11/11/11 is also the anniversary of Colombia’s Independence from Spain. Well, maybe I should say Cartagena’s Independence, since they were the first ones to declare and it seems to have taken a while to get it all together. In any event, it’s the holiday of the year. Flags are flying. Decorations hang from the trees in the parks in Centro, and line the streets. There’s a parade somewhere every day, starting with children and getting progressively wilder as the weekend progressed. Being otherwise occupied, we didn’t attend any, but we enjoyed watching the peripheral activities and the TV reports.
Down in the barrio by the boatyard, Doug is ‘held up’ by children operating a mini-toll booth with a string across the road; any coin will get him thru it, and a whole lot of giggling ensues. Among other popular past=times are throwing water at people (Doug got dumped on by two young women on the fifth floor of a highrise, but the water had ‘fallen apart’ before reaching him), powdering them with Maizena, and squirting them with foam. You might also get ‘held up’ by youths with something black and messy looking in their bucket – probably they prefer bills! The boat yard workers have a half day off, and then a full day, and I’m glad for them, considering how much weekend work they put in dodging the rainy season.
I watched these folks splash a passer-by out of their big blue barrel, but they stopped when the police on the motorcycle passed.
A taxi driver warned us against drunks and pickpockets of course, but after watching some young bucks chugging aguardiente in the back of the bus, we knew that!
Friends in the anchorage reported that the boat parade consisted of large rowing boats each with a beauty queen as figurehead. What we saw from our balcony looked more like a giant raft-up that formed twice, once near Centro and again in front of Boca Grande. There were hundreds of boats. Where did they all come from?
And each one was packed with folks. Doug wondered if they all had lifejackets; I wondered where all those women would pee!
The main event of Independence Festivities, at least in Cartagena, however, is the national beauty pageant. Miss Colombia is selected this weekend. and she will go on to compete in Miss Universe contests, as well as be given sponsorship contracts, clothing, jewelry, perfume, even, a taxi driver told us, a Rolex watch worth two thousand dollars. At least one past Miss Colombia also received ‘a mansion from the government.’ Being Miss Colombia also may guarantee the winner ‘minor celebrity’ status for life. One, out of office for 25 years, was suffering from some kind of botched plastic surgery, I read in a society magazine, in the dermatologist’s office!
From what I’ve seen, these Señorita Colombias look like Barbie dolls, all in matchy-matchy outfits and there’s not a one who doesn’t look ‘perfect’ in every conventional respect; or wasn’t helped along by a plastic surgeon, say certain observers. The critique is that they represent the richer, whiter segment of society.
I even noticed, in Boca Grande, posters on the phone poles of contestants hoping to lure votes, plastered over posters of less attractive political candidates from last month’s election. For these women, it didn’t help. So, there’s also an alternative contest, for the Queen of the Barrios (Miss Independence), and here, while the girls are beautiful of course, they’re a lot more varied in appearance, and the prizes are significantly smaller. Last year’s crown was donated by a metal-plating company, for example.
The controversy about these contests, according to a report last year in the NY Times, can be summarized like this: href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/world/americas/01colombia.html”>http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/world/americas/01colombia.html
Here’s the short version-
“One pageant portrays Cartagena as its elite wants it to be seen: rich, white and glamorous,” said Elisabeth Cunin, a French sociologist who studies Cartagena. “The other reflects the reality of the city as the majority of its inhabitants know it: poor and neglected, a complex mix between racial domination and an emerging current of black consciousness.”
The national pageant, founded here in 1934 as a tourism linchpin, employs a multilingual staff at an air-conditioned building in Parque de Bolívar in the old center, attracting sponsors like Edox, a Swiss watch manufacturer. The municipal contest, created in 1937, operates on a shoestring budget from a crumbling structure a few blocks away.
Few nations, with the exception of neighboring Venezuela, attach as much importance to such pageants. In addition to Miss Colombia and Miss Independence, Colombian juries award many lesser titles, like Miss Plantain and Miss Coal. Cellblocks in a Bogotá women’s prison have their own pageants. One town in northern Colombia takes it even further, putting makeup and wigs on its donkeys then parading them for its annual Miss Burro celebration.”
And, if you’ve got ten minutes and bandwidth, here’s a YouTube video (with music) by a bouncy CuriousTraveler, with bits of video from each contest (last year) which I came across while I trying to find a picture of this year’s winners. http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=-KM2miKhRP4Drumroll: Here’s the winner of this year’s Miss Colombia “following a rigorous competition of beauty, wits and winning smiles”, says ColombiaReports.com, from whence this picture came. Daniella made the front page and the contest got several pages in the Society section of the paper El Universal.
In the alternate contest, Miss Independence (Reina de los Barrios)got a full-length photo in the middle of the paper, plus a photo of her parents, but her webmaster maybe hasn’t posted her yet, that I have found.
There is certainly no shortage of beautiful women in Cartagena. But one taxi driver assures me that there are even more beautiful women in Medellin. In Cartagena, though, they have better bodies, he thinks.