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Rodrigo García: The last days of Gabriel García Márquez | USA

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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.

Mercedes Barcha and Gabriel García Márquez, on October 12, 1982, the morning when the Colombian writer won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Mercedes Barcha and Gabriel García Márquez, on October 12, 1982, the morning when the Colombian writer won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Rodrigo García Barcha / Penguin Random House

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 of News 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, García Márquez 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.

Gabriel García Márquez and Mercedes Barcha, in Spain in 1968.
Gabriel García Márquez and Mercedes Barcha, in Spain in 1968.Rodrigo García Barcha / Penguin Random House

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.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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External investigation into Department ‘champagne party’ needed – Minister

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Minister of State Anne Rabbitte has called for an external investigation into a “champagne party” held by staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs staff in June 2020.

The gathering, which appeared to breach Covid-19 guidance in place at the time, was “inexcusable” and Minister Simon Coveney and his department have further questions to answer, the Fianna Fáil TD told Saturday with Katie Hannon on RTÉ Radio One.

“Having a champagne reception in any government department at that time, I know over in the Department of Health where they worked tirelessly for 23, 24 hours a day, it was far from champagne they were having,” she said.

Ms Rabbitte said an internal report conducted by the department’s current secretary general was not a satisfactory way to handle the matter.

“It’s still within the same department, and we know the answer we will get. I would be one for openness and transparency … it has to be [an external report].”

She added that all departments needed to learn from the mistake.

Officials were photographed in the department celebrating Ireland’s election onto the UN Security Council, and the image was posted on Twitter by the then secretary general Niall Burgess. The tweet was later deleted. At the time of the event, there were strict restrictions on the size of gatherings due to Covid-19.

Speaking on the same programme, Labour TD Duncan Smith said people were angered at the event because June 2020 was a bleak time for most people in Ireland. He said the public had seen other incidents where politicians and others were accused of breaching Covid-19 restrictions.

“These are the elites of society … what has really hurt people is that it really got to the ‘we are all in this together’ philosophy.”

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane agreed there needed to be an independent review of the matter, adding that Mr Coveney needed to come before an Oireachtas committee and the Dáil to gave a “frank and full account” of what happened.

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Dog-owners bite back at beach rules

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Following a series of reports that An Taisce is leading the battle to ban dogs from the State’s 83 blue-flag beaches, the organisation’s Ian Diamond is feeling misunderstood.

“I don’t hate dogs”, Mr Diamond says, pointing out that Blue Flag International – the global body which governs the coveted awards – warned last year that some qualifying beaches were not honouring long-standing rules.

Under what’s known as Criterion 23, the rules declare that beach access “by dogs and other domestic animals must be strictly controlled” and that they be allowed only in “the parking areas, walkways and promenades in the inland beach areas”.

Faced with the reminder, Mr Diamond said he requested last year that local authorities get more time, as it was “not something that can be introduced immediately in the middle of a pandemic when people are under other restrictions.

“You can’t exactly introduce these things overnight, so we were flagging that,” he said, adding that Blue Flag told them to speak to people seeking blue flag status and “come back with proposals” that comply with the rule.

The issue came to national attention following a meeting of Kerry County Council this week, though it was understood then that the rule was an An Taisce demand, rather than being a Blue Flag International obligation.

Dogs and horses

Consequently, Kerry County Council now propose that dogs or horses will not be allowed on blue-flag beaches from 11am-7pm between June 1st and September 15th, or otherwise the county could lose its 14 blue flags.

However, the restrictions are unpopular with some dog-owners: “There’s a lot more important things to be worrying about than dogs on a beach,” said David Walsh, as he walked his pet, Oreo, on Salthill beach.

Dog-owners in Salthill are already not allowed to bring their dogs onto the beach between 9am and 8pm between May 1st and September 30th each year, in line with Blue Flag International’s rules, though penalties are rare.

Mr Diamond says a national application of the rules at blue-flag beaches would not “strictly prohibit dogs being on the beach” during bathing season, outside of peak hours.

Bathing season

“The blue-flag criteria would apply from June 1st to September 15th, within peak usage hours, so bathing hours – that would be mid-morning to early evening,” said the An Taisce officer.

“What it requires is that there would be rules in place in relation to dogs that say [they] should not be in the blue-flag area within those hours and within the bathing season,” Mr Diamond said.

The restriction is based on public health grounds and dates back to 2003: “Dog faeces actually contain a lot of the micro-organisms that cause illness in the same way that human waste would,” he said.

“There’s no zero-tolerance approach to this. If rules are going to be brought in, then people will be consulted as well, you know, brought in unilaterally, and it’s down to the councils responsible for the beaches to bring those in.”

Not everyone disagrees with An Taisce, or Blue Flag: “I don’t think dogs should be on the beach, because of the kids and all that. And a lot of people don’t pick up their poo afterwards,” said a man on Salthill beach.

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Jail for banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on Christmas shopping trip to Belfast

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A banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on a Christmas shopping trip to Belfast has been jailed for seven months.

Police also discovered three of Leeanne McCarthy’s children not wearing seat belts when her car was stopped on the Westlink dual carriageway.

The 41-year-old mother-of-eight initially gave officers a false identity, prosecutors said.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard a PSNI patrol car stopped the Ford Focus on November 26th last year.

McCarthy, with an address at Clonlough in Limerick, provided a different name and claimed she did not have her licence with her.

However, checks revealed that a month earlier she had been banned from driving for five years.

A Crown lawyer said: “Three young children were in the rear of the vehicle, none of them wearing seat belts.”

McCarthy initially claimed they only removed the safety restraints when the car came to a halt, the court heard.

Police were told that she took over driving duties from another daughter who had been tired and nearly crashed the vehicle.

McCarthy was convicted of driving while disqualified, having no insurance, obstructing police and three counts of carrying a child in the rear of a vehicle without a seat belt.

Her barrister, Turlough Madden, said she had travelled to Belfast for Christmas shopping.

Counsel told the court McCarthy spent the festive period in custody, missing out on sharing it with her eight children and four grandchildren.

“That’s been a wake-up call and significant punishment for her,” Mr Madden submitted.

“She is a mother who simply wants to go back to Limerick and not return to Northern Ireland.”

Sentencing McCarthy to five months imprisonment for the new offences, District Judge George Conner imposed a further two months by activating a previous suspended term.

Mr Conner also affirmed the five-year disqualification period and fined her £300 (€350) for the seat belt charges.

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