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Renovating a literary giant's childhood home

After numerous failed tourist schemes, Aracataca residents hope a Garcia Marquez museum will succeed.

ARACATACA, Colombia — Like the surreal and doomed Macondo, the town that inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s "One Hundred Years of Solitude" can’t seem to catch a break.

Over the years, the residents of Aracataca — a sun-scorched community of 26,000 located in the banana belt of northern Colombia — have dreamed up all kinds of schemes to attract literary tourists to their town.

Officials built an elaborate fountain in honor of Garcia Marquez, who helped popularize the magic realism genre and is widely viewed as one of Latin America’s greatest writers. But due to a water shortage, the fountain doesn’t flow.

A few years ago, the mayor held a referendum to change the name of the town to Aracataca-Macondo. But the re-branding effort failed because not enough people showed up to vote.

Garcia Marquez himself returned to his hometown in 2007 to help establish a tourist train that was supposed to draw visitors to Aracataca (pronounced ah-ra-ca-TA-ca). But after the inaugural run, the service was canceled.

“This town ought to be a treasure,” said school teacher Aura Ballesteros. “But we’ve been abandoned.”

Yet townsfolk are not giving up. A project to renovate Garcia Marquez’s childhood home and turn the structure into a museum is in its final stages. The ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for May 2009 and there are rumors that the great man himself might show up for the event.

More than past projects, the museum seems — at least on paper — true to the spirit of the writer.

The stories that Garcia Marquez absorbed while growing up in the crowded house fired his imagination and helped give birth to the Buendia clan of "One Hundred Years of Solitude." The novel, widely viewed as Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece, chronicles the birth, life and death of Macondo and several generations of the dreamy, impractical and superstitious Buendia family.

“Often, our house in Aracataca, our huge house, seemed as if it were haunted,” Garcia Marquez once said. “All those early experiences have somehow found themselves in my literature.”