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Love in the Time
of Cholera

by Gabriel García Márquez

Field-Tested by Debbie Millman

in San Felipe de Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

In 1992, both my marriage and the first relationship after my marriage had fallen apart. Certain I was never going to be loved again, I coerced my best friend, Sue, to travel with me to a place as far away as I could afford. A week’s vacation for two proved more expensive than I anticipated, and the best I could provide was an all-inclusive holiday at the Playa Dorado Hotel in San Felipe de Puerto Plata. Located on the north coast of the island of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Plata is both a port city and a popular tourist destination. Known for its stretch of white, sandy beaches, tropical botanical gardens, and a mountaintop backdrop, I hoped a week away from home would begin to heal my broken heart. Sue was interested in scuba diving and water sports, but I preferred to be lazy and lounged on the hot beach sipping sweet, thick, frozen Margarita’s.

I brought along Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, mostly because it is a story of unrequited love, and I wanted to wallow in the marvelous, mystical, dream-reality that is only possible from García Márquez. But as soon as I began my journey through the novel, I was struck by the similarity of the visual landscape. Love in the Time of Cholera takes place in an unnamed port city in the Caribbean. It remains unnamed throughout the story, and as I lay facing the ocean, I imagined García Márquez speaking directly to me through the book.

Headstrong Fermina Daza is the female lead in the story, and after a brief love affair through letters with Florentino Ariza, she ultimately rejects him and marries Juvenal Urbino. Lovesick and forlorn, Ariza is obsessed and tormented by his love for Fermina Daza. “It’s no use,” he tells his uncle at the beginning of the novel. “Love is the only thing that interests me.”

And love he does! Though Florentino Ariza believes that Fermina Daza is his soul mate and vows to remain faithful to her, he proceeds to engage in 662 affairs over the next 50 years. All the while, Ariza sincerely believes that he is saving his heart and his virginity for Fermina Daza. When her husband finally dies, Ariza immediately returns to Fermina and slowly she understands that she has loved him all along. They embark on a voyage to sail the Magdalena River, and in an effort to keep other passengers from boarding the boat, the captain raises the yellow flag of cholera. He asks Ariza, questioning how long they can possibly keep coming and going in this manner. “Forever” is his one word reply.

As I finished the book, I found myself weeping. I wept for the love Ariza felt for Fermina; I wept for the 53 years, seven months, and 11 days and nights it took for them to fulfill their love; and I wept for the joy that I felt in their mutuality. But mostly, I wept because I had witnessed a magnificent love story, and once again, had to face the heartbreak and the sadness that was defining my life.

Debbie Millman is a partner and president of the design division at Sterling Brands and teaches at the School of Visual Arts and Fashion Institute of Technology. She is also an author on the design blog Speak Up, a regular contributor to Print Magazine, and she hosts a weekly internet talk show on the VoiceAmerica Business network titled "Design Matters." Her first book, How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer, was published by Allworth Press in 2007, and her second, The Essential Principles of Graphic Design, will be published by Rotovision in Summer 2008.

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