In later years...President Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, Alice Longworth, congratulated me every time we saw each other: "You got out. So wise."
"Reflections on Glory Reflected,"
-- Gore Vidal, in United States: Essays 1952-1992
The day Gore Vidal died rain fell hard on the roof of his old house alongside the ruins of Our Lady of Carmen in Antigua, Guatemala
. Braids of thick plaster twisted gracefully around chipped columns, dripping after the downpour that signaled the end of the canicula. Those golden weeks of sun and hummingbirds in the midst of the rainy season were over.
Of tens of thousands of yearly visitors to Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, few realize that the late author Gore Vidal lived here during the impressionable first years of his writing career. I lived around the corner from his old house for eleven years, and happened to be visiting a friend in Antigua when news came of the author's death on July 31. I felt moved to walk over to the old neighborhood through town, alert to "that sharp smell" that Vidal once wrote was the scent of "most Latin towns: green papaya, dust, damp stone and plaster, and something else, unidentifiable, yet insistent, ubiquitous, death sweet.
In 1946, the author, then just twenty-one, took $3000 from the payment for his first novel, Williwaw, and bought a crumbling 16thcentury convent next to the ruins of Our Lady of Carmen.
In such corners of Antigua, a town of some 45,000 about an hour from Guatemala City, amid fine homes, galleries and a popular central parque, ruins from five centuries of earthquakes remain in place, reminders of history and natural forces that are inescapable.