“Que te amo con desespero
como loco en luna nueva
que cuando no estás conmigo
la tierra se me acelera. “
I kick myself every time I go out without my camera in Cartagena. Every square inch of the old city is a photo op. The most recent self-butt-kicking was while walking along the four hundred year-old fortress walls surrounding the city, watching a sherbet sunset over the ocean. It almost feels cruel that I can’t share the neon pinks and oranges with you.
This sunset was preceded by a Monday full of coincidences and chance meetings, with spotting friends on balconies and telling them to come the hell down and have an ice cream. It was followed by a full moon, a bottle of rum, lots of laughs with new friends, and singing the song above.
The other day, I watched Eat, Pray, Love (for probably the fifteenth time in the last two years) with my Cartagenera “sister,” Paola. In the film, the protagonist and her friends choose words to describe their cities and themselves. New York is “ambition”; Stockholm is “conformity”; Rome is “sex.”
“What is Cartagena’s word?” I asked Paola.
What is it about this city that has earned it a reputation for magic? Is it Marquez’s magical realism? The rainbow buildings and flowering balconies? The music? Is it the aesthetics and acoustics, or something more spiritual than that?
What I’ve realized over the past four weeks is that anything can happen here at any given time. Sure, that could be said of any city, but there is more electricity and unpredictability in the air here. Like New Orleans and its voodoo and vampires, Cartagena has an supernatural flavor. Once the sun sets, a breeze blows in from the Caribbean, and it carries magic and mischief.
I’ve seen random acts of kindness, random acts of dancing, public displays of affection, and comedic fist fights in public squares. I’ve sang along to “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” with guitar-playing hippies (just try to listen to that song and not smile. I dare you). The nights here can take you anywhere, though mine usually end at the bay, watching the sun rise. Most of all, this place is full of whimsy and people who are willing to follow that whimsy wherever it may take them.
From now on I’m going to bring my camera out with me more often so I can share some of the magic with those of you who can’t be here. That is, after I recover from the flu. I guess that comes with living in such an unpredictable place; not all the surprises are good ones.