A Footnote to the Previous Post RE Bill Clinton and Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A not-so-quick footnote to yesterday’s post:  During the Reagan Administration, Garcia Marquez was labeled a subversive and denied visas to enter the US.  After Clinton was elected President, he lifted the travel ban.  Here’s a snippet from an article from Salon that is no longer available detailing Garcia Marquez’s first meeting with Clinton at William Styron’s house with the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes also in attendance:

Garcia Marquez with Clinton

Dinner began at 8, with some 14 guests around the table, and lasted until midnight.  Bit by bit, the conversation came down to a kind of literary round table involving the president and the three writers.  The first topic that came up was the forthcoming Summit of the Americas.  Clinton had wanted it held in Miami, where it did take place.  Carlos Fuentes considered that New Orleans or Los Angles had stronger historical claims, and he and I argued strongly for them until it became clear that the president had no intention of changing his plans because he was counting on reelection support from Miami.

“Forget the votes, Mr. President,” Carlos said to him.  “Lose Florida and make history.”  That phrase set the tone.  When he spoke of the problem of narco-traffic, the president heard me out generously.

“Thirty million drug addicts in the US go to show that the North American mafia are more powerful than those in Colombia, and the authorities much more corrupt.”  When I spoke to him about relations with Cuba, he seemed more receptive.  “If Fidel and you could sit and talk face to face, all problems would completely disappear.”

When we talked about Latin America in general, we realized that he was much more interested than we supposed, although he lacked some essential background.  When the conversation stiffened a bit, we asked him what his favorite movie was, and he answered “High Noon,” by Fred Zimmerman, whom he had recently honored in London.  When we asked him what he was reading, he sighed and mentioned a book on economic wars of the future, author and title unknown to me.

“Better to read ‘Don Quixote,” I said to him.  “Everything’s in there.” Now the ‘Quixote’ is a book that is not read nearly as much as is claimed, although very few admit to not having read it.  With two or three quotes, Clinton showed that he knew it very well indeed.  Responding, he asked us what our favorite books were.  Styron said his was “Huckleberry Finn.”

I would have said “Oedipus Rex,” which has been my bed table book for the last 20 years, but I named “The Count of Monte Cristo,” mainly for reasons of technique, which I had some trouble explaining.

Clinton said his was the “Meditations of Marcus Aurelius,” and Carlos Fuentes stuck loyally to “Absalom, Absalom,” Faulkner’s stellar novel, no question, although others would choose “Light in August” for purely personal reasons.  Clinton, in homage to Faulkner, got to his feet and, pacing around the table, recited from memory Benji’s monologue, the most thrilling passage, and perhaps the most hermetic, from “The Sound and the Fury.”

Faulkner got us talking about the affinities between Caribbean writers and the cluster of great Southern novelists of the United States.  It made much more sense to us to think of the Caribbean not as a geographical region surrounded by its sea but as a much wider historical and cultural belt stretching from the north of Brazil to the Mississippi Basin.

Mark Twain, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and so many others would then be just as Caribbean as Jorge Amado and Derek Walcott. Clinton, born and raised in Arkansas, a Southern state, applauded the notion and professed himself happy to be a Caribbean.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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