When Gabriel García Márquez was writing One Hundred Years of Solitude in the 1960s, he said one of the most difficult moments was when he got to the death of the memorable Colonel Aureliano Buendía. “Gabo,” as the Colombian author was popularly known, left the study of his home in Mexico City and went to find his wife, Mercedes Barcha, in the bedroom. “I killed the colonel,” he told her, heartbroken. “She knew what that meant for him and they remained silent with the sad news,” says García Márquez’s son, Rodrigo García, remembering his parents’ grief. Now it is Rodrigo who is writing about his own grief in a new book about the death of his parents, Gabo y Mercedes: una despedida (or, Gabo and Mercedes: a farewell).
This loving tribute, published in Colombia and Spain by Random House, is the latest homage Rodrigo García has made to his father, who died in 2014, and his mother, Mercedes Barca, who passed away in August 2020. “My father always complained that one of the things that he hated most about death was the fact that it would be the only facet of his life that he wouldn’t be able to write about,” García wrote.
García’s book mixes the story of his parents’ final days with the deaths that García Márquez did indeed write about, such as that of independence leader Simón Bolívar in The General in His Labyrinth (“through the window he saw the diamond of Venus in the sky that was dying forever”), or the day that Úrsula Iguarán, the matriarch of One Hundred Years of Solitude, who “woke up dead on Maundy Thursday” – just like Márquez, who died on Maundy Thursday in 2014 at the age of 87.
“I didn’t have to think a lot to remember these passages,” says García in a press conference. “The obsession with loss and with death is very common among writers, it almost makes one thing that it’s part of a writer’s DNA: the obsession with loss and with the things that end, and how the end of life frames life experiences. That’s why I easily remembered all the deaths of his main characters.”
In the last few years, García, who is a film director, has been working on transforming his father’s books into movies: he is the executive producer ofNews of a Kidnapping(which is being produced by Amazon Prime and is currently being filmed in Colombia) and a Netflix-produced version of One Hundred Years of Solitude (which is in the pre-production stage). But the family has always been very careful not to reveal too much about their private life. “We are not public figures,” his mother, who was very protective of their privacy, used to say. In this way, the new book is a small window into the pain his parents suffered when García Márquez –who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 – was at the end of his life. “I know that I couldn’t publish these memories while she was able to read them,” says García. If his parents could read them now, “I would like to think they would be happy and proud, but I’m sure my mother would tell me, ‘what a gossip you are’,” he adds.
According to his son’s book, GarcíaMárquez struggled in his final days – his memories were beginning to slip away and he had a hard time recalling once-familiar faces. “Why is that woman here giving orders and running around the house as if it weren’t mine?” García Márquez says when he cannot recognize his wife in one of the passages in the book. “Who are those people on the other side of the room?” he asks a domestic worker of his two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo. “This is not my home. I want to go home. To father’s home,” he says on another occasion, when he wants to return home to the house of his grandfather, a colonel who looked after him until he was eight years old and inspired the character of Aureliano Buendía.
But during his final days, García Márquez was also able to relive the most cherished moments of his childhood in Aracataca, the Colombian village where he was born in 1927. The award-winning author could also still recite from memory poems of the Spanish Golden Age. And when he could no longer do this, “he could still sing his favorite songs,” says García. The Nobel laureate spent his last days listening to vallenatos, the popular folk music from Colombia’s Caribbean region that he grew up with. “Even in the last months, when he couldn’t remember things, his eyes would light up with emotion with the first notes of a classical accordion,” writes García in the new book. “In the last few days, the nurses began to put on [vallenatos] at top volume in his bedroom, with the windows wide open.” The songs of Colombian vallenato composer Rafael Escalona filled the home in Mexico like lullabies to say goodbye. “They take me back to his past as nothing else can,” García writes.
Although the famous writer struggled with dementia, García says “the final stage [of his life] was easier.” “There is a terrible stage in which the person is aware that they are losing their memory. Seeing the person not only without their faculties, but also very anxious about losing them is awful and very hard,” he explains. “The final stage was sad, but calmer. He was calm, he wasn’t anxious, he was very distracted. He didn’t remember a lot of things, but he was good, peaceful, and that comforted us.”
