Bicycle Riding in Denmark

March 26, 2020

En español. Em português.

Integrated with its widespread public bus and train network, cycling is considered an important means of transportation in this small Scandinavian country, which has one of the world’s most modern bicycle infrastructures. Out of 20 cities throughout the world, and every year since 2015, the Copenhagenize Index has ranked Denmark’s capital, København (Copenhagen), the most bicycle friendly city in the world. If you like to ride your bike, Danmark is geared for cycling.


A Typical Danish Bikeway.  Credit:

Danskerne (the Danes) and Bicycles

The capital city of København (Copenhagen), which means the Merchant’s Port in Dansk (Danish), has a population of 633,000 people (2017), about 675,000 bicycles, and 120,000 cars. 62% of københavnerne (Copenhageners) cycle to work or school; 4 out of 10 own a car; and 9 out of 10 own a bicycle. In fact, since 2016, cykel (bicycle) traffic surpassed car traffic in the capital region, with 52% of households not owning a car. Danskerne on average cycle 1.9 miles per day in Copenhagen; 1.5 miles in Århus, the second largest city; and 1.6 miles in Odense, the third largest. 75% of bike traffic continues throughout the cold Danish winters, and 4000 to 5000 bikes are sold in Copenhagen annually.

Danmark has been a bicycle nation for over 100 years and in the 1920s and 30s, cycling became a symbol of equality and freedom. In the early seventies, when the land of Hans Christian Andersen and all countries of the world were investing heavily in cars and automobile infrastructure, things took a turn with the Mideast oil crisis and Københavnere, demanded that their wonderful Copenhagen, as the famous song says, be car free.

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26% of Copenhageners with 2 children own a cargo bike. Credit:

Dansk børn (Danish children) start riding bicycles before they are six years old and are often seen at very early ages on their parents’ bicycles, which may be adapted with different parts and carriages to transport one or several children at a time. Danskerne actually invented the front wooden box transport bike seen here and below, which conveniently carries children or cargo in this bicycle nation. In school, children learn cykling (cycling) culture, rules and safety as part of their curriculum. 49% of all børn aged 11-15 cycle to school.


The Danish Front Cargo Bike was invented in Denmark. Credit:

Danish Cykling Infrastructure

Among many other factors, perhaps the most important key to the Danish biking success is that cyklister (cyclists) have their own separate bikeways, which cars cannot access. København has about 249 miles of them, which are separated from car lanes and sidewalks altogether.

Geographically comprised of the peninsula Jutland, Zealand and numerous other small islands, Danmark is a wealthy and modern country of 16,577 square miles, which has 7500 miles of bikeways.  It’s built 13 bicycle bridges since 2017 and three more are under construction. The recently finished Dybbølbro bridge has 6 yard wide lanes in each direction to accommodate more than 22,000 daily bicycle riders. It’s also currently constructing hundreds of miles of “super” bikeways which connect Copenhagen to its suburbs. 


A typical bike bridge in Denmark. Credit:

The public transportation network works together with Danish bikeways. Commuter trains have a dedicated wagon for bicycles.  20% of Danish cyclists ride their bikes to train stations and 5% from the train stations to their destination. In Copenhagen, it’s 30% to 10% respectively.

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The Statsbaner commuter & subway Trains (State Railways) Credit:

Health and The Environment

Cykling reduces health problems, work absences and it saves the Danish tax payer money on health costs. Danish studies show that for every 2/3 of a mile cycled, Denmark gains approximately $1.10 in health benefits in its medicare-for-all type health care system. In addition, cyclists in Copenhagen request 1.1 million less sick days versus non cyklister (cyclists), which translates as 215 million euros in annual savings. For every 746 miles cycled, one sick day is reduced. It’s also a great way for Danskerne to get fresh air every day and enjoy the outdoors, which clears your mind and reduces stress. 

The benefits of cykling to the environment speak for themselves. It reduces carbon emissions, pollution, noise, and traffic congestion. It uses public space more efficiently, creates a thriving urban life and makes cities more livable. In the Capital region, bicycle usage saves 500 tons of CO2 annually and Sjælland residents produce 92% less emissions when they stop using their cars and switch to cykler (bicycles). Danes consider cykling the present and future of mobility and smart city development. It also provides mobility at a low cost. 


A bicycle dedicated wagon in a Danish Commuter Train. Credit:

Danish Teknologi

Danes try to make cykling as convenient as possible in order to encourage it.  The grøn bølge (green wave) technology, which has existed in a similar form for cars in Denmark for many decades, are green LED lights adapted for bikeways which, when lit, mean that if the cyklist rides at about 12.5 mph he/she will catch the next traffic light in green, and will not have to stop. In addition, when it’s raining, some bikeways are fitted with sensors that allow longer green traffic lights. Danes are also constantly testing and implementing new technology to improve safety, for example LED lights that warn truck drivers of cyclists, when making a right turn.

Dansk bikeways also have a variety of cykelinventar (urban furniture) which add considerable comfort, such as service stations; monitors with all kinds of real time information like weather, number of riders, etc; air pumps; footrests; and  even bike-friendly tilted trash receptacles.


Bicycle footrest in Denmark. Credit:

The Danish Super-Bikeways 

Known as the supercykelstier, translated by that organization, the Sekretariatet for Supercykelstier (The Department for Superbikeways),  into English as the  “bicycle superhighways,” they connect the kommuner (suburbs) to København. The object is to increase long distance cykling commuting, and make it competitive to taking the train or bus, thereby reducing carbon emissions, and at the same time, improving the health of cyclists.  Other European countries are also constructing this new category of bike thoroughfares.


The 4.54 mile in length C-82  Superbikeway in one of Copenhagen’s near suburbs. Credit:

In 2009, most of Sjælland’s suburbs (Zealand, the name of the Island where Copenhagen is) started this joint project to build a total of 466 miles of these highways by 2045. A total of 8 have been built thus far, progressing from 7.5 miles in 2012, to 104 miles in 2019.  

Built with the vision of keeping Copenhagen and its suburbs as the “greatest bicycle region” in the world, the superbikeways make perfect environmental and financial sense. Danish research found that replacing 1% of all car trips in Sjælland with a bicycle, saves 23,000 tons of  CO2 . Bike traffic in the superbikeways increased 23% since 2012  and 14% used to travel by car instead.  The highest number of cyclists recorded on one superbikeway on a weekday was 29,000 and riders average 6.8 miles per day. In addition, there would be a 30% increase in car commuting if no one in the region used a bicycle.

The superbikeways will cost $319.8 million by 2045, and bring a total socio-economic surplus is $829.3 million, of which $667.7 million comprise the health benefits. They will also reduce by 40,000 the number of sick days per year.

A study by found that 10% additional cykling annually would reduce sick days by 267,000, decrease traffic congestion by 6%, and save $160 million in public health care. 

Meet Some Danish Cyclists

According to a one month study, Mette, a 49 year old Danish woman who used an electric bicycle, saw a 5 year reduction in her body age by cycling 16.7 miles/day. She also saw her Body Mass Index reduced from 24.4 to 23.4 in one month.


A typical Danish parent with her children. Credit: 

Fiona Weiss, a Danish woman who has ridden a bicycle for 50 years, cycles mostly in summer and says “it gets the happy vibes going and allows me to discover places I would not see on the train, (keeping) my legs slim.” She also enjoys cycling on “a good winter day. If I feel like going to the seaside or forest for winter fresh air.”

Bettina Fürstenberg is a 52  year old Danish woman who used to ride her bicycle an average of about 10 miles a day until she had a serious bike accident in her thirties. She currently owns three bicycles, one being electric. She says cycling is the “fastest way to move around Copenhagen,” and it “doesn’t pollute the air.” She feels that “better and larger roads are still needed…with stricter rules for cyclists” such as “speed limits.” Although she hasn’t fully recovered from her accident, she still rides her bikes for “any kind of activity, like work, movies, parks, shopping, etc.”

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Outside area of a typical Copenhagen building. Photo by Jorge Carbajosa

Danish Bicycle Know-How

The Cycling Embassy of Denmark promotes cycling for cities throughout the world. It offers a virtual reality film featuring a bike ride in Copenhagen, a two day study trip in Denmark and prepares annual reports. Danes have numerous websites in English promoting cycling and their country. Many were used for this story and are listed below.

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Bicycle parking areas at Copenhagen’s Main Central Station. Photo by Jorge Carbajosa

Danish and English Linguistics

The Danish language is spoken in Danmark, Færøerne (the Faeroe Islands) and by a minority in Grønland (Greenland). It is mutually intelligible with Swedish and Norwegian, which descend from Old Norse. Icelandic, another language that comes from the Vikings, also comes from Old Norse.

The Danish language is related to English because they are both Germanic in origin. The Angles were in fact, Danes, who migrated to England in the fifth century A.D. In addition, Old Norse influenced English because of Vikingerne (the Vikings) invasions of Great Britain in the eighth century A.D. and in 1066 A.D. by the Normans (the North Men) who were also of Viking origin.

Most Danes speak English well and learn it at a young age.

Copyright © 2020 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

I would like to dedicate this article to all my friends from Denmark and specially to Bettina Fürstenberg, Birgitte Borgsmidt, Robert Clarke, Dr. Joe Asbury, and to world cyclists Jorge Balderas and Ignacio Durán.


Cycle superhighways

McKay’s Modern Danish – English Dictionary by Hermann Vinterberg, David McKay Company, Inc.

An Introduction to Old Norse, E.V. Gordon, Oxford 1990

The Tree of Life in the Universe

June 17, 2022

In essence we are carrying millions of years of Life in our genes. We were born from the Tree of Life in the Universe and we’ve evolved into millions of different Beings, freely roaming the world but we are from the same Tree. This Tree’s seeds and fruits, so to speak, perish and transform, but we continue to be part of the Tree.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on

Copyright © 2022 Jorge Luis Carbajosa


May 17, 2022

Remember the howling wind

against our backs,

pushing us forth

on that desert flattened beach

the waves crashed at our feet

splashing on our crispy clothes,

your voice mumbled in my mind

the slow movement of your dry lips

puffing on that burning popping greefah.

Remember how we walked for hours south

the stomping of my feet,

on the soft wet sand

stopping my body from falling ahead,

hearing the slow pump on my chest

the ringing of sand in my ears.

You blew fast words from your mouth

as the tide regurgitated the waves

the white foam boiling out of the sea.

Remember how we were free

walked without reason on that beach

never hearing what we said,

not knowing where we were.

Copyright © 1990 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Photo by Maria Isabella Bernotti on


May 17, 2022

Welcome to the Sterile World

where trees have been reduced to nothing

but smooth lining for the walls.

The ceiling’s made of cheap styrofoam,

the tables are held by hollow shining steel,

and the floors are a space age carpet

Welcome to the geometric office,

where you are only a simple decorated tool

adorned in your polyester suit

Copyright © 1993 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Photo by Guillaume Meurice on

Lomé, Togo 2021

October 5, 2021
The coast off the Avepozo neighborhood in Lomé, East of the Hotel Madiba

This year, in the month of June, some of my family members and friends traveled to Togo from the United States, Germany and France. Many of us had planned to travel in April 2020 but were not able to because of the pandemic. Some members of the group stayed for a month in Lomé and others, like my wife and I, stayed for 15 days.

Although some of us in the U.S. traveled from Newark to Lomé nonstop, my wife and I took a flight from Chicago to Brussels, Brussels to Accra, Ghana; and then to Lomé (total trip time 19h and 10 min). We booked the flight in April 2021 with Brussels Airlines through a third party website and we paid a little less than $1200 each.

Like many people who travel to non-industrialized countries, our suitcases were completely packed and some weighed more than 45 pounds. A very patient and slim lady at the American Airlines counter helped us reweigh our luggage after we had removed some of the items and put them in our carry on luggage. It was surprising to see such a thin person lift our very heavy luggage and put it on the belt. We did purposefully take an extra suitcase and we paid $200 to check it in.

American airlines handled the flight from Chicago to Belgium and Brussels Airlines the rest of the way. Our experience with the latter is also very positive because last year they refunded our 2020 trip without much of a problem. I also found their staff to be extremely helpful since they were able to retrieve a hand luggage in Brussels which we had been asked to check in in Chicago at the gate, right before boarding. The hand luggage contained important medication my wife needed from the last stretch of the trip, which we later realized we needed.

Togo Tourist Visa

Unlike in my last trip to Togo, instead of getting the one week entrance visa at the Lomé airport, I applied for it through the Togolese embassy in the U.S. Although it is much more expensive to do it this way, the visa is good for 3 months, which means not having to apply for an extension in the town of Agoé, an ordeal I describe in my last trip. I didn’t get credit for the three month visa I obtained for 2020, which I never used due to the pandemic. I believe the visa cost about $150. If you want to apply for the visa, download the forms from the Togolese embassy.

COVID testing

To enter Togo we were required to fill out an on-line questionnaire and pay a fee of 40,000 CFA for a mandatory COVID test everyone had to take to enter Togo. After filling it out, I was issued a scannable bar code sent to my email address, which I was required to present in the Lomé aiport. Once at the airport, however, I noticed my code was not scanned and instead my information was taken by hand at 2 different places and then, like everyone else, I took the COVID PCR test. I believe I signed a form indicating if I tested positive I would voluntarily quarantine. The result was sent to me via email some days later and I tested negative.

To return to the U.S. the Togolese authorities required we take the PCR Covid test again at the airport. When we showed up for the test, we were informed we could preregister online so we wouldn’t have to stand and wait. The test price had decreased to 25,000 CFA. I took the test on July 10th, Saturday, two days before my departure and received the results on Sunday afternoon. Although my wife tested negative, I tested “probable,” meaning it was probable I had the virus, but technically the result was inconclusive. The instructions on the form I received by email were to wait 72 hours before retaking it. I couldn’t have taken the test again on that Sunday anyway because the airport testing site was only open for 4 hours on weekend mornings. However, some of my wife’s relatives said nothing prevented me from taking it again on Monday, July 12th at seven in the morning at the Institut National d’Hygiene and pay the rush fee, which ended up being 20,000 CFA. The Institut said the results would take 18 hours but a couple of in-laws who knew some people were able to get the results by six pm the same day so I was able to leave on my scheduled flight at eight pm on that Monday.

Some of my in-laws said I did not test negative or positive because I am white and the government just wanted to make money from me. However, I’m not so sure because there doesn’t seem to be any connection between the people at the Institut National d’Hygiene and the airport. I called the U.S. embassy on Monday morning and they said they had never heard of a “probable” test result and they could place a call on my behalf to see if they could get more information. I told them it wasn’t necessary but I would call them again on Tuesday if my new PCR test did not come out negative. Luckily I never had to call the U.S. Embassy again.

Needless to say my last Sunday afternoon in Lomé was ruined and I had to wake up at 6:00 am the next day, the same day of my return flight to the US, to catch a taxi on the N2 from the Baguida neigborhood to the city center. We were on the N2 at about 6:45 am and I was surprised to see a lot of traffic of many hundreds of people traveling on motorbikes and cars to undoubtedly go to work. I enjoyed seeing so many young people early in the morning. We also waited for some time outside and inside the Institut National d’Hygiene. It is in an interesting neighborhood. There are several pleasant outdoor restaurants. My wife had some Akasan, a corn type drink, and botokoin, a type of African donut hole, for breakfast. The latter are also referred to as bofrot in Ghana and Burkina Faso and there are plenty of recipes on youtube.

Quartier Baguida

In this trip we rented a house for a month in the Baguida neighborhood in Lomé. The house was quite spacious, having 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms, with outside servant’s quarters consisting of an additional room with a full bathroom. But the house was not clean and overall in bad condition. Many of the window screens were either broken or had holes, and the refrigerator did not work well for the first 9 days. There were several broken appliances in the backyard along with dog poop. The front yard had one broken sink up against a hedge, another sign which showed a complete lack of care from the owner. Unfortunately we rented the house through a relative, and not through one of the house rental websites, so we could not write up a review. The house was located in a gated area about, half a block from the N2, not far from the Hotel Porte Baguida.

A dirt road off the N2 in Lomé’s Baguida Neighborhood. There’s a lack of sidewalks and they’re often blocked. The observable ditches on the road become filled with water when it rains making it very difficult to walk and drive.

Outside of the gated area there were no sidewalks and no traffic lights so taking a walk or going to buy something at the local stores by foot was very uncomfortable. In addition, summer in Togo is the rainy season and the dirt road in front of our gated community often had huge puddles so at times there was only one foot of dry space to walk on, which we had to share with the cars and incessant motorbikes.

Other people in our group who rented a house or apartment had a much better experience. I think being a large party in a house makes it harder to manage the living conditions. Next time my wife and I will rent a place by ourselves.

Back in 2017, we stayed for two weeks at a relative’s house in the Avepozo quartier, or neighborhood. This year 2021, I found Avepozo to have grown, have a good nightlife, more variety of shops and better sidewalks. It’s also, unlike Baguida, at a walking distance from the beach.

Zemidjans and traffic

The zemidjans or motorbikes are a cheap and popular way to commute. A ride from Baguida to the Avepozo neighborhood, for example, almost 2 miles away, cost 300 CFA. My experience is that a lot of car drivers dislike the zemidjans, which seem to be the majority of vehicles in Lomé, because drivers say they do not follow traffic rules. Should they have their own traffic lanes?

Two traffic rules that I noticed are very different in Lomé from Europe and the US: In Lomé vehicles inside a roundabout have to yield to incoming traffic and motorbikes always have to yield to cars.

Mosquitoes and Flies

I think the living conditions you choose in Togo will determine what experience you have with these insects. Unfortunately the house we rented had an indoor kitchen and the live-in cook we hired left the kitchen door open at all times due to the high heat. This meant we had dozens and dozens of insects coming into the house all day. The mosquitoes are excellent at hiding inside drapes and everywhere and when I would go downstairs in the morning, I would easily get stung numerous times. The first couple of days I had 10-15 mosquito bites until I bought a fan, which I put in my room to sleep at night and this stopped mosquitoes from stinging me. A deet mosquito repellent I purchased in the U.S. also worked well and my experience is that it’s best to spray it in your hand and then onto your body. I did not put any on my clothes and I never was stung through them. Togolese mosquitoes liked my ankles and ear lobes a lot. Some of the members of our household reported vaseline was very effective as a repellent but apparently it can make you very hot with the sun. Vaseline also worked for me, which I used in the evenings.

Port de Pêche de Lomé (Port Fish Market in Lomé)

In Togo fish is plentiful and if you are in the Baguida neighborhood you are very close to the Fish market (Port de Pêche). Be ready for some serious negotiations and haggling, which can be quite aggressive with certain merchants.

Koliko avec akpavi poisson entouré avec yebessé
Grilled Red Snapper with fried yams and hot tomato sauce (Koliko avec akpavi poisson entouré avec yebessé)

Assigame Market

Once again this year we spent a lot of time in Assigame, the biggest market in Lomé. One could say it is like a huge open air Wal-Mart because they sell everything there. Many natives say one has to watch out for pickpockets and thieves but from having traveled to many big cities in different parts of the world, I can usually distinguish petty criminals and Togo still felt like a very safe place to me. In fact, we exchanged dollars in the market several times and never had a problem. Speaking of dollars, I didn’t find the exchange rate from withdrawing money in a bank any worse than exchanging it in the street, which is the natives’ preferred way of exchanging US dollars to CFAs.

Assigame is of course full of stands and shops but there are also hundreds if not thousands of walking vendors, who usually are quite aggressive. My experience is that the most pushy salespeople are those who sell shoes, belts and dress shirts. If you don’t want to be forced into buying something, don’t take anything in your hand, even when a walking vendor hands it to you, walk away and ignore the salesperson. You may be followed by an in-your-face salesman but you have to move along and be firm.

Natives say there are no jobs in Togo and people have no choice but to sell for a living and that perhaps this is why many walking vendors cannot take no for an answer.

The Hotel Madiba in Lomé

We spent a lot of time in this hotel because the owners are my wife’s in-laws. The staff is very friendly, the food, excellent and it is right on the beach. The Wi-Fi works very well too.

Sickle Cell Anemia

In this last trip my wife, who suffers from sickle cell anemia, started using Drepanostat, an easy to find medication in Togolese pharmacies. According to my wife it has the same positive effect on her as the Burkina Faso medicine FA-CA, which we know is made from extracts from the Senegalese Prickly Ash tree and the Apple of Sodom plant. FA stands for Fagara Jaune, which is Prickly Ash in English, and CA stands for the Calotropis procera, Latin for the Apple of Sodom, Pommier de Sodome in French.

Last year my wife discovered this article, which basically states that certain plants have produced positive effects in the anti-sickling of red blood cells, and she started taking the above medicine, FA-CA from Burkina Faso.

Disclaimer: Although my wife has experienced positive effects with the above West African medicines, I don’t know if they would be effective with other people who suffer from sickle cell anemia and I am not promoting them. I am simply describing that my wife’s experience with them has been positive. There’s a lot of information on the internet regarding different medicines and/or plants which are used in West Africa to treat sickle cell anemia. Some of the information I have found is in French, from France, Benin and other Francophone countries but there’s a lot of information on the web in English from Nigeria as well. Please consult with a doctor before taking anything. Do not rely on this article or my wife’s experience.


Togo is in European and American standards considered a poor country. The natives say there is a lack of jobs there and many people with college degrees are forced to work either driving the zemidjans or as walking street vendors. While I was in Togo, I was only in Lomé, and I did not see anyone who appeared under nourished. The great majority of children I saw wore shoes. I also didn’t see any children with swollen bellies which would indicate Kwashiorkor. However when I travel to Spain or Togo it pains me to see African walking vendors who one can notice are often struggling under the hot sun. Sometimes I have given some street salespeople a little bit of money like 100CFA or even 500CFA (approx. $1 USD). However some of them get offended and would rather sell you something. When I’m in Togo I’m basically never in need to buy anything from a walking vendor, who often sell items for the local population, I prefer to give them a bottle of water, which is always very well received.

Copyright © 2021 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Fear of Flying

July 29, 2021
Photo by samer daboul on

I think I started to fear flying when I was about 10 or 11. I didn’t tell my parents or anyone. It didn’t occur to me and I didn’t think it would change anything to do so. I was probably also too embarrassed to share those feelings and I didn’t know telling others would have helped me deal with my fear.

One of the jobs I had when I was in college was driving a taxi and I would often pick up the airline crews from the airport to take them to their hotel. One time a couple of flight attendants said I should get some professional help and made it clear the fear I had was not normal. Looking at some of the statistics of how many thousands of flights there are up in the air every day and how many people die from airplane crashes per year, one may realize that the fear of flying is absurd; as absurd as fearing having a car accident every time you drive. In addition, thousands of flight attendants and flight personnel fly every day, probably without any fear whatsoever. When you see them aboard the airplanes, they go about their jobs nonchalantly making flying seem the most normal thing in the world.

Sometimes when I look at airplanes flying they terrify me. The noise they make, their speed and magnitude are overwhelming. It’s hard to wrap my head around the concept of a tube with wings with people inside, flying at hundreds of miles per hour through the air . Looking down from the stratosphere while inside an airplane has given me high anxiety. I’ve had mini panic attacks when I fly and rushing thoughts of what if the airplane suddenly disintegrated, or plunged into a dive. I’ve only been able to overcome these feelings with prayer. Saying the Serenity Prayer, or the Hail Mary in my head, over and over again has calmed my mind and heart. During these episodes of panic, my heart beats so fast I’ve often thought I might die of cardiac arrest before there even would be an airplane crash. Quite frankly, my emotions during some flights have been almost out of control.

My worst experience in the air was on one flight from New York city to Haiti about 20 years ago. Due the very high turbulence, no meals were served and the flight attendants did not leave their seats. It was not the common bumpy type, but rather fierce winds, which made the airplane move and shake sideways more than vertically and horizontally. The gusts were relentless and intermittent for about 3 hours. We were flying above the regular clouds one always sees in the sky but I noticed there were very high and thin wispy clouds above us, which I’m not sure if they had anything to do with the turbulence. It was a December 25th and I remember wondering if I was going to die on a Christmas day as I thought about my parents and my brothers. And it was terrifying but the prayers, which eventually became chants due to the severity and duration of the turbulence, worked. I was not the only person verbalizing prayers, but most people were quiet. I think the majority of passengers were not going through the extreme panic and fear I had. Luckily the last 2 hours of the flight the ride the turbulence vanished and the ride was very smooth . I was able to relax and felt very much relieved as if I had just lived a true life and death experience, which I’m not sure if it really was.

Since then, I’ve continued to fly every year at least once or twice and some years as much as 12 to 15 times. Interestingly, I’m always more scared on flights going to my destination and not as much on the way back home. I find the take off and the climbing part of the flight much more more frightening than the final descent and landing, which according to Boeing is statistically the most dangerous. Somehow I find the thought of returning to land comforting. Fear is not rational.

This year I went on two transatlantic flights and unfailingly, I became anxious on the week before the flights with thoughts of the possibility of dying in an airplane crash. Projecting about the future is of course bad because we have to live one day at a time. Anything can happen tomorrow or even later on today, for example something fatal, but I cannot live my life worrying about it, I need to live now, in the moment. Applying the one day at a time principle to my thoughts and emotions has relieved my fears, which at the end of the day are a waste of time. When I’m in an airplane, I’m completely powerless of what may or may not happen, the same way as I’m powerless over many things in life.

Flying over the Alps 2021

The specific worries I’ve had on the days before boarding an airplane are that I’m too young to die, that it’s unnatural to fly, that it’s not meant to be and that it isn’t right. There is of course an argument to be made that the carbon footprint and effects on the environment of air travel are too high and therefore we should not fly. But we humans need to progress and learn from our experiences too. Flying is of course a choice but I’ve always chosen to fly and never hesitated.

On my last transatlantic flight this year, I thought of the time one pilot told me turbulence is his favorite part because he knows the pilot is in essence subduing the wind. I was able to see turbulence as something positive and deal with it one second at time, surprisingly without fear and an elevated heart rate. During the usual safety announcements I thought about the statement this particular airline made “we take passenger safety very seriously.” The realization that there are many things I don’t know about airplanes and air travel was comforting, There are many people behind the air industry after all . It’s not about me, I’m not the only person in this world. Fear can be my own mental creation too, a kind of solitary downward spiral. I have been in dozens and dozens of flights in my lifetime. I have to trust the system and forget about what I cannot control. I have to let go. The Higher Power, God, or the Universe has a plan. It’s Their Will, not mine.

Copyright © 2021 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

La palabra negro en España

May 13, 2021

Hace dos semanas cenaba en la casa de mi madre en Alicante con mi hermano y su esposa senegalesa. Mi madre suele tener la radio encendida mientras desayuna o cena y de repente escucho en la radio la pregunta <<¿Por qué es racista decir que los negros tienen la polla más grande?>>.

Creo que fui el único que lo oyó, pues estábamos metidos en una conversación entretenida, pero poco después pregunté, incrédulo, ¿será posible lo que acaban de decir en la radio? Me pareció extremadamente grosera y racista la pregunta. La periodista Pepa Bueno (minuto 14:00) aunque esté hablando de un vídeo de Moha Gerehou, a quien está entrevistando, formula la pregunta de esa manera. No dice el hombre africano, de origen africano, o el hombre negro, tiene el pene más grande. O sea que había dos cosas que estaban mal con la pregunta de Pepa, el haber usado la palabra negro cuando no era imprescindible y el haber usado una palabrota, pues no he visto ningún vídeo del señor Gerehou en el que use ese taco. Desde luego en los EEUU, donde vivo, hablar de esa forma en la radio es la manera más rápida de quedarse sin trabajo, pues tales palabras siempre dan lugar a que se malentiendan y van a ser interpretadas como completament racistas, irresponsables e irrespetuosas.

La mañana siguiente hablando sobre el tema con mi hermano y su mujer, que al igual que mi madre, viven en Alicante, me enteré que a mi hermano también le da horror oír la palabra negro o negra en España cuando se usa como substantivo para describir a gente de piel oscura, africana, de origen africana, o afroamericana. Los dos estamos casados con mujeres africanas, yo con una togolesa, y tenemos hijos birraciales, que así los llamo, pues me disgusta la palabra mulato. Mi cuñada también opina que el uso de la palabra negro en España es racista. Mi mujer no podría opinar pues no habla castellano.

En Chicago donde vivo, cuando hablo español, jamás se me ocurriría llamar a los afroamericanos negros, ni siquiera los llamaría personas negras. Aunque tal vez algún hispanohablante use este vocablo, creo la gran mayoría de la gente me miraría mal. Tampoco hay muchos españoles por aquí, y aunque el español es un idioma muy importante, nuestra modalidad dialéctica peninsular es bastante desconocida por estos lares.

Familiares míos en España me han comentado que cómo va a ser racista la palabra. Se oye bastante, que si los negros esto, que si los negros aquello. El que así piense tal vez podría preguntarle a un africano que viva en España, ¿le molesta que le llame negro o negra cuando le hable? O tal vez a una persona asiática le podemos preguntar si le molesta que le llamemos amarillo. De la misma forma en España sería de mala educación llamar a un vecino “blanco” simplemente porque nos apetezca. Alguna persona habrá a la que tal vez no le moleste pero tampoco significa que no sea racista usar la palabra negro cuando no sea necesario. Me recuerda a una situación en Haití, cuando fui con mi primera esposa a la ciudad de Arcahaie. Yo era la única persona blanca y -aunque quizás no fuera cierto- sentía que llamaba muchísimo la atención en esa ciudad provinciana. En un determinado momento, una tarde, unas sobrinas de mi ex-mujer me llamaron blanc. La verdad es que me hirió los sentimientos y hasta se me saltaron las lágrimas. Me pareció cruel y falsa la palabra, a pesar del mucho orgullo que puedan sentir los haitianos de haberse quitado a los franceses de encima. Yo no soy un blanc, pensé, soy el marido de vuestra tía, que la quiere. No soy esa idea, ese estereotipo, ese preconcepto, como se llama en Brasil.

Hoy en día los científicos saben que las razas humanas no existen. Tener el color de la piel diferente, el pelo, la nariz, son simplemente rasgos del ser humano. No existe la raza negra, ni la amarilla, ni la roja, ni la blanca. Las razas son exclusivamente conceptos culturales y lingüísticos. Sería incorrecto llamar a la gente con sobrepeso, de raza gorda, a los de la nariz grande, narigones, etc.

