling as a fictionist, was also able to travel because of his work. A committed leftist throughout his life, García Márquez covered the Cuban Revolution for media outlet Prensa Latina in Havana, and also travelled to its New York office.

One interesting tidbit about García Márquez, according to Oliveros — the literary editor of the Gabo Center — is that despite the Colombian novelist’s love for travel, he was terrified of flying. And the fact that the aviation industry when Gabo was a young journalist was basically still in its infancy didn’t help alleviate García Márquez’s fears of stepping inside a Douglas DC-3 commercial airplane.

For his part, Santana Acuña — curator of the Gabriel García Márquez exposition that had also recently opened at the MAM, and which will run until Oct. 2 of this year — talked about how García Márquez didn’t stay in one place for long and the fact that his domestic travels around Colombia were spurred by a personal tragedy — when his grandfather died. Gabo then started moving around Colombia frequently: around Cartagena, Baranquilla and Bogota.

Oliveros also said that García Márquez learned a great deal more about his identity as a Colombian and as a Latin American during his travels in Europe than when he was travelling around Colombia and Latin America. The fictionist met fellow Latin Americans in the cafés of Paris, for example: Argentinians, Mexicans, Guatemalans and Venezuelans. This led Gabo to ask himself and his fellow Latin Americans: “What can we do as Latin Americans, what can we contribute to the world, if we do not fight together?”

But back to the short story collection “Strange Pilgrims.”

Like I said at the beginning of this article, I haven’t read it yet. And so I need to stop right here to order a copy on Amazon.