Disney in the Streets of Cartagena

February 12, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

When I am traveling in a city new to me, I like to book a street photography tour. That is, I pay a local photographer to take me, sometimes alone and sometimes as part of a small group, on a camera-driven exploration. I've never been disappointed. A good local photographer always knows the most photo-friendly places in town. She navigates to those places without wasting time.  Sometimes, the photographer will also teach me some new skills.

I got both a guide and a teacher when I booked a tour with Cartagena photographer Paola H. Sanchez. Paola is like many a busy free-lance photographer. She specializes in a lot of things. She does brides. She does portraits. And she's forging a brand in the tourism industry. (That's Paola below left, wearing glasses, with a friend of hers in Cartagena's Bazurto Market.)

Paola tries to make her photo walks challenging as well as interesting. She took me to a neighborhood called Getsemani. It's adjacent to El Centro Historico, the colonial kernel of today's Cartagena. El Centro Historico is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its ancient fortification walls, its Spanish Colonial architecture, and its beautiful, bougainvillea-draped balconies. It's where you'll find the archetypal Colombian fruit vendors, pineapples balanced on their colorful headscarves. Unfortunately, they've all been in the travel industry for a while now, and they expect payment for being photographed. They're accompanied by a small horde of vendors trying to sell everything from ice cream to rosary beads to anyone who looks like a foreigner.

Getsemani used to be the neighborhood for the workers who served the elite in El Centro Historico. It has some of the same charms--bouganvillea, pastel-painted houses, old churches and crooked little streets. It doesn't have  as many vendors or crowds, at least not yet. (It's also got an ongoing battle over gentrification, but that's getting a little off my subject, which involves Disney.)

When Paola was a girl, she loved to watch Disney cartoons, which per parents provided on tapes. When she was eight, she and her family even had a trip to Disney World in Orlando.  In some places in the world, this sort of thing might be the occasion for anger over American cultural imperialism, but Paola is not angry. She uses Disney to give some structure to her clients' street photography.

My assignment, she said, was to select five Disney characters and try to find a match for them on the streets of Getsemani. We discussed this for a moment, using both her memories and my much older ones. We agreed that Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty would be on my list. So would Snow White. I asked for Peter Pan. She suggested Lady and the Tramp. Once the list was agreed on, I had an hour or so to walk around and find the pictures.

I have to confess that I failed this test. The pictures on this page were not all made within an hour in Getsemani. (They were, however, all made within the first 48 hours of my arrival in Cartagena.)

I probably shouldn't have allowed my own nostalgia to put Peter Pan on the list. Even though Colombia can lay claim to being the wellspring of magical realism, I have yet to see any boys who can fly, at least through the air. But I did see the little boy pictured at the top of the page, flying down the street on his legs, wearing a shirt that says, appropriately, RUN. He's holding a paper or sheaf of papers in his left hand, trailing behind him, and he's followed by a bigger, but perhaps slower, boy, maybe his brother. I saw mischief in this scene. Maybe the quick little boy was holding a school assignment done by the trailing boy, an assignment that did not receive an A. Maybe he's snatched it to take home to show their mother. Or something like that. There seemed to be a Pan-ish quality to him.

Nor did I find a young woman wearing a glass slipper. I did, however, see a woman about to marry her Prince Charming at Cartagena's ancient cathedral. This was on a Saturday evening, just after dark. Well-dressed guests began to arrive at the cathedral door.  These folks looked like they could have been direct descendants of the old Spanish colonial aristocracy. A crowd of tourists, peddlers and Saturday-night strollers gathered around the big wooden doors to the sanctuary.

A couple of minutes after seven o'clock, organ music started inside the Cathedral. There was no carriage made from a pumpkin, but a mid-1950s, highly polished, two-tone Chevy Bel-Air glided up to the curb. I had no time to ponder this second example of twentieth century corporate American cultural imperialism. I watched a gray-haired man in evening dress hustle out, scurry around the car, and open the door for what I presume was his daughter. She was elegant in a strapless white gown. She paused for a moment as her father and an attendant put her white veil in place. Then she stepped gracefully over the cathedral threshhold, and the big wooden doors were slammed shut. The crowd moaned softly. No doubt many of them would have liked to stand on the sidewalk and see what they could of the wedding.  I would have, too. So I can only speculate on whether this couple, like Cinderella and her prince, lived happily ever after. 

If memory serves me, Snow White was a maiden who wore flowers in her hair and cheerfully tended to the cooking and cleaning for seven dwarves. I have yet to see any dwarves in Cartagena. But in the Bazurto Market, I saw the young woman in the picture on the right above. She works in a restaurant in the depths of the market, tending steaming cauldrons of fish stew and serving portions to customers who sit at picnic tables. All I can say about the lives of her clientele is that I think they start work very early. It was 9:30 in the morning and they were having lunch. I asked her about herself, and the only thing I understood in her answer was that she was 17 years old. Snow White? Close enough.

To fulfill the Sleeping Beauty part of the assignment, I had to skirt an ethical qualm against taking pictures of homeless people.  The man pictured at right was in a doorway on the Plaza of the Trinity in Getsemani. It was Sunday morning. I rationalized that he might not be homeless, that he might have been sleeping off a rough Saturday night. Anyway, I liked the way he slept with his legs propped up in the door frame.

Thus far, no luck with Lady and the Tramp. I've seen a number of candidates for the part of the wandering mongrel, but those dogs don't seem to run in pairs. I've seen no elegant Cocker Spaniels like the eponymous Lady.

But I have my eye out. Disney is indeed everywhere.




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