Bogotá

hello, you.  I hope it´s been a day filled with a warm sun and cool breezes and flowers of loud and lovely colors weaving their way through your day. that´s how my day´s been so far, anyway. I´ve been living in Bogotá, Colombia the past two weeks; one week left. my sister Lauren and I have been living with a couple named Salvador and Marta and their children Laura and Diego. Diego´s 25 and a yoga instructor (and I really shouldn´t say this, but there´s no not mentioning it, so I´ll just whisper it– he´s beautiful), and Laura´s 18 and in acting school. here are some thoughts, snatches from my long, langorous days here in South America.

first of all, dispel any ideas you have about it being very hot here and me coming home with a tan. it´s cold, man. it´s officially winter here, though the weather feels more like when winter is shyly turning into spring.  today´s nice, though, as if the sun has decided to assert himself and remind us that he can do more than just sit there in the sky, looking pretty. the house we´re staying in is always cold. it´s sort of small by American standards (most non-American houses are), and the kitchen opens up to a covered patio area which leads to a few other tiny rooms. hard to explain, but it´s kind of like half the house is outside. and they always have all the doors open, meaning it´s no big deal to wander half-awake into the kitchen and see a tiny bird flitting about the pots and pans.

now that I´ve led you to the kitchen, I suppose I have to tell you about food. the juices here are amazing. we have fresh juice every day from the most delicious fruits. mora (blackberry), marracuyá (passionfruit), mango, lulo, tomato-from-a-tree (??), and sometimes feijoa, which grows on a tree out on their patio. they´re so good. actual food-wise, as you´d expect, lots of rice and beans and meat. everything here is so fresh. I open the refrigerator and feel like I´m looking at the produce section of the grocery store– the shelves are overflowing with vegetables. naturally, this doesn´t lend itself to snacking, unless you´re the sort who´s happy to ´snack´ on a carrot (and I, as a rule, am not.)

the driving here is so fluid, and two lanes change into three which change into four in the blink of an eye, or one aggressive taxi driver. there´s so much weaving in and out between cars, and cutting people off is just the way things work. you really have to have quick reflexes. there are lots of motorcycles on the roads, as well as bicycles on the far right. there´s no designated lane for the bikers, but everyone gives them just enough room to get by. you do sometimes see horse-drawn carts, and occasionally even poor chaps drawing heavy carts on their own backs.

finally, there´s one feature of Bogotá that I just can´t get over. on every street corner and sidewalk are several people, men and women, with open boxes like small, brown briefcases filled with cigarettes and candy, a row of lollipops forming a colorful, plastic hedge around the whole thing. people can come up and buy one cigarette, or a piece of gum or two. the vendor usually also has a cell phone, which people can borrow and then pay for the minute they used. I don´t know, it´s just something about the smallness of the thing that I love. I mean, one cigarette!!! the simplicity of it all is so nice. makes so much sense, in a way. in another way, I guess not. anyway, that´s how things are here in Colombia.

candelaria

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That’s a blog post that I wrote in June 2007, my first time ever in Colombia. It’s in an old, abandoned blog that I wrote in off and on back in college. I was 20. Would you have identified my writing voice immediately? Or am I different now? That trip totally changed my life. Who knows what kind of experience I would have had if I’d met Colombia differently (a touristic trip, say, or a mission trip or in love) or if I’d gone to Medellín or Cartagena instead. I fell in love with Bogotá, and I left knowing without a doubt in my mind that I’d be back. I just had to. Had to, had to, had to. Sometimes I still feel that same certainty, that pull, that sense of inevitability. Today I was craving “tomato-from-a-tree” juice (jugo de tomate de árbol), and I’m still fascinated by cigarrillos menudiados. The honeymoon didn’t last with Bogotá (couldn’t have) and I now see the city as being in decline in many ways (not that that’s irreversible, of course), but there are still so many wonderful things about Bogotá.

Obviously, Bogotá/Colombia and I have been doing the long-distance thing for quite a while. And you know what they say . . . ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente. Also, amor de lejos, felices los cuatro. And amor de lejos, amor de pendejos. This probably can’t last.

