Center panel, triptych, oil on wood (1997-98)
There were at least two homages to the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez located in Cartagena's indomitable Museo de Arte Moderno -- the magical elements that can be found in the three-part panorama painted by Enrique Grau (above: glowing religious figure, tumbling pilot, encroaching sheet of rain) and also a painting by Spanish artist Daniel de Campos, "Homenaje a G. Garcia Marquez." The latter, part of a traveling exhibition, Entre las dos orillas, depicts the desk and typewriter of the Nobel laureate, a work-worn, rumpled area that presages the writer's imminent reappearance. While the exhibition's title might translate as "Between the two shores," that is, the Spanish shores of the artist, and the South American shores of the former Spanish colony, it is de Campos' landscapes, in particular, that might recall a Frenchman, Cezanne, in composition and coloring. Cartagena, in its own way, reminds the traveler of other walled cities, the Old City of Acre, for example, in the Middle East, where the tall stone battlements preside over the lapping sea, and in this way, Cartagena, and perhaps Colombia, in general, fulfill de Campos' prediction -- that city and country are moving between many such dualities, if you will, or combinations of 'shores': Old City and towering condominiums; the prevalence of tradition versus oncoming cultural fusion; a period of relative political calm as opposed to recent-enough upheavals involving a vigorous insurgency and narcotics trade. There is more: in October, the lightning flashes offshore and inland, and the rains visit nearly every night -- long, clashing downpours that idle over blocks and neighborhoods, flooding the streets. On Columbus Day, the kids toss firecrackers and slosh through the streets and courtyards, banging a ball between one another in improvised futbol matches. The prescient traveler can purchase a meal of arepas and mango from street vendors then catch the Afro Caribbean dancers or the marching bands, the little girls at the back twisting their cymbals artfully before clattering them together. There are plenty of horse and mule-drawn carts to offset the many busses and tiny Chevy taxicabs, and numerous docile streetdogs roam the tight grid of streets, poking their snouts into garbage bags. Of course, there is more: the traveler can sit in the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, and contemplate the ecumenical weather of its smooth, blue dome. There is also a bone fide sloth to be found hanging out, in a banana tree, at the Palace of the Inquisition. In all, Cartagena is a harmonious place, even in the relatively grittier area of Getsemani, or the sprawling market outside the Old City, but as this blogger (aka Senor Gringo) discovered, one can still make a gruesome finding -- in this case, as part of a side trip, well outside the Old City, in search of more Marquez mythology. To say that one must not stick out his arm, ever, farther than he absolutely needs to, would be a far too facile parry; the finding was a reminder that the forces of brutality are still at work, even as present day Cartagena offers a more panoramic view of tranquility than maybe it had, in recent decades. It has been hundreds of years since swashbuckling Spanish conquistadors slugged inland, through groups of natives spearing them with poison arrows, among other dangers; two hundred years after Napoleon occupied Spain, an act which, in part, precipitated the rebellious figures (Bolivar, et. al.) of New Granada to seek independence from their colonial overlords; and decades since Colombia modernized, in large part due to the coffee economy that other South American, Latin American, and Caribbean nations have, too, enjoyed. The future for Colombia might be brilliant, indeed, and Cartagena once again is the gateway to the Colombian -- and South American -- interior; folks might want to visit before the tourists really dilute the place.