May gave Colombians a little taste of what to expect in June. Once everyone has scrambled to find that Panini sticker and the FIFA Brazil World Cup ads began flickering on your flat screen, the recent elections seem like a “no show,” even a “wash out” despite the tweets of pollsters who rightly predicted that incumbent Juan Manuel Santos will have to face his own face-off with the candidate of Centro Democratico, Oscar Iván Zuluaga days after the great game begins.
And even though we are still enjoying bouts of sunny days in Bogotá, this too may pass as the nation’s meteorological agency, Ideam, has predicted that ‘El Niño’ is returning with a vengeance.
I am going to be forthcoming in making my own prediction: in so- far-that Colombians are not going to get much of a break any time soon; and with a second round of presidential elections, severe weather and soccer mayhem from dawn to dusk, so much for heading stateside.
And even though I should try and fill this page by writing about politics weeks before Colombians drop their ballot – yet again – I’ll leave that for another day. In fact, I have always been askew about writing about politics in a country which even though I now consider it my own (22 years of residing here), is not. I believe foreigners here, should use their words more sparingly before going on a tirade about a country which even the most well-versed national has a hard time understanding.
Take the news of the passing April 17th of the country’s literary son Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez. Undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of all time, and compared only to Miguel de Cervantes, the passing of ‘Gabo’ – as he was affectionately known – stopped this nation in its tracks, generated a profound sense of loss and sadness amongst us all. No matter who chose the words for a stream of obituaries, the words inevitably came up short. Colombia’s master storyteller left us with an empty page.
Yet everyone seemed to have a story with ‘Gabo.’ Running into him at a reception in Cartagena, or shaking his hand in Mexico. I met him only once, even though in Cartagena on many occasions I would detour from my stroll along the ramparts to end up staring at his house, wandering if that heavy wooden door would ever open. It never did. But when I did meet him, it was in a “flash” so to speak. It was back in February 1993 at the Casa de Poesía Silva in Bogotá.
On a typically drizzly night, (it seemed to rain constantly in Bogotá back then), I had been commissioned by doña María Mercedes Carranza, director of the literary establishment to snap some social pictures of her event honoring the 70th years of president Belisario Betancur. Now, I have never been qualified to be a social photographer as I have serious issues with artificial lighting and never really mastered the art of flash photography. Once my agent in New York even advised me that the day I really “understand flash,” I would become that much better photographer than the one I aspired to be. My agent was Black Star.
But I decided to give it my best shot and the fee of $100,000 pesos would go along way with the rent. When I arrived at the colonial house, doña María Mercedes pointed out who were the obligatory subjects of my pictures. There was the former president, of course. There was Gabriel García Márquez.
I proceeded to bounce my flash off the roof, the wooden beams and any object which might deflect the light so as to not burn the negatives. The main table seemed uneventful photographically speaking. Men in thick-rimmed glasses staring out at an audience of as- piring literati. Then ‘Gabo’ stepped out amongst the guests, and I was thrust into his “inner circle.” It was a momentary encounter of risk over reason. I wanted to talk to him, but my attention span kept getting sidetracked by glasses of whiskey circulating on a silver tray, and which were quickly being snapped up by Allan Ginsberg wannabees.
I exchanged a few niceties with the Nobel before asking him to pose for the obligatory picture. My flash outperformed me, and weeks later, I handed over a box of negatives to my demanding client.
A few “out takes” (those pictures which editors dismiss for technical or duplicate reasons) stayed in my possession. Many years later Nobelprize.org, the official website of the Nobel Prize, contacted me from Sweden to see if they could use my ‘Gabo’ picture as one of their official images. I obliged. What an honour.
So the picture you see above this text was taken on that raining night in La Candelaria. It still amazes me what flash can do in the hands of a not-so-talented “society photographer.” So, farewell beloved ‘Gabo’ and thank you for stepping into my picture! This was so much more inspiring that writing about politics.