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From Aracataca to Macondo?

Voters on the change of name of the town from Aracataca to Macondo, did not agree to the proposal.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2006 13:34 IST

By Hugh Bronstein

Life did not imitate art on Sunday when this town where Gabriel García Márquez was born and first heard the ghost stories that would inform the "magical realism" of his novels, rejected a proposal to change its name to honour him.

Fewer than the required 7,400 voters showed up for a referendum, which had been pushed by the local government to rename the community as Aracataca-Macondo.

Macondo, as the Nobel laureate's fans know, is the name of the fictitious town where his masterwork, One Hundred Years of Solitude unfolds.

In the novel, it is a place where anything can happen. It rains for four years after a massacre of banana workers and there is a plague of insomnia.

Despite a publicity campaign to whip up support, Mayor Pedro Sanchez did not have the political magic needed for the name change, which he said would have brought tourism to this down-at-the-heel town of 53,000 in Colombia's northern banana-growing country.

After the polls closed in the late afternoon, Sanchez said more than 90 percent of the votes cast were in favor of the proposal. "But turnout was not high enough for the vote to count," he conceded.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's house in Aracataca, now converted into a museum

"I've always known this place as Aracataca and that's good enough for me," said 27-year-old Manuel Almanza, who fixes punctured tires at the edge of town and has never read anything by "Gabo," as Garcia Marquez is known here.

Even so, residents agree the town needs improving. More than half the streets are unpaved and people seeking diversion on the eve of the vote were torn between the cock-fighting ring or watching a grainy, bootleg copy of the new film Poseidon shown on local television.

García Marquez, 79, who lives in Mexico and credits Aracataca with providing the raw material for his fiction, was neutral on the idea of changing the town's name.

The sagging, wooden house where he was born and lived with his grandparents until age 10 has been turned into a museum. This is where he listened to the ghost stories of his superstitious grandmother, Tranquilina, which later found expression in his novels.

"Tranquilina was the type of person who would stop in the middle of a conversation, look up and say, 'Look, an angel is passing by,'" said museum director Rafael Jimenez.

Carlos Ortiz, 83, who knew García Marquez as a child and still lives across the street, said the writer's grandparents rarely let him out of the house other than to go to school.

"They would come grab him and yank him back home when he tried to play football with us in the plaza," he said.

A conference of Colombian mayors is scheduled here at the end of the month. But the town has no hotels, so the delegates will have to stay nearby or in the Caribbean resort city of Santa Marta, more than an hour's drive away.

It was a party atmosphere in Aracataca on Sunday, with dance and drumming performances and lots of drinking and music to accompany the vote.

"I was against the name change, but these guys were all for it," said an apparently inebriated woman, gesturing toward her companions sprawled in plastic chairs near the public school where the referendum was held.

"The important thing is that we're all still friends," said the woman, wearing a T-shirt that said "Aracataca, Period!"

"It was a good, democratic debate," added one of her drinking companions, who sported a shirt with bright green letters saying "Aracataca-Macondo, Sí".