The visit to the Bogotá Book Fair last April was full of surprises. Organizers celebrated this year’s fair, as it was the most successful in history. The records of visitors and sales were the highest ever. The explanation for this phenomenon was simple: the invited country was Macondo, the legendary town created by Gabriel García Márquez. Book fairs in Bogotá and elsewhere usually invite a country that becomes the theme of the fair. This is a way to celebrate the guest country’s literature, promote its authors, and strengthen cultural liaisons between host and guest. Rumor had it that this year the original invitation went to Spain, but due to its economic crisis Spain had to withdraw its participation three months before the fair’s inauguration.
With no time to invite another country, organizers decided that this was the opportunity to celebrate Macondo and its recently deceased creator. In three months they put together an amazing space recreating Macondo. Thousands of Colombians strolled through the streets of the town, sat at the cockfight ring (gallera) to listen to authors and critics, admired the objects that old Melquíades used to bring to amuse locals and strangers in Macondo, played with some of those unusual objects, and were even able to put in their pockets replicas of the goldfish that the first Aureliano Buendía obsessively made in his room when he was not fighting a war. It was a real feast.
Given the love for the author and the emotional attachment that Colombians have shown to their beloved Macondo, it should come as no surprise that the news that the writer’s private archive was coming to UT was not received with joy. Quite to the contrary, Consuelo Gaitán, Director of the National Library, told us that the day the New York Times broke the news that García Márquez’s papers were coming to UT, she received several phone calls from people questioning her lack of diligence. “You should have told me in advance,” she pleaded, “I needed to be prepared.” Even national newspapers published inquisitive articles regarding her role in this “unfair” business. As we know, Gaitán had nothing to do with it. It was the heirs’ decision that the papers should go to the Ransom Center.
Benson librarian José Montelongo and I went to the Book Fair to represent UT, to talk about the neighborhood where this important collection would be kept, and to quench the Colombians’ understandable frustration over the events. Ultimately, an archive is the symbol of the fundamental ideals of origin and authenticity, two elements that are at the core of everyone’s national loyalties.
By then, the story of how and when the negotiation of this amazing acquisition took place was well known, but there was still some dust in the air regarding what many Colombians (and Latin Americans for that matter) thought was not right. Keeping the archives of their most beloved writer within national boundaries was important.
During our visit and without being fully aware of it, we were dealing with the topic of the archive as a fetish. The idea that keeping those papers means getting hold of the magical moment of creation that lies somehow hidden in the corner of that bended piece of paper where the author put his hand, or in that scratched word, or in the tiny drop of coffee that he must have drunk while thinking about this or that particular character. Everyone, including us, talked about the archive as if it could give us the answer about where and how the spark of magic happened.
There we were, José (a Mexican native) and myself (Ecuadorian), sitting at the gallera in the middle of Macondo, the invited country to the city’s Book Fair, talking about why it wasn’t bad at all that these papers were held at UT, an institution that is home to the largest body of Latin Americanists in the US (if not the world), so close to the Benson, which is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) Latin American collections in this country, at the Ransom Center, where García Márquez’s archive would be kept beside the papers of his most admired writers, in a beautiful building that stands on the corner of 21st Street and a street called (of all names) Guadalupe! What we couldn’t see at that moment was that as our conversations evolved, we were all under the spell of García Márquez’s fantastic imagination. We were living-characters of his true legacy, a legacy that goes well beyond the papers of an archive and a place in a museum. Sitting at that gallera in Macondo at the Book Fair in Bogotá, we were all touched by the magic of his fiction.
See here details about the participation of Dr. José Montelongo and Dr. Gabriela Polit
Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese