“A friend is worth more than a Nobel”: the chronicle of Juan Gossaín from the house of García Márquez

On Wednesday, October 20, at nine o’clock at night, the doorbell rang three times. Álvaro Mutis’ house, in the San Jerónimo sector, is located in one of the most peaceful and beautiful neighborhoods in Mexico. So that person who was desperately ringing from the street, breaking the silence of the night into splinters, must have provoked a pout of censure from the neighbors.

-I’m coming, I’m coming!- Mutis shouted from the room, wondering who could be the one who would bother at such an hour.

Mutis got up from the soft chair in his study, leaning against a wall where you can see a photo of a Mexican guerrilla portrayed at the precise moment of his execution, and walked quickly towards the door. Jumping, almost running, the owner of the house covered the distance that separated him from the garden, reached a narrow path of stones and flowers, and opened the wide iron gate.

There, standing in the cold Mexican night, dressed in a plaid sports jacket and an open-neck sweater, was one of his oldest and dearest friends, a writer and Colombian like himself, and also a resident of Mexico.

-Gabito!- Mutis exclaimed, astonished, before that man who seemed to tremble from head to toe. And it was true: Gabriel García Márquez was pale and scared.

“What’s wrong, brother?” asked Mutis.

“I need you to hide me in your house,” the novelist murmured.

– And that pod? – Mutis was surprised. I know: you fought with Mercedes.

“Worse, brother,” said García Márquez, with great disconsolation. I just got the Nobel Prize…

Mutis’s mouth fell open. Now the one who began to tremble was him.

That night of Wednesday, October 20, 1982 was, without a doubt, the worst that Gabriel José García Márquez has ever had in his life, since he was born in Aracataca on September 6, 1928 (although Luis Enrique, who is an immediately older brother, says that Gabo was not born on the 28th but on the 27th, so that at this time he would not be 54 but 55. “What happens – Luis Enrique clarifies – is that Gabito takes a year off but not for vanity but for historical reasons: He says that he was born on the 28th so that his coming into the world coincides with the most terrible event in the history of Colombia and the one that has impressed him the most: the massacre of the banana plantations.”

Álvaro Mutis took García Márquez by the arm, ushered him in, closed the door, and they returned to the study.

The host poured whiskey into two glasses. Gabito took a long drink.

-Now yes, tell me the story- Mutis told him, reassuring him, and sitting down in front of him.

-Pierre Shoris called me…- Gabito began to say.

-Who is that? Muttis interrupted.

“The deputy foreign minister of Sweden,” Gabo explained. He is a friend of mine and he told me: “You have to come to Stockholm on December 11, but with tails”.

– Shit! – Mutis exclaimed, surprised.

-The bad thing-complained the novelist- is that the prize is only announced tomorrow morning.

The author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” looked at his best friend with anguish painted on his face.

-I was desperate- remembers Mutis-. He didn’t know what to do until dawn. Nerves were eating him up.

“I’m going to call Mercedes,” Gabo said decisively, standing up. Suddenly they call me at home and take her by surprise.

He spoke with his wife, Mercedes Barcha Pardo, a descendant of an Egyptian who owned a pharmacy in Magangué. He hung up the phone.

Upon returning to the room, García Márquez felt that his stomach had been damaged. The shock, the shock, the fear were wreaking havoc on his body.

“The best thing is that you return to your house,” Mutis advised him. Imagine what would happen if they call you from the Swedish Academy and they can’t find you.

At 6 in the morning on Thursday -7 in the morning, Colombian time- the phone rang. García Márquez, who had not been able to sleep since his return from the house in Mutis, and who had spent the entire night tossing and turning in bed, jumped up. He extended his hand, but Mercedes, who had already been informed of what was happening, had raised the horn. She heard a voice speaking to her in French.

– Photo: Private File

“They call you from Stockholm,” she said softly to her husband.

Gabito picked up the receiver. He said good morning and said: “Gabriel García Márquez, at your service.”

Mercedes, sitting on her legs on the mattress, looked at him. Gabito only emitted monosyllables: “Yes, of course”, “of course”, “I understand”. He spoke in French. Two minutes later he hung up the phone. He had a smile in his eyes. He looked at his wife, who didn’t take her eyes off him.

“We won the Nobel Prize,” he told her.

Mercedes, a beautiful woman who has features like those seen in portraits of the goddess Semiramis, with long black hair falling to her shoulders, hugged him. They didn’t say a single word.

Minutes later, husband and wife met in the dining room of the house with their son Rodrigo -23 years old, a graduate in letters from Harvard University- and with Ubalda, a Mexican girl who is the maid. Ubalda is so intelligent and trustworthy that the García Márquezes have registered her signature in her banks so that she can write checks and handle household affairs when they go on a trip. Gabito talked to his family.

“Absolutely nothing has happened in this house,” said the Nobel Prize winner. Life will remain the same. I’m not going to change and I know you aren’t either.

“What are we going to do today?” Rodrigo asked.

“What each of us had planned,” answered his father. I’m going to the garage now to pick up the car they’re fixing. Many people will call and journalists from all over the world will come. You have to attend to them all, but here life will be the same.


