Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A few things my guidebooks neglected to mention about Cartagena

The annual Señorita Colombia beauty pageant is held here in Cartagena every year in November. Stone plaques bearing photographs of every Señorita Colombia since 1934 are imbedded in the sidewalk under the arcade on the northern side of Parque Bolívar. (Bolívar and his horse are facing south, hence showing their backsides to the beauty queens.) This is called Portal de las Reinas (Gate of the Queens) and it is sponsored by the National Beauty School. Señorita Colombia of 2010 is Natalia Navarro Galvis. Note the toothy smile.

Cartagena is The Place if you would like to acquire an Osterizer blender or Osterizer blender parts, from any era. Or if you would like to unload your vast collection of Osterizer blender parts. Six days a week, at the corner of Calle Badillo and Dolores, you will find no less than six vendors specializing in Osterizer blenders and their multifarious parts. Business is good.

Before his brother was the Father of our Country, in 1741, Lawrence Washington fought with a group of American volunteers under Admiral Vernon*, who attacked Cartagena. Admiral Vernon over-estimated his strength and was so cocksure that he would prevail over Cartagena that he had medals cast commemorating his victory before he's even sailed into the harbor. One pictured the victorious Admiral Vernon standing over the defeated Don Blas, with this inscription: THE SPANISH PRIDE PULLED DOWN BY ADMIRAL VERNON. As it happens, Vernon and his force of 186 ships and 27,000 men were routed by Don Blas de Lezo, who at that point was missing one leg, one eye and one arm, and whose force consisted of 6 ships and 3,500 soldiers. As the British retreated, they continued their assaults and for a few days they managed to occupy La Popa, an Augustinian monastery on a hill overlooking the city. Lawrence Washington was among those who briefly resided in the cloisters. And yes, Lawrence Washington named Mount Vernon after his heroic leader.
*His nickname was “Old Grog” and his other best-known battle is the War of Jenkins’ Ear.

The guidebooks will tell you that the remains of San Pedro Claver (1580-1654) are beneath the main altar of the Church of San Pedro Claver. What the guidebooks don’t specify is that a glass casket containing the skeleton of the beloved “Apostle to the Slaves” is set into the marble altar and illuminated. While the skull is clearly visible, the rest of the skeleton is clothed in priestly garb probably more elegant than anything Pedro Claver wore in his lifetime. Given the dearth of lighting everywhere else in the church, the illuminated casket is particularly startling and eerie.

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