Anyway, speaking of longevity and duration, Bogotá turns 475 today. Happy birthday, Bogotá! A chaotic, mistreated, misunderstood little city (actually, it’s immense) that I love a great deal.

Here’s an article that I like a lot that was written a year ago by a bogotano. I especially like his generous, all-embracing definition of a bogotanobogotano no es solo el que nace aquí, bogotano incluye nacidos e hijos adoptados (bogoteños, en buen caleño o paisa) recibidos con los brazos abiertos por esta ciudad, que es como una de esas matronas que siempre tiene lugar y comida para todos en su casa. Una madre a la que pocos, nacidos y no nacidos, parecen agradecerle su afecto. I’m grateful, and I definitely haven’t forgotten.

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17 responses to “Bogotá

  1. I think I remember reading this post a while ago on your blog from when you were living in Colombia! I also remember being impacted by the wood “convenience store” boxes!

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    • You scared me for a second! I thought maybe I had already posted that here and was giving everyone deja vu. You’re right– I shared it on my old floury blog. And this was originally written in an even earlier blog on xanga. I guess I got bit by the blogging bug long ago, and bad. Good memory! I’m glad both of us are still writing :)

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  2. I am wondering if you have read the book El ruido de las cosas al caer by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. I’ve never been to Colombia, but since I read that novel I have been haunted by Bogota… although the Bogota that I really want to visit is the one that existed half a century ago.

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  3. The sense of hope and the joy of the people despite what can be seen as decline, for me, is the main reason, people come, fall in love and stay/pine for Latin countries..

    espero que no pierdes tu amor solo porque no estas alli

    I am in Mexico, but as for me there is a system. Just as long as you are prepared to commit to a move, it usually works out, even if your decision changes again in about 5 seconds

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    • Aussie, I love your comments! Please don’t ever go anywhere. You’re a gem. Now, was I supposed to know you’re in Mexico? Living or visiting?

      Yeah, I need to commit. Thanks for the encouragement.

      Pues, es una tortura estar enamorado y no poder estar uno con la pareja. Entonces necesito o regresar o aprender a asimilar mejor la distancia. Pero vivir siempre con la mirada para atrás no se aguanta.

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  4. I was freaking out, thinking that you really were in Bogotá right now. It took me more than half the post to see that this was not the case. And now you succeeded in making me nostalgic. Yes, Bogotá is declining. In fact, it was declining in 2007, when your first visited. I think it was at its lowest in the mid- or early 90s. Then, a few good mayoral periods changed the city, a transformation that was hard to believe. I remember going back sometime in the early 2000s and seeing things that I just thought were not possible in Bogotá. It was short-lived. It started to go down again in 2004, and that trend continues to the present. The sight of the horse-drawn carts that you mention was one sign of that regression. among others.

    I am not a big moviegoer, but as I write this, I am thinking of the movie Awakenings, with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams (an exaggerated version of a true story). It is about people with some mental disease that cause them to be catatonic. They were given an experimental drug that made them fully functional, and they suddenly found themselves recognizing and exploring the world, after sometimes decades of being affected. Unfortunately, the effects of the drug were not permanent, and each one of them (and their doctor), started seeing how they were losing their mental capacities and going back into their catatonic state. Nothing could be done. It was just a small window of clarity that they had. On the positive side, at least they enjoyed it while it lasted.

    Thanks for posting that video, I liked it a lot. It has some shots of my school and of streets that I visited almost daily for quite a few years. The climate in Bogotá has gotten hotter, or so it seems, and that partly explains the different outfits of people then compared to people now. Oh, and the sale of individual cigarettes has been outlawed… sorry! And sorry por este mamotreto.

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    • Querías decir, regresaste a Bogotá ¡y no invitaste! ¿Pero cómo asiiiiii? Don’t worry, I would never do such a thing. I’ll invite everyone to join me the next time I go down.

      I originally wrote that I see Bogotá as deteriorating (socially, infrastructurally, politically) and in serious decline, but I then softened it. I know some very proud Bogotá dwellers read this blog, and I don’t want anyone to feel attacked. And Bogotá is an easy target. It’s also easy to forget all the great things Bogotá has (or to live in a bubble and never even come to know all those things in the first place), and I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I have a lot of great memories in that city.

