This wooden bench isn’t very comfortable – one of the back slats is jutting forward into my back – but it’s in the shade, and down here just a block from the sea there’s a delicious breeze.
In front of me is the empty slab of concrete where sometimes (on weekend nights) there’s a trampoline for kids to jump in. I can see three of the most important buildings in town, all of them yellow. The garish lemony one is barely visible through a tree’s leaves, that’s the alcaldía. (What’s that word in English? The place where the mayor works? City hall?) Closer than that is the hexagonal – or maybe it’s octagonal – casa de cultura. It’s made of red brick with a mustard yellow trim, and was formerly the train station. To the left of me is the big beautiful old alcaldía. It’s a slightly softer and more dignified bright yellow, helped by a beautiful white trim that curlicues around.
It’s relatively quiet today. I actually can’t hear any music, which has got to be one of the few times in my 14 months in Colombia. I mostly hear the thin hunched-over old man who shouts out bus arrivals with a nasal “Barranquilla Barranquilla Barranquilla…” And, of course, the ubiquitous honking of motorcycles.
There are just pockets of activity, where people are gathered around food sources, all in the shade of the few trees, of course. On one corner, a woman is selling dulces, the traditional gooey desserts sold by the cupful at this time of year, next to a coffee cart. Another corner has a raspao cart – handmade snow cones for less than 30 cents USD, eaten with sweetened condensed milk when you’re feeling extra indulgent – and a shrimp cocktail cart. I’m in the right spot to not have to hear the hordes of ostería owners yelling at passersby on their way to the malecón or the muelle (the pier) to drum up business…and to not have to smell their fish stench.
One of my favorite things about sitting here, though, is watching Don César work. The petite, brown-skinned older man has on a hat (today, a trendy ballcap rather than a hard hat) and glasses as always. However, he’s not fully in uniform today – he’s not wearing his coveralls, nor is he carrying his tiny women’s fashion backpack, both of which I am accustomed to seeing him in as he cares for the casa de cultura and surrounding space. For the first few months that I stopped by here, I just got a mild hola from him. Now I am welcomed with a warm smile and a handshake with his 4.5 fingered hand. He does everything around here but is, from my observations, under-appreciated and often bossed around.
The long shadows have moved and my pasty skin is now exposed; that’s my cue to leave this bench and plaza behind for the day.