Cartagena

This weekend, we spent a weekend at El Tabo with my research team, a university colleague, and a good Chilean friend psychologist who hosted us at her sister´s beach house. On Saturday I suggested to visit Cartagena. I had not been there for more than four decades. Even though Chile has undergone tremendous changes in those same years. The last time I stayed in Cartagena, Chile was in the first year of Salvador Allende’s government. I was 12, the year of my first teen kiss. Cartagena seems frozen in time. It is as popular (and marginal) as it was when I was a kid in public school. Traffic at the time was obviously light and my class arrived by train.

Cartagena lacks any pretention of being or trying to be part of the upper class experience. The beach belongs to the people, the families that may only be able to enjoy a weekend all cramped in one room or in a vacation house built on precarious creeks. I invited my students to a short hike up poet Vicente Huidobro’s tomb. The place, like this popular beach town, hasn’t changed much. It is as if development has left this place out.

It is not the Chile of guarded condominiums  and the obscenely expensive scenarios where the rich vacation close to the capital. Its lack of attractiveness to the upper classes; the middle class vacationers don´t aspire to be there, making Cartagena less attractive to developers. There are no new buildings, no large glassy condominiums, and some streets are still unpaved. Its beauty at dusk is still remarkable as well as the decay of a marginal place. A film dated in the 1970s wouldn’t require much props.

Coming back to Chile has been at times discovering the new and changed. On other occasions, it is as if I had never left. The place of my first kiss has stayed very much unchanged. The country though went through tremendous turmoil in the same period. We lived through one of the most exhilarating and optimistic years when Salvador Allende was elected. Then we suffered one of the most brutal military dictatorships. By the end of the dictatorship, Chileans had entered into the brutal global economy where neoliberalism and corporatization took over.

On Sunday, we visited the Pablo Neruda home in Isla Negra. The beach of Cartagena reminded me that even if I lived abroad for so long, there are some things that have not changed. Isla Negra was there to prove that things have changed and that memory also consists of reconstructing the past. Some things can change but need to be remembered. not sure it is magical realism, may be only the brutal reality.

 


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