I NEVER HAD THE CHANCE TO ASK HIM, BUT I AM SURE THAT GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ LOVED THE DAY OF THE DEAD. THE CENTRAL ELEMENTS OF THE TRADITION –A PROFUSION OF FLOWERS, A JOYFUL MELANCHOLY, AND THE NOTION THAT THE PAST IS ALWAYS PRESENT- ARE ALL DEEPLY MARQUESIAN. OR IS IT PERHAPS THE OTHER WAY AROUND?

SHOULD WE RATHER SAY THAT MARQUEZ HIMSELF WAS DEEPLY MEXICAN?

THE FACT THAT WE CAN EVEN ASK THESE QUESTIONS SPEAKS TO HOW HIS BOOKS TRANSCEND NATIONAL BORDERS, AND CAPTURE NOT JUST HIS HOMELAND, BUT ALSO THE WHOLE OF LATIN AMERICA.  GABO, AS EVERYBODY CALLED HIM, WAS COLOMBIAN, BUT HE LIVED AND WORKED IN MEXICO FOR MANY YEARS. HE CAME TO LOVE OUR COUNTRY ALMOST AS MUCH AS WE LOVE HIM, SO MUCH SO THAT WE CONSIDER HIM ONE OF OUR OWN. FOR THIS REASON, WE HONOR HIM ON THIS MOST MEXICAN OF NIGHTS.

BUT BEFORE I GO ON TO TELL YOU MORE ABOUT HOW WE ARE HONORING GABO, I SHOULD SAY A FEW WORDS ABOUT WHY TONIGHT IS DIFFERENT FROM EVERY OTHER NIGHT.  IF THERE IS A TRADITION THAT ENCAPSUALTES MEXICO, IT IS THE DAY OF THE DEAD.  IT IS THE PRODUCT OF SYNCRETISM BETWEEN SPANISH CATHOLISISM AND THE RELIGIONS OF INDIGENOUS MEXICANS. ON ONE NIGHT OF THE YEAR, THE BELIEF GOES, THE DEAD ARE ALLOWED TO RETURN TO EARTH AND SPEND A NIGHT WITH THOSE THEY LEFT BEHIND. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHETHER THE DEAD LED RIGHTEOUS OR SINFUL LIVES, IF THEY WERE RICH OR POOR, OR IF THEY WERE MEXICAN OR NOT: THE INVITATION TO VISIT THE WORLD OF THE LIVING IS UNIVERSAL. IT FALLS TO THOSE OF US STILL HERE TO MAKE SURE THAT THE DEAD FEEL WELCOME.

FOR THIS REASON, FAMILIES ACROSS MEXICO SPEND THE LAST WEEKS OF OCTOBER PREPARING OFFERINGS - ELABORATE DISPLAYS TO GUIDE THE DEAD TO PARTIES IN THEIR HONOR.

 

EVERY TOWN DOES IT DIFFERENTLY, BUT THE CENTRAL ELEMENTS OF THESE OFFERINGS REMAIN MORE OR LESS CONSTANT.  THERE MUST BE A PICTURE OF THE DECEASED, SO THAT SHE OR HE KNOWS THEY ARE INVITED. THERE MUST BE FOOD AND DRINK, PREFERABLY THE KIND THE DEARLY DEPARTED LOVED THE MOST. THERE MUST BE CANDLES AND INCENSE, TO CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE OF HOLINESS. THERE MUST BE COLOFUL PAPER CUT-OUTS AS IN ANY PARTY. THERE MUST BE SALT, SO THAT THE DEAD PERSON MAY PAY FOR THE FERRY BACK TO THE NETHERWORLD.

AND ABOVE ALL, THERE MUST BE FLOWERS, AS MANY OF THEM AS POSSIBLE. SPECIFICALLY, THERE MUST BE ORANGE MARIGOLDS - OR CEMPATZUCHITL, AS THEY ARE KNOWN IN NAHUATL, THE MOST WIDELY SPOKEN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE OF MEXICO.

ON DAYS AND WEEK LEADING TO THE DAY OF THE DEAD, THE CEMENTERIES OF MEXICO BECOME A SEA OF BRIGHTLY COLORED FLOWERS. THEIR PERFUME FILLS THE AIR; THEIR PETALS STAIN THE FINGERS. WHERE, I WONDER, HAVE WE READ ABOUT A SIMILAR SCENE?

I LIKE TO THINK THAT IF MACONDO HAD BEEN A MEXICAN TOWN RATHER THAN A COLOMBIAN ONE, THE DAY OF THE DEAD WOULD HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST CELEBRATION OF THE YEAR. AFTER ALL, THE SETTING OF ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE IS ALREADY FULL OF FLOWERS AND MEMORIES. AND SO, FOR OUR OFFERING TO GABO, WE HAVE DECIDED TO IMAGINE WHAT MACONDO’S CEMENTERY WOULD HAVE LOOKED LIKE IF ITS INHABITANTS HAD CELEBRATED OUR TRADITION.  THE CHARACTERS THAT HAVE COME BACK TO VISIT US APPEARED NOT JUST IN ONE HUNDRED YEARS, BUT ALSO IN MANY OF GABO’S NOVELS. WE ARE HONORED BY THE PRESENCE OF DISTIGUISHED MEMBERS OF THE BUENDIA FAMILY, OF COURSE - BUT ALSO OF FLORENTINO ARIZA AND FERMINA DAZA, THE PATIENT LOVERS FROM THE TIME OF CHOLERA. BOLIVAR, THE REVOLUTIONARY HERO THAT ISNPIRED THE AUTUM OF THE PATRIARCH, IS ALSO WITH US, AS WELL AS SOME OTHERS.

IN A SEPARATED OFFERING, WE HAVE IMAGINED THE PARTY THAT GABO’ S MANY FRIENDS AND COLEGUES - CARLOS FUENTES, JULIO CORTAZAR, JORGE LUIS BORGES,  VIRGINIA WOLF, FAULKNER AND MIGUEL DE CERVANTES, AMONG MANY OTHERS - MUST HAVE THROWN TO WELCOME HIM INTO THE OTHER WORLD.  IT TRULY MUST HAVE BEEN QUITE THE PARTY, AND I CAN ONLY HOPE THAT OURS WILL BE HALF AS GOOD.

I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO JOIN US IN THIS MOST SPECIAL OF NIGHTS, TO CELEBRATE MEXICO THROUGH ONE OF ITS GREATEST HONORARY CITIZENS. THE LOSS OF GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ EARLIER THIS YEAR SADDENED US ALL, BUT IN MEXICO WE BELIEVE THAT DEATH IS NOT A REASON FOR SORROW. RATHER, IT IS A REMINDER OF HOW MARVELOUS LIFE IS – OF HOW IT IS TO BREAK BREAD WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY, OF HOW WONDEFUL IT IS TO COME HOME. DEATH, FOR US, IS NOT EVEN THE END, BUT TEMPORARY PARTING. SO LET US MOURN GABO LIKE HE WOULD HAVE LIKED US TO –WITH LAUGHTER AND PARTY. BECAUSE TONIGHT, AND EVERY NIGHT, GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ IS WITH US.