February 13 is the 40th anniversary of one of the deepest, personal rifts in modern literature. It was on that fated night that Mario Vargas Llosa achieved a stunning – some would say Pyrrhic – pugilistic victory over his soon-to-be ex-friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The true motivations for Vargas Llosa’s attack are famously unknown. Was it their ever-increasing left/right political distinction? Was it Garcia Marquez’s advice to his friend’s wife, that she divorce him for his recent infidelity? Or did Garcia Marquez step into that troubled marriage with illicit motives? Neither of the two wordsmithing demigods ever revealed the secret.
Well, screw that; we wanted to know.
We sent a Special Service Investigator back in time to the actual event with our yerba-mate time travel process – a carefully protected and very dicey technique, but the only one we have for situations like this. Here is the relevant section of the report.
February 13, 1976
Screening of the film La Odisea de los Andes, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
This is a very prestigious event; environs are packed with cultural celebrities, press, etc..
7:10pm – A city bus pulls up to the curb in front of the Palacio. It is raucous with song and laughter. The doors open and Gabriel Garcia Marquez tumbles out arm-in-arm with at least three individuals. The rest of the bus follows, in a similar manner. The celebrative crowd overwhelms the press corps, event staff and official-looking-whoevers in front of the building. Garcia Marquez is soon buried in a sea of chaotic attention.
7:12pm – Exiting his taxi, alone, Mario Vargas Llosa throws his not-Cuban cigar on the ground, stamps it out and tosses a wad of cash at the driver. He walks away without change.
Eyes down, lost in thought, he edges around the crowd and bumps into a small group of journalists, including the legendary Rodrigo Moya. When Moya tries to congratulate him for his work on La Odisea de los Andes, he brushes by without a word. Moya remarks to standers-by that his photojournalist-Spidey-senses are tingling.
Behind a high-popped collar, Vargas Llosa skirts the edge of the Palacio de Bellas Artes lobby drawing little attention to himself. The few that do notice him, quickly retract their outstretched hands. Afterwards, they will recall flashing eyes, low rumbles and the smell of iron. He disappears into the men’s room.
7:32pm – Already slightly toasted, GGM strides expansively into the lobby of the Palacio de Bellas Artes. His massive entourage pours into the building – tickets or no, they are unstoppable. Garcia Marquez makes straight for the baño. On the way, he shakes hands with or embraces at least 59 separate individuals. Approximately half are complete strangers. He gives away every single Cuban cigar he’s brought in his jacket (8 of them), with a laugh. Garcia Marquez cha-chas towards the baño – but then spots his good friends Nereo Lopez and William Styron at the elegant bar at the far end of the hall. The cha-chaing shifts in that direction.
7:40pm – Locked in an intense conversation about Caribbean cuisine, Garcia Marquez spots Vargas Llosa emerge from the men’s room and charge up the sweeping staircase. His hand shoots up in greeting, but Vargas Llosa does not notice.
7:43pm – Vargas Llosa is overheard at the bank of public telephones on the third floor (the one down the hall from Rivera’s El Hombre en el Cruce de Caminos), “Long distance to Barcelona… wait, no, Stockholm. Wait wait wait- Barcelona – “ before slamming down the phone and bursting into manful tears.
7:44pm – Vargas Llosa accosts a small boy who is eating Swedish Fish (the candy treat nowadays sold at Ikea). He snatches the bag out of the boy’s hand, and shakes it in his face. “It’s not worth it, you FOOL! You can’t live on dessert!” He chucks the bag over the railing.
7:44pm – Garcia Marquez looks up, and sees a small flock of Swedish Fish burst into the airspace around the third level like fireworks. They sprout dragonfly wings and buzz carefully down onto the shoulders of a few bored-looking married men. He slurps his mojito.
7:45pm…? – Can’t find Vargas Llosa.