Although most of García’s book is about his father’s death, the last chapter is dedicated to the passing of his mother, who was nicknamed La Gaba – a name García recognizes as “patriarchal.” “But despite everything, everyone who knew her knew that she had become a magnificent version of herself,” García writes in the book. He describes her as a “woman of her time”: a mother, wife and housewife who never went to university. Despite this, she was the one who managed her husband’s success, and was envied for her self-assuredness. In one scene in the book, García and his brother squirm in their seats when the Mexican president (who is not named, but for the time period would have been Enrique Peña Nieto), refers to the family as “the children and the widow.” In the scene, Mercedes Barcha threatens to “tell the first journalist who crossed her path that she was planning on getting married as soon as possible. Her last words on the subject are: ‘I am not a widow. I am myself,” García writes.
Mercedes Barcha died in 2020 in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, without the fanfare that surrounded Marquéz’s death. As her husband, García Márquez would have told his children that if they were to write about their mother’s death, they must ensure that the reader is left feeling completely stricken with grief. In the days after Barcha’s death, García says he kept waiting for her to call, a call in which she would ask him: “So, how was my death? No, calm down. Sit down. Tell it to me properly, without rushing.”
The Government should buy a number of privately-owned direct provision centres as a “priority” as it would be more “cost effective” for the State to run the facilities for asylum seekers, international protection officials have said.
The savings arising from owning the accommodation centres rather than paying private contractors to do so “could be considerable”, departmental briefing documents provided to Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman last year state.
The vast majority of direct provision centres are currently owned and run by private companies, with accommodation providers having received some €1.6 billion since 1999, including €183 million last year.
The latest figures show some 7,150 people are in the system of seven State-owned sites and 39 private centres. A further 24 commercially-owned premises are being used to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.
The briefing document, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, says that housing people seeking asylum in State-owned centres would provide the “best protection from the vulnerability of present market reliance”.
“They are also much more cost efficient to run, and the State owns the asset,” it notes.
The document suggested that State centres should aim to accommodate 5,000 people, and “allowing the private sector to supply the rest is regarded as an achievable and reasonable target”.
The purchase of existing centres from private providers “to immediately boost the State’s footprint in this area should be considered as a priority,” the internal document said.
“Some service providers may be open to this and the market appears to be favourable at present,” it said.
The internal briefing suggested the department could then seek private companies or NGOs to run the centres, which would be a “competitive cost option”.
Ongoing maintenance for centres owned by the State was also “badly needed,” as current pressures on the Office of Public Works (OPW) meant it was not possible “for immediate repairs to be done if required”.
“In exploring the model of more State centres, we need to agree and acquire a capital budget,” the briefing stated.
“State land does not require planning permission for new centres as the Minister has a power under the Acts, whereby the OPW can grant the planning permission and this is usually a three-month process. It is not subject to appeal.”
The document says that State centres “can also have a bigger footprint as it will be a permanent fixture in the locality”. In recent years a number of plans for private providers to open direct provision centres in regional towns have been met with protests from locals and anti-immigration activists.
Mr O’Gorman’s department has sought to reform the direct provision system and is seeking to replace the network of centres with a new system of accommodation and supports by the end of 2024.
A department spokesman confirmed the State has not bought any new centres since the briefing note was written. The spokesman said under the planned overhaul of direct provision, asylum-seekers who arrived into the country would initially be housed in a number of reception and integration centres.
Asylum-seekers will spend a maximum of four months in the reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies.
“These centres will be State-owned and purpose built to provide suitable accommodation for approximately 2,000 people at any one time, to cater for the flow-through of the 3,500 applicants over a 12-month period,” he said.
Attached by a strap to a safety lanyard, 27-year-old Nathan Paulin slowly progressed barefoot on a line stretched across the river between the Eiffel Tower and the Chaillot Theatre.
He stopped for a few breaks, sitting or lying on the rope.
Paulin holds an umbrella as he performs, for the second time, on a 70-metre-high slackline spanning 670 metres between the Eiffel Tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)
“It wasn’t easy walking 600 metres, concentrating, with everything around, the pressure … but it was still beautiful,” he said after the performance on Saturday.
He said obtaining the necessary authorisations had been a difficulty for him, plus “the stress linked to the audience, the fact that there are a lot of people”.
Photo: (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)
Paulin, holder of several world records, performed the feat to celebrate France’s annual Heritage Day – when people are invited to visit historic buildings and monuments that are usually closed to the public.
He said his motivation was “mainly to do something beautiful and to share it and also to bring a new perspective on heritage, it is to make heritage come alive”.
He had already crossed the River Seine on a tightrope, on Heritage Day in 2017.