Foto: Stephen Ferry.
I came to Aracataca to find Jose Arcadio Buendía. I want to ask him about a ghost named Prudencio Aguilar and the many other non-living who somehow filled the loneliness of the Buendia lineage. This family condemned to have only one chance on earth is the metaphor of Latin American genesis: a continent of failed illusions and faith. See more images of this work
The town has a still air. Indulging in sloth and killing inconvenient ants are the only bearable gestures during the endless hours of afternoon. Even the mangos are too lazy to let go of the branches. In an eternal state of prostration, dogs look comfortable. The houses are so faded by sun and trees are so old, that seems Aracataca is destined to be haunted.
Like the imagined Macondo of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, where many unhappy dead have sought solace from solitude after the tomb, Aracataca has its own ghosts. Ancient residents say that when García Márquez was still Gabito, there were more witches than today. Nobody disagrees that they still exist, though.
I myself have found many other ghosts here. Witches who turn into ducks or pigs, the woman in white dress who during the holy week will cry on a swing, the ominous red eyed dog the size of a calf that bothers the neighbors of Calle Cuatro after midnight. As if reality were a copy of fiction, and not the opposite.
—Oiê — tackles me Tereza Martínez Campos, 48 years old. She wipes the bubbles of sweat from her fluff, sits on the sidewalk beside a mango tree with her legs spread open, and points her arm to indicate the direction of Somalia, the small farm from which the noisy horse comes out.
— From there it walks through barrio Banga, just to torment, then crosses the river and disappears. Well, anyone who says it's a lie is the liar, because I've heard the crack of the horseshoes against the ground — she says.
But compared to the time the author’s boyhood, Aracataca's haunts are now modernized. Instead of hybrid beasts and other unnatural apparitions, now spirits curse the unfortunates who ride a motorcycle on the road, get in the back and, God forbid, make the unlucky driver smash on the floor.
Near Remédios, a Bella, a monument in honor to the character who ascended to the skies of Macondo, lives the 73-years-old Italian descendant, Carmelo Morelli di Lahoz. He was nine when a witch tied the feet of his young friend on the farm his father had on the other side of the train track. The disguised hag turned into a duck and then no one else saw her. The octogenarian Carmelo’s uncle, Alberto Di Lahoz, who knew Gabo well and the whole family, confirmed that the damned ones become animals so nobody recognize them.
— They're coming less nowadays because people have lost their fear — he says.
But not enough witches who still disturb and tie tennis shoelaces or giant black dogs, what has been worrying the cataqueros is the gypsy curse on the highway connecting Aracataca to Fundación, town 12 km distant.
— I felt like someone was riding on the back of my motorcycle and trying to get me out of control. I acted fast. I pushed the bike to the road and threw my body into the woods — remembers 37-years-old Oscar Niño.
It may be that the heat in Aracataca causes hallucinations, but it was not the heat that the owner of the Calle Four grocery store felt when remembered that night, when he traveled alone to the neighboring village. Exactly in the same curve, more than a dozen people died in motorcycle accidents.
— There, near this curve, there was a gypsy circus and one day all the members were killed. The only old woman who saved herself cursed the place —he says.
If I could not believe what I was hearing, then I should see with my own eyes. Niño, a big man with sun-red cheeks, ventured to go back there, with two people on the back of his bike (I suspect that he made us three fit on it so that the gypsy lady would not bother him again), to show where everything happened.
The road is short, but long enough to lead to death. From the side vegetation - shrubs with indefinite shapes and high bush, as if feetless beings were the only ones walking around there - blows a cold air that the hot climate of Aracataca is finally imperceptible. We stopped at the exact blind spot where the road gets lost to the right direction, right before the curve from where the old lady could jump on our backs. In there I saw a reddish light shading the rest of the way.
The police, that is well aware of the boldness of the dead in Aracataca, accompanied us and the officer on duty confirmed:
- A lot of people died in car accidents right here.
On this same warm and starry april night, some locals, not used to entertainments, applauded enthusiastically after the end of a movie about death. Miracle in Rome, based on the work of García Márquez and displayed on a big screen next to the main church, tells the story of a girl who dies and, 12 years after, her father discovers that she was not dead. Not even alive.
Aracataca children watched the film more closely than most adults, who were fighting a personal fight against heat and sleep. The little ones were so comfortable with the dead girl on the big screen that at the end, when I saw them together, I felt a shiver and a small doubt if I was not in front of children's ghosts myself.
Then I remembered that an old man on the street told me: ghosts have no feet (I was glad the kids I sow had it). And in the case I was afraid, I could protect myself with a very simple ritual:
—Before going to sleep, remember to make a cross-pattern with your shoes and leave them near the bedroom door.
The ghosts of Gabo and Aracataca are real
Gabo's literature is populated by ghosts that he did not invent but that haunted the city in which he was born and accompanied him through his ancestral memories and the mysticism proper to the cultural identity of the Colombian Caribbean.
His grandparents' home in Aracataca, for example, is described by him in Living to Tell as being big, old and with innumerable rooms where the dead sometimes suspire. Although it was a home of Spaniards, the Nobel Prize lived more in the world of the guajiros indians, from who he listened to stories and superstitions. His Tranquilina grandmother, he says, came from La Guajira, a territory between the Colombian and Venezuelan Caribbean occupied by the Wayuu Indians, also knowns as guajiros. She did not see clear boundaries between the dead and the living.
García Máquez himself, although very pragmatic was also superstitious. His friends say that he believed in what others believed and in the presence of death in life.
The echoes of this mysticism, represented in the imagined Macondo, are everywhere in Aracataca. The statue that is about to take off of Remedios, a Bela, for instance, coincides with the expression guajira "se voló" used when a girls runs away with her boyfriend.
Just as the house of the Buendía was inhabited by beings who resurrected and returned to the routine like ghosts — Prudencio Aguilar, the gypsy Melquíades, the patriarch Jose Arcadio Buendía, great grandmother of Fernanda del Carpio, the apparitions of the Judeu Errante — the place where Gabo was born and spent the first years of life was also inhabited by the spirits of the beyond.
In the book Fragrance of Guava, Gabo says that the neighboring house belonged to a defunct whose ghost still wandered and that he himself saw it: "One day, in the sun, I passed by the neighboring house chasing a rabbit and I tried to reach it in the toilet where it was hiding. I pushed the door, but instead of the rabbit I saw a man crouched in a latrine, with the air of pensive sadness that everyone has in such circumstances. I recognized the defunct immediately, not only because of the sleeves tied up to the elbows, but because of his beautiful teeth that illuminated the gloom."
Nowadays, the house where the writer was born is the only one not faded in Aracataca. The rooms where the dead of the family once whispered now accommodate old objects as pieces of museum.
Finally, I did not find the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar wandering around the city. It seems that Macondo is the specter that haunts Aracataca. But in the tree where I imagined I would meet José Arcadio Buendia, there are only yellow butterflies flying around…