Gabriel Garcia Marquez Meets Ernest Hemingway (and how I learned of Marquez’s Nobel)

Garcia, 30 years ago, on seeing Hemingway 32 years before in Paris: 

For a fraction of a second, as always seemed to be the case, I found myself divided between my two competing roles. I didn’t know whether to ask him for an interview or cross the avenue to express my unqualified admiration for him. But with either proposition, I faced the same great inconvenience. At the time, I spoke the same rudimentary English that I still speak now, and I wasn’t very sure about his bullfighter’s Spanish. And so I didn’t do either of the things that could have spoiled that moment, but instead cupped both hands over my mouth and, like Tarzan in the jungle, yelled from one sidewalk to the other: ”Maaaeeestro!” Ernest Hemingway understood that there could be no other master amid the multitude of students, and he turned, raised his hand and shouted to me in Castillian in a very childish voice, ”Adiooos, amigo!” It was the only time I saw him.

At the time, I was a 28-year-old newspaperman with a published novel and a literary prize in Colombia, but I was adrift and without direction in Paris. My great masters were the two North American novelists who seemed to have the least in common. I had read everything they had published until then, but not as complementary reading – rather, just the opposite, as two distinct and almost mutually exclusive forms of conceiving of literature. One of them was William Faulkner, whom I had never laid eyes on and whom I could only imagine as the farmer in shirtsleeves scratching his arm beside two little white dogs in the celebrated portrait of him taken by Cartier-Bresson. The other was the ephemeral man who had just said goodbye to me from across the street, leaving me with the impression that something had happened in my life, and had happened for all time.

No words to express how much this moves me. Just Hemingway would have been enough; but to learn Marquez’s two biggest influences at that age included two of my top three (along with Woolf) — priceless. With many thanks to Paige Williams, who directed me to this 30-year-old treasure I’d have otherwise missed.

Very close to the time this was published, I was living in NYC, and learned Garcia had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was riding the elevator up to my apartment, and riding it too was the delivery guy from the neighborhood wine store, where I often bought $2 bottles of wine that had originated in Argentina or Australia or Chile — still overlooked sources back then. The wine-store guy, who was from Colombia, was young and smart and heavily accented and ridiculously handsome. That day, carrying a sack of wine up for someone on a higher floor (I got the apartment via rent control; the building was way beyond my fresh-grad paygrade, but I had snagged it at the same price my friends were paying to live in hovels), he was beaming.

“How are you?” I asked.

He said, “Wonderful. I am so happy today. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has just won the Nobel prize. I am so happy and proud.” He looked terribly happy and terribly homesick.

Somehow this completes a circle: Hemingway, Garcia commenting on Hemingway’s bullfighter Spanish, and the Colombian wine steward, beaming, bringing me the news of Garcia’s own triumph.

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