Today started out with a bite in the air – clouds had slipped down the mountainsides in the night – but the afternoon sun, having burned away the mists and with less atmosphere in its way at 2700 metres altitude, quickly has us covering our heads as we sit outside.
We are working in a beautiful old Spanish-style complex with a garden courtyard and the tiled roofs that everyone takes for granted here and in southern Europe, but that never fail to take my breath away. There is such perfection to the way each tile cups the next – a mottled marriage of earth and moss. The building belongs to the Jesuits, in somehow perfect coherence with our work of dissolving the stains of sin and suffering carefully ingrained through indoctrination – of freeing our passion from under the smothering weight of fear and judgement.
The Colombians I have met have such a love and pride for their land. As in Quebec, there is nostalgia for the simpler rural life on the part of an urban population that nonetheless has no real wish to return to the interwoven miseries of large families, strident Catholicism and poverty that their families experienced in the pueblos – the small villages of the countryside. Colombians are for the most part mestizo, with their indigenous roots never far from the surface and unmistakeably evident in their facial structures. Each section of the nation has its own personality and customs that have persevered and developed over time; provincial traits seem to have an almost tribal quality. Working with the people here, I feel that I have been able to touch bloodlines and roots that cover most of the country, but that also quickly descend deep into the heart of the land.
My hosts in Bogota are hurt by the world’s fear of their country. “People think this country is so dangerous – that is all they know about us. But there are so many wonderful, safe places here. Anywhere in the world, there is danger if you are not careful – there are places you should not walk at night.”
After we finished working yesterday, I was taken to supper at a fine Japanese restaurant around the corner, then toured around the Candelaria – the “puro centro” of Bogota where the city began its sprawl between the arms of the Andes some 500 years ago; it now holds 8 million inhabitants. What I have mostly seen of the city, from the back seat of vehicles whisking me here and there, is modern and not so different from cities anywhere else in the world.
Last night, though, I was also taken to the Mirador, on a mountainside overlooking the city’s northern expanse. Driving up a winding road through fancy neighbourhoods, all of a sudden you land in a party! It’s a raucous mixture of a gate party, an outdoor café and a market. Food and drink vendors lubricate the ambiance of young lovers, tourists and costumed party-goers precariously (it seemed to me) perched on the edge of the
mountain. Brightly-painted buses – made more like off-track streetcars – are hired to ferry mobile parties in variously altered states from place to place. It’s a great idea….
Shown many different areas of the city alive with restaurants, cafés, theatres and shopping, well-kept parks, libraries and even an Académie Française, I am often reminded of Montréal – to whom I return tomorrow morning…..
Next time, my new friends promise, they will not make me work so hard – they will show me more of the land they are so proud of…and yet… I feel I have experienced the beauty, the challenges and the passion of Colombia in the bodies and lives, carefully sculpted from the earth of this country, that I have had the honour to touch.
For this, I am grateful beyond words.