Gabito took off his pajamas, which is actually a kind of athlete’s sweatshirt worn with a mechanic’s overalls, and quickly got dressed. Just as he was putting on his shoes—ankle-length Spanish boots with zippers—there was a commotion in the street.

Mercedes, thinking it was something serious, looked out the window. Outside, in the curb of Calle del Fuego, in the Pedregal del Ángel neighborhood, there were about ten journalists who had just heard the news. They were television cameramen from Sweden, Finland and Italy.

One of them took a bottle of champagne out of his work bag and uncorked it. The cork, which made a loud noise, hit the window.

“Let Gabito come out!” the man with the bottle shouted, addressing Mercedes. We want to toast with him.

García Márquez, moved, went out to the porch of the house. And then he fulfilled his first ceremony as a Nobel Prize for literature: he sat on the sardinel to drink a sip of champagne with a group of reporters. The Mexican radio was broadcasting the news from Stockholm at that time. People leaned out of the windows of some neighboring houses and, seeing Gabito on the sidewalk, they applauded him. (Hours later, on Thursday night, the neighbors stealthily approached Gabo’s house, and with a brush and a jar of paint, they wrote on the floor, at the entrance of the garage: “Congratulations. We love you.”)

At that precise moment, three friends of García Márquez were leaving a New York hotel to catch the plane that would take them to Mexico. They were the film director Guillermo Angulo and the president of RTI Television, Fernando Gómez Agudelo, who was traveling accompanied by his wife, Teresa Morales de Gómez.

The three boarded a taxi. Several days before they had spoken with García Márquez from the United States, and they promised him that they would go to see him in Mexico before returning to Colombia.

Now, heading to Kennedy airport, they were stunned with astonishment and joy when the taxi driver turned on the radio and they heard the announcer giving the news in English: “The Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez has won the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm today. ″ .

-The only bad thing- commented Gómez Agudelo- is that Gabito will not be able to go to the airport to wait for us.

“It doesn’t matter,” added Angulo. When we arrived we called Mutis.

But when the plane landed in the Aztec capital, the three Colombians saw that among the anonymous beings waiting for their relatives at the huge airport, there was the Nobel Prize winner like any other neighbor.

“You wouldn’t have come,” Angulo told him, hugging him. You must have many commitments now.

“Don’t be an asshole,” Gabo replied. In this world there is no Nobel Prize worth more than my friends.

When he returned home, after leaving his three friends at the hotel, García Márquez began to feel that he was indeed scared: the street was full of radio stations, television cables, reporters and photographers.

There is no doubt: he is invulnerable to the Nobel Prize. Immortality, which is won by punching life and hacking your way through talent, has not gone to his head and will not go to his head. He’ll be the same jolly guy, well, with a laugh that sounds like a trail of coins on the pavement.

Look what he did that Thursday, when he returned home, and despite the fact that his phone was flooded with calls from all over the world, including China, Japan and Africa.

He took advantage of a moment when the line was free, and dialed a direct call to Caracas. She contacted the house of her close friend Soledad Mendoza, Plinio’s sister and a member of the famous tribe. Soledad was the woman who welcomed him with open arms, 25 years ago, when Gabo and his wife came looking for a job.

Gabo changed her voice on the phone, teased her, and then told her, with a laugh:

-Kneel down, damn it, you’re talking to the Nobel Prize!-.

On the other side of the line, Soledad couldn’t believe it: a grateful friend remembered to call her the same day he was consecrated winner of the most important literary award in the world.

Garcia Marquez is like that. The following day, Friday, the Colombian ambassador to Mexico, Ignacio Umaña de Brigard, organized a reception in his honor at the diplomatic headquarters. As in these cases, people gathered in small groups.

García Márquez spent a minute here and another there, greeting the guests, and suddenly he slipped away until he reached a corner where the Colombian journalists, cameramen from his country, photographers and reporters were. Upon reaching them, Gabito exclaimed:

-I’m finally with the people I was looking for! .

And he stayed the rest of the party with the journalists from his homeland, making jokes, making jokes, sucking cock.

His Mexican friends call García Márquez and his wife “Los Gabos”. They live in a quiet residential area, south of Mexico City, in an old mansion from the last century that they bought in ruins and have been rebuilding little by little, respecting the architecture of the time.

The large, grassy patio is filled with potted flowers and — naturally — guava sticks.

The walls are made of stone and are covered with vines and bougainvillea.

At the end of the patio is the studio where García Márquez works, surrounded by books, paintings, photographs of his family and silence. Among the portraits that hang on the walls there is only one that does not correspond to his wife or his two children (Gonzalo, the youngest, 21 years old, studies graphic arts in Paris).

That portrait is that of Álvaro Cepeda Samudio, the best friend he has ever had, who died ten years ago. Since his death, García Márquez – who suffered a cardiac collapse upon hearing the news – has never returned to Barranquilla, the city in which he lived the happiest years of his life.

JUAN GOSSAÍN, SEMANA magazine, October 1982

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“A friend is worth more than a Nobel”: the chronicle of Juan Gossaín from the house of García Márquez