The New York Times | 5/4/2010 12:00:00 AM
Love and Cartagena
May 4--In the last many years, as part of a broader Colombian reawakening, the city is resurfacing with boutique hotels, fusion-seeking restaurants and new fashion labels that turn sleepy towns into global destinations.
Truth can be stranger than fiction in Cartagena, the Colombian city whose real-life blend of seediness and charm has been an important inspiration for one of the most imaginative writers of the modern era, Gabriel García Márquez. It is a city so pregnant with the near magical that, when Mr. Márquez took a visiting Spaniard on a tour one day that included a Creole lunch and a stroll through the old city, it lowered his opinion of Mr. Márquez’s talents. The Spaniard told Mr. Márquez, as he would later record in an essay, “You’re just a notary without imagination.”
Imagine a city that could make Mr. Márquez, the Nobel Prize-winning giant of magical realism, seem like a notary.
The world speaks of Dickens’s London, Balzac’s Paris and Rushdie’s Bombay, but the association between Mr. Márquez and Cartagena is less well known. And yet Cartagena has been an important if brief chapter in Mr. Márquez’s own story. It is the city — throbbing with the varied cultures whose mixing he chronicled — that propelled his writing career; the city of the surreal, where toucans land on a table at its finest hotel; the city where Mr. Márquez arrived with nothing and learned to spin local tales into literature; the city awash in myths; the city that, in furnishing the reality for his magic, made him a writer.
“I would say that I completed my education as a writer in Cartagena,” he once told an interviewer for a local documentary about Cartagena by the actor and filmmaker Salvatore Basile.
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