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In Arnoldo Palacios’ ‘Macondo’

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By: Catalina Oquendo, October 1, 2011.

Cértegui (Chocó). There are people who laugh with their eyes, with subtle and hidden gestures. Not Arnoldo Palacios: he does it with his whole mouth and with his hands, which he joins together at the end of that laugh in a very common applause among Chocoans, as a celebration of what was said.

The Chocoano writer has nothing to regret. His life, he says, has been like that of a river, like the bed of the Cértegui, which he looked at as a child in this town where he was born, 86 years ago. A river that led him to study at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and to become, from France, one of the fundamental writers of Colombian literature, a narrator of the Afro world, which is part of Colombia.

Very small, due to polio, which still prevents him from walking, Arnoldo spent hours observing him, writing in front of him. For this reason, in his town, hot and mining, just like 60 years ago, when he left, they dare to affirm that his books came out of the river. They must be right. The journey that The Stars Are Black, Looking for My Mother of God and The Jungle and the Rain has been like this: with unmanageable currents, accidents on the road. The first, which he wrote in 1948, in Bogotá, was burned in the April 9 riots and he had to do it again, and the last, which was published in Russia in 1958, became known in Colombia this year. , thanks to a copy that the author gave to Germán Arciniegas and which appeared, recast, in the National Library.

For the people of Certega, the path has always been clear and Arnoldo, as they affectionately call him, is their greatest pride, the man who has managed to crudely describe the reality of Choco, who imprinted the “presence of the black in the novel”, with his language, and who, despite living in France, describes his land as if he had never left.

The town has changed a lot and nothing, like the characters in his novels. It is reached from Quibdó along a road that is now paved, but still surrounded by gold seekers, who changed the artisanal mazamorreo for backhoes. His house is today a bakery whose smell spreads deliciously through one of the streets that surround the main square; the black girls continue passing by with their braids and their colorful umbrellas, while the Cértegui and Quito rivers are still there, more polluted than before, with the sunsets as reddish as ever.

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There is no physical sign of his life there, a plaque, a bust, but everyone knows him, even those who have never seen him. «This was where they brought him to bathe. Ayyy, he is a man of experience. If he sees you, can he give you greetings, from Manuel Santiago Mosquera? », says a resident, while he crosses the bridge.

The only hint of change is the library. “There was nothing, except for some little books that some liberals once sent,” says Palacios, in his transit house, in the south of Bogotá. «That was where I read and reread the classics, because there was nothing else. How lucky I was not to have found all the books in Cértegui, because in my head I had to start meditating, and I wanted to read more.

Today, there is a meager library, which has Palacios’ books, published a few years ago by the Ministry of Culture. It is directed by a man with the same big mouth, his nephew Alcibiades Moreno Palacios.

Ironically, the library is not named after the writer, but rather after a politician, and is on the second floor, where not even Arnoldo himself could easily climb. Alcibiades takes care of her with affection: she has just gotten 15 computers and now she dreams of taking a documentary about her uncle to the Plaza de Cértegui, where children usually listen to reggaeton and play with gunpowder.

Others want to be like Arnoldo. Almost everyone is at the Matías Trespalacios educational institution, where they paid tribute to him: they asked him how he managed to get so far and they will name the library after him. Zuleydi Palacios, 18, calls herself his main fan, “number one.” Her eyes shine when she says that meeting him is one of the best moments of her life. “That day it was like: Wow, that makes you ‘fantasy’.”

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She writes, like Arnoldo, by hand, in a notebook, and walks 40 minutes every day to get to school. “When I’m very tired I think about him, that she was able to get what she wanted.”

As if in response, Arnoldo, sitting one morning in Bogotá, says that in life one must do what one wants. “I have done it, but that takes a lot of time, time has been my wealth,” he says, in a conversation that lasted almost six hours.

Dressed in black and with a white scarf on his lapel, he has a notebook with questions and a recorder in his hands, because he likes to listen to himself later. He is, as always, laughing. This year they have paid several tributes to him, half a century after the writing of his first work, The Stars Are Black.

But the first thing he wrote was a speech for a girl who died at the age of 13, as they said, “because she developed so quickly. I read it when the coffin was passing, there was commotion and applause. That’s where I started writing.”

In Cértegui, old and sick, many of his friends remember that they fought over carrying him to school, to watch soccer play, or to look for tominejos, which they used to win over girls. “A secret,” Palacios laughs.

“We lifted him everywhere,” says César ‘Pipa’ Hinestroza, now in a wheelchair and sick, but with two cigars at his side.

Even the mines led to Palacios, because, in addition to being a farmer, he was also a miner, like most Certega residents. However, he says, he renounced “the obsession with gold and exchanged it for that of literature.”

The novel that burned Later, he completed his high school degree in Bogotá, met his guide, José María Restrepo Millán, and became a regular at the El Automático café, while he silently wrote his most recognized novel, about the life of Irra, a young man who goes through Quibdó looking for something to eat and narrating the poverty they lived in Chocó. The same one whose originals burned on April 9, like a good part of downtown Bogotá, and that he wrote again in three weeks. «My contribution – Palacios has said about his work – was the presence of black people in the novel. The black hero,” he explains, because, for him, black people had always appeared as decoration.

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At 24 years old and with his first work, he obtained the scholarship that took him to France. He traveled from Bogotá to Cartagena, Colón, Havana, Cannes and Paris. There, by that chance that has always accompanied him, in less than 70 hours he met theater directors, writers and dancers, already important at the time. From there, it was Louis Armstrong, Brigitte Bardot and many more. And then, his affiliation as a delegate of the World Council for Peace among Peoples and his participation in Warsaw, which earned him the termination of the scholarship, given by the Colombian Government.

Despite that, he decided to stay. «When I arrived in France I didn’t walk like I do now, I walked with uncomfortable crutches under my arm, and one day in Montparnasse I couldn’t reach the metro and I met a doctor who offered to operate on me for free; “a legendary coincidence.”

Palacios, in reality, never left; His novel The Jungle and the Rain demonstrates this. “I wrote it in Bucharest, in winter, with snow and cold, but even though I closed the curtains, I was sweating because I was describing Chocó, I was in Atrato,” he says.

And his characters don’t exist either, “but they are real,” he says.

«Recently, a man told me that he knew Irra, the character of The Stars are Black, and that he was going to show it to me. “Hopefully when I return to Quibdó he will present it to me.”

It’s not crazy. Walking down the second street of Quibdó, where Irra did, you can see many like him, who perhaps are wondering how in the book: «(…) Some of us are born to die without respite… Others are born for joy.

They are different stars. Theirs twinkle eternally and have the price of a diamond. And mine, Lord, is a black star… Black as my face, Lord!

The post In the ‘Macondo’ by Arnoldo Palacios appeared first on Chocó7días.com.

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