MEXICO CITY—The guests rose in standing ovation when the black urn with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ ashes was carried down the red-carpeted stairs into the lobby of the Palace of Fine Arts and placed on a pedestal amid bouquets of yellow flowers.
“Thank you, Gabo!” a woman on the balcony called out and the guests at the memorial service joined in shouts of teary appreciation for Latin America’s most famous writer, who died four days ago at the age of 87 in his home in Mexico City.
Police outside Gabriel Garcia Marquez's house on Fuego street in Mexico City. pic.twitter.com/TrByNM2Yn4— Joshua Partlow (@partlowj) April 21, 2014
Police had set up barricades at both ends of Fuego street in the southern neighborhood of Jardines de Pedregal on Monday to keep the traffic of well-wishers away from his two-story white-washed brick home. Behind the 21 policemen in red caps that guarded his door, mourners had laid flowers and hung the flag of his native Colombia.
The Nobel Prize-winning novelist had lived in Mexico City for years and wrote some of his most famous books here, including his 1967 classic, One Hundred Years of Solitude, which helped elevate Latin American literature onto the world stage. From his home, his ashes were driven north to the downtown palace for the afternoon ceremony. The president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, who described Garcia Marquez after his death as “the greatest Colombian who ever lived,” and the president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, both were expected to pay their respects at the palace, along with Garcia Marquez’ family, friends, fellow writers and admirers. His widow, Mercedes Barcha, and his two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo, were among the first to stand solemnly behind the urn under marble columns and the murals of Diego Rivera.
Outside, thousands of his readers waited in a line that snaked back through the neighboring park, shading themselves from the sun with umbrellas and reading his books while they waited.
“Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a writer who, with his books, changed my life,” said Maria Eugenia Garcia Armengol, a city government employee who was leafing through One Hundred Years of Solitude. “I am grateful for his existence and everything that he wrote.”
The crowd was diverse: men in business suits and dreadlocked teens, grandmothers, babies, tourists and would-be writers. Organ grinders and guitar players tried to liven the mood. An elderly woman held a sign that read: “Gabo, your thoughts will always live in us.”
“I was so sad and I felt that I had to come here and say goodbye to my favorite author,” said Alberto Gutierrez, an 18-year-old chemistry student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “There is magic the books have, the imagination, the little world they create in a few pages. I remember some scenes, like the rain of flowers, he was full of imagination.”
“That’s precisely why I don’t write anything,” he said. “When I read his books I feel that I could never do such a thing like that.”
Gutierrez had pinned a yellow ribbon to his black shirt in commemoration of the famous image and its author. There were hundreds, if not thousands of people ahead of him in line. He would be waiting for hours and felt lucky for the chance.
“It’s amazing to see all the people here to say goodbye to one of the most amazing writers in Spanish.”