Photo: Richard Emblin

The bougainvillea cascades from storied balconies in a city deprived of tourists, troubadours and cry of street vendors. A cloak of silence descends upon the walled city where once lovers would meet beneath golden domes and in the blackened turrets of an afterglow.  Before our age of coronavirus, Cartagena was a city on its knees in penitence with the Inquisition, pestilence during a naval siege, but its spirit of resilience and resistance endured, immortalized in the words of the city’s irreverent literary son Gabriel García Márquez.  Like many historic cities in Colombia, Cartagena has not been spared by the pandemic, forcing churches to close to the faithful, shopkeepers to barricade their wares and restaurateurs to cook for invisible guests.

But life under quarantine goes on, punctuated by the flutter of wings in empty plazas, rustle of palms as a warm sea breeze sweeps through streets basking in colonial isolation. Cartagena is a city of piety, mischief and decorum. Soon, the metal galleons will return unloading their cargo of humanity and the memory of quarantine will crystalize like salt on encrusted coral ramparts.