Women blow yellow rose petals over an urn containing the ashes of late Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marque during a public viewing in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City on Monday. Photo: Reuters
Every March, often with a yellow flower pinned to his lapel, Gabriel García Márquez stood on the stoop of his home here to greet well-wishers on his birthday.
He wrote his foremost work, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” here in the mid-1960s after a flash of inspiration during a drive to the Pacific resort of Acapulco with his family.
And after García Márquez’s death on Thursday at his home, more than a few Mexican writers and admirers, who drank with him, danced with him and argued long into the night with him, laid claim to his soul despite his Colombian roots and works that found devotees far from Latin America.
“I always considered him a Mexican of Colombian origin,” said Homero Aridjis, one of Mexico’s most acclaimed poets, who met García Márquez in 1962, a year after he arrived. “Or a Colombian firmly rooted in Mexico.”
So it seemed fitting that the first public memorial service for García Márquez, who was 87, took place here on Monday, with thousands of people braving a hot sun -- and later, rain -- to file into the city’s most esteemed cultural hall, the Palace of Fine Arts, and pass his urn amid wreaths of yellow roses, his favorite.
A rain of yellow petals heralds the death of a main character in “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” an enduring example of the magical realism in his works, and many of the mourners in line clutched yellow flowers in tribute to an author they knew simply as Gabo. So many people lined up that the viewing was extended beyond the initial three hours.
The service, in accordance with the wishes of García Márquez’s family, seemed devoted to quiet reflection from fans of an author known to be conflicted over celebrity (he would sign his books but refrained from autographing anything else). Some passages of his works were read just outside the hall, but there were only three eulogies, by the presidents of Mexico and Colombia, Enrique Peña Nieto and Juan Manuel Santos, and by Mexico’s cultural minister, Rafael Tovar y de Teresa, and they waited until the end of the service.
Among the first to stand guard at the urn were his maid, assistant and driver. A string quartet played selections from Schubert and other composers favored by the author, interrupted by a troupe playing vallenato, Colombian folk music.
Many recalled how his works touched them and resonated with the strange political and historical turns in Mexico.
“He nurtured himself from this magic realism and surrealist things that exist in Mexico,” said Carlos García, 54, a photographer. “The fantasy you find in García Márquez’s work you can find here, everywhere. He fed his imagination from this strange and paradoxical world, with harsh -- sometimes contradictory -- realities that Mexico presents.”
Silvia Zaragoza, 61, said the theme of family in his novels and stories made people across Latin America identify with his works. “The way we pass along our names to our children as a way to perpetuate and pay tribute to our ancestors, and how family is the center of everything to us -- that is why when we read his work and discover his characters we reflect on our own selves and analyze our own lives,” she said.
García Márquez’s family has not said where his ashes will rest. The Colombian ambassador to Mexico has said Colombia, where another service will be held on Tuesday, hopes some of them will find a place there.
Yet it would be just as well for Mexico if they remained here.
García Márquez never considered himself anything but Colombian, retaining the accent of his homeland and making frequent visits there before age and illness curtailed his travel. Stories his grandmother told him as well as the country’s history and culture figured prominently in his works. His hometown, Aracataca, celebrates him and proclaims itself the original Macondo, the fictional setting for “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
García Márquez, however, found his muse here.
With Colombia in political tumult and violence increasing, he arrived in 1961 for a visit with a Colombian writer, Álvaro Mutis, who had moved here and promptly handed him “Pedro Páramo,” and “The Burning Plain and Other Stories” by the Mexican author Juan Rulfo. García Márquez would later count Rulfo among his greatest influences.
He found a healthy film industry for the screenplays he had planned to write and quickly fell into intellectual circles populated not only by Mexican artists but fellow Colombian expatriates.
Aridjis said this creative ferment clearly fed his works but there was a practical side, too. Many artists helped García Márquez financially as he threw himself into his works, including an 18-month writing session to complete “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” published in 1967.
Aridjis said Mexico also offered a bridge to Cuba, whose culture and politics fascinated García Márquez, who became a close friend of Fidel Castro and supporter of leftist causes across the region. His fame allowed him access to writers here, and he seemed to delight in surprising and encouraging them.
The novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo recalled García Márquez calling him “to tell me he had discussed my novels with former US president Bill Clinton.”
“I was so surprised by that,” he continued.
Yet he also witnessed García Márquez’s discomfort with fame. He had once run into him at a bookstore and watched as “about 12 people interrupted us.”
He continued: “Two of them asked him for a job. Another couple asked him for an autograph for a book he had not written, and one woman approached him and said she had just spotted him on TV.”
“The feeling that fame could be so annoying and so unpleasant struck me at once,” he said.
At the ceremony, which was broadcast live on television, García Márquez’s widow, Mercedes Barcha, and two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo, entered a hushed hall and placed his urn on a black pedestal. A long, loud applause rose up, for more than a minute.