A finales de los años 80, cuando estudiaba en la universidad de Wisconsin, era común el debate de cómo denominar correctamente a los afroamericanos. Leí bastante sobre la palabra “black” en inglés y que a mucha gente afroamericana le disgusta. Ya existía el sinónimo “African-American” como substituto, y aunque lo políticamente correcto tenga sus enemigos, se necesita una palabra para no ofender a nuestros hermanos. Sí, aquellos que los europeos esclavizamos durante siglos y a quienes les quitamos sus tierras en África y contra los que cometimos genocidio.

Es verdad que la palabra black ha sobrevivido, se sigue usando, lo hemos visto con el Black Lives Matter, y con otros ejemplos, pero no deja de ser un adjetivo incorrecto. No, no son blacks, son gente de piel oscura. No somos blancos tampoco, somos gente de piel clara. Que no se nos olvide. En el fondo son palabras injustas, creaciones de la mente ignorante del ser humano que no encajan para describir las verdades de los pueblos de este planeta.

En aquella universidad en Madison aprendí que el racismo puede ser ignorancia también. No es sólo el odio a otras “razas”. Cuando oigo a alguien decir que no es racista porque tiene amigos negros, o que no puede ser racista porque, por ejemplo, su hermano está casado con una mujer negra, o inclusive cuando oigo a alguien negar ser racista tan convencido, inmediatamente entiendo la ignorancia que hay en ese tipo de comentario. El que cree no ser racista con tal certidumbre lamentablemente no tiene ni idea y -curiosamente- hace poco escuchamos a la familia real británica afirmarlo. El problema no es que una persona por dentro no sea racista sino que hay comentarios que son racistas, y no se pueden hacer, a pesar de que una persona no haya tenido intenciones racistas, o que para sus adentros crea que no lo sea. Sé que si a mi hermano o a mí se nos acusara de ser racista, jamás argumentaríamos que estamos casados con mujeres africanas y que por lo tanto eso es imposible. Averiguaríamos qué hubiéramos dicho que fuera racista, cómo no volver a cometer ese error, aprenderíamos de esa experiencia, pediríamos disculpas y prometeríamos no volver a hacerlo. Nadie es perfecto y no se puede saberlo todo, por mucho tiempo que haya vivivo en los EEUU, en el sur de Chicago, entre una mayoría de gente afroamericana, casado con una mujer togolesa; con dos hijos adolescentes que aquí son considerados afroamericanos, ni por muchos años que mi hermano haya vivido en Senegal. Nadie es perfecto, ni lo puede saber todo.

Yo también cometí ese error cuando tenía 19 años. En una conversación con un chico y una chica afroamericanos, mientras bebíamos mucha cerveza, se me ocurrió comentar, que el hombre africano tiene el pene más grande. No me lo creía cuando me dijeron que era un comentario racista pues pensé era un halago, todo un honor tenerla más grande. No me daba cuenta que es un estereotipo deshumanizador, que cómo se va a saber, de todos los millones de seres humanos que hay, ¿quién lo va a saber y cómo? Sobrio no lo hubiera dicho. ¿Pero a quién se le ocurre decir semejante disparate y cómo venía al cuento tal pregunta con unas personas que apenas conocía?

Un amigo senegalés en España me comentaba que en una clase para ser azafato, que al expresar que le era difícil nadar, pues uno de los requisitos para serlo es superar una prueba de natación, el profesor dijo que los negros no saben nadar muy bien. Después para arreglarlo, al ver que se había equivocado, pero indudablemente sin entender el porqué, el profesor comenzó a decir a la clase que los negros son más musculosos. Ahí el senegalés le frenó al profesor, que -por favor-no dijera nada más. Después de la clase fue a hablar con su alumno <<Por favor no me odies, no me odies, sé que he metido la pata>> pero no le pidió disculpas. El profesor no se dio cuenta que había dicho algo racista y le preocupó más quedar bien con su alumno, no corregir su gran desacierto.

En Chicago en mi trabajo de intérprete judicial he participado en casos en los que algún testigo ha hablado de una persona afroamericana y usado la palabra moreno, que es la que los hispanohablantes de esta zona usan. Con esta acepción es una palabra de origen puertorriqueño, si no me engaño, y por supuesto la prefiero mil veces a la palabra negro. Siendo español, esta palabra me parecía rara hace muchos años cuando empecé a trabajar de intérprete. En España obviamente, estar moreno no es lo mismo que ser oscuro de piel o de ascendencia africana. Pero está claro que una de las razones de que exista esta palabra es para evitar decir negro porque el puertorriqueño entiende que no es correcto llamar negros a los afrocaribeños, o a los afrodescendientes, y está mal visto hacerlo en esa tierra.

Por lo tanto si en Puerto Rico no se usa la palabra negro, en España no debemos usarla tampoco. Recientemente hablando con un amigo puertorriqueño de este tema, me comentaba, <<la palabra moreno es bonita. Es bonito estar moreno>>.

Supongo la palabra negro seguirá siendo usada en ciertos contextos, se me ocurre uno que he vivido:

Abogado: Can you please describe the man you saw?

Intérprete: ¿Por favor, puede describir a la persona que usted vio?

Testigo: Era un moreno.

Intérprete: He was a swarthy fellow. [Era un tipo moreno. En inglés moreno, swarthy, es adjetivo. Traducirlo He was a black man sería una traducción correcta también pero si el testigo no es puertorriqueño, el intérprete no debe asumir, pues podría ser, por ejemplo, una persona hindú de piel muy oscura. La primera acepción de black man sería de hombre de color de piel oscura pero de origen africano].

Abogado: What do you mean? Was he black? Was he a black man? Was he an African-American? Somebody of African descent?

Intérprete: ¿Qué quiere decir usted? ¿Era negro? ¿Era un hombre negro? Era un africano-americano? ¿Alguien de ascendencia africana?

Testigo: Exacto.

Intérprete: Correct.

Copyright © 2021 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Photo by Anthony Shkraba on

Manila 2008

April 19, 2021

In January 2008 I had the privilege of visiting Manila, the Philippines for about 8 days. My best friend in the U.S. was marrying his Filipina fiancée and he invited me for his wedding at the Manila Cathedral to be his best man. Although I had met a few Filipino families here in Chicago, I knew very little about the Philippines back then.

On January 1st, 2008, I flew to Tokyo and I was there for about 24 hours. The next day, which must have been January 3rd because of the time difference, I flew to Manila from Tokyo. At the time there were no direct flights to the Philippines from the US.

At the Narita International airport in Tokyo, I saw a large number of 747 jets on the runways. We took one to fly to Manila, despite the fact that the flight was only about 4 or 5 hours. I had never seen a jumbo jet being used in the US or Europe for such a short flight. Perhaps it’s because the population numbers are larger in Asia.

Inside the airplane, I immediately noticed the beauty of the Filipino staff. The Japanese appeared more homogeneous to me. The Filipino people are very handsome and it might have something to do with the diversity of ethnic groups who live there. I also found Filipinos to be very slim in comparison with Americans.

In Manila, I stayed in Quezon City, at the Holiday Inn in the Podium Mall, in the Ortigas center. It is a business district full of impressive condominium skyscrapers, some of which have helicopter pads. I brought some work with me from Chicago since I had two major translations to finish. I worked about 35 hours during my stay. I was very comfortable in my room and the wi-fi was excellent.

The hotel was basically inside the Podium mall. I would usually have lunch at the food court area, which, if I remember correctly, is in the basement. There were dozens of restaurants there and I quite enjoyed the variety of food. I usually had dinner in restaurants outside the mall with my friend who got married. I found Filipino food to be inexpensive and superb. Manila is a paradise for anyone who loves to eat. The seafood and fish are excellent and inexpensive.

Despite the work I brought with me, I was able to enjoy Manila during the two almost full weekends that I was there and in the evenings, after 5pm, when I finished my work for the day. You obviously would have to live a whole lifetime in Manila to know the city, but I was enamored by the climate, the food, the scenery and the people.

Unlike in Japan, almost everyone I met in the Philippines had a basic understanding of English. This made things very convenient. I only recall one experience with one person who spoke broken English. She was an attendant at a natural pharmacy type shop at the Podium mall. She was a woman of about my age back then, who also asked me if I was married. I’m not sure if she was flirting with me or maybe trying to find me a wife. In any event, she was very pleasant. She helped me buy some natural medicine she said would help me stay awake during the day since I was having trouble sleeping at night.

As a Spaniard, I found it very interesting to visit a country which was once, at least partially it seems, a Spanish colony. The Tagalog language has many Spanish words and there even is a language in the Philippines called Chavacano which is a type of Spanish Creole. I’m not sure that the Spanish quite dominated the Philippines because unlike other Spanish colonies the Filipinos never lost their own languages. What is interesting too is that a great number of Filipinos carry Spanish names and one Filipino woman I know in Chicago, explained to me that during Spanish rule the Filipinos were forced to have Spanish last names.

I found the security in the Holiday Inn to be excellent and one time when my passport was checked by a clerk, he said he knew some people with my last name. At the time I knew nothing of the fact that there are probably more Carbajosas in the Philippines that in my own native country of Spain, so I told the fellow “No way,” adding that my last name was not common at all. The poor clerk was very polite and was silent and I gave it no more thought. Years later I learnt how mistaken I was. There’s even a street with my last name in the San Carlos Negros Occidental area. There was actually a mayor of this Municipality named Pelagio Carbajosa in the early 1900s Either he or his father was an immigrant from Spain, I’ve been told, and he is probably a sibling or son of one of my ancestors. El mundo es un pañuelo, we say in Spain, which means the world is a much smaller place than you think and it fits in your pocket, like a handkerchief does.

I discovered many Carbajosas in the Philippines through facebook and I have hundreds of Filipino friends with my last name there who often times refer to me as a cousin or uncle “tito.” Some have even invited me to their homes for my next visit. In Facebook there’s a Carbajosa Families group, a Carbajosa Clan group and even some resorts I’ve found with our last name.

Unfortunately when I was in the Philippines I knew nothing of the many distant relatives I have there. But when I left Manila in mid January, I remember wishing I could stay and live there. It is truly a magical place. I hope I can go back one day.

