30 April 2021

100 Years of Solitude

Well, it seems like 100 years.....




It seems about a century ago that I first read Gabriel García Márquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.... 

However I actually read it on a steamer from Patras to Ancona on the 11th and 12th of April 1980, (which, I suppose, is almost as good as a hundred years ago.....)




It is a book that has had a profound effect on me, though, in true magical realist style, I would not realise that for almost forty years.


If we don’t ever sleep again, so much the better,” José Arcadio Buendía said in good humor. “That way we can get more out of life.” But the Indian woman explained that the most fearsome part of the sickness of insomnia was not the impossibility of sleeping, for the body did not feel any fatigue at all, but its inexorable evolution toward a more critical manifestation: a loss of memory. She meant that when the sick person became used to his state of vigil, the recollection of his childhood began to be erased from his memory, then the name and notion of things, and finally the identity of people and even the awareness of his own being, until he sank into a kind of idiocy that had no past.




In Chapter 3 of the book, an eleven year old girl called Rebeca arrives at the Buendía household in Macondo.  Her entire baggage consisted of a small trunk, a little rocking chair with small hand-painted flowers, and a canvas sack which kept making a clock-cloc-cloc sound, where she carried her parents' bones.

They kept her, because there was nothing else they could do.




However, she carries disease with her and in due course the family lose the ability to sleep and, They had indeed contracted the illness of insomnia.....  But what followed was worse.

One day he (Aureliano) was looking for the small anvil he used for laminating metals and he could not remember its name. His father told him: 'Stake.' Aureliano wrote the name on a piece of paper that he pasted to the base of a small anvil: stake.  In that way he was sure of not forgetting it in the future.  It did not occur to him that this was the first manifestation of a loss of memory.....




So they begin to label things with their names so that they won't be forgotten. They attempt to pin down reality with language, but it is a forlorn battle. 

They mark everything with its name: table, chair, wall, bed....

Aureliano went to the corral and marked the animals and plants: cow, goat, pig, hen.....




Little by little ...he realised that the day might come when things would be recognised by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use..  Then he was more explicit. The sign that he hung on the neck of the cow was an exemplary proof of the way in which the inhabitants of Macondo were prepared to fight against the loss of memory: This is the cow.  She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk. Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.....




In January this year we moved house.  Amanda had been registering the number of years we had lived in our old house:




And had no recognition of our impending move to Norfolk.  Since the move, it has been difficult for her to reconcile events with her perceptions, and she has been confused and disturbed.

In attempting to make sense of the excess baggage that we have brought with us, it has come to light that Amanda had been preparing for her future in a variety of ways.  Not only do we have reams of aides memoire such as this:




And lists of friends with details of their families.  And lists of our family, with notes about her parents and our children.  But also pages such as this one, which record where she liked to go:




And notes about music:




And practical notes, such as this:




And, possibly the most touching of all the evidence that she could tell that her mind was deteriorating are the boxes of cards she has made and addressed to all the people close to her, from her daughters to her old school friends.  All neatly packaged in plastic sleeves within boxes, as in this picture - look away now if you are of a sentimental disposition:




Yes.  Amanda has written cards to friends and family for Christmas, and for birthdays, up to and including 2028.....

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the episode of memory loss is only an episode.  Eventually, a man appears at the Buendía home.  He was a decrepit man.  Although his voice was broken by uncertainty and his hands seemed to doubt the existence of things, it was evident that he came from the world where men could still sleep and remember..... 




He gave José Arcadio Buendía a drink of a gentle colour and the light went on in his memory.  His eyes became moist from weeping even before he noticed himself in an absurd living room where objects were labelled and before he was ashamed of the solemn nonsense written on the walls, and even before he recognised the newcomer with a dazzling glow of joy.  It was Melquiades.....

Regrettably, I don't have a friend called Melquiades.

And there is no magic drink of a gentle colour to restore the light in Amanda's memories.....






Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.



Vaya con dios.....






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