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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Horace Mann Bogota!

Like most people, I had my ideas about Colombia. I knew of the horror stories dealing with drug cartels, burning coca fields, drug “mules”, Pablo Escobar and his empire in Medellin, political kidnappings. I knew of pop culture references like coffee man Juan Valdez, Shakira and her fabulous hips (I’d love to be able to shake like that!), and writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera (both books I devoured). I’d always heard it was “dangerous” to visit (as many of you reminded me on hearing I planned to come). However, having traveled around South America last year, I met many Colombians and other South Americans talking about this country; how beautiful it was, the mountains of Bogota, the beaches of Cartagena, how little it was visited by tourists, and I was intrigued. So now, having spent the last week here, I can say without hesitation, I’m fascinated. I will return; it’s easily my favorite country in South America, after Argentina. Everyone else should stop fretting and visit too, it’s amazing…

It’s funny, when I went to Bangkok I had been warned that I’d want to get in, get out; that the seedy underside of Bangkok outweighed its positives. I couldn’t have disagreed more. I loved Bangkok, in all of its seedy splendor and returned three times during my trip to SE Asia. I was given the same warnings about Bogota. And again, found myself enamored by a city that I didn’t expect to be taken with. (What’s with those B capitals…?) Bogota, set high above sea level, is about 60 degrees year-round, and has so much to offer. It’s at once modern and historic, trendy and old-fashioned, immaculate and filthy. Fabulously sleek tapas lounges sit next to old Colombian standbys. Chic little boutiques neighbor artisans souvenir shops. Beautiful red brick high-rises of the tree-lined northern districts are offset by the red-roofed colonial houses of the more southern Centro, or La Candelaria. The cobblestone streets rise and fall in sync with the altitude, and spending a day winding through them, -- the museums, the cafes, the plazas, the people-watching -- I found myself smiling a lot.

Part of my day in Bogota was spent in the Botero museum (the easiest way to describe his work is: he paints fat people – sounds mean, but you’d know his subjects if you saw his work), easily the best modern art museum, the most comprehensive I’ve seen on my trips yet. The art is both his own work AND his private collection of Picassos, Chagalls, Monets, Miros, and de Kooenings. The other part of my day was spent with a friend of China’s, the cute, funky Adriana, who sat outside in Usaquen (a northern plaza) for hours with me lazily drinking wine and talking shop: dating in Bogota vs dating in the NY, men in Colombia vs. men in the States. I found it’s all the same, we just speak different literal languages. Then, we went back to Adriana’s (their apartments are SO much more fantastic than ours!!!) to meet her friends. She was having a reunion of her four girlfriends from high-school. They hadn’t seen each other in ten years. All, except Adriana, are married. Two lived in the States, one in rural Colombia. One of the States-side girls lived in NYC . . .

The two girls that arrived first were the Colombian and one of the States girls who lives with her husband in Mississippi (Why, right? He’s Army.). They’re so sweet, unassuming, wouldn’t know a Blahnik or Choo if it him ‘em on the head. We’re chatting away in Spanish, they’re asking me about my trip, having wine, quietly…when the New York Colombian walked in. WELL…it was so scary how familiar it all became. She is stunning, hair just fresh-from-a-blow-out, with ends so perfectly flipped up, I could lick them. Camel pointy-toe boots, skinny leg jeans, blazer, blinding cushion-cut-rock on her finger, $2000 bag, and she talks faster than the wind. In BOTH Spanish and English. And, from that moment on, ONLY SHE TALKED. Everyone just listened to her fancy NYC life. She lives on Riverside, in the 90s, with her husband, “but they’re moving to Miami because it’s just too much money in New York and her two kids are both under four, but they’ve been in private school since they were 2, and they were at a point where they were starting to think about Horace-Mann and other schools that are competitive and does she want that for her children, for her life with her husband?” Going in and out the subway (and she mimes walking a stroller down the subway steps, in heels, with her bag...), not having a grassy place for them to play besides Central Park, and "the process of getting me, my husband, two kids, a nanny and TOYS to the park! Aye, Mammi!" They contemplated only having one child to stay in New York, “but she’s Latin and wants a big family like her own,” and blah blah blah…. And, I burst out laughing! Like, unable to help myself burst out! Because this WHOLE conversation, every hair-flip’s worth, is in staccato-Spanish BUT IT’S EXACTLY THE SAME AS oh-so-MANY I’VE OVERHEARD (or had with some of you…yes!) at home. I almost died…. Thankfully, she understood. Like I said, same shit, different language.

I didn’t continue onto dinner with them.
While I loved Adriana, there was only so much Horace Mann and hair-flips I wanted to take…in Bogota!

Onto Cartagena, the Caribbean city where, YES, Romancing the Stone was set.
I didn’t know that, but everyone else seemingly did…

More soon.

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