      Glad you liked the video! Which was your school? Yes, I think the climate is hotter everywhere, unfortunately. I kind of like the cold of Bogotá. And I did hear that about the cigarettes! Is it enforced, though? What was the purpose of the ban?

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      • Si, pensé que no habías invitado. Not a bad idea for you to be the catalyst of a field trip to Bogotá. Don’t make us wait too long!

        I hope the bogotanos that are old enough recognize (I should say, remember) that things used to be much worse. Big emphasis on MUCH. What is not clear now is how far into the the ditch the city is going if the current trend is maintained.

        I got my high school diploma from San Bartolomé, which is at the Southeast corner of the Plaza de Bolivar, across the street from the Capitolio. Yes, I miss the cool climate of the city. About the cigarettes, I think the ban is sufficiently enforced that el menudeo will no longer exist (not sure what the current situation is). The main idea is that minors are not going to buy a whole pack, either because they can’t afford it or because they are not going to be walking around with a a pack of cigarettes. How do I know that? Well, back in the day, when it was not illegal to sell cigarettes or alcohol to minors, my friends and I used to buy one or two cigarettes, light them up on the spot, and share them. That’s one way people start smoking. Good thing I didn’t do it for too long.

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        • A Vocabat field trip????? Wow. I’m nowhere near qualified to do that, but maybe that’s a goal I should work toward. I want to take the Vocabat brand GLOBAL ;)

          Also, I want to know your “take” on jíbaro!

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          • Yes, keep it up and you’ll be getting sponsors soon. Later you will be hiring people. But then, it might lose some of the fun.

            Jíbaro? No, ala, ahí si me corchó. Never paid too much attention to the word. I always understood it to be the name to some indigenous people, and then a way of calling somebody who did drugs. More like hippie, pot-like stuff as opposed the more recent cocaine and the like. So I am learning from you. I never really made that direct connection between a jíbaro and a person selling pot, but now that I think about it I see that this is probably the case. It’s just one of those words that you hear and sometimes use but you don’t get to the bottom of the meaning.

            It is embarrassing, but I didn’t know about the meaning in Puerto Rico. Now I can make sense of some words in a salsa song, where somebody in the background say something about “jibarito.”

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  5. lo me da feliz que disfrutes mis comentarios

    me he mudado a México para vivir/trabajar hace un mes, pero es un traslado bastante permanente (si no aquí, otras países más sur). He tenido la oportunidad para vivir como he soñado y no tenia ganas para continuar sin aprovechando..

    En verdad, estoy en LAM porque creo que la deteriorándose (?) en que hablamos es en concreto un oportunidad para desarrollarse.. manifestaciones contra corrupción y por la estudiantes en los paises que consideraron mas desarrollado no son malas, recordamos en nuestro proprias países no hace muchos años lo mismo ocurrió y es considerado la época dorada para mucha gente

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  6. Your description makes me wish I could be there to experience it myself! Buying one cigarette, one piece of gum…that’s all very strange and wonderful at the same time, but what takes the cake is the borrowing a phone for a short call. How the vendor can trust you not to run away with the phone…hmm, I wonder whether it is still possible nowadays.

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    • Good point! I don’t remember what their safeguards were. I’m sure it happens sometimes. A friend of mine named Fanny sold minutes from her little restaurant with three different cell phones (one for each service provider, so people’s calls would be cheaper), and I know that sometimes people would run off with them when she had her back turned. Honor system, I guess? I think they were also always very crappy phones… no BlackBerrys or iPhones, for obvious reasons! Unfortunately, phone theft in Colombia is rampant, and people often lose their lives over a cell phone :(

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      • Yes, those phones are so sad that I don’t think anyone would run with one for the phone. Maybe for the airtime, and it’s pretty bad to think that someone would do that. Coincidentally, I just heard from a friend here in New York that she got mugged today and her iPhone was taken. Don’t know anymore details but it’s pretty disturbing (had not heard a story like that around here in many years). Smartphone and iPod theft is fairly high in the subway. That’s one thing that you hear often in police announcements, to be alert when using electronics in the subway. Still, I doesn’t seem that bad (people are always using their gadgets and I’ve never seen anything happening).

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