Dr. Juvenal Urbino responds to an urgent call at the home and photography studio of his friend, Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, who has committed suicide by vaporizing gold cyanide.
The police inspector and a young medical student greet Dr. Juvenal Urbino with "solemnity" – they know he was a good friend of the photographer.
Dr. Urbino examines his friend's body. We learn that the photographer was crippled and used crutches to get around.
Dr. Urbino is a pretty old guy. He celebrated his eightieth birthday last year.
So we know that Jeremiah de Saint-Amour was a war veteran, a photographer of children, and a cripple, and that Dr. Juvenal Urbino is an eminent physician. The two were friends and played chess together.
This is the first time Dr. Urbino has seen a suicide by cyanide that wasn't provoked by the sufferings of unrequited love.
Dr. Urbino uses his connections to speed up the plans for the funeral.
Rumor has it that Jeremiah de Saint-Amour was a saint – not your regular, run-of-the-mill saint, but an "atheistic saint," as Dr. Urbino explains to the police inspector.
Dr. Urbino realizes he's going to miss Pentecost Mass.
Dr. Urbino sees an unfinished chess match set up in the dead man's room. It's unusual for two reasons: one, Jeremiah de Saint-Amour always finishes every game and puts the board and pieces away; two, it looks like he was going to be defeated in four moves.
The police inspector finds a letter addressed to Dr. Juvenal Urbino. The doctor reads the letter, and it visibly disturbs him.
The doctor states that the letter contains the photographer's "final instructions" (1.17). That's not all it contains, but we don't get to find out what the rest of it is yet.
Dr. Urbino thinks about how he's missing Mass, and says that it's the third time he's ever skipped church. That's pretty impressive, considering he's eighty-one years old.
We learn a little about Dr. Urbino's habits – he's a guy who likes routine. He rises early and does the same thing every day. He's a cosmopolitan man who has traveled to Europe and reads imported books from Paris and Barcelona. He sounds a little uptight and old-fashioned, but his methodical hard work has earned him a lot of prestige and respectability.
Dr. Urbino is "an expensive and exclusive doctor," and his clients tend to be concentrated in the District of the Viceroys, an upper-class residential area (1.24).
Dr. Urbino and Jeremiah de Saint-Amour met years ago when the latter showed up at a chess tournament that Dr. Urbino had organized. Dr. Urbino had been so impressed by Jeremiah's mad chess skills that he became his "unconditional protector, his guarantor in everything," and lent him the money to start his photography studio with no questions asked (1.26).
On this particular Sunday, Dr. Urbino's strict routine has been interrupted by two unusual events – the death of his friend, Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, and an anniversary luncheon to honor one of his favorite pupils.
Dr. Urbino "allow[s] himself to be carried along by curiosity" and orders his coachman to take him to a location specified in Jeremiah de Saint-Amour's letter.
The carriage takes Dr. Urbino to the crowded and chaotic old slave quarter, which is full of revelers celebrating Pentecost. Dr. Urbino's fancy, old-fashioned carriage sticks out like a sore thumb in the midst of the ramshackle buildings and smelly sewage.
They arrive at an unnumbered house, where Dr. Urbino meets a mysterious, middle-aged woman dressed in mourning.
The woman confirms what the letter has revealed to Dr. Urbino – that she and Jeremiah de Saint-Amour had met in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and had carried on a secret love affair for decades.
Though the mysterious woman was often in Jeremiah's company, no one ever suspected that they were having an affair because his disability led people to assume he was unable to get it on. Boy, were they ever wrong.
The woman tells the doctor about the events of the previous night. She and Jeremiah had gone to see a depressing war movie (All Quiet on the Western Front) and had returned to Jeremiah's house, where, to distract him from his despondent mood, the woman had engaged him in a game of chess. (Dr. Urbino realizes this woman was the one to beat Jeremiah in his final game. He's impressed.) When Jeremiah asked the woman to leave, explaining that he wanted to write a letter to his BFF Dr. Urbino, the woman understood that he was planning to take his own life that night.
The doctor gets angry with the woman, saying that if she had known Jeremiah was going to kill himself, she had the duty to report him. The woman explains that she could not, because she loved him too much.
OK, so here's where we finally figure out why Jeremiah de Saint-Amour killed himself. The woman tells the story of how, when the two of them were young, Jeremiah had told her that he would never be old. He planned to kill himself when he was sixty. Jeremiah had turned sixty that year, and he wasn't going to go back on his word.
Dr. Urbino has a poor opinion of the mysterious woman. He doesn't think she seems to be grieving enough for Jeremiah's death. She plans to sell Jeremiah's home and its contents, which now belong to her, and to go on living in the slums, which she describes as the "death trap of the poor" (1.48).