Carbajosa Street in Calatrava, Western Visayas, Philippines. CREDIT: Geva Rivera

Copyright © 2021 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Problemas de traducción: La cuarta tradición del Libro Grande de Alcohólicos Anónimos

January 13, 2021

La cuarta tradición de la tercera edición del Libro Grande de Alcohólicos Anónimos está mal traducida del inglés. Esta traducción incorrecta se encuentra en varias publicaciones de A.A. en español.

En inglés la cuarta tradición es:

“Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.”

Al castellano está traducido de tal forma en la tercera edición y otros materiales de AA:

“Cada grupo debe ser autónomo, excepto en asuntos que afecten a otros grupos o a A.A., considerado como un todo”.

Lo que está mal traducido es la parte de la oración que en inglés dice “or AA as a whole.” En realidad lo que dice la oración en inglés es que cada grupo ha de ser autónomo, y que su autonomía no puede afectar a otros grupos de A.A. o a la totalidad, o a la unidad, de Alcohólicos Anónimos.

Una traducción más correcta sería:

“Cada grupo debe ser autónomo excepto en asuntos que afecten a otro grupos o A.A. en su totalidad.”

La palabra “considerado” no figura en el inglés y puede hacer al lector pensar que es el grupo de AA que ha de ser considerado como un todo, como una unidad. Pero es la organización de A.A. que ha de ser considerada en su totalidad, como una unidad, o como un todo. Esta traducción incorrecta puede haber provocado los problemas que tienen muchos grupos de A.A. en América Central y México que no siguen las normas de AA pues creen ser completamente autónomos.

“As a whole” en inglés puede significar en ciertos casos “como un todo” pero no de la forma que está traducido por AA. Por ejemplo, el diccionario Collins traduce “as a whole” como un todo en el caso de “Europe should be seen as a whole = Europa debe ser considerada como – un todo & una unidad ” pero lo traduce “en su totalidad en los siguientes casos: “taken as a whole, the project is a success = si se considera en su totalidad, el proyecto es un éxito”.

Otra posible traducción más correcta podría ser:

“Cada grupo debe ser autónomo excepto en asuntos que afecten a otros grupos o a la unidad de AA.”

El diccionario traduce “as a whole”: como una unidad. En ningún caso lo traduce como un todo.

La tercera edición del Libro Grande en sí contradice su propia traducción. Si vamos a la parte del Libro Grande, titulada “Las Doce Tradiciones Forma Larga” en la página 515 del libro (tapa dura) vemos en el penúltimo párrafo, tercera oración:

4.- (…) Ningún grupo , comité regional, o individuo debe tomar ninguna acción que pueda afectar de manera significativa a la Comunidad en su totalidad sin discutirlo con los custodios de la junta de Servicios Generales”.

Esto está traducido del inglés “And no group, regional committee, or individual should ever take any action that might greatly affect A.A. as a whole without conferring with the Trustees of the General Service Board.” O sea, en este caso ellos mismos traducen “as a whole = en su totalidad”. También explican más el significado de la tradición.

De hecho la organización AL ANON traduce “as a wholeen su totalidad. Aquí lo vemos:

Cuarta Tradición
Cada grupo debiera ser autónomo, excepto en asuntos que afecten a otros grupos, o a Al‑Anon, o AA en su totalidad.

En el portugués podemos ver que la traducción corresponde a la unidad de A.A o el conjunto de AA:

Cada grupo deve ser autônomo, salvo em assuntos que digam respeito a outros grupos ou a A.A. em seu conjunto.

En francés vemos también una traducción correcta que se refiera a la unidad o totalidad de AA:

Quatrième Tradition: <<Chaque groupe devrait être autonome, sauf sur les points qui touchent d’autres groupes ou l’ensemble du Mouvement>>

L’ensemble du Mouvement se refiere a la unidad, totalidad o conjunto de la organización de A.A.

También podemos ver esta traducción en danés:

4. Tradition: Hver gruppe bør være selvstyrende, undtagen i sager der angår andre grupper eller AA som helhed.

eller AA som helhed significa “o a AA como conjunto o totalidad”. O sea, que no afecte a la totalidad o conjunto de A.A.

Los doce pasos y las doce tradiciones de AA, además de su traducción son copyright de Grapevine Inc. y de A.A. World Services.

Copyright © 2015 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Photo by Pixabay on

Used Dishes

December 28, 2020
Photo by Lachlan Ross on

I found some Japanese dishes inside the dumpster while I was taking out the garbage. About 5 of them were in a box and two on top of it, as if someone had been looking at them before me. They looked unused and were completely clean with no chips or cracks. I noticed these were very fine, heavy duty porcelain dishes that were oven proof and what not. Only three of them matched and the remaining 4 had different patterns. But they were all the same size and were perfectly suitable as dinner plates. I took them out of the dumpster and brought them inside our apartment. When my now ex-wife came home I told her a friend had given them to me and had never used them. Had I told her I found them in a dumpster she would have refused to keep them. She was not one to like anything that was used and often had expressed disgust at buying second hand stuff or at thrift stores..

We used the plates for many years until the last one broke.

Copyright © 2020 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Gabriel García Márquez interview by Ana Cristina Navarro

December 2, 2020

Interview by Ana Cristina Navarro from the TV program “Life according to…[La vida según…]” September 1995 

Transcription of interview in Spanish here.

GGM: Gabriel García Márquez

J [Journalist]: Ana Cristina Navarro

GGM:  A novelist can make up anything as long as he/she is capable of making it believable and I think the great challenge of a novel is that the reader believes every line. But what you discover is that already in Latin America, it is easier to make someone believe literature, fiction and novels, than reality [1:07].

The great challenge of a novel is that the reader believes every line.

gabriel garcía márquez

 J: What would you, what would you like to see through a keyhole without being seen?

GGM: You know what? Life from death. That would be—it is a great dream to be able to see life from death.

 J: You, who chooses the death of your protagonists, how would you choose yours? How would you like to die?

GGM: Well, if they could, if I were put to choose death, I wouldn’t choose it, I absolutely refuse to [1:38]. The only option I accept is to not die. I think the only really important thing there is is life; what is important is to be alive. And I think that death is a trap, it’s a betrayal, which is let loose on you without giving you the conditions.

 J: So you, like your friend [Juan] Rulfo [1:57], you wouldn’t choose someone to be in the grave next to yours to have someone to talk to, for example?

 GGM: No, no, not so. For me the fact that this ends is very serious and practically without any participation of one’s own, except when it comes. I think it’s unfair [2:15].

J: And what can we do to avoid it?

GGM: Write a lot.

What can we do to avoid [death]?

“Write a lot.”

gabriel garcía márquez

J: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s fascination of the supernatural is Galician and his unconditional loyalty towards his friends is Basque. From the Andalusians he gets his fondness for exaggerations and word decorations. His sensible way of looking at life reminds one of Castile. But he also has a lot from Africa and the melancholy of the slaves, and like other Caribbeans, he likes to philosophize and be a prophet. He’s also the offspring of the enigmatic women from the Guajiro desert and if that’s not enough, he was born in a country where the absurd happens daily and with the same force every day, and that means being a child of Macondo [3:07].

Spain learnt about him from a novel that came from Buenos Aires named One Hundred Years Of Solitude. In Colombia, his country, he was already the best at features and reporting, and he had five published books and an award or two. Two years after the publishing of the epic story of the Buendías, he became the most sold Spanish language author in the world. It’s a record he still holds. His name is Gabriel García Márquez and he is 67 years old [3:41].

GGM: In Latin America, but particularly in Mexico and Colombia, we were trained and educated by the Spanish refugees, by the Spanish Republicans. So then the children of that time, we were Spanish Republicans. And I with that militant fervor of the first years of high school and college, I always told myself that I would never go to Spain until Franco died [4:24]. But in the meantime, I was already a Spanish Republican completely. I knew the history of the Spanish civil war very well, knew the history of Spain less well, but Spanish literature very well. So then there were these types of tendencies found inside of me that knew a country very well by reference, I knew its people, but I had never gone to Spain [5:00].

J: You had the nostalgia but without having lived it.

GGM: I had the anticipated nostalgia of Spain, moreover, I remember Azorín’s countryside, Machado’s countryside, all those literary references which later one discovers are real. Those writers did a wonderful photograph of Spain in their time. Later on, I would visit as if I had always been there. Those rivers with their black poplars on their banks. Until the moment came when I realized; I was in Europe for three years, in Italy, in France and England and I didn’t go to Spain. I flew over Spain twice. I stopped once in Madrid and I could have stayed, but I didn’t because I had made myself that promise, which no one had asked me to actually, instead it was something born out of my spirit and all of a sudden I realized [6:10] after writing Hundred Years Of Solitude, Franco was never going to die and I was never going to know Spain, so then without further ado, I went there. Now-

J: Why did you choose Barcelona and not another city to live in?

GGM: Why did I go to Barcelona? Because the person who had the most influence on me was Catalonian Ramón Villas, who lived many years in Barranquilla and who is the Wise Old Catalonian in One Hundred Years of Solitude. So I had heard so much about Barcelona, the cafés, the bookstores, the theaters of Barcelona, so I went to see how it was and I arrived in Barcelona as if I had lived there a long time and knew the place. And then I found that the affinity I had for my Spanish teachers, Spanish friends, the Spanish butcher, the Spanish fishmonger, the Spanish ironsmith, the Spanish shoemaker, whom we grew up with, still existed over there and even now people ask me “What did you come to do in Spain?” and I say, as always, to fight with my Spanish friends because we kick up a tremendous fuss, have some huge meals and one lives in a permanent state of volcanic eruption [7:29].

 J: Your friend Mario Vargas Llosa is from that time as well. Is that friendship broken forever? You’re not answering. OK. And what do you think about the controversy now in Catalonia regarding bilingual education, about the fact that children should be necessarily taught in Catalan? Do you have an opinion about that?

 GGM: What I don’t have is a lot of information. I don’t have a lot of information but I think that the most reasonable people in Catalonia realize what they have there is a natural historical reality, which means it doesn’t make a lot of sense to fight the Spanish language. I think the real war against the Spanish language comes from the Spanish Language Academy [8:36].

The real war against the Spanish language comes from the Spanish Language Academy.


 J: So you still haven’t reconciled with the Spanish Language Academy, not even the latest dictionary publication seems better for you?

