Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Still Dancing in Cartagena

18 April 2017

The other evening, we were having dinner at our friendly neighborhood café, and listening to the music in the Plaza de la Trinidad.  First there was a singer with a guitar, performing several songs in Spanish or in English.  Then there was a violinist and a drummer, soaring their way through what we think were a number of Colombian or Andean folk songs.  And then a mariachi or salsa band, men in black and silver with sombreros, playing upbeat horn and guitar music and singing "aye yiy yiy yiy."

Our plaza is definitely the center of our neighborhood, and this mix of continuous music is the heartbeat.  Or maybe the soundtrack of Cartagena.  It reminded me of our time in the "Little India" part of Kuala Lumpur, where the music on the street was definitely Indian Bollywood get out and twirl and dance music.  Here, the music is also a get up and dance kind of music, but decidedly spicy and picante, like salsa - both salsa the music and salsa the sauce.  Definitely rhythmic and hot and swaying bodies and rapidly tapping feet.  

The soundtrack of Cartagena, maybe all Colombia.

We've looked at going to other parts of Colombia, but Bogota and Medellin are at high altitudes, cold and rainy right now.  Down south had horrible flooding and mudslides.  The islands in the Caribbean are a maybe, but we're heading to St. Thomas for Carnival (surprise!), so it seems silly to take a long boat trip to get to the beaches.

And we're having fun in Cartagena.  So, we're opting to stay here for our month in Colombia, wandering around the colorful neighborhoods, finding hidden gems in the shape of markets, buildings, parks, cafés, the occasional bakery.  

One little park or plaza might feature busts of revolutionary heroes.  Another might be filled with metal sculptural figures playing music - again, music, the pulse of Cartagena.

I spent one afternoon at the Zenu Gold Museum, which was interesting.  The walk there was even more eventful, though - I of course made a wrong turn and couldn't find the museum or the plaza that was my landmark for the museum's location.  Instead, I wandered by a photo shoot - some very attractive South American guy, all dressed up, leaning casually on a motorcycle while people ran around holding lights, shade, cameras, taking photos.  Plus a gaggle of onlookers, mostly on their mobile phones telling someone what was going on.  I finally asked a few young women "El persona, el es muy famoso?"  "Si, si," they answered.  And gave me his name, which of course I didn't recognize.  "Ah!  El es muy bonito!" I replied, accompanied with a little ooh-la-la hand wave.  (He is very handsome!)  They giggled and agreed as only young fans can.

As I walked away, heading in the opposite direction back toward the museum, I looked back - and my young friends were posing and taking selfies with the hot guy, whoever he was.  (I later found out from some other people who gave me directions that the guy was a Colombian actor.)

So, the Zenu Gold Museum.  Various groups of people lived in this region for the past 11,000 years or so.  The groups living in the plains between the Caribbean coast and the Andes eventually became known for their incredibly beautiful and detailed metalwork, especially in gold.

Different groups of people used different techniques; some hammered the gold into smooth sheets which they cut and pierced into intricate shapes.  Others used lost wax casting.  Still other groups made super-thin wires that they twisted and entwined into objects similar to the filigree work we see today.

The people living closest to the area that is now Cartagena were the Zenu, very interesting people.  Not only did they make gorgeous gold pieces - breastplates, earrings, nose rings, ornaments to be buried with the dead.  They also figured out how to live and farm along the river deltas, which flooded on a yearly basis.  The Zenu dug canals to direct the floodwaters, and built up raised beds where their crops could grow, irrigated by those canals full of water.  Ingenious, especially for people some 2200 or so years ago!

The jewelry, of course, was gorgeous.  Items tended to look like objects in nature - seashells, birds in flight, snakes, jaguars or wild dogs.  Sculpture of humans was almost Cubist in style, with angles and simplified features and abstract symbols.  ALL  IN  GOLD!!!!!

I loved it.  Absolutely wonderful!  I would have been happy to wear about 90% of the objects in this museum, although I probably would skip wearing anything in my nose.  But the work was so detailed, it was hard to remember that the artists were making these objects by hand, without the benefit of electricity or modern tools or machinery.  Even the tools they used to work the gold were made by hand!

The Zenu also decorated their body with paint applied by carved rollers.  Really - you know how you can buy stamps for making designs in paint on your walls?  Or rollers with designs carved in them, and you just roll the painted roller on the wall to decorate your walls?  The Zenu fabricated tubes of clay with carved, incised designs, and then fired the clay.  Rolled these in pigment mixed with water, and then rolled these on their bodies.  Brilliant!

The museum is free!  Housed in an old traditional house, it's rather small and only on two floors around a central garden.  But a great place to cool off on a hot day, with really icy AC.  And of course all that beautiful gold!  Here's the museum's website:  http://www.ticartagena.com/en/things-to-do/sights-attractions/a-golden-opportunity-to-learn-about-the-zen%C3%BA/

Unfortunately, the museum doesn't have a gift shop - I was ready to buy myself some gold replica jewelry.  The concierge at the museum walked me over to a shop, and they had some replica jewelry - though it was large, and mixed with all kinds of gemstones.  Not my style.  Part of the beauty of the Zenu gold is the simplicity of the style, the clean lines and abstraction, the stylization of everyday or natural objects.  To my eye, they lost much of their focus when paired with a strand of malachite beads, or hung on the end of a huge chain.  

