Friday, June 18, 2004

The Company Town

[For some reason, Blogger lost this post and the next last night. I have tried to reconstitute them. Note that this one was intended to come before the last.]

I finally started to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale. After five pages I knew this would be the best book I will read all year. The details are rich, the prose are easy, the observations are acute.

The first chapter deals with a trip with his mother to return to his home town, where they will both sell the house in which they grew up. It is in a banana growing region along the Caribbean coast of Columbia. As he return, Marquez finds these town set up by companies near the plantations (and near the frontiers) remarkably similar and uninspiring:
All those towns always appeared identical to me. When Papalelo would take me to Don Antonio Daconte's brand new Olympia Cinema, I noticed that the railroad depots in the cowboy movies looked like our station. Later, when I began to read Faulkner, the small towns in his novels looked like ours too. And it was not surprising, for they had been built upon the same messianic inspiration ... and in the same provisional style of a temporary camp. I remembered them all, with the church on the square and little fairy tale houses painted in primary colors. I remembered the gangs of black laborers singing in the twilight, the shanties on the estates where field hands sat to rest and watch freight trains go by, the ditches where the morning found the cutters whose heads had been hacked off in drunken Saturday-night brawls. I remembered the private cities of the gringos ..., on the other side of the railroad tracks, surrounded, like enormous electrified chicken yards, by metal fences that on cool summer dawns were black with charred swallows. I remembered the slow blue lawns with peacocks and quail, the residences with red roofs and wire grating on the windows and little round tables with folding chairs for eating on the terraces among the palm trees and dusty rosebushes ... Even in my childhood it was not easy to distinguish some towns from others.


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