On the drive home, Dr. Urbino contemplates the "honorable decadence" into which his colonial city has sunk since its independence from Spain. We also get a lengthy description of the doctor's home in the La Manga residential district. (See our discussion of the novel's "Setting" for more on this.)
Dr. Urbino returns home in a bad mood, and finds the servants trying to catch the household's pet parrot, who has flown into the branches of the mango tree.
Dr. Urbino hates animals in general, but he makes an exception for the parrot, who can speak so rationally and in so many languages that he almost seems human. The parrot is the only animal permitted in the house (besides a lucky tortoise who the family barely considers to be an animal), and to explain the reason for this, the narrator introduces us to the doctor's wife, Fermina Daza.
Fermina Daza has always loved animals and, when she and the doctor were first married, she filled the house with them. One day, however, one of the Garman mastiffs goes on a rabid attack and slaughters all of the other pets in the house, except the lucky tortoise. The doctor proclaims that "Nothing that does not speak will come into this house" again, and Fermina agrees to abide by the new prohibition.
Here we are treated to an OMINOUS FOREWARNING OF IMMINENT DEATH! The narrator tells us that Dr. Urbino's "hasty generalization [is] to cost him his life" (1.62). This is an example of prolepsis, a technique that García Márquez uses a lot to reveal something that's going to happen in the future. We'll point it out to you when it happens.
OK, so now we know that the doctor is going to die, and we want to find out how. We suspect it has something to do with the parrot that Fermina Daza brings home a few months after their house is robbed. The parrot can curse like a sailor and, as a speaking creature, he's permitted in the house.
The parrot has become a fixture in the Urbino Daza household. Today the servants removed him from his cage to clip his wings, and he flew into the mango tree. That brings us back to the present.
Dr. Urbino sends for the fire department to try to remove the parrot from the tree, and goes to get dressed for the luncheon. He finds his wife dressing in their bedroom.
We're treated to a humorous account of the most constant source of conjugal conflict between the Doctor and his wife – he's a morning person, and she's not. The biggest fight the couple has ever had resulted from an argument they had early in the morning over whether there had been soap in the bathroom. The fight took four months to resolve and nearly ended their marriage.
Another thing the couple used to fight about involved Dr. Urbino's tendency to splatter the toilet seat when he peed. (Oddly enough, this won't be the last time that urine will come up in the novel.)
Now Dr. Urbino has gotten old, and many of the things he and his wife used to fight about have been resolved – he sits down to pee, and Fermina sleeps so little that she wakes up before he does. Fermina bathes and dresses her husband as if he were a child.
Dr. Urbino continues to brood over his friend's death and the letter's revelation of "his sinister past" (about which we're still in the dark) (1.84).
As Fermina dresses him, Dr. Urbino tells her that Jeremiah de Saint-Amour had been a fugitive from French Guiana who was condemned to life imprisonment for an "atrocious crime," and that he had eaten human flesh (1.85). Fermina defends Jeremiah, saying that he had done well to disguise himself with a false identity in order to make a fresh start.
Here we're introduced to the hostess of the luncheon, Aminta Dechamps, wife of Dr. Lácides Olivella. She and her seven daughters have been planning a celebration in honor of her husband's silver anniversary in the medical profession for the past three months. Dr. Urbino, who was Dr. Lácides' mentor, has the honor of presiding over the luncheon, which is to be held in their country house.
Aminta Dechamps is worried when she goes to Mass on Pentecost Sunday and realizes that it looks like rain. The Director of the Astronomical Observatory assures her that it has never rained on Pentecost, but his reassurance proves to be misguided when the luncheon begins with a downpour.
Aminta and her daughters frantically move the party indoors, where the party guests eat a confused luncheon in sweltering heat.
Dr. Urbino and his wife sit at the head table with other esteemed guests, including the Archbishop. Dr. Urbino enjoys the musical program performed by an orchestra from the School of Fine Arts and gets all absent-minded. He seems ready to sink into senility at any moment. Have we mentioned that he's old?
Returning to reality, Dr. Urbino discusses Jeremiah de Saint-Amour's suicide with the Archbishop and Dr. Lácides Olivella. By this point he's feeling a little more charitable, and he describes his dead friend as a saint. He keeps the scandalous secrets that were revealed in Jeremiah's letter and promises his wife that he'll attend the funeral.
Dr. Urbino hits the bottle and starts to get a bit tipsy. The arrival of dessert is the only thing that prevents him from getting his karaoke on, old school style.
Dr. Urbino and Fermina skip dessert and head home so they can take a siesta before Jeremiah's funeral. They arrive at the house to discover that the fire department has torn the place apart with their machetes and pressure hoses, without managing to catch the blasted parrot.
