Outside of the commonplace sexual trysts penned by Anaïs Nin and the gothic thrillers of Carlos Ruiz Zafón, I practically weaned myself on the heart-breaking tales of Gabriel García Márquez or Gabó, as he was fondly called.
As a hopeless romantic, I’ve always thought of his book, El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera (“Love in the Time of Cholera”) as his most heart-rending creation to date, a few notches more depressing than Cien Años de Soledad (“One Hundred Years of Solitude”).
I love depressingly tragic stories. I love it when the heart suffers uncontrollable trembling just by reading books with catastrophic twists in the plot. And what could be more disconcertingly catastrophic, if not dreadful altogether, than to wait patiently for the love of your pathetic little life (while you give yourself to the art of the one-night stand along the way) for what seems like a lifetime?
I’ve always had a soft spot for Florentino Ariza, that anti-sapiosexual, obsessive-compulsive love nerd and sex-in-dark-corners devotee who wasted decades if only to finally sleep with the love of his flagrantly salacious life—the anti-eggplant advocate Fermina Daza. It’s safe to say that Florentino Ariza was a lady’s man’s lady’s man—charmingly naïve and innocent for the misogynist of the species, highly-educated in poetry, song, and the humanities, packed with a supply of semen that could accommodate multiple partners all in one sprint.
Reading the book, I see my younger self in him, this unaccomplished diminutive rascal all rarin’ to face the future as though life were a slew of fierce pugnacious exchanges in bodily smells and fluids.
But Florentino Ariza was more than just a rabbit in heat. He considered love and poetry as a prerequisite to life, stunningly malodorous sex, and the writing of office memos. Quite Kafkasque, if you ask me. I once had the pleasure of reading Franz Kafka’s biography. This literary icon of the nightmarish tales, while locked in a world dictated by his tyrant of a father, would woo women only to leave them hanging in mid-twist and groan. His reason? So he could write stunning love letters. Kafka was probably the only writer who believed in the Spanish Inquisition’s promise of riveting foreplay prior to videoing the obligatory snuff flick before, during and after the beheading.
I won’t go far as to say that Florentino Ariza is an example of what manhood ought to be. Far from it. According to novelist Michael Chabon in his book, Manhood for Amateurs: The pleasures and regrets of a husband, father and son, manhood is basically the realization that whatever success one garners while being a husband, father, and son “does nothing to diminish the knowledge that failure stalks everything you do. But you always knew that. Nobody gets past the age of 10 without that knowledge. Welcome to the club.”
It is, therefore, quite understandable why Florentino Ariza’s life leaves much to be desired, all the more from a feminist’s point of view. His passive-aggressive behaviour with regard to women leaves no willing bubble butt unturned or unpoked. He was as furious in stalking Fermina Daza as fungi would stalk a slice of unwashed toenail, even as the latter was betrothed, and later given in marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino del Calle. Florentino Ariza was persistent, relentless to a fault. The passing of decades meant little to him who screwed his way into the final culmination of the story, in an anchored boat of all things, which was about a stone’s throw from another carrying victims of cholera.
Was it all worth it? All those years of waiting for that one chance at a sexual tryst with what once was your fount of unrequited love? Could that level of dream-like, magically realistic adoration serve as a cartographic printout for how men ought to love women, barring, of course, the occasional humpty dump in the middle?
Honestly, I’m at a loss for words. Gabó wrote hardly anything about what the couple was left to enjoy after that late-afternoon boat ride. None of the fairy-tale ending “and they lived happily ever after”. “Happily ever after” could mean a few rickety years, what with Ariza and Daza ending up together, say, in their late seventies? Maybe early eighties? With cholera raging across the land, and age fast catching up, the couple probably had a few minutes to spare, who knows?
The chances of erectile dysfunction (old age does this to a man) didn’t help in alleviating the onslaught of further challenges, like the waste of more hours trying to get a hold of the magical blue pill—in the middle of what seemed like a river cutting across the Amazon forest.
