As used and rare book sellers, we are frequently introduced to some very knowledgeable and well-traveled people. One of our most delightful clients is Clem S., who recently purchased from us a first edition of Love in the Time of Cholera, a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez which is set in Cartagena.
After that transaction we struck up a lively correspondence with Clem, and learned he had made several trips to Colombia. He introduced us to many of the wonders of Cartagena, including the name of this amazing tour guide.
When we arranged our first visit to our son and daughter-in-law’s Cartagena home, Diana made an appointment for the four of us to walk the city with Marelvy. It was an amazing day and a great gift for which I am ever thankful, Diana!
If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself in Cartagena, Colombia, and you want an historical tour of the city or one focusing primarily on the literary work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this is the lady to see.
Fluent in English, French and Spanish, her captivating personality is a mix of scholarly insight, graciousness and gentle good humor — she was truly a delightful companion and guide. I later learned she is ranked #1 of 64 activities in Cartagena by Tripadvisor (For Tripadvisor info on Marelvy click HERE ).
We began the tour in the heart of the old city at the beautiful and luxurious Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Hotel, a jewel of 17th century colonial architecture which is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Gabriel Garcia Marquez used this former convent as the setting for his novel, Of Love and Other Demons.
” The historic convent of the Clarissan nuns, which had been turned into a hospital a century earlier, was to be sold, and a five-star hotel built in its place. The gradual collapse of the roof had left its beautiful chapel exposed to the elements, but three generations of bishops and abbesses and other eminent personages were still buried there. The first step was to empty the crypts, transfer the remains to anyone who claimed them, and bury the rest in a common grave.
I was surprised by the crudeness of the procedure. Laborers opened the tombs with pickaxes and hoes, took out the rotting coffins, which broke apart with the simple act of moving them, and separated bones from the jumble of dust, shreds of clothing, and desiccated hair. The more illustrious the dead the more arduous the labor, because the workers had to rummage through the remains and sift the debris with great care in order to retrieve precious stones and articles of gold and silver.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez (affectionately known as “Gabo” in Latin America) was a Colombian journalist and novelist whose One Hundred Years of Solitude established him as a giant of 20th-century literature. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.
He was born in the small town of Aracataca, Colombia in 1927. Early in his career he struggled, barely making a living writing for newspapers in Cartagena. He alternated between literature and journalism for a good part of his life.
He maintained a home in Cartagena in his later years, and several of his novels are clearly set there, including Of Love and Other Demons and Love in the Time of Cholera (the latter was brought to film in 2007 by New Line Cinema).
Marquez moved to Mexico City in 1961, where he lived off and on for the rest of his life. He was the master of the literary genre known as Magical Realism; his books are bursting with energy, romance, and unbridled imagination.
In his life he experienced extreme poverty and extreme success — and just about everything in-between. To read about his life is to have some understanding as to why he was politically active and a defender of left-wing causes, as well as a friend to many famous political leaders as far-ranging as Fidel Castro and Bill Clinton. In his later years, after achieving worldwide acclaim and financial success, he kept homes in Mexico City, Barcelona, Paris and Cartagena. His own life is one great story.
“Gabo” died in April of 2014 at his home in Mexico City at the age of 87.
For a good brief biography and a sampling of his writing, read this New York Times article written shortly after his death.
For in-depth biographies, I suggest his 2002 memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, as well as Gabriel Garcia Marquez – A Life, by Gerald Martin.
More to come – hope you will follow us on the rest of our Colombian adventure!