Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
by Guest Blogger Dharma E. Cortés [I’m so pleased that Dharma has contributed another guest post. Her description and photos of this Colombian market will surely excite and tempt you as much as they do me. It’s also an invitation to enter the wonderful world described by one our mutual favorite authors. Thanks, Dharma! –Marjorie]
I recently visited the beautiful walled colonial city of Cartagena de Indias in Colombia as part of my around-the-world-50th-birthday-celebration. If you read Love in the Time of Cholera by Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez, you might remember the heartbreaking scene in which Fermina Daza is approached at El Portal de los Escribanos (Scribes Hall) by Florentino Ariza, her platonic suitor. As she wanders around the busy hall, he whispers in her ear: “This is not a good place for a Crowned Goddess.” She turns around and, when she sees at close range the man who has been sending her passionate love letters, she “did not feel the commotion of love but rather the abysm of disenchantment.” She rejects Florentino and from then on he patiently waits 51 years, nine months and four days for her to reconsider.
This scene came to my mind as I stood in front of El Portal de los Dulces (“Sweets Hall”) in Cartagena de Indias. (Did I say that Love in the Time of Cholera is one of my favorite books ever and that I have read it several times?)
The name of the city where the novel takes place is unknown throughout the book, but the detailed descriptions of the city undoubtedly refer to Cartagena de Indias. In the book, El Portal de los Dulces is called El Portal de los Escribanos and is described as “an arched corridor facing a small square.”
In fact, El Portal de los Dulces is a colorful corridor framed by arches running parallel to a plaza. Right under those bright yellow arches there is a row of white-painted wooden stands crowded with old-fashioned glass jars containing sweets and concoctions made of tropical local fruits such as guava, coconut, papaya, pineapple, and banana among others. The jars have handwritten labels with the names of the sweets for sale.
Some of those names inevitably remind you, once again, of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s signature magical realism: alegría or muñecas de leche. Where else in the world but in Cartagena de Indias could you find happiness and milk dolls for sale?
The names of the sweets combined with the smell of the delicious fruits they are made of make it very hard to decide what not to buy. The vendors, mainly women, are very friendly and offer samples to help you decide. Choose as many sweets as you want and they pack them in beautiful old-fashioned white boxes that travel very well. When you open those boxes at home, they make you feel that you brought with you a piece of an alternative reality frozen in time.