8:00pm – Octavio Paz arrives, accompanied by Carlos Fuentes, just in from France. The two men stroll down the freshly unrolled red carpet, chatting amicably with each other. They seem not to notice the ladies undergarments making great arcs in the air towards them, which are expertly intercepted or collected off the ground or their shoulders by a small squad of recogebragas lined up inconspicuously at key points along the red carpet.
8:10pm – Paz and Fuentes call Garcia Marquez over with a joyful, bro-y shout. The recogebrajas dart around, expertly – now really put on their mettle. How do they stay so low, while moving so fast?!
8:15pm – Vargas Llosa appears in a corner, champagne glass in a vice grip, distractedly answering the questions of a Mexican journalist. His eyes peer thru the crowd around the red carpet, like, like… fucking lasers.
8:18pm – The crowd around Garcia Marquez parts, and he turns to see Vargas Llosa floating towards him, 2 feet off the ground on a dark cloud with tiny lightning bolts acting like centipede feet. Mario looks really cool, but not very happy. Lightning zaps a little silk number clean out of the air right before it hits him.
Finally, the famous, very short conversation:
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “Mario!”
Mario Vargas Llosa: [punches Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the face, really hard]
8:18:10 – It becomes extremely loud and very hard to hear, but one man is flat on the ground, and the other is brandishing a finger from atop his stormcloud. Even having been there in person (thanks to yerba-mate time travel techniques), it’s still very difficult to discern precisely what was said. Comparing notes with other witnesses afterward, what may have been said can be reported variously, as follows:
– What the hell? – What the f*ck? – Now that you have struck me to the ground in this unexpected manner, perhaps you would care to explain yourself?
– What the hell?
– What the f*ck?
– Now that you have struck me to the ground in this unexpected manner, perhaps you would care to explain yourself?
– Bastard! – Asshole! – That’s for what you said and/or did to my beloved but estranged wife, Patricia!
– That’s for what you said and/or did to my beloved but estranged wife, Patricia!
It is entirely possible that all of these things were said, or some other variations. What is certain is that Vargas Llosa made no direct answer to Garcia Marquez’s direct inquiry (assuming he actually made one – as stated, it was noisy.)
8:18:15 – Vargas Llosa straightens his coat, pivots and walks away (like a totally boss jefe), feet on the ground, no storm cloud in sight.
Garcia Marquez is helped up by friends and admiring – now sympathetic – strangers. He limps off to sit on the edge of a planter.
8:20pm – The Mexican journalist fumbles thru the rest of his interview with Vargas Llosa, who orders a martini with a snap of the fingers and tips the server handsomely.
8:24pm – A raw steak has been procured and applied to Garcia Marquez’s eye (presumably because raw meat is easier to find in Mexico City than ice). He is shaken, but – thru some miracle of magnanimity – is desperate to know if his friend is alright. Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes, while gently wiping away his blood with a really lovely creme-colored negligee, agree to check.
8:38pm – The Mexican journalist having finished with his interview, Vargas Llosa is at the bar and given a wide bubble of privacy. (Very wide. Even wider in fact than the bubble of privacy given the surviving members of the Uruguayan rugby squad, who were in attendance that night, of course.) I follow Paz and Fuentes, hoping to overhear their conversation.
Paz: Mario. Are you alright?
Vargas Llosa: Octavio! [Paz stiffens to his embrace] Excellent, my friend. And yourself? Carlos!
Fuentes: Are you sure? What was that? Why did you attack Gabriel?
Vargas Llosa: Ah. Well, I will tell you, and you two only, and I will never repeat it. I am sure Gabriel will not repeat it either.
[He takes a relishing slurp of his martini. He takes a moment to complement the bartender.]
Vargas Llosa: The reason I punched Gabriel in the face is —
And then the yerba mate-induced time [REDACTED] collapsed, and the scene instantly faded.
Some missions can be executed flawlessly but still fail. We hope that this eye-witness account, while frustratingly inconclusive RE our stated purpose, will at least fill in a few gaps as to the events of that night.