This article first appeared in El País on 18 April 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).
144 Fuego Street: The House where García Márquez Drew His Last Breath
by Juan Diego Quesada (EL PAÍS)
– The writer died in his Mexico City home. The private cremation will be followed a memorial on Monday in Bellas Artes.
– A legion of fans traveled to the Colombian’s house for a final farewell.
At 144 Fuego Street, in the south of Mexico City, at 1530 a black-sweatered girl in jeans left a bunch of daisies. Mónica Hernández had reluctantly read Cien años de soledad on her schoolteacher’s instruction. Years later a reprint by the Real Academia de la Lengua Española fell into her hands and she read it with a convert’s fanaticism. By being the first reader to arrive at the house where 87-year old Colombian Gabriel García Márquez had just died, she was seeking forgiveness for childish petulance and honoring one of the greatest writers of the Spanish language.
Three days ago, reporters began to keep guard outside García Márquez’s house as word began to spread that he had started to receive palliative care in his home, a quaint colonial residence framed by bougainvillea. Occasionally, a reader would ask about their idol’s health, returning with a gesture denying bad news. At 1456 on a sunny afternoon, the Thursday before Easter, with half the city gone on vacation, Mexican journalist Fernanda Familiar, a close friend of the writer and his wife, Mercedes Barcha, appeared at the door. She was crying. Without saying a word she went back inside. She had given the world the first indication that the Nobel prize-winning author had died.
Five minutes later, Colombian writer Guillermo Angulo arrived in a taxi. He carried a suitcase, a white bag, and a hunting hat. He entered the home without saying a word. García Márquez’s personal assistant, Genovevo Quiroz, came out to give instructions to the first police officers that began their watch over the street. A neighbor, María del Carmen Estrada, poked her head out of her door, remembering the day she gave him a hug when they crossed paths. “I hadn’t read any of his books, but the people loved him, and I treated him warmly. He was a model neighbor.”
The writer will be cremated privately – according to the director of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, María García Cepeda, who spoke on the family’s behalf from their threshold. Joining her to make the announcement was Jaime Abello Banfi, García Márquez’s friend, someone with the right to call him Gabo, and director of the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano (New Foundation for Iberoamerican Journalism).
Earlier, around 1635, as clouds descended on Mexico’s capital city, a grey hearse arrived to take García Márquez’s remains to the funeral home. On the hearse, the undertakers had attempted to cover up their company’s name but the see through paper revealed the logo, García López. But the company does not perform funerals. As with other great Mexicans, like comedian Mario Moreno Cantinflas [or — translator’s note — writer Carlos Fuentes], García Márquez will be honored on Monday afternoon in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the country’s greatest honor for one of its dead.
Little by little the crowd in the street began to grow. A youth with an open red shirt, showing some chest hair, white trousers and pointed shoes. He seemed to have just left one of those vallenatos the novelist liked so much. Colombians Juan Pablo Castro and Rosana Vergara, a married couple with a child, were visiting Mexico City when they heard the news so they knew at once that the coincidence meant they had to pay homage at the home. They left a bocadillo on the doorstep, a typically Colombian candy made from the fruit of the guayaba. A friend, Valeria Hurtada, had plucked a veranera flower from a neighbor’s house and threw it over the hearse as it carried the writer’s body away. The flower stuck on the vehicle until it accelerated, falling off at the first curve as it picked up speed down the cobbled street.
Police Commander Cantellano presided over the deployment of a contingent of officers in Fuego Street. Cantellano placed barriers to cut off the flow of traffic and in warlike tones outside the writer’s stoop he ordered his agents to line up. He put up a security perimeter around the main door and the garage. “We’re here on an important mission,” the official said under his breath. His men, trying to support him, stood to attention for hours at 144 Fuego Street. Sometimes they took a breather, allowing Gabo fans to leave flowers, books, and candles at the entrance. Police Officer García did not know who the writer was (“he doesn’t ring a bell to me”) but given the deployment, and the severity of Cantellano’s orders he begun to understand the moment’s significance. “I didn’t know the gent, but now I am going to read him.”
Bruno Uribe turned up with a candle and a long lighter, one of those used to light the stoves of industrial kitchens. Officer García, whose name shone out from a badge on the right pocket of his uniform, let him pass to light the candle. Uribe left it a meter from the door, beside a copy of Memorias de mis putas tristes. “It’s a little homage from me and my family,” was all he would say, and left. A rosary hung from his neck.
Mónica Hernández, after leaving the small bunch of daisies near the wooden door, walked around a little, confused by the neighborhood. She approached a crying neighbor and they seemed to find consolation in a mutual embrace. Five o’clock in the afternoon was fast approaching. It had begun to drizzle. And the rain was just about to fall.
Journalist Juan Diego Quesada reports for El País. His original story in Spanish was published as “En el 144 de la calle Fuego, el último suspiro de García Márquez,” available at http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2014/04/18/actualidad/1397772800_405073.html. Follow JDQ on Twitter @jdquesada.
Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist, and founding editor of the Mexican Journalism Translation Project. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.