ATLAS: vol. 1 Bogotá, CO

Santuario Monserrat

Atop a mountain with the city sprawling below, the stations of the Cross lead one up steep cobblestones to the Basilica of Monserrat.  The church is smaller once one enters the large, imposing gates than it looks from outside— though still quite tall, with white walls and a steeple over three stories high.

A funicular ride to the base of the mountain lasts about 15 minutes.

Stray Dog Almost Hit By Truck

A casual trot across six lanes ends with but a few feet between that twelve-foot high, four-wheel, dirty, white truck and this dirty, dirty golden mutt with the black nose.  Lucky, perro.  Or maybe talented.

Venezuelan Carumba Band

On the median of the busy Calle Ochente y Dos, a Carumba band plays in front of a Venezuelan flag, next to a donations basket. Two drummers to the right, a percussionist with maracas, left, two guitarists in the middle.  All sing.

Getting lost in the Centro Comerciál

The rock band passing by, on the way to practice it looks, causes me to sit and write.  The singer, obviously, wears black pants and a tight black T-shirt, his glossy, black hair down past his shoulders.  The others, significantly taller than the singer, and walking with far less swagger, carry guitars in black cases.  One is small– and probably acoustic– another very flat– an electric guitar.  The last– whose bearer walks slightly behind the rest– is longer and also flat, a bass guitar.

Getting lost is not the best idea in this town.  But, I am told, el Centro Commerciál, just southwest of the expensive shopping district of the Zona Rosa, is tame enough during the day.

A man in all blue– sky blue, a light fabric, long sleeved– sits and leans effeminately against another man, both looking at the same cellular.  I fear I stare too long, as he looks up at me with a slightly concerned look on his long and thin face, so I nod my head swiftly and go about my business.  My business of getting lost.

Perhaps I am slightly too lost, so I soon regress back north from whence I came.  I recognize the Bogotá Beer Company, and order a sandwich and a Cerveza Roja.  The beer comes first.  Then, arrives a meatball sub.  It is about 11:50 in the morning.  

I apply sunblock, and head back into the busy, now sunny street.  Folks walk swiftly, here, without too much regard for personal space, but with never a jostling.  It is permitted to make eye-contact with these strangers on the street, but saying pardon me does not seem to occur.

Andres gives me some sealed in wrapper Fruticas sweets– which I do not eat– and I donate 4 million Colombian pesos for his son, Santiago.  It amounts to just over a dollar.  He offers to sell me cocaine– which I also do not want.  His poem is all I care for.

Men in suits, youths in sweatshirts and leather jackets, women in pants, often long sweaters, a security policeman with dog: a blind man scrapes his cane, by far the least swift walker among us.  Even the man hauling a pushcart pilled high with produce walks swifter than he.

Granadilla Fruit

A dark, ruddy orange rind pops open under pressure from our hands, revealing a thick white middle layer, inside which dark seeds within a gelatinous grey ooze.  Tastes of passion fruit!  Cheers.

Crossing the Streets

Always an adventure, crossing a Bogotano street.  The cars, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians seem to intuit through traffic, coming within inches of each other.

Carrera 14 mostly has green walk signals on separate posts from the traffic lights– a green silhouette, which starts to flash when only seconds remain– but Carrera 11 mostly does not.  Even when the cars have a red light, watch out for right and left turners.  Cars do slow when a pedestrian is in their way, but not very much.  And we pedestrians will pick up our feet and hustle when a car or bike is quickly oncoming.  A car turning is a better bet to cross than a pause in the traffic.

Bogotanos in the Rain

They are well prepared for this rain, the Bogotanos.  It occurs every day, around this time.  Most have umbrellas, slickers, or plastic ponchos down to the knees– or two of the three.  A bicyclist wears such a poncho, with a cap beneath her helmet.  

Pedestrians without huddle beneath bus stop shelters or overhanging ledges of buildings.

Welcome, to the Worst Traffic in the Wordllllld

Worst in the world, they say, the traffic in Bogotá. Ceaseless, it lasts all day, gets worse in the rain, and even late nights, still busy.

Two short honks indicate a warning. And, rarely enough so that it startles, though often enough to notice, a lengthy horn sound indicates something truly out of place.

A Libería

A wide spread of García Marques greets the entree to this three-story bookstore. This is a small, crowded room, containing a table featuring Michelle Obama’s Mi Vida in translation to the Spanish, the cash registers, and ceiling high shelves– but the space opens wider once through the narrow archway to the rear left.

On the second floor, a whole case of Feminism in the Spanish: El Futuro es Femenino; Mujeres Que Dicen Verdades; Lola Vendetta by Raquel Riba Rossy; Mujeres de Uniforme. Immediately next to this is James Joyce Ulises in white and orange on black.

I ask for South American authors translated into English, and am redirected back to that first room. And, there, Conrads, Wildes, Twain’s Pudden’head Wilson!– the last five Harry Potters, and below that a stubby shelf of books in French.

I buy Vásquez, and am slightly surprised it costs COP 160,000,000 for only two books– about 70 bucks– until I remember how valuable books can be.

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