 GGM: No, because it is not a question of dictionaries, it’s not a question of the word quantity or the inclusion of terms, but of criterion. The criterion that they are the repositories of the poorness of the language; therefore they have the language in prison. It’s like a language police who have the language in jail and they don’t allow it to flow, to go out on the streets and pervert itself, which is the wonderful thing about living languages. In that sense, María Moliner went much farther than them because she made a usage dictionary and there are the words that are used and how they are used. It’s not that they tell you that’s an anglicism, this should not be used like this etc. Even though the academies, the corresponding ones in the different Latin American countries, have influenced the Spanish Academy a lot [9:50]

 J: Have they made them change?

 GGM: Well, no, they have made them become aware that the Spanish language is also Latin-Americanisms.

 J: Would you feel more comfortable writing in another language that you know?

 GGM: No, I can’t conceive of a richer, more wonderful, more radiant language than the Spanish language but written with absolute liberty [10:20].

 J: Will you continue writing for the new technology, it doesn’t scare you?

 GGM: Well, I do write with a computer.

 J: I know.

 GGM: I write using a computer since—I have all of Love In The Time Of Cholera in the computer. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the first Spanish novel written using a computer. And I’m not sure if it’s because of age or because of the computer itself, but what I do know since I started to write using a computer, my book average, which was about seven years per book, is almost at three years for each book. I think the computer has a lot to do with that.

 J: I see that you’re not very scared of technology. Is there any recent scientific advance that scares you? [11:07]

 GGM: The way genetics are being handled. We already have the conditions to make you a Centaur. It hasn’t been done because of ethical reasons but we can already make centaurs. And I have the fear that we might go into an age of foolishness. Not everything else, everything else is all under the service of humanity and genetics. The study of genetics is super important but the insanity, the abuses that can be committed with genetics are terrible.

 J: By the way, when you went to the Príncipe de Asturias [Award Ceremony] and when you got off the airplane, you said, with a lot of enthusiasm, “at last I’m in Oviedo.” Why “at last” What were you hoping to find in Oviedo? [11:56]

 GGM: I didn’t make a very sincere statement over there and one which would have come from my soul because I didn’t know at that time if it would have been interpreted very well. But what I felt and what I wanted to say was that Oviedo seemed to me like a gigantic Centro Asturiano [Asturian Centers]. I said that with all my love, I didn’t want to say it because I don’t know if it would have been well interpreted. The thing is that among everything I was telling you about the relationships with Spaniards in Latin America, there’s one thing that left a mark on us since we were children: The Centro Asturianos in the different towns.

 J: In Mexico, in Venezuela—

 GGM: In Mexico, Venezuela, but in Mexico, in Mexico City, in Cuba, inVeracruz, everywhere. So then we—I had this idea of Asturias, of the beloved homeland, of the fabada stew, of the music, of the people—even of the different Asturian accents in comparison with other Spanish ones because I had become familiar with them in the Centros Asturianos. They are of this Asturian membership all over the world and when I went [to Asturias] I realized they’re the same over there.

 J: Spain in this moment is going through confusing, difficult, complicated moments. Specially for a person who is a friend of yours, Felipe González. Do you think Felipe will have a place in history or all of the sudden changes that his administration is going through will erase the footprint of what he may have done for Spain? [13:55]

 GGM: All of those sudden changes were able to happen because of the Spain that Felipe González has made. It was unthinkable before.

 J: OK, explain that.

 GGM: Before it was unthinkable to make so many false and true accusations, to create so much public controversy and to denigrate or entangle things the way they do now. It was impossible before. That space of freedom, of freedom of expression, of all types of freedoms is owed to Felipe González and his people. But I think that’s how it’s going to be judged. I think it’s a passing moment, Felipe will prevail, he will triumph before all his adversaries but it shouldn’t be forgotten that those adversaries had the opportunity to do everything they do because all those things are possible in the Spain of today, and they haven’t been during many years and centuries in Spain. I think the freedom that Felipe González’s Spain has hasn’t existed in Spain for many years and centuries. That’s how I see it [15:27]

 J: Have you already reconciliated with Spain with the immigrant issue? In 1992 you made some strong statements in that sense.

GGM: Yes, the thing is that Latin Americans never forget what we did with the Spanish refugees. Not all who came were university professors, great publishers, writers and scientists. A lot of riffraff came too. And it was about saving their lives, giving them a new life, a new world, which one time belonged to them; and we did so with pleasure. And we mixed with them the same way we did after Columbus’ arrival. And then all of a sudden, we find Spain starts to choose which ones yes and which ones no. So that hurts a lot because– I do not have any complaints, of course, when I arrive in Spain, I’m like a king. Friends treat me like a king. And many whom I know, writers, but what they’re doing, a critic, with a selection criteria, those people they consider good yes, like kings, and the rest they treat them at the airports in a way we never treated any Spaniard. And I think we never would. Furthermore, It’s strange that they do that. In that sense the discrimination continues.

 J: Do you still think that the closer Spain is to Europe, the farthest it will be from Latin América?

 GGM: Yes. When all of this started, I complained to Felipe González. And he said, “don’t worry I will be the bridge. Spain will be the bridge between Latin America and Europe.” But I think the circumstances have taken them to try to be more European than Latin Americans and we are here waiting for that not too far away day when they return, like the Chinese who sit on their doorstep to wait for the enemy’s corpse to go by. The Spaniards will return again because each day they are less European, despite all the technology and automatic stoves. Deep down they are still only Spaniards equal to us.

 J: Is it true that you detest Cristopher Columbus as a historical personage?

GGM: No, the thing is that he was pavoso [unlucky], like Venezuelans say. He brought bad luck. He carried his bad luck everywhere. You can’t talk about him in Santo Domingo.

 J: His journal however, fascinates you.

GGM: Well, but that is –

J: His travel journal

GGM: But that doesn’t seriously affect us.

J: Look, I’m going to read this star chart to you, published by the newspaper ABC in 1982, after they gave you the Nobel price and you tell me if you agree or disagree with it. Do you consult the stars sometimes?

GGM: Not at all. But I don’t because I do believe in it and I don’t want to know. It’s not because I don’t believe it.

J: Oh, in fortune tellers?

GGM: No, no, precisely because I believe there are fortune tellers—

J: Because of fear?

GGM: Because I believe in fortune tellers, I don’t want them to fortune-tell me anything.

J: OK. It says you are a Piscis three times Aquarius and thanks to Pluto’s influence you have the gift of persuasion. Do you agree or not?

GGM: Well, I don’t know by which planets, but I think when I’ve needed it, I’ve had it, yes.

J: I do think so. With an unconscious influenced by Virgo, which makes you analytical, intolerant, perfectionist and pedantic.

GGM: Oh yes, all of that. It’s perfect, luckily.

J: It also says you are a born psychologist. Incredibly intuitive, which makes one think you have privileged and secret information and that trifles irritate you. Did you write this horoscope?

GGM: No, no, no.

J: It seems like you did.

GGM: What is false there is that trifles irritate me. I mean, trifles irritate me if they are irritating. But some are not, nor do they have to be.

J: Do you admit you are vain? [20:14]

GGM: What is understood by vain? Let’s see, when a skinny weak person stands before a mirror to do this, he’s a vain one, but when Tarzan does it, that’s not vain, that’s proud. In that sense I’m not vain.

J: Are you capricious? Yes?

GGM: Capricious I think—

J: Do you like caprices?

GGM: We’ve got a definition problem [20:44].

J: No, no. A man who always buys the same style of boots is capricious because those are the ones he likes.

GGM: A capricious person, like the name says, is a person who is like a goat, who starts to butt a wall until he gets through it. I think I hit a wall once and I use the door. In that sense, I’m not capricious. I know exactly what they want to say but it’s not capricious, it’s something else. It’s like, like, like what?

J: Do you admit you dislike it when people are contrary to you?

GGM: No one likes it when someone is contrary but thanks to the friends I recognize as friends, and like good literary critics, who are unfavorable reading my originals, thanks to that I’ve been able to save a lot of my books.

J: Do you still share with your friends the literary correction of your books?

GGM: Oh, yes, of course. Yes, but who likes it when people are contrary?

J: No, no one does. But some are bothered more than others.

GGM: No, it doesn’t bother me more than others. I have learnt a lot from people who are contrary to me.

J: Do the reviews from literary critics, commentaries, do they manage to upset you?

GGM: Well, not anymore because I don’t read them. But I learnt something important: Any unfavorable review, any reproach, actually even any insult hurts a lot, but one learns it hurts less the next day, less the third day and on the fourth day one can’t remember anymore [22:22].

J: For example Bloom, who is an idol of literary review has just published the best writers of the century and you are not on the list. Does that bother you?

GGM: To the point I didn’t know I wasn’t on the list.

J: What would make you upset? What drives you up the wall?

GGM: Having to do something I dislike. Setbacks. Having to do something I dislike. Having to do interviews, for example, is what upsets me the most [23:02].

[one minute pause]

J: The truth is he didn’t play soccer with a cloth ball a lot, like the poor Caribbean soccer players, and he hardly had time to play baseball, the sport of the children of the coasts of the Americas. Gabriel did not have a favorite childhood game he repeated over and over because to forget the stories of the dead that his aunts would tell him, as soon as he learnt how to read, he did nothing else than devour the books his grandfather would lend him.

J: One has the impression that you were the loneliest child in the world. Is that true or is it now a novel [25:03]

GGM: I think all children are the loneliest children of the world. Let’s say what happens is I have probably managed to transmit it through my books but now I have a grandchild who is seven years old. I look at him and I know what he is thinking because I have the impression, he is suffering of the same solitude I suffered from and he’s thinking of the same things. Interesting it didn’t happen with my children.

J: What do you think is the inquisition today?

GGM: The inquisition continues exactly the same always. It starts at home. The inquisition is your parents. The inquisition is the teachers. The inquisition is the political powers, the financial powers. All the refinement you want but the inquisition continues. In a way we continue to live inside repressive circles which correspond to be the inquisition of today.

J: Let’s see, the parents are the inquisition. Have you ever felt to be an inquisitor of your own children?

