“…because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth”
“It was the last that remained of a past whose annihilation had not taken place because it was still in a process of annihilation, consuming itself from within, ending at every moment but never ending its ending”
“Thus they went on living in reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters”
“Time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room.”
“That the past was a lie, and the memory has no return…and the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end”
These words, as you might have guessed, belong to Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s most famous novel, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude.’ It’s his epic masterpiece, which sold tens of millions of copies, about the rise and fall of the Buendia family through several generations of war and peace, affluence and poverty. It’s a history of a people who, in the early 19th century founded the village of Macondo in South America.
The above extracts, most of them from the last chapter, are bleak and decidedly ominous; reminding us, somewhat, of the terrible, suffocating and “reverberating” heat of Colombia. But it’s more than that – it’s the last chapter that reverberates in these lines, when the history of the Buendia family is revealed, “down to the most trivial details, one hundred years ahead of time.” The history that began with “the first of the line…tied to a tree” would end by “being eaten by the ants.”
And yet, despite its tragic and annihilistic texture, the novel became a “virtual guide” for someone from another part of the world.
Over two decades ago, photojournalist Fausto Giaccone travelled to Columbia on an assignment that would engulf him into Marquez’s phantasmagorical landscape of Latin America. So much so that the Nobel Laureate’s 1967 masterpiece became a “virtual guide” for Tuscany-born Giaccone, who, through Marquez, found an access route to Columbia. Much like millions of readers across the world, he partook in Colombia’s “topography, its history, its traditions, and its pains, its lights and its shadows.”
But Giaccone didn’t just move on to another novel after finishing Marquez, something many of us would normally do. And what followed then was an incisive photographic investigation into the “close relationship” between Colombia and the literary world of its most well-known writer.
Reading Marquez’s 2002 memoir volume “Living to Tell the Tale” transformed Giaccone’s obsession with the writer into a book of his own, “Macondo – The World of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.” The photo book is the result of the journalist’s travels through the places of Marquez’s novels and his life, including the writer’s birthplace Aracataca, the source for the mythical Macondo village in his greatest work.
The images, shot in black and white film, are on display at the Instituto Cervantes in New Delhi. The exhibition was first showcased in Goa last year.
As you revisit Marquez through Giaccone’s lens, a vast scape of everyday life, personal and social histories, and colonial remnants comes live. But to say that the collection, as with most monochrome pictures, evokes nostalgia would be an understatement. Juxtaposed with the “magical” prose of Gabo, a nickname given by friends and fans, the photographs can be seen as an extension of the writer’s universe.
With a narrative of its own, the Giaccone show, rarely letting go of the novel’s intensely pessimistic quotes, has a bemoaning quality to it. And his subjects, the South Americans, nonchalantly go about their daily business. The bewildering contrast, stark in its absoluteness, is hard to miss.
Aracataca, Marquez’s hometown, features prominently in the exhibition. Once a boomtown of American banana companies in the 20th century, today it is home to thousands of refugees from Colombia’s endemic violence. Unfit drinking water, unemployment and drug trafficking are its other problems.
In Giaccone, Aracataca is quiet, at times apathetic, involving little activity in terms of daily life and, often, wistful.
Walking through his gallery is akin to re-reading parts of Marquez’s novel, just like this one: “Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs,” Marquez wrote in the first chapter of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. The photographer found the so-called prehistoric eggs, or probably their lookalike, in the Cataca river as a boy washes his motorbike.
In another picture, a man plays Vallenato music, popular on the Colombian coast and a favourite of Marquez. On the wall is seen a portrait of blind musician Leandro Diaz, a legend to Vallenato music fans.
The show also features a hundred-year-old building, the Academia de baile, once a dance hall for banana plantation workers. In another, an old woman fills water in a banana plantation near Aracataca, followed by another image that shows a washing plant on a banana plantation.
The show’s “hundred-year-old” allegory continues as you see a photograph of Marquez’s nanny, who was born in 1917. She must be 98 now. You walk past a sleepy lane showing a deserted house where the Garcia Marquez family lived in the thirties and forties. A young man, who inspired the character of Santiago Nasar in ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’, lived next door, the caption says.
Sitting atop a huge book is a nude statue of Remedios the Beauty at the entrance to the town of Aracataca. Wings are scattered all over this structure. A mysterious, but enchanting, character in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude,’ here she is made to look like a pale angel, much like her last moments in the novel, when she ascended to the “upper atmosphere…in the midst of flapping sheets that rose up with her.”
The most striking image in the entire collection is of a woman cutting the hair of a man, probably her husband, as a young girl, maybe their child, sits in his lap. The caption next to the image reads: “Thus they went on living in reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.” It’s a telling, fateful line, cleverly attached to the sight of a mundane existence, lending a semblance of oblivion to the transient nature of life, much like Aureliano in the last chapter of the book. As he deciphers the final pages of the parchment, he discovers that he would never be able to leave the room he was sitting in as it was the moment of denouement for “this city of mirrors or mirages”. Death, it turns out, was an accidental revelation for him.