It is clear that Gabó took off from an idea that is fairly old, if not ancient. I recall Francisco Balagtas’ words in his famous awit, “Florante at Laura,” Pag-ibig, ‘pag nasok sa puso nino man, hahamakin ang lahat masunod ka lamang.
This song or psalm, inspired by the cuadro histórico (historical paintings depicting the Greek empire) was published in 1838, dictated by the poet to his sweetheart María Asuncion Rivera. The whole consisted of four lines per stanza, with twelve syllables per line. It tells the story of Duke Florante’s love for the beautiful Princess Laura, with Count Adolfo serving as a monkey wrench in the courtship.
So, clearly, love, in the same impassioned display by Ariza, had been documented in fiction and epic poetry, reminiscent of Prince Paris’ love for the lovely Helen of Troy (who was married to badass Sparta’s King Menelaus), to say nothing of Walt Disney’s Prince Charming obsessing over Cinderella and Snow White, with the exception of that adorable organism with a fish tail (he’s probably allergic to anchovies).
The whole point of this exercise is this: to answer the question, how much are we willing to stretch our patience in the name of love? Is love all that it’s touted to be—the magical feeling that comes after gobbling down a balikbayan box of Toblerone? That sweet cloying trembling in the blood, the chest, the eyes, the knees, the thighs, the thumbs, the tip of your fingers, the hair follicles, genitals, eyelids, elbows, shoulder blades, tongue, false teeth, the uvula, which when medically inspected, is not the beginnings of hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, but actually, undeniably, love? Is it safe to conclude that love, in the end, is what we must live for, fight for, long for, despite the commonplace snags posed by in-laws, the laundry, and electric bills?
Again, as a doomed-to-the-guillotine romantic, I daresay yes. Morose as it may sound, what better way to spend a cool afternoon than to bear all the misgivings you have about love. I mean, better that than your runaway cat, or your perennially late salary, your overbearing boss, or the recent statements by presidential spokesman Harry Roque. The American poet Alfred Lord Tennyson was right all along: Better to have loved and lost than to have ridden the Metro Rail. Love, for all its benefits and flaws, including better blood circulation and wrinkles, respectively, has proven itself worthy of the wait.
Truth to tell, this is saying a lot for someone like me whose patience wears thin at the slightest provocation, provocation meaning you’re late on our date. Two minutes is acceptable, five minutes intolerable, an hour deplorable, 24-hours unpardonable. Two weeks and you should kiss your chance at a paid-for dinner of kariman and lumpiang shanghai at the Ministop goodbye.
A “buttered” husband though I may be under my wife Che’s prodigious care, still our love for each other (including our impassioned fondness for switchblades) undergo the severest tests. Why for some extraterrestrial reason the toothpaste remains uncapped after use, the dishes unwashed, so too our undies, and let’s not forget the toys and Lego bricks, and stickers dispersed everywhere, which are seemingly more than the furniture in the house. The clogged sink. The roaches in the cupboards and where we keep the toothbrushes. The grammatically-challenged line in some of our reportage and essays. The cat poop. Cigarette butts. Missing cellphone chargers. Busted electric fans. That frustrating single piece of slipper. Milk bottles under the bed. The waste of bathroom tissues.
Not even the god-man Hercules, with his á la Michael Bolton makeover, would’ve survived these tests if it weren’t for unconditional, unadulterated love.
Gabriel García Márquez’s epic vision of ardour in the person of Florentino Ariza offers readers a peek into the magical yet realistic image of la monstruosidad que es amor (this monstrosity that is love) in stunning Technicolor. In a world where, slowly, we are forgetting that love, for all its imperfections, weaknesses, and manic depressive shortcomings, is the one thing that might save us from inevitable destruction, what with social media hastening the arrival of oblivion, then we should have more of these stories.
But the inevitable happened. I deeply mourned the author’s passing when I got wind of his death in April 17, 2014. Yes, we now live in a world without Gabó, without the kind of love that defies all odds. Even those oddities which we, the world’s lovers, have created. As such, the writing of our lives’ final chapters is now left in our care. G