Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Plan to turn Aracataca into a travel destination

The project is being financed by a Mexican cement company under the auspices of the Government of Mexico, where García Márquez has lived for more than two decades.

In the sculpture park, under the shade of almond and mango trees, the public will gather for lectures, readings and other cultural events while gazing at the towering Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta peaks rising to the east.

"We don't have any oil here, and we don't have any gold mines," said Fabian Marriaga, Aracataca's secretary of social development. "The only mine that we have is the exploitation of Gabo."

Yet for many Aracatacans, the dream of turning their city into a tourist destination seems as quixotic and fanciful as García Márquez's fiction, where a man can be transformed into a snake and the living speak to the dead.

In addition to the problem of finding money for the projects, there is the question of whether tourists will travel to a region that is far safer than before but still, just 2½ years ago, saw 11 Colombian soldiers killed when they wandered into a rebel minefield just outside town.

Jimenez said about 2400 people visited the Garcia Marquez home in 2004, a significant jump from the 500 visitors in 2000 but hardly a bonanza for the local economy.

And the famous writer himself apparently hasn't stepped foot in Aracataca since the raucous Nobel Prize celebration in 1983, something his cousin said was due in part to the area's peril.

"There are armed groups operating here, and he could be kidnapped," said Nicolas Arias, 70, one of the few members of the García Márquez clan still living in Aracataca. "It's a real danger for him."

García Márquez could not be reached for comment, but Marriaga and others say the 78-year-old author approves of the redevelopment plans.

There is little doubt that the author's childhood in Aracataca, where he lived with his beloved grandparents until he was nine, had a profound impact on his life and work.

In Living to Tell the Tale, the first volume of his autobiography, García Márquez wrote that he decided to become a novelist during a two-day trip back to Aracataca in 1950 with his mother to sell the childhood home.

While there, he took notice as the train passed a banana plantation with "Macondo" written over the gate.

Garcia Marquez later would appropriate Macondo as the name of the fictional town where the Buendia family saga unfolds in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the author's 1967 breakthrough novel.

It's clear that Macondo is grafted from Garcia Marquez's boyhood memories of Aracataca, but seven decades later there is little of the dreamy, Technicolor world captured in his prose.

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