Entry 42, April 19th, 2011, 1:31am (ship time GMT -5)
I spent my last day in Cartagena for the foreseeable future today. A few members of the orchestra went to get lunch before sound check in the Old City and I tagged along.
The old city was more crowded than usual (not to mention surprisingly well-dressed), and it took us a while to figure it out. Finally when we saw people pouring out of a huge church in the Old City we realized what was going on. We'd forgotten that Palm Sunday was yesterday, and it is a holy week (that's what happens when you're on a ship, you lose track of what day, week, and month it is. I labeled a string of these entries March instead of April by accident last week).
Holy week or not, the city is open for business and we found a table at one of the few pizza places in the Caribbean that's worth anything. The pizza is very thin, in the New York style, but very good (even to me, a professed lover of the Chicago style). I split a ham and pineapple pizza with our Aussie bassist, Lincoln, and the pineapple was different than in the states – we think they caramelized it before putting it on the pizza, it was brown and very sweet. Delicious. Several members of the orchestra were also nursing hangovers, and so it was good for them on a medicinal level as well.
I've written at length about Cartagena already, so I will add only a few other bits today (also, the back deck beckons. Day off tomorrow!). I have decided that the mechanics of zombie attacks and street vendor harassment are basically identical. As crew, we give off a very low level of attractiveness to vendors. We have no fanny packs, camera cases, purses, or fancy clothes. We don't gawk at all the buildings around us. In short, we are very quiet targets.
Tourists (or “cones” in crew parlance) are very noisy targets. They do all of things we avoid, and then some. If vendors were zombies, they would quickly become brainless.
Last time we ate outside in Cartagena (and the crazy toothless lady carrying the bloody remains of a chicken kissed me on the side of the head in a daring surprise attack) we made the mistake of sitting directly in the street people's migration path. It was the equivalent of flashing your headlights and jumping on top of your car when trapped on a jammed, zombie infested expressway – not smart. This time we were much more careful. The secret of picking a table is to grab one that is near enough to noisy tourists that they will draw the attention away from you, but not so close that you get caught in the crossfire. You can't be so far away that you present a separate target, but can't be so close that you get hit on the rounds along with everyone else.
It's just like running from zombies. You don't have to be the fastest, just faster than the slow guy.
We made it most of the way through our meal in relative peace. By the end, though, several groups of cones had infested our district and we had people trying to sell us spoons, “adult” DVDs, and toothpaste (not making this up) (to be fair, the toothpaste vendor had the cleanest teeth we've seen in Colombia). When one group of cones started taking pictures with the hat-show guy (he has a routine of ten or fifteen faces he does with this little floppy hat, and will keep running through it like machine until you pay him to go away) we knew it was time to leave.
The other amusing thing that happened involves our pianist Tyler. He hates Four. Not the number, the jazz composition by Miles Davis. It's got a catchy, repetitive melody. He only just recently got it out of his head after having it stuck there for nearly a month.
Anyway, we were sitting at the table about halfway through our pizza when two of the local square musicians came over. There is a guitar trio and a tenor saxophone player who stalk the plaza. The guitarists are better musicians, and the tenor player follows them around like a lost dog . . . sometimes they let him play with them, sometimes not. Anyway, the head guitarist and the tenor player sat down at the table next to us. At first we thought they were going to busk us, but they were conversing busily in Spanish so we figured they were no threat. This was mostly true.
Finally it becomes apparent that the guitarist is teaching the tenor player a song. And of all the quadrillion songs ever written by humanity over the course of our existence as a species, the song is – Four! The look on Tyler's face was priceless. I couldn't make this stuff up. The guitarist was playing bits of the melody at the tenor player who was playing most of it back wrong. Over and over they went through the melody . . . never quite right.
No one said anything when we left. We made it a few blocks before Lincoln couldn't restrain himself any longer and whistled a few bars of the melody. Tyler's immediate and hostile response (not quite suitable for publishing) left the entire group in hysterics. Talk about bad luck!
And not just for him. The poor tenor player . . . you'd think he'd been safe, screwing up the melody of a Miles Davis tune at a restaurant in Cartagena in the middle of the day, but no – he had a table of trained musicians, all of whom know the song by memory, sitting right next to him! What are the odds?