26 November 2012

Follow the Fat Lady's Feet

A typical street scene in Cartagena's Walled City
Cartagena's Walled City is about seven blocks by eight, but using "blocks" as a descriptor lacks precision. The fantastically enormous wall undulates around the shoreline, compressing and stretching each "block." There are several plazas and parks, which might be square-shaped but are just as likely to have triangular or trapezoidal twists. Four-hundred-year-old churches anchor the plazas, monasteries have been made over into $400-a-night hotels, and the oldest and most substantial edificios are linked by crowded and narrow streets. The street names change at every "corner" - another imprecise term - and each name, each crooked block, comes with a story.

We have spent hours and hours wandering around, soaking up the atmosphere, people-watching, and snapping photos of colorful colonial-era buildings with giant doors and balconies draped with bougainvillea. You might think that after such extensive walking in such a small area, we would have some sense of how to get around. Alas, our refrain is, "we've been here before," but with no understanding of how it came to be so or what might come next. We have no schema.

The night before my birthday we rented a room in a gorgeous old casa, and the next day we planned for a decadent celebratory lunch at Crepes and Waffles (after a decadent breakfast birthday bash, but that's a different story). Our wonderful innkeeper gave us directions to the restaurant. She said, "Follow the fat lady's feet." In la Plaza de Santo Domingo, she told us, there is a sculpture by Botero. We nodded: yes, we'd seen the fat lady. The fat lady's name is Gertrude. Walking in the direction of Gertrude's feet, she explained, we would turn right at the next street, and Crepes and Waffles would be on our right.

And then we made it happen. First we found the Plaza on our little map: two streets, turn left; one street, turn right; pass three more streets, and el Templo de Santo Domingo looms overhead.

We greeted Gertrude like a dear old friend. Thanks, Gertrude, for helping us find Crepes and Waffles.

Gertrude, a sculpture by Fernando Botero
After the big Crepes and Waffles eating extravaganza, we paused by Gertrude again. If I eat at Crepes and Waffles too often, Gertrude, I am going to look Just. Like. You. "Voluminous," as Botero himself would say. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Cartagena is cool. Because of a big Botero sculpture and a small dose of the only kind of directions that make sense in a place like this, we're starting to connect the dots.

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