Thursday, July 15, 2010

40 days and 40 nights

It is raining again... or is still raining
here in Bogota. I have asked dozens of soaked pedestrians when the rainy season here ends. The best answer I got was: “ Haven´t you read that chapter in
Cien Anos in which Marquez wrote:

“ It rained for four years, eleven months, and two days. There were times when it misted and everyone put on their pontfical clothing and an expression of convalescence to celebrate the clearing, but soon they became accustomed to interpreting the pauses as announcements of
something more forceful to come.” (my rough translation)

This morning there was a note on the breakfast table at my Bogota hostal that read:

“Water shortage in Bogota. There will be no water until 8 tonight.”

No hot shower of usual today, just a “bano de gata” (cat´s bath) from a pan of water heated on the woodstove.

I imagine that you must be asking yourselves the same question as I am right now;
How can a city where it rains everyday, that averages 64 inches of rainfall in the month of July, be out of water?!!

One possible answer is that the residents waste water, though this doesn´t seem to be the most probable answer.

55 % of potable water is used in the showers and toilets in peoples homes, according to a 2008 statistic from the newspaper El Tiempo. About 31% is used in the kitchen. And, as usual, the richest sectors of Bogota consume more than the rest. In 2008, each habitant used and average of 76 liters daily. However, compared to the US, which uses up to 5 times more residentially, these are relatively low rates of consumption.

But this “shortage” of a few hours is nothing compared to what Bogotanos used to experience before mayor (and recent presidential candidate) Mockus began his campaign for social reforms.

According to a report by the Harvard Gazette, “When there was a water shortage, Mockus appeared on TV programs taking a shower and turning off the water as he soaped, asking his fellow citizens to do the same. In just two months people were using 14 percent less water, a savings that increased when people realized how much money they were also saving because of economic incentives approved by Mockus; water use is now 40 percent less than before the shortage."

Folk wisdom around here says that if you take your umbrella with you when you leave the house, it won't rain. Days have passed since the bano de gata (not forty yet, but I wouldn't be surprised) and I'm still looking for an answer to the water question.

I'll continue my search, but in the meantime, I'm learning to take the pitter patter of rain drops as a writing prompt, and doing internet research on how to build and arc.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In the Botero Museum

An alarm sounds

when you admire too deeply

when you get too close

when your breath becomes

an amateur painting,


vapor on glass.

Caldo de Costilla

The first time the craving hit, I didn´t have a name for it.

It´s cause, however, I knew all too initimately. The night before, my latina alter ego, Adriana, had a night on the town at the much heralded restaurant Andres Carne de Res in the posh north end of Bogota. While Andres masquerades as a steakhouse, one could easily mistake it for a cultural experiment.

The reactants: grilled meat + folk art + discoteque. The product: a night of eating, drinking, and dancing from heaven (as the top floor is called) all the way down to hell (the bottom floor) which is naturally where I ended my night. It´s virtually impossible to go for dinner and leave after dessert.

Fortunately, Adriana made it out of the inferno and back to her friend Andrea´s house to rest her aching feet (as usual, she was flaunting a new pedicure and high-heeled dancing shoes like real latinas do) and sleep off the night of...dancing.

Andrea is a 30 something geographer who treks around Colombia with GIS equipment and 20 armed soldiers in tow. She surveys land reclaimed from the FARC. The people who were displaced from these lands will supposedly receive compensation from the government as per her calculations. Andrea is fiercely independent.

Thankfully, she still lives with her mom.

(In Colombia this is common; more often than not children (and young adults) live with their parents until they get married. It was Andrea´s mom who helped me name my craving.)

I awoke to sunshine piercing the curtains and my eyes. And to my nose, the smell of tinto, black coffee, sweetened with unrefined sugar, which Andrea´s lovely mother brought in tiny cups on tray. That little elixir warmed us to the possibility of breakfast. Andrea pulled some bills from her purse, sent mom on an errand to get ingredients for the cure-all soup of Colombia: caldo de costilla.

Some call this beef consume. It is made with only onion, garlic, cilantro, a potato, and the key, chunks of beef rib. Others call it "levanta muertos" (wake the dead), especially when it is eaten hungover like we ate it that day at breakfast. I tasted with aversion at first, but after breaking a sweat, I drank it down with gusto. What a miracle this beefy cure for a night at Andres Carne de Res.

As I slurped the last bits of broth Adriana and her ramblings faded into the steam of the soup.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Vivir para contarla

Literally, "vivir para contarla" means "live to tell the story."

Literary-ily, it is the title of Colombian literary hero Gabriel Garcia Marquez's autobiography. The autobiography, was of course, not his piece de resistance. That was One Hundred Years of Solitude, his novel that won the Nobel Prize.

Marquez derived inspiration from his surroundings, namely from events in his own life, and those throughout the history of Colombia. To quote Wikipedia, “the novel compresses several centuries of Latin American history into a manageable text.”

While this blog pretends to be nothing of Nobel-Prize winning quality, nor to compress seven hundred years of Colombian history into your computer screen, it will operate on, what I am assuming, were some of Marquez’s assumptions when he wrote Cien Anos.

1. Our own lives are full of stories worth telling.
2. We can learn about history and culture through the stories of ordinary folks.
3. Reality and fiction can be interwoven. (a.k.a magical realism.)
4. Colombian history and culture are worth knowing about.