I didn't expect my life to change when I entered the sparsely-furnished, literature classroom at the Universidad de Veracruz in Xalapa, Mexico. The long-haired, political-activist professor who arrived late was a bit of a surprise, but that would soon pale in comparison to the stories and novels he was about to introduce us to.
We didn't have any books. Instead the professor handed out faint, mimeographed pages of the stories of Gabriel García Márquez, master of magical realism and literary journalism. We read them aloud while our professor became increasingly animated in his enthusiasm, pausing only to push the hair from his eyes. As the stories came alive, we realized that this level of learning could not be contained to a bare and dusty classroom. Some of us accompanied the professor to a series of cafes around town, drinking beer until we were tipsy, talking for hours and filling our hungry souls with the delicious adventures of shipwrecked sailors, old Caribbean soldiers, ethereal beauties and the ghosts who coexist with the living only because they are too stubborn to succumb to death.
The world of magical realism was an epiphany and I suddenly realized that life was not the black and white, cut and dried reality I had learned in hometown America. A whole new world opened up for me in which the supernatural, the spiritual and the physical coexisted in a exotic mélange that changed my view of life forever.
This epiphany was to set me on a lifelong search for adventure, travel and opportunities to experience different cultures; a continual thirst to see the world through different eyes and to write about it. For the first time I had been given license to be the person I really wanted to be. The magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez had given me the freedom to soar.
When I ran home after class and told the senora in the house where I lived about my discovery, she handed me a succulent plate of carne de res, arroz and the bright red flower petals called colorin. I told her how wonderful it was to read about a world that was turned upside down but that made so much sense at the same time. She looked at me with a dry expression, "Es normal," she said. "That's how we all see the world."
Her comments made me smile. I borrowed an antique typewriter and with senora's blessing I started writing my first, full-length novel on her kitchen table. The family's elderly, maiden aunt, Tia Pilar showed up even before I was finished with page one. "I will keep you company while you finish your task," she explained. "We will be like sisters every afternoon." True to her word, she showed up each day to sit nearby fingering her rosary, while my own fingers tapped on the typewriter keys. She only stopped coming when I had finished the last page.
Gabriel García Márquez opened my young mind to the unlimited possibilities of imagination, creativity and diverse cultural experience. It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received and in a very real way, it changed the course of my adult life forever. So today, as I pay homage to Gabriel García Márquez, I dust off my tattered copies of his books, open One Hundred Years of Solitude to the first chapter, and read once again about the band of ragged gypsies who arrived in the mythical, Caribbean town of Macondo, bringing with them the learned alchemist, Melquiades, who in turn, brought with him the first magnets that anyone had ever seen.
The gypsy dragged the enormous magnets behind him through the streets of the town while "pots, pans, tongs and braziers tumbled down from their places," and followed him down the street.
"'Things have a life of their own,' the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. 'It's simply a matter of waking up their souls.'"