On April 17th, we commemorated the six-year anniversary of the death of the greatest Colombian writer who ever lived, Gabriel García Márquez. It was only a few months ago, on the banks of the Danube river here in Budapest, that we had the honor to name a city park after him. Before I start, let me say I would be lying if I did not admit that my feelings get mixed up every time I talk about Gabo, our Gabo, as most Colombians used to call him.
From the day the park was named, it has become extremely meaningful for my family and me. It feels as if it is a little slice of Colombia in this beautiful city that we are now proud to call home. We visit often, taking family and friends to walk through the gardens and admire the city while drinking Colombian coffee, of course!
In my experience as a diplomat, I have always considered the education, sports, and culture sectors as fundamental axes for bilateral relations and for achieving a much deeper understanding between different cultures. During my time as Head of Mission of Colombia to Hungary, it has not been the exception. Although, our two countries have many common fields, we certainly want to keep learning from those in which Hungary is a world power such as the environment, science, and technology sectors, in which we work harder every day. We have attended relevant meetings to strengthen existing alliances and develop all kinds of initiatives for these sectors. Nonetheless, in terms of friendship, having materialized the project of this public space has a very special singularity: it will remain forever.
Magical realism in Budapest
Incredibly, more than a year has passed since we arrived in Hungary. We settled, made friends, found our favorite places, got into a routine, and, in a matter of weeks, our lives were all drastically changed forever. COVID-19, the first pandemic of this millennium, has unexpectedly found its way into nearly every single town, city, and country on this great Earth. No one was expecting this and no one was prepared.
In Budapest’s current state, looking out the window of my residence to the eerily abandoned Andrássy út seems like a piece of magical realism that our Nobel Prize winning author, Gabo, so famously depicts in many of his books. As the coronavirus spreads, self-isolation or quarantine is one of the key strategies in ‘flattening the curve’ of infection rates. This isolation period involves individuals and families staying within their homes to prevent having physical contact with the outside world. Nevertheless, this has also been a time for many to strengthen their family ties, to reconnect – remotely – with old friends, to re-organize their homes, to realize the importance of small details in life that are easy to forget because of routines and the daily hustle and bustle we so commonly find ourselves in. The silver lining that my family and I have found in all of this misfortune is a new-found desire to make every single second in our lives count, from this day on.
In 1957, nearly a decade after the end of World War II, García Márquez traveled to Budapest for the first time as correspondent of the Colombian newspaper El Espectador in Paris. During his time here, he wrote the book De Viaje por Europa del Este (Travelling through Eastern Europe), where he told with precision, and a brutal handling of small details, the complex political environment of Eastern Europe during that time. His book shed light on an unimaginable world. One that the people of Eastern Europe were not expecting and did not recognize at that time.
It is hard to believe that Colombians, as well as the majority of the people of Latin America, came to learn of the heroism of the Budapesters during those trying times through the melancholic writings of García Márquez, just one year after the end of the Hungarian Revolution. Now, in a different time and under much different circumstances, we reflect on those teachings and look to the future with more force and, in my particular case, admiration for how the government and the people of Hungary have faced this time; with compassion, competence, and a respect for science that will undoubtedly save countless lives.
In the 1980’s, I had the privilege of meeting García Márquez and his wife, Mercedes, on a sunny day in Havana, Cuba. I still clearly remember how awe-struck I was by Mercedes. Her strong soul and effortless confidence was just as impressive as Gabo’s gentle, kind and humble demeanor. I strongly believe that those two qualities, empowerment and humility, must certainly converge amongst us now if we are to overcome this dark page in our history.
Whether the time I still have ahead in the ‘Queen of the Danube’ is short or long, I look forward to the many more afternoons I will spend walking through the Gabriel García Márquez Park, coffee in hand, strolling with family and friends as we reflect on how, after all that has happened, we have re-invented ourselves as a society and as human beings.
I hope that someday my daughter, Camila, will come with her children to this very park and that they will enjoy it as much as my husband, Christophe, and I do now.
As a final thought, I invite everyone to reflect on the importance and value of yourself, your friends, and your families during this time. You are truly, as stated in one of Marquez’ most celebrated titles, Living to Tell the Tale.