Five Months of Solitude
Understanding the Magical Realism of Gabriel García Márquez
Thinking about it now, walking around Saint Aubin symbolized the magical realism of studying abroad. By way of definition, magical realism is a literary genre that places non-realistic and/or unbelievable elements in a realistic frame. However, it is not enough for a writer to make strange and inexplicable things happen; there must also be an acceptance of these events, a synthesis of the bizarre and the quotidian by the characters of the story. The reasoning behind the magical realism specific to South American literature of the 1950s and 1960s is the fact that life on that mythical continent possesses a fantastical quality. As Márquez describes in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he and his contemporaries “have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”
That assertion links Márquez to Toulouse and everything I’ve experienced since my arrival in January. At some level, studying abroad is a daily accumulation of unbelievable incidents that I know I’ll never be able to explain to anyone back home. Although Toulouse is by no means Macondo (due to a shortage of levitating priests and clairvoyant gypsies), there is still the same inexpressible magic found just by walking around the town. To give you some examples, yesterday I found Place du Capitole overrun with vendors whose wares would give any of Macondo’s gypsies a run for their money. Each time I stroll down Rue Saint Rome I watch the owner of the best crepe stand in Toulouse create (he’s too much of an artist to simply cook a crepe) a blueberry jam confection that you have to taste to believe. Even when I sit on the stone banks of the Garonne to watch the ducks float by, I am struck by my utter inability to capture these small events like so many fireflies in a jar. Even the ones I manage to trap will flicker and disappear before I can show anyone their soft glow.
And that is my solitude. Like the Buendias of Márquez’s imagination, I carry with me the recognition that my experiences here will defy all attempts at elucidation. However, I will continue to tell the tale of my time in France though the reality of these five months will always be just beyond my reach. I will be like Márquez and all of the writers of that strange and magical continent that resists explanation yet demands description.
So come sit by the fire and listen to a story. I promise to explain what I can, but as for the rest, you’ll have to come and see it for yourself.