Seated with an architect in charge of ongoing projects in Mompós, he shares with me the detail that members of the town’s inteligencia have sent around fifty letters of complaint to the Minister of Culture’s offices in Bogotá. Presumably every poison pen letter is with regards to the restorations currently underway in our UNESCO World Heritage backwater. What else? Arguably, very little happens in our colonial remanso de paz on the banks of the Magdalena River, but what could these pueblerinos metidos possibly have to say in fifty letters that couldn’t be transcribed in one sole epistle?
Let’s start with: “Thank you.”
Thank you for remembering our town. Thank you for standing up and stepping in when Mompós needed you most. Mompós was reeling after two years of floods, political indifference and local corruption. We were on our knees. Now, with the restorations, promotional cuts on national television and more than I would probably like to admit it, Carlos Vives’ music video “La foto de los Dos,” Colombians have been let in on the secret and authenticity that is Mompós.
As a small business owner, a guide, journalist and scribe, Mompós is my muse. Her abandon and decay have both inspired my fingers to move swiftly across my computer’s keyboard inasmuch as they have filled me with concern about the lack of waste collection, the corruption and how the inevitable tourism boom will alter our pastoral village lifestyle.
However, were there no intervention in Mompós, doubtless our town would have drifted into an oblivion of halfhearted memories and regret. A collection of sepia photographs with worn edges harking back to what could have been? Ultimately she would have been deep sixed in the annals of Colombian history, condemned by unmeasured progress in ill-advised steps towards a supposed modernity, as speculating cattle ranchers and ne’er do wells bulldozed colonial walls to make way for swimming pools, Jacuzzis and rooftop barbeques. Where would our town be then? Probably better resembling another Magangue or El Banco with no discernable center, just bawdy riverside towns of taverns, motorcycles bereft of wing mirrors, ramshackle huts serving fried fish and an endless stream of touts plying for your trade as you grapple with the mystifying logistics of the Depresion Momposina.
The first complaints were firmly lodged in the opinion pages of El Tiempo back in 2012 when the Plaza de la Concepcion was being repaved. What was formerly little better than a car park for rusting taxis, an open air bathroom for our vagrants and perhaps where a great number of young Momposinos were conceived, has now become the town’s showcase. Families now fill the plaza of an evening and choristers’ voices punctured the muggy air at Christmas with refreshing carols.
So why cast such a jaundiced eye on the refurbishment of the Plaza de la Concepción and now the Albarada or riverside walk? Clearly the haranguing and letter writing have gone too far and such praetorians of Mompós’ architectural splendor must now stand up and be counted? With such imperceptive goals, what do they stand to gain? The Minister of Culture’s office has had enough, or so I’ve heard through the grapevine.
Ironic really when you think that official plans were presented and executed just as outlined, whereas other projects in town have been undertaken without official warrant subsequently leaving indelible scars upon these whitewashed walls. Formerly verdant interior patios have been concreted over, swimming pools inserted and mezzanines built into sitting rooms immediately eliminating the height and colonial grandeur. And yet, what has been assembled here in Mompós’ public spaces has been designed for the public good, and has curiously generated such frenzied vernacular.
So this is a call to those in favor of the restorations to make themselves heard. Let us be thankful that there is an intervention in the town that may wrest the constricting shackles of power from the fabled corridors of pseudo academia and return a sense of belonging – proven by the ever increasing numbers found each evening in our plazas – to the humble townsfolk held under and suffocated by the feudal binds still present as if permanently in the mix of the bahareque and foundations of this colonial town.
And as these letters of complaint continue to fill the inboxes of those in the Ministry of Culture perhaps we should return to the fabled words of Samuel Johnson: “The usual fortune of complaint is to excite contempt more than pity.”
Rest assured, those of us celebrating the renovations are greater in number but not as cantankerous.