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Love in the Time of Maladjusted Behavior

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In Catherine Shoard's 2008 Telegraph review of the film version of Gabrielle García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, she asks a critical question:

Should our hearts flutter in the face of a love this enduring [the love Florentino Ariza harbors for Fermina Daza through the 50 some-odd years of her marriage]? I'm not sure. As with many literary adaptations . . . , what seems swoony on the page can seem plain sinister on screen.
In fact, what seems plain sinister on screen seemed just as creepy on the page to me.  Two examples suffice:

(1)  When Florentino Ariza seduces a married "pigeon fancier," Olimpia Zuleta, her husband discovers her faithlessness and slits her throat.  Florentino Ariza has sent Olimpia Zuleta signed love notes, and García Márquez reports,

For many years he [Florentino Ariza] thought with terror about the signed letters, he kept track of the prison term of the murderer [Olimpia Zuleta's husband], . . . but it was not so much fear of a knife at his throat or a public scandal as the misfortune of Fermina Daza's learning about his infidelity.
(p. 217.)  A woman is dead because of your sexual desires, and your main concern is that another woman not find out that you've had sex?  That's not touching.

(2)  Florentino Ariza's penultimate lover, América Vicuña, is 14 (to his 76) and his ward.  He abruptly dumps her at the death of Juvenal Urbino, Fermina Daza's husband, and in her inability to comprehend this rejection, América Vicuña kills herself.  Florentino Ariza reacts as follows:

The only thing he could do to stay alive was not to allow himself the anguish of that memory.  He erased it from his mind, although from time to time in the years that were left to him he would feel it revive, with no warning and for no reason, like the sudden pang of an old scar.
(p. 336.)  Another woman is dead - this one a teenager - because of your exploitative sexual desires, and you erase her memory?  Not romantic.

More than once, García Márquez describes Florentino Ariza as a "man who gave nothing and wanted everything" from his lovers (p. 216).    The fact that he's treating women so harshly while he bides his time waiting for his "true love" is, again, not sympathetic. 

A man who knows love for a woman ought to - we'd like to think - treat her sisters with dignity and respect.  Otherwise, what is his love for "Miss Right"?  Whether on the page or in the movie, Florentino Ariza's love for Fermina Daza is the enabler of a life lived at an emotional and moral distance from beloveds; it is the romantic fig leaf that fails to justify a misogynistic reality.

To return to Catherine Shoard's perceptive question, Florentino Ariza's "love enduring" provokes, not a flutter, but a shudder.

(Image of Javier Bardem as Florentino Ariza in Mike Newell's film version of Love in the Time of Cholera from The New York Times)

Note to Self

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If I am ever crafting a romantic male lead in a novel, I'll do well - both for character and for reader - to spare him the indignities of chronic constipation. 

I don't get what Gabriel García Márquez was doing, in Love in the Time of Cholera, when he saddled poor Florentino Ariza (as played by Javier Bardem in Mike Newell's movie version, pictured left) with this debility.

Granted, I recognize that the problem is common.  Also, that people who suffer chronic constipation have just as much entitlement as the rest of us to passionate love affairs.  Also, that they can screw a lot.

But I don't like to dwell on it.  When García Márquez conflates constipation and screwing, as he does Florentino Ariza first meets Leona Cassiani, I cringed:

Florentino Ariza remembered a phrase from his childhood, something that the family doctor, his godfather, had said regarding his chronic constipation: "The world is divided into those who can shit and those who cannot." . . . But with what he had learned over the years, Florentino Ariza stated it another way: "The world is divided into those who screw and those who do not."
(p. 183).  Please!  Gabriel!  Spare us!

Throughout, I had problems believing Florentino Ariza as "one who screws" because I just couldn't reconcile the openness required for sexual release with the closedness required for chronic constipation.  And when one of Florentino Ariza's lover takes his enemas with him, I found myself regretting the compassionate capacities of my gender: ladies, there are limits!

Later, when Leona Cassiani gives the aged Florentino Ariza his enemas, I had a hard time with the humiliation and emasculation that redounded to Florentino Ariza from this interaction.  He's going to get up off the enema bed and go woo Fermina Daza?  Really?

When it comes to enemas and a romantic male lead, my feeling is that there's too much realism and not enough magic.

(Image of Javier Bardem in the film version of Love in the Time of Cholera from The Telegraph)

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Love in the Time of Cholera category.

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