Unequivocally Ambiguous

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The Blue Lobster and El Grupo de Barranquilla

by | Apr 29, 2024 | culture | 0 comments

Garcia Marquez, Drunken Colombian Artists, and 100 Years of Huevonadas!

Mural of Gabriel Garcia Marquez on the pediment of the BellaVista Hotel in Cartagena de Indias by Pauline Clement — Wikimedia Commons

If you only read Gabriel García Marquez’s work but don’t read about his background, you probably have not heard about La Cueva.

La Cueva is a bar in Barranquilla frequented by García Marquez and the artists who surrounded him, like Alvaro Cepeda Samudio, German Vargas, Alfonso Fuenmayor, Alejandro Obregón, Cecilia Porras, and Enrique Grau Araújo.

A group of artists who later became known by scholars as the Barranquilla Group. Think of it as a Vienna Group but on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and not limited to writers but also includes performative and visual artists.

It used to be a bar for hunters, and slowly, it became a place for García Marquez and his compinches (accomplices) to get together, smoke cigars, cigarettes, weed, and drink copious amounts of alcohol. This is where many of the antics the ‘Barranquilla Group’ were famous for happened.

They once stole an elephant from a traveling circus stationed nearby and brought it back to the bar. The elephant was denied admission to the indoor settings, but he left his footprints on the front door, where there was fresh cement. Two of those footprints remain on the sidewalk in front of the bar for visitors to see.

Gabriel García Marquez’ success impacted the education of every Colombian like me. At least every Colombian in my region since he was born not too far away from Barranquilla. He spent many formative years as a journalist, writer, and artist working in the city for the local newspaper — El Heraldo.

While he worked in Paris as a correspondent for El Heraldo, he wrote No One Writes to the Colonel. After finishing his first draft, he was so unhappy that he picked it up, threw it in the wastebasket next to his desk, and started again.

If anything, García Marquez’s success is a testament that people can love your art and not fully understand it. Throughout his books, there are linguistic references only people from this area of the world would get because you need to understand the idiosyncrasies of the local dialect to get them.

The stories around his mythology are endless.

We watched documentaries about García Marquez, documentaries about the books he wrote, and documentaries about those documentaries. At least one or two books would always make their way into our curriculum every year.

We often made school trips to some of the areas where he spent time, one of those places being La Cueva, where I watched, through an art exhibit meant to mimic a submarine window, La Langosta Azúl — the film Cepeda Samudio and he worked on. A short, no doubt inspired by Un Chien Andalou and the work of Luis Buñuel but with a twist that you can only add if you are from Colombia’s Caribbean coast. I know many of these things because I grew up in that area. Even if you didn’t want to learn it, you did — mostly by osmosis.

I dated a girl who loved reading Marquez. It was early in the relationship, so there was still time to brag and impress her, so I told her the stories I shared above.

To my dismay, she looked like I had just peed on her mother’s grave. She was upset with me, and I couldn’t figure out why.

In no uncertain terms or friendly ones, this girl told me I needed to shut up and that no one likes know-it-alls.

I was perplexed.

I never claimed I was an expert in García Marquez. I grew up in the city where he spent his formative years as a writer. He was and still is part of the “costeño” collective consciousness. We were constantly learning about him.

Now, reader, have you read any of García Marquez’ novels? If you have, have you ever heard the stories I shared with you? Wouldn’t you want to listen to these colorful stories if you didn’t?

I’d have said yes if you were asking me. I listen and pay attention when others tell me this kind of story.

What makes history interesting for me is the margin notes. You know, those pieces of trivia surrounding historical events — because I believe the nonsense is what is sometimes important.

At that point, I did shut up. I didn’t even tell her the other stories I knew.

I knew that Alejandro Obregón, one of the artists of the Colombian artistic triumvirate, along with Enrique Grau Araújo and Fernando Botero, brought a hunting rifle in a drunken rage to La Cueva. He shot it twice above the bar where he had painted a mural. The shot holes remain on the wall.

I also knew that one of the richest men in Colombia, Julio Mario Santodomingo, bought the bar. And in 2018, Unicef made this bar a historical patrimony for Barranquilla.

To me, this speaks of the evolution of art that always seems to start as a low-brow counter-cultural revolution to everything held in high regard. Then, it becomes part of the mainstream, appreciated by all until it is calcified in ivory towers and museums with flaccid pretensions and then protected by society’s high-brown citizens until the process starts over and over again.

One of my best friends was obsessed with García Marquez. He had memorized the entire first chapter of 100 Years of Solitude and recited it whenever we were out and about working on film projects together. Because he was a journalist, he had had the opportunity to interview Tita Cepeda, the widow of Alvaro Cepeda Samudio — who was, in my opinion, the Colombian Hemingway, the firepower behind the group and the leader of the pack.

Cepeda Samudio was a handsome, manly man with a cigar always in his mouth. A cigar that would eventually kill him of lung cancer at the young age of 44, leaving behind only a collection of small stories, one novel, and hundreds of journalistic articles.

My friend would also walk me through the similarities between the first chapter of García Marquez’ acclaimed novel and the Bible’s book of Genesis.

So, I learned a thing or two. But I was still told to shut up.

The beauty of sharing stories is that you are provided with a shortcut to learning. Because you listen to what others are saying, you can absorb what they have arduously studied and synthesized for you.

The irony is that as much as she loved García Marquez, she didn’t embody the curiosity he was famous for because he was a voracious reader and attentive listener. Because he was inquisitive throughout his life, now millions flock towards the wisdom of his adventures and imagination beautifully painted through his stories.

A lesson that sadly escaped that girl.

I broke it off with her.

She wasn’t my blue lobster.

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