GGM: I always had the worry of not being an inquisitor with my own children and I’ve never known if I was or not because we developed such a cordial relationship, of so much comprehension that I have the impression I was not, but it’s very probable I was, precisely for not being one. In the desire of not interfering, I was probably modifying and influencing them and probably affecting them. It will never be known.

J: Did you suffer any of those inquisitorial elements in your childhood? Did you also have your own inquisition as a child [27:10]?

GGM: Yes, of course, and luckily it’s what I owe being a writer to.

J: Why? Tell me.

GGM: I was controlled by means of fear. It was a big house, in Aracataca, very full of women. I remember a lot of women in that house and one only man, who was grandfather. But so that I would behave, especially at night, they would scare me terribly: “Don’t move because there’s a dead person who comes out of that room, don’t move because Mr. So and So died over there , don’t move because the devil comes out of there.” The saints, which were of the wooden statue type, of almost real-life shape, like the church ones, with those candles which makes them ghostly at night. They would threaten me with punishments from the Saints [28:04] I spent horrific nights.

J: And was it grandpa who always saved you from being burnt at the stake?

GGM: I had the impression grandpa saved me from being burnt at the stake but now I realize he was the most inquisited of all because he didn’t realize up to what point he himself was an instrument of all the women who lived in that house [28:26]

J: So what did this grandfather have which was so strong for you?

GGM: He paid attention to me. I had the impression there was a game that existed with the women, which perhaps has lasted forever, which is the game of seduction. Now I realize we were probably accomplices, and I had not realized it, accomplices against the women, except now I feel more of an accomplice of women than of men. I changed sides.

J: Everything he knows from his precocious vocation as a writer, Garcia Marquez has written in a book still unknown to us. A Manual To Be A Child are his reflections from working with a group of experts about the educational reform in Colombia: A leaflet that teaches children to defend their aptitudes before adults so they allow them to be what they always wanted to be.

GGM: I realized something I never had realized before, that I, all my training, all my education, was based on the tricks, on the cheating I always had to do to be a writer in a society where it wasn’t anticipated a person wouldn’t have one the of known liberal professions and all of a sudden wanted to be a writer. Parents are happy when they see children drawing or playing instruments and they help them until the child grows up and says “Well, what I want to be is a musician or painter. That’s when they become scared and try to convince [him/her] at all costs that [he/she] has a serious profession and furthermore [30:20] with whatever [he/she] can obtain with that serious profession, continue with what could appear as [his/her] hobby, [his/her] secondary pastime. In other words, I think if someone during [his/her] whole lifetime does only what [he/she] likes to do, and has all the conditions to do it well, that’s the secret of happiness and longevity.

If someone during [his/her] whole lifetime does only what [he/she] likes to do, and has all the conditions to do it well, that’s the secret of happiness and longevity.


J: What did you feel, what did you experience being so little, the first day you saw your mother?

GGM: What I remember the most is the perfume.

J: What did it smell of [31:06]?

GGM: It’s a perfume which if I smell now I’ll probably recognize. It was a perfume that, let’s see, we lived in Aracataca. My mother had gone with her husband, my father, to Barranquilla. And the oldest memory I have in relation to her is I would be told “your mother lives in Barranquilla and your dad lives in Barranquilla,” there were no photos, there was none of that, and I had the image, an image of her which—

J: What would they tell you? Why did they live somewhere else?

GGM: No, that’s not–these things are not explained to children; I was very young anyway, when they went to Barranquilla and suddenly I started to hear “your mom is coming, your mom is coming, your mom is going to be here.” I couldn’t imagine how that could be and I’m clueless how old I was but I remember I was from a house with a great corridor and quite a large patio and they toldme your mom is already here and so look there she is. And I came in and many women were in the living room sitting all around, with the chairs against the wall, and I saw her and recognized her right away. She was dressed like the movie characters of that time, at the end of the twenties, beginning of the thirties, with the bell-shaped hat. I remember exactly her silk outfit with embroidery, beige colored, and a straw hat of the same color [32:55] and then she said “Oh” and hugged me and I smelled [the perfume]. Every time I remembered her it was because of the perfume. Actually together we’ve even been searching what perfume it could have been, she speaks of something like Coty but for me that’s what’s interesting and above all because for me the sense of smell is what evokes memories the most and the one that most easily takes you to remote episodes and allows you to relive them completely with just one burst [33:42].

J: And that absence of your mother during all those beginning years is what makes you say you have a serious relationship with her and without sentimentality?

GGM: No, the thing is we lived together a very short time. Let’s see, at that moment I was in Barranquilla, then when grandfather died and grandmother died, I went to live with them, but I remember, they went back to live to Aracataca and they lived in a different house, but I lived at my grandparents’ and they only took me to sleep at my parents’ house when they were going to give me a purgative.

J: Why?

GGM: Because when you were a kid they’d give you a purgative and where they had the purgative techniques was at home – because they had already been born – every year a sibling was born over there. There’s fifteen of us. So make the calculation, every year someone was born so at that time there must have been four or five [children], so there wasn’t a lot of time to dedicate to each one and when they decided to give a purgative they would do it collectively [35:00].

J: Everyone.

GGM: So then it was my turn – I who they wouldn’t come and get me for the parties – at night I missed being with my siblings, after they went to bed, throwing pillows at each and all that, not I, I lived in the Saint’s room.

J: And the siblings in the other house?

GGM: And the siblings in the other house. So when they took me to sleep there, I was happy because I was going to be with my siblings but I knew they gave purgatives there, a castor oil, they had the habit of mixing with milk and you’d notice the big oil sediments. Well, it was such that they’d give us a 50-cent coin as a prize, and for many years when I remembered those coins, I’d get the purgative nausea. As you can see, then, there were very few opportunities to speak to my mom who was always raising children and pregnant. The relationship became not one of strangers but it was a relationship which didn’t have memories.

J: You have your dreams of Cartagena. Have you been able to somewhat repair that relationship?

GGM: No, but it was never broken. It’s a different relationship from others. It’s a relationship with mother and father which is that way [36:19].

J: After having spent his life between many homes and many landscapes, he’s returned to Colombia. His two children and two grandchildren have stayed in other lands. He’s in Cartagena, the Caribbean City of aristocrats who are still chewing over the nostalgia of when the king of Spain ceased to rule and they stayed. In Cartagena Gabo seems already accustomed to the bodyguards and he’s built an unusual house in which to continue inventing stories to the rhythm of boleros and vallenatos. To guard the Caribbean from the site where the Bishops and the Clarisses were buried in Of Love and Other Demons and next to the school where the protagonist of Love In The Times Of Cholera goes to school. The writer has decided to live surrounded by the characters of his latest books and he walks the streets with them like nothing [37:17].

GGM: That´s the San Toribio church. Florentino Ariza played the violin there. Fermina lived over there. She’d come out of there and go to the – first she’d go by the Santa Clara convent. Have you been to the Santa Clara convent?

J: Yes, of course.

GGM: The Sierva Maria Convent.

J: Sierva María of all the Saints.

GGM: On the left she’d arrive to the La Presentación School which was where she studied. Florentino would follow her from here and on Sundays he played violin there, in the choir.

J: In that church.

GGM: And she was like those little girls coming there. She was exactly like that little girl, with the same uniform.

J: That’s adding poetry to reality.

GGM: That’s adding music to reality. In Of Love And Other Demons, for example, the Cessatio A Divinis episode, that is, the long and hard war between the bishop and the Clarisses nuns is historical, just one hundred years before [38:24].

J: However, the Clarissess issued a press release when you published your book denying they had fallen out with the bishop and that there were tunnels under the convent.

GGM: In Of Love And Other Demons the main subject is the concealment and mystification of reality, which still exists in many religious and secular communities. So it’s not odd for me that a community who still has roots in that era thinks that by denial, history is going to be denied. And it’s natural that it so happens but that episode is historical, perfectly documented, and all around it I did everything else [39:14].

J: And finally in your memoirs, Mercedes, your wife, will she have a protagonist role that we still haven’t seen in your books?

GGM: I don’t know if I’ll get all the way there because it’s not a chronological book and in which case I would have to write Mercedes’ chapter, or the chapter of our private relationship and she, as much she as I, we are too modest for that. That’s how it is, it must not be disturbed. Therefore I’m not too sure she would accept it and besides, Mercedes is all over my books, pieces everywhere, complete characters, which can be seen in Hundred Years Of Solitude, even with her own name. It’s not that those memoirs are raw but I’ve got them abandoned because I decided to write them between two books and now it turns out I’m not leaving space between  two [books] because I get out of one and go right away to the next one [40:39].

J: Tell me something about Mercedes, besides how beautiful she was because she was a very delightful woman.

GGM: She is.

J: Obviously, yes. What is it about her that fascinated you from the start because you as far as it’s known—

GGM: She didn’t pay attention to me; she paid so little attention to me like she does now and like she’s always done

J: But many years however—

GGM: No, no, the thing is she didn’t pay attention to me and she still doesn’t. That’s something men really like, to not be paid attention to.

J: Since he proposed to her at thirteen years of age, Mercedes has been at his side setting the objectives and supporting his projects no matter how absurd they may seem. While she shines on her own, he finds the way to mediate in all types of causes, some unsuccessful, like when he tried to stop the war between the Medellin Cartel and the Colombian government. García Márquez has just finished a great article about those hard years of drug violence in Colombia [41:36].

J: Can you identify obvious signs that drug trafficking has been here, I mean that it’s left an indelible mark in this society?

GGM: Oh, yes, it has. There’s already some cracks, very important cultural cracks, part of it being easy money. Easy money, which I think is one of the most serious things, the concept of easy money, why work so much if by being a little drug mule just once you’ll already have enough [money] for the rest of your life. This is extremely serious because it’s already contaminated the whole country. The corruption is immense; it’s enormous and the temptation of corruption is everywhere. Those are the serious consequences, they’re cultural, they’re already inside the Colombian soul. They are very serious but it’s like if we’re living a plague. I think it will be resolved in the simplest way: One day it will be out of fashion. But in the meantime, the damage it will make and the deaths it will create will be enormous. But one day it will be out of fashion.

J: Do you believe in the international legalization of drugs as a solution [42:47]?