Luckily, by chance or by seredipity, a few days later I wandered into a "made in Colombia" shop a block away from our hotel.  There I found exactly what I was looking for: Zenu replica items made into simple earrings, bracelets, necklaces, key rings.  So yes, I bought myself several pair of earrings, similar to what I saw in the museum.  (I want to change the posts to hooks, so I'm not wearing them yet.)  Gorgeous!  And such a wonderful souvenir from our time in Colombia!

Wandering around the city, we've found all kinds of murals.  Not sure how many are official murals sanctioned by the city or some art committee.  Or if these are all graffiti murals, painted by artists who want to beautify their city, make a social or political statement, leave their mark.

Richard and I both always enjoy graffiti, and I love murals.  So I stop and take photos and we talk about what we think might be the artist's message, or what we think of the mural, or whatever.

Religious holidays are always interesting, and Easter was fascinating, although we're not too sure exactly what was going on.  The week leading up to Easter is known as Santa Semana, Holy Week.  Many places in our neighborhood were closed from Holy Thursday to the following Holy Monday (or maybe Easter Monday?).  Lots of churchbells, various church services including guitars and singing, with changing backdrops inside the church.

On Good Friday, in the evening, we realized were were in front of a huge group of people parading up the street.  They were singing, accompanied by some drums and tambourines, and a few people were carrying flares.  There was also a huge white cross in the center of the crowd.  We thought they might be heading up the road to the church, but they stopped partway up the road and someone started speaking to the group.  Not exactly sure what was going on there, but I know some countries or cultures do sort of a stations of the cross thing.  Though after sunset on Good Friday seems a bit after the fact, but, well, I'm not Catholic so I really don't know.

Then on Saturday night, in the middle of the Plaza de la Trinidad, there was sort of a big barbeque grill with flames leaping out of it.  There were some police barriers, and police officers keeping people well away from this fire.  We also saw a giant candle, white, lying on a bench.  I mean giant for a candle, maybe three or four feet long.  (One to 1.3 meters.)  We didn't see what went on, there was such a crowd surrounding whatever happened.  I asked our waitress, since we were sitting across the street.  She explained in Spanish, so I repeated in my minimalist Spanish to be sure I understood.  Basically, the priest lit the candle, and brought it into the church.  Someone else put the fire out.  I asked if the candle would burn for a week (because it was that big!).  She said no, the priest would (verb unknown, but I guessed blow it out).  So I sort of mimed blowing out the candle, and she confirmed that.  Again, our best guess is probably right, that there's some sort of vigil held from Saturday night until Easter Sunday, with this candle.  Kind of like an Easter wake, I guess. 

It was all interesting, but confusing to someone who doesn't completely speak the language and who wasn't raised in this religion.  But that sort of makes it even more interesting, since we can speculate and build our own theories about what's happening.  (And most of this was all happening at night, so I don't have photos - it seems rude to use flash photography when people are celebrating their holidays.)

Everything was closed in our neighborhood for Easter Sunday, so we opted to go out to Boca Grande, literally "Big Mouth," the area on the other side of the opening of the bay and part of the long peninsula we can see from the walls of the old city.  This is part of new Cartagena, the touristy part, full of highrise apartments and hotels and shops and American food chains.  Also a few casinos.  We met old friend machines in the casinos, and some of the games have been happy to see us again.  At least, one of the games was happy enough to see me that it paid me fairly well.

I mentioned that we're going to St. Thomas.  This wasn't our original plan, we thought we'd be in Colombia for a longer time.  Our visa is good for up to 90 days, and we hate to waste a good visa.

But we ran into a problem on our second day in Cartagena.  Somehow, after the cruise and before we arrived here, someone got my debit card number.  Whether it was from a vendor, or someone with a mag card reader, or someone who was able to string some numbers together - we don't know.  But I couldn't get money from the ATM, and I couldn't access my account online.  (Time for a metal RFD blocking wallet thing!)

Skype calls to the bank, a few calls back and forth, and we get the above info.  My account is temporarily frozen.  Card is closed.  

Since this is a debit card, it's complicated to replace it outside the regular renewal cycle.  I could send a notarized letter via FedEx to a friend, have them go to the bank with the letter and input my PIN, pick up a temporary debit card for me, and FedEx it to me in Colombia.     

Or, we could just go to St. Thomas, visit our bank, and I could do this myself.

We've been talking since our time in Rio about Carnival in St. Thomas, how much we both miss it, how much fun it was each year.  And how much we both miss our friends on island.

So we took the debit card issue as a sign from the universe that we need to go to St. Thomas.  Flights are booked, friends with a hotel worked out something for us, and we're set and excited!

But we have just under a week more in Cartagena, and we'll continue to enjoy the city and the music and the colorful streets until then.