January 3rd, 2013 CARTAGENA- The authority of a large metal gate guards an entrance where there are men with carts gathering and waiting. The gate is a pair of cathedral-sized doors made with 3-inch perfect circles. Suddenly a man appears from the darkness. I see him through the gate. He carries a brick. I ask him about the iron. He tells me I should meet Tico on Calle de Lumbra. Tico knows iron.
Javier, an eager servant to a woodworker, tells me to follow him. He promises to help me find Tico. We walk in silence. A heap of shoes wait on a rickety desk outside of a barbershop. On one street, in front of a blue facade, a man chisels off the rust on a set of bicycle spokes. The wheel he scrapes has no tire. The man wears no shirt. His feet wear no shoes. And his skin, like cursing and swearing through the night, sobs sweat from an oily black back. Then we turn down an alley. Children. Suspicious eyes. Men gambling. “Habla!” one says to Javier. Javier ignores any temptation to talk.
We turn again. Then stop. A man comes to the threshold. His mustache covers his expression. He stands in front of the doorway as if to say that it is impossible to pass. Stubborn as a mule. Finally, the blacksmith.
The blacksmith wears spectacles. His hair is salt and pepper, but mostly salt. And his mustache is salt and pepper too, but more pepper than salt. Tico leads us into his workshop. Behind him a younger woman sits and carves flesh with a large metal blade. From a pile of tangled rusty memories, of steel chairs and metal gadgets, Tico wrestles out a long steel rod. He towers over a piece of rail road track – his anvil – and with a hammer in hand he begins to crush the tip of the long metal rod over the iron track. Each slam is perfect. In a matter of seconds, the metal fits a calculated scroll. Without saying a word, Tico holds it out for me to observe.
Tico makes gates, locks and cages that protect precious things from thieves. In each example he points out his scrolls. Each one obeys an exact Fibonacci sequence. Like his ironwork, the blacksmith is quiet but strong. Silent but sure. And proud. There is something very proud about the way Tico moves through these streets. He is their protector, after all.
For thicker steel, you need heat, says Tico. Serious heat. When we get to the forge, the doorway is guarded. A squad of men with hard faces stand around the doorway. In the doorway two men grapple with a lantern, twisting it and slugging it with a hammer. The men say something hostile toward Tico. He ignores them. Finally the distraction of the lantern falls and one of the men asks Tico what he wants. He answers. What he says is enough for the men. Suddenly we plunge into the workshop. It is cavernous and cluttered. Tico leads us to the back, where a tall man slinks around an open pit of coals and fire. His mouth twists nervously. Three metal rods are snoozing in his fire. He pulls them out of the coals, waking up their hot tips. His hammer goes into action. There is a paced immediacy to his swing. When he finishes, he holds the rod up. Tico takes it. It is red hot on the tip. Four sides are visible. They come to a point.
“La punta de la lanza,” says Tico. “The point of the lance.”
The humble shops that line the streets open their doors for service when they want to here. Small children sleep pasted to ancient tiled floors, inhaling dust, dreaming against honking taxis and wailing vendors. You can see them lying in wooden-framed bed, tucked in safely under the vigilant gaze of an old body that rocks back and forth in a chair. You can see them doze at every hour of the day beyond gates that cover the windows. Time has no authority here. But its people do have an authority. He is a quiet one. He lives through the iron that protects the people of these streets. Tico says little. Then again, sometimes authority doesn’t have to.