GGM: Everything North American journalists know about drug trafficking in Colombia, which is a lot, they know because Colombian journalists have investigated it, have uncovered it and many of them have sacrificed their lives for those publications. However, we don’t know anything about how drug trafficking is in the U.S. because North American journalists do as if it doesn’t exist. If in the U.S. 30 million drug addicts are supplied with drugs daily without incident, without any problem, as if it were delivering milk, bread, the newspapers—if they can get supplied without incident, it means there are Mafias which are much more powerful than in Colombia and a much more significant corruption of the authorities than in Colombia. The problem is humankind has lost control of the problem of drug trafficking and drugs. It doesn’t mean we’re going to become discouraged and we’re not going to continue fighting, but we’re not going to make the assumption that the drug problem can be solved with glyphosate fumigations and with Congress certifications when it’s a problem the whole world suffers from and cannot resolve. It’s like the medieval plagues which were over when they were over. From there to say what I’ve been thinking since a long time ago and I’ve said the only thing that can save us from this is legalization, the decriminalization of drugs. But we have to be careful with the implications. This doesn’t mean we’re going to do it in Colombia and they’re not going to do it in Peru and they’re not going to in, no. It’s only possible when it’s a global agreement, of the whole world completely and without exceptions because when there’s one exception, it fails. And it’s very difficult to achieve because the interests committed in the immense drug business are so big and so high up which will make it very difficult to reach a global agreement [45:18].

J: You signed a document the other day implying the Colombian guerrilla no longer makes any sense, no longer has a raison d’être. Do you think the Chiapas movement has a justification for existence? What is your opinion of what is happening in Mexico, you being almost Mexican?

GGM: Precisely because I’m a foreigner who is almost Mexican I do not comment on Mexican politics.

J: OK, you have been close to a lot of people in power, you have and have had friends in power. I think maybe Torrijos was the closest person to you, maybe I’m wrong. Did you ever see Torrijos cry? Did you see the sadness of a leader, the pain?

GGM: No, I saw him cry but of joy. when they agreed to the Treaty of the Canal, I was with him because I had been called before. He had shut himself up in Farallón, which was a Panamanian military base. They called me and said “The general has been shut in for about a week.” He had a direct line which just by picking [the phone] up would call the Panamanian embassy in D.C. They were discussing the last minutes, the last points of the Treaty and he was shut in waiting but he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t eat, he couldn’t do anything due to the pressure he was in and his friends had the fear, as did I, that he may have a heart attack. So they called me and I went there and shut myself in with him. We were practically alone and we were alone almost a week. We drank all the whisky in the world and sometimes Champagne with ice, which is something [47:23], I know, is done in the Caribbean, it’s a little barbarian but it’s cultural, it’s how it is, and suddenly the moment the news came that it was done, he started to cry like a child. Amazing, amazing to witness that.

J: And what was he saying? What words do you remember?

GGM: No, no, he could not, nothing. There was nothing to say. It was very serious because if that Treaty would not have been agreed to, very serious historical events could have happened. Torrijos was willing to destroy the Canal.

J: Do you think that Treaty has any undoing? Because some people are trying to disobey it in the year 2000.

GGM: Whatever they want but Latin America will never allow the Treaty to be violated. Latin America, which hardly did protest with the invasion of Panama will not allow the Treaty to be violated because that’s a Treaty which is in Panamanian territory but it belongs to all Latin America.

J: Are you able to tell Fidel [Castro] everything you think?

GGM: Generally I do, the thing is that sometimes he doesn’t believe it.

J: Are you really the one who tells him the truth?

GGM: No, I think he has a lot of friends. If someone has told truths to Fidel in front of me is Felipe [Gonzalez] and he has a very good relationship [with him], but they have a different relationship between them than the one I do with both of them. They relate to each other as Spaniards [do]. And they have the same—

J: Like Gallegos [Spaniards].

GGM: Yes, like Gallegos  in the Cuban Spanish dialect, like Gallegos. The things Felipe has told him [inaudible] are very admirable and very admirable how Fidel listens.

The things Felipe [González] has told [Fidel Castro] are very admirable and very admirable how Fidel listens.

gabriel garcía márquez

J: Do you think the end of the Embargo is close, of the Cuban Embargo?

GGM: I don’t think it’s close and furthermore now with the Republican win it’s very difficult it’ll happen but I think partial agreements will come which in the end make the Embargo something more or less formal. I think that could be. The thing is the world is changing [49:51] and the U.S. cannot not change too.

J: And what about the light symptoms of opening up that we’re seeing in the movies, in daily life—

GGM: In Cuba–the thing is in Europe they have the habit of believing that opening up is only about freedom of expression and democratic freedoms and blah, blah, blah. They think, like the U.S. furthermore, that a democracy is defined by an election. If there’s an election it doesn’t matter what they’re capable of doing and the outrages and injustices committed [50:17] because it’s a government based on elections. But Cuba is very far from being what it was five years ago. The progress achieved in Cuba is immense, it’s not small openings, it’s big openings. But they don’t tell you that. What they’re waiting for is that Fidel holds elections because what they want is for Fidel to fall and they think if they hold elections, Fidel will fall and he’s not going to fall. They want to do with Fidel what they did with the Sandinistas, not with the Sandinistas, with Nicaragua. They said hold free elections and we’re going to help you with this, and this, and that. They held them. If the Sandinistas had won they would have said for sure [the elections] were rigged, that there was fraud, and they would not have recognized them. They recognized [the elections]  because the Sandinistas lost and they haven’t given Nicaragua one penny of what they had promised and look at the situation Nicaragua is in. How do they expect with that precedent, that Fidel is going to believe what they are promising him? He doesn’t believe anything. Cubans are doing what they think they must do and fortunately Europe and practically all of Latin America are acknowledging it and they are helping a lot. And the U.S. what they’re doing is missing the train, and it’s leaving, and there’s not going to be room even in the last wagon.

J: Which historical moment have you lived which interests you the most, the one that has marked you the most?

GGM: It’s still a secret. It won’t be in some time but it’s still a secret.

J: When you had just received the Nobel price you said you would give it to [Juan] Rulfo or [Graham] Greene. Who would you give it to today?

GGM: Today in Spanish I would give it to Carlos Fuentes.  .Let’s see, I would give it to Milan Kundera. Well, I’ll make a list of friends for you in alphabetical order.

J: Did you ever see Hemingway?

GGM: Yes, of course, I only saw him once promenading in the Saint Michel neighborhood. Yes, I recognized him from the other sidewalk, he was with Mary, who was a lot shorter than I imagined, very blonde. I had already written Leaf Storm and I thought well, I’ll cross to the other side, he probably speaks Spanish because he lived a lot in Spain and he was a war correspondent during the Civil War. I’ll go over there and I’ll tell him some story and maybe he’ll invite me for a coffee. But if not, why be a creep or interfere. It was a fleeting moment and I thought, I have nothing to do, so I did the only thing I could think of “Bye Teacher!” and he from the other side looked like this and [UI] “Bye Amigo!” and he left and I never saw him again [54:00].

J: There’s an encounter you had which catches the eye. You spent a lot of hours with Kurosawa, the Japanese film director. What did Kurosawa want from you?

GGM: I was very lucky that Kurosawa was waiting for this cyclone which was taking time. He was filming a movie and he had all the possibilities of doing the end of the movie with a fake cyclone, a props cyclone. And he had it perfect but he insisted it had to be cyclone number 32 I think it was, because over there they don’t have names, they have numbers.. He knew cyclone number 32 was coming, he calculated the movie could end with cyclone number 32,  and cyclone number 32 started getting delayed. I had received messages from Kurosawa that he wanted to do The Autumn of the Patriarch [54:57]. So I sent a message to tell him I was delighted, no one could do it better than him. He was silent for a long time and then suddenly I received a message which said “I’m too old already and too sickly to get into the problems of the Caribbean.” Then I realized they had explained things wrong to him and when I went there, I told him I wanted to talk to him and he showed up at my hotel and said “we can talk until the cyclone gets here.”

J: How was your first encounter with the King and Queen of Spain?

GGM: I went alone to La Zarzuela [palace], Mercedes didn’t go. The King and Queen were there. The approximation to each one of them is completely different. The queen was obviously very interested in literary subjects, she wanted to speak about them, I did. The King is much more loose. There was even a moment where he said, “No, here the one that reads novels is the queen, I’m involved in other problems.” And it surprised me a lot. I had the luck of witnessing a moment of their family life in a place where even though there was no protocol it was not expected to happen. It was at a particular moment. The Prince, the now Prince of Asturias, all of a sudden opened the door, he was sweating, he had just been playing soccer or something and then the Queen said in English: “I’ve told you to knock [the door] before coming in.” And the King, all very buddy like, said “Oh, no, but I gave him permission to come in like that.” “No, he shouldn’t come in without knocking. Leave and knock.” So he did, the boy knocked, then he came in  and it was an experience which interested me very much .

 J: Are you more of a friend to men or to women?

GGM: Women.

J: Why?

GGM: Because I have a better understanding, above all I work a lot better with women. In the workshops I do, I always have a better understanding with women.

J: And what have you enjoyed the most, being close to the Powerful or attacking them?

GGM: No, being close to the powerful. But of course. The fountain of life, of information, of the inspiration, of power, is infinite. The thing is it’s a completely magical situation and I ask myself if it’s ever been real. I think power is the most unreal thing that exists.

J: And you are not scared of being misinterpreted by always wanting to be close to the powerful?

GGM: It’s not that I want–[stammers]

J: But it fascinates you.

GGM: It’s not that I always want to be close to the powerful. It’s the powerful that want to be close to me. It’s not that presidents are looking for me, no. What I want to say is that subject matter, that literary subject, which is the power, always comes to meet me. Maybe I identify it a lot better than others, besides you are speaking about power since you are thinking about presidents.

J: Yes.

GGM: Power is everywhere [54:48] here, here–at all levels.

J: I’m thinking of the powerful at all levels.

GGM: Power is on all levels.

J: The powerful were Pablo Escobar, the Guerrilla, the power–

GGM: The powerful was Pablo Neruda as well. No, power is on all levels. The thing is that I have a nose to identify it and if you think about it, I have not written a single line that’s not about Power, and above all the most powerful, important and eternal of all powers, which is Love.

I have not written a single line that’s not about Power, and above all the most powerful, important and eternal of all powers, which is Love.

gavriel garcía márquez

Copyright © 2020 Jorge Luis Carbajosa