"He wrote the first book I ever read." This was the most common phrase uttered by attendees of Gabriel García Márquez's memorial service in Mexico City on Monday.
The mourners went on to explain how "Gabo" had inspired them to become writers, teachers, or, at the very least, avid readers.
Thousands of people, many clutching his books in their hands, gathered at the Palace of Fine Arts to pay homage to Latin America's most revered author. García Márquez — who received the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature — passed away last Thursday at the age of 87 in Mexico City.
The attendees were determined to pay their tributes, but many left with concerns about the tone and style of the event.
Journalists and members of the public confronted security forces while attempting to enter the memorial, some waiting for over four hours in the blazing sun.
Once inside they were greeted with classical music and briskly ushered along a path, allowing them to quickly view the simple urn containing García Márquez's ashes.
Many mourners carried yellow flowers — the author's favorite color — and the casket was covered by roses in the same hue.
After the ceremony, attendees threw hundreds of paper yellow butterflies into the air, a reference to the motif in One Hundred Years of Solitude, his most famous novel. Military medals, badges, and other decorations were also displayed close to the urn.
Many people were unimpressed with the event's grandiosity, however. The words "cheap," "mockery," and "classism" could be heard muttered by people filing out of the Palace of Fine Arts, a large and ostentatious marble building.
"Here are the masses in front of the spectacle of the elite, who are untouchable, protected by security in their suits, while we the people just don't matter," Agustin Ambrogio, an Argentine exchange student offended by the event, told VICE News.
Several other attendees wondered why an event attempting to celebrate the life of an author who uplifted the "popular cause" and the crude realities of Latin America, didn't take place in a larger venue to allow all his admirers to attend together.
History student Alejandro López said that García Márquez's books serve as "cultural resistance to the western world."
Referencing One Hundred Years of Solitude, López told VICE News that "the way he narrates the extermination of the banana plantation workers, he could be writing about undocumented people today crossing the border, or people being killed in Latin America — where Canadian, United States and Chinese mining companies are exploiting our natural resources."
Come nightfall, hundreds of those gathered outside had still not entered to pay tribute to this beloved figure. However, security guards started blocking off entrances in preparation for the arrival of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and other dignitaries.
Peña Nieto is not known for his literary passion. When he was asked to name three books that had influenced him in 2011, Mexico's president stumbled before saying he had read "parts of the bible" before making a series of literary blunders.
Yet Peña Nieto did comment that García Márquez was "Latin America's greatest novelist" and that his death represents "a great loss, not just for literature for but all of humanity."
Ana Maria Jaramillo, a Colombian writer and friend of the deceased, celebrated the fact that world leaders were honoring the late author.
She shared her favorite phrase of his with VICE News: "He said that he wrote so that his friends would like him more." Jaramillo explained that this truly embodied García Márquez's spirit, as he "had friends of all social classes and ideologies, which allowed him to serve as a bridge and mediator during many conflicts."
Photos by Andalusia Knoll.