“It was enough for me to take a step inside the wall, to see it in all its greatness in the evil light of six o’clock in the afternoon and I could not suppress the feeling of being born again.”
Gabriel García Marquez
Near the “Clock Tower”, where Simon Bolivar once entered the city of Cartagena, Colombia, a taxi driver was waiting quietly for passengers. I approached, greeted him, and after taking a shot of him my camera suddenly stopped working. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before and hasn’t happened since, and it now makes me think of the line from Colombia’s beloved Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “Unlikely (improbable) things acquire the character of everyday events and everyday events are covered with the astonishment of unlikely things.”
Cartagena’s colonial architecture of churches and old houses with their balconies draped with bougainvillea, the terracotta roofs, the old and heavy doors behind which a tropical garden may be hidden, transport us in our imaginations to the secret adventures of the lovers Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, the two protagonists of Love in the Time of Cholera. It was difficult to separate in my mind the historic center of Cartagena– its colors, the liveliness of its streets — from the magic of Garcia Marquez’s literature. Though I had not yet found the white house with the parrot-shaped door knocker written about by Marquez, I decided that I had to return to the hotel to fix my camera before returning to the historic colonial city to take night shots. My taxi driver was not in a hurry however, and no doubt would have enjoyed continuing to pose for my camera. But I had been walking all day in the brutal heat and humidity, being chased by street vendors and treated badly by Palenque women who demanded money to photograph them, and I needed a rest. Cartagena colonial Caribbean Colombia
My taxi driver seemed more eager to tell me about the long colonial history of Cartagena than to get paid for his taxi service. And so he drove me to the hotel, transporting me through several centuries of history with his talking. The trip was long, not because the taxi driver wanted to take advantage of a naive tourist, but because he needed to describe all the details of the siege of Cartagena by Pablo Morillo that lasted for 105 days in 1815 and that earned the city the label “The Heroic”. He also told me about the fateful day on February 8, 1586 when the pirate Francis Drake landed, occupied the city, ordered the burning of houses and the destruction of the cathedral in order to seize the public treasury.
Then it was back to the present, where inside and surrounded by the colonial architecture of the hotel I discovered that the compact flash storage in my camera was unable to open and I couldn’t view any of my photographs. A few minutes later an intense tropical rain came down, pummeling against the walls of the hotel and making it clear that I would not be able to return to the colonial city that night as I had hoped. I left Cartagena the next day, without having completed my work and not knowing if my photos had been saved due to the problem with the camera. It was only in Buenos Aires a few weeks later that my friend Fernando performed the miracle of recovering them for me. Cartagena colonial Caribbean Colombia
Cartagena is a mixture of reality and magic. I have returned since to Colombia, but I haven’t been back to Cartagena. The dream of sitting like Florentino Ariza on the “less visible bench” in the Park of the Gospels, pretending to read a book in the shade of almond trees, is still alive in me. Maybe my photos can have the same meaning for me as the letters that Florentino wrote: “It was inevitable: the smell of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of contrary love.”
Gabriel García Marquez requested that after his death, his ashes be returned to Cartagena and laid to rest there, so he could stay forever where one is immune to nostalgia, seeing the immensity of the sea.
Pablo Munini © Madrid, January 2020
Cartagena colonial Caribbean Colombia