Right before going to bed, there's a weird moment where Dr. Urbino enjoys the smell of his own urine, which he likens to a "secret garden […] that had been purified by lukewarm asparagus." If you're not quite sure what to make of this sentence, don't worry – you're not alone. Let's see if this urine thing comes up again later (1.104).
Dr. Urbino wakes up and feels old again. In fact, he feels pretty close to death. Are you getting the feeling yet that death isn't too far away for this guy?
OK, so what's next on the agenda? After waking from his nap, it's time to read. Today's reading options are The Story of San Michel, an autobiography by the philanthropic and humanitarian physician Axel Munthe, and Man, the Unknown, a treatise on eugenics by Nazi sympathizer Alexis Carrel. Disturbingly, Dr. Urbino chooses the darker reading material.
Dr. Urbino is just about to get dressed, when he hears the voice of the psittacine miscreant. (Yes, we just really wanted to use the word "psittacine," meaning "of, or pertaining to parrots." We're word nerds.)
So the parrot taunts the doctor, and the two have a freakishly rational exchange in which the parrot calls Dr. Urbino a scoundrel. The old man attempts to chase after the bird, who flees into the branches of the mango tree.
Are you ready for this? It feels like the entire chapter has been building to this moment – Dr. Urbino climbs a ladder in pursuit of the parrot, who is always just out of his reach. He stretches out an arm, finally manages to grab the little bugger by the neck…and falls off the ladder and dies. Yep. Dead.
Fermina Daza hears the servant screaming and runs out to the mango tree, where she manages to say goodbye to her husband before he loses consciousness.
The next few paragraphs are sort of a resume of Dr. Urbino's professional and public life. It's kind of like we're reading the obituary of a very respected and accomplished man.
The narrator mentions that Dr. Urbino's life deviated from the image of a respectable aristocrat in only two ways: in his abandonment of the family mansion in favor of a new house in the neighborhood of the nouveau riches (newly rich), and in his marriage to a beautiful woman from the lower classes. His greatest regrets upon his death were in not having male grandchildren to carry on the family name and in being survived by his wife.
The whole city is in an uproar over the doctor's death. An artist even paints a portrait of Dr. Urbino in the fateful moment when he stretches out his hand to capture the parrot. The painting hangs in the School of Fine Arts for many years before the students burn it in a bonfire. (A word about bonfires: things are often getting burned in bonfires in García Márquez's novels.
Now the narrator gets inside Fermina Daza's head for a little bit. Up to this point we've only heard about her from the perspective of her husband, but hey – now she's a single lady (cue Beyoncé). The narrator tells us: "From her first moment as a widow, it was obvious that Fermina Daza was not as helpless as her husband had feared" (1.121).
Fermina takes charge of the wake and the plans for the funeral. Her grief enrages her, and her rage gives her the strength to appear composed in front of her friends and social peers.
Meet Florentino Aziza. The old man makes himself useful at the wake, taking care of unforeseen challenges with discretion and efficiency. For some reason, he feels a "pain in his side" when Fermina Daza doesn't recognize him. Do the two have some sort of past?
Florentino Aziza is President of the River Company of the Caribbean, and knows a thing or two about predicting the weather. He warns Dr. Urbino Daza (the son of Fermina and Juvenal) that it's going to rain, and advises him to reschedule his father's funeral. Unlike the Director of the Astronomical Observatory, whose erroneous prediction ruined Dr. Olivella's luncheon (remember?), this dude's no phony. It's too late to change the plans, however, so the funeral is held under a torrential downpour.
Florentino Aziza is present almost throughout the entire wake and is one of the few to attend the funeral in the pouring rain.
At the end of the wake, Fermina Daza says goodbye to the last of her guests. As she's about to lock the door, she realizes Florentino Aziza is still in the house. She's pleased to see him.
Suddenly, Florentino puts his hand on his heart and confesses his undying love for Fermina. In fact, this isn't the first time he's pledged himself to her – he says that he's waited "more than half a century" to repeat to Fermina his "vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love" (1.130). Whoa.
Fermina's reaction is probably not what Florentino was hoping for. She's pretty mad, actually.
Fermina orders Florentino to get out of her house and not to come back for all the years of life he has left to him – which she hopes are few. Ouch.
Fermina Daza listens to Florentino's footsteps fade away, and she's finally alone. We learn that, at that moment, she becomes aware of the "weight and size of the drama that she had provoked when she was not yet eighteen" (1.133). Makes you wonder what happened, right?
Fermina cries for the first time since her husband's death, and falls asleep weeping. When she wakes up, she realizes she thought more during the night about Florentino Ariza than about her dead husband.