Nobel laureate added a tropical air to Sweden
It was easy to find Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Stockholm on Nobel Prize weekend; he was always in the center of a knot of Latin American journalists and fans, from the Grand Hotel to the Operaterassen restaurant to the Concert Hall where the prizes were given out, and back. They gave warmth, color, and the noise of excited voices speaking Spanish to an otherwise frozen and stony-looking city, where manners are more circumspect and all you hear on the streets are quiet ''Ja, ja's'' of thoughtful agreement. Even though it's pitch black at 3 p.m. in Stockholm in December, and the rest of the day is grayish, Garcia Marquez walked around in a constant high noon of flash bulbs and TV camera lights.
In a city known for its formality, here were people in thick sheepskin coats babbling the way teen-agers waiting for the Beatles used to. Whenever they could, they pressed close to the short, bristling-mustached Colombian author, some to ask questions (''Will you return to Colombia?'' ''No, I'll stay in Mexico and write''), others to kiss him on the cheeks and say ''felicitaciones, '' with glowing eyes. When he was gone, they questioned each other fast: ''He's gone?'' ''Where did he go?'' ''Do you know what his chauffeur looks like?''
Julietta, a novelist writing for a newspaper in Buenos Aires, marches up and down in the lobby of the Grand Hotel. Her brown eyes flash as she worries aloud Garcia Marquez is upstairs changing for the Nobel Prize ceremony; as he passed her earlier she had given him a letter of introduction. Tiny, elegantly dressed, she alternately harasses her photographer and apologizes, holding up a neat, red-nailed hand: ''I'm so distracted. Please pardon me.''
Other photographers and TV cameramen come in and stand around, and the lobby is abuzz with rapid Spanish chatter. This is an important time for the Latin American population here, she says; most of them are in exile, and Garcia Marquez's winning the prize not only makes them proud, it seems politically significant to them.
Stockholm, though an unlikely place of exile for someone from Latin America, is a magnet because the Swedish government makes it a policy to accept such refugees, according to a Swedish Embassy spokesman.
The other prizewinners, also staying at the Grand Hotel, have come down with their wives on the elevator and marched through the light of the television cameras. They stand out in the shadows, while the crowd ignores them and surges toward the stairs. Sure enough, Garcia Marquez and his wife come down grandly by stairway. To everyone's delight he is not wearing the white tie and tails the science prize winners are buttoned into, but a high-collared white shirt and pants, the formal wear of Colombia. Julietta looks solemnly at him, like a matador, then makes her rush. They bustle through - a talking, kissing, squeezing crowd - and at the door of the hotel, Garcia Marquez holds his coat open for the cameras to record his outfit. There at his side, like the angels they show helping heroes in baroque paintings, is Julietta, holding his coat. She is asking him her question.
Garcia Marquez and his party, and even the winning scientists, whoosh away in their limousines in a few minutes, and the press has dispersed. ''Barbarosa!'' the photographer is saying to Julietta, probably complimenting her on the raw, barbarous nerve it took to hold the coat and ask the question, and she is shaking.
* It's not just Garcia-Marquez-mania that keeps this little knot of Latinos at the door of the Grand Hotel. It's solitude, and it's Gabriel Garcia Marquez's understanding of it, and it's the feeling that somehow with his fame he will drag Latin America out of its solitude.
His best-selling novel, ''One Hundred Years of Solitude,'' is about the town of Macondo, whose charm and curse is solitude. Macondo is so isolated that people there tell a priest they don't need him, because they have lost the evil of the original sin.
The final scene is both horrible and beautiful, like a lot of what Garcia Marquez writes. Aureliano Babilonia, the last survivor of the Buendias, a family with the mythical import of biblical families, is deciphering the Buendias' history, written by an old magician in Sanskrit. The story was a prophecy, written before the hundred years of solitude began. Mauricio Babilonia has caught up with the prophecy. He is reading about the demise of Macondo as it happens.
"Before reading the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable, since time immemorial and forevermore, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.''
If there was ever a last sentence that snaps a book shut in its readers' faces, that's the one. It gives you the uncanny feeling you've been reading the parchments yourself, but that's impossible, because they perished when Aureliano Babilonia got to them. This is a portrait of solitude so complete that it denies that you are even reading it.
But you are, and so have millions of others before you, making the book a best seller, and now its author has won the Nobel Prize. So Macondo is no longer a ghost town, but a literary location like Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County that people move into in their imaginations for the price of a paperback and never really leave.
Garcia Marquez's Nobel lecture was called ''The Solitude of Latin America.'' He said that Latin America is isolated because Europe doesn't know how to view it except by European standards, and because the horrendous reality of life there, where 120,000 people are missing because of repression, is hard to believe by any standards.
''Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels,'' he said, ''all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of our imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.'' Furthermore, he added, that ''unbridled reality'' drives many into exile - 10 percent of Chile's population has fled - and that is its own kind of solitude.
The lecture was full of statistics as strange as the inventions of ''One Hundred Years of Solitude,'' but grimmer, underlining the fact that the town of Macondo, with its barbarous excesses, is not so imaginary.
But he finished his lecture by contradicting directly the romantically hermetic scene of Macondo's ruination.
He pointed out that the possibility of the total destruction of mankind, once thought of as a horrible fantasy, is now reality. But, he said, ''we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late. . . . A new and sweeping Utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.''
At the end of the Nobel weekend, there was an event for the Latin Americans called ''Encuentro con Gabriel Garcia Marquez.'' He read from a story at the end of it. Until then he sat in the audience with Latin Americans and Swedish fans of Latin culture, while exiles, their children, and artists sent by the Colombian government performed folk dances, sang crying songs to chugging and twinkling guitars, and recited poetry. In the audience and on stage were the Chileans, Uruguayans, and Argentines who found themselves here because they couldn't live with their countries' politics.
And the solitude ended, if only for a moment, with the improbable, primitive noise of a squealing Colombian flute, gourd rattles, guitars, and bongos. But what a moment: Two lines of dancers stepped on stage, walking sedately as they rattled their hips to the music. The women wore broad, white cotton skirts with big bands of bright calico and lace, which they held up to the side like fans, their hips moving in a subtle tremor as they strolled. The men wore white pants and shirts, red kerchiefs, and hats. They waggled their hips and held tin cans with flames coming out of them high overhead. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, sitting in the audience with his wife, children, and friends, held his hands up to clap with the music.
One of the many people who paid tribute that afternoon to the creator of this remarkable work was a tiny Swedish woman with short white hair standing up straight, surrounding her merry face like an aura. ''We are all citizens of Macondo!'' she proclaimed.
A common enough method of praise, but in this case it was a particularly outlandish idea. Macondo was supposed to have fallen in, a hot, dusty ruin of uproarious human folly. But because of the way Gabriel Garcia Marquez described it, charming and funny even in its horrendous overindulgences, readers are still taking Macondo to heart, giving the place Macondo symbolizes a second opportunity on earth.
What many love about Macondo is the everyday nature of the miracles that occur there, like the time a remarkable beauty ascends to heaven with the sheets she is folding. Here, life was imitating art: Garcia Marquez's presence caused such delight that on that snowy Sunday afternoon in December, a certain part of Stockholm was tropical.