Friday, July 23, 2010

Scenes, as Seen through Colectivo Windows

A dog. This beautiful brown lab, standing alert in a deserted gas station. She is holding an empty Coca-Cola bottle clamped in her jaws. It sticks straight out sideways from her mouth. Her searching eyes watch the other dogs, the passing traffic. Entirely earnest. Claiming that corner, that Coke bottle. Because she can. Like: This Is Mine Now.

Two twelve-or-so year-old kids, niños with backpacks on, in a foot race for the fun of it. In the middle of the street. Again, because they could.

Beautiful women. I try to act normal about it but they're everywhere.

Former world-number-one DJ Paul van Dyk is hosting a dance party here on the 13th of August. There are posters plastered all over the city, encircling every telephone pole and covering every graffiti-free wall. It is advertised as a 'black party', which, I assume, means all attendees are encouraged (required?) to wear black clothing. Mr van Dyk must have a lot of black lights. Anyway, I saw one poster (only one, out of thousands) that took the advertising intensity to a new level, openly proclaiming that "Once you go black, you'll never go back". And I understand the point they are driving at here, but where I'm from, that phrase suggests rather something else. Something else entirely.
Furthermore, having seen Paul van Dyk in Buenos Aires at the start of March, I here publicly attest to my continuing ability to 'go back' to the more interesting music to which I have become accustomed.

(There is a great one here. Now missing, mis-filed in my memory. Somewhere, some one remembers. I'll send an intern to go rummaging through the dusty filing cabinets in the basement of my brain. Funny how yesterdays files find their way into ancient drawers to co-mingle with age-old reportings.)

Large and small, all sizes; from dark to caramel, the odd vanilla or exotic strawberry, there is an embarrassing overabundance of beautiful women in this country.

I pass by the EcoPetrol sign up la Septima several times per week, sometimes twice a day. It has a big smiling, plastic green lizard sitting on top, with its tail stabbing through the O in Eco. No shit. "EcoPetrol" is an oxymoron so obvious, I can only hope and imagine that the Namer often reflects and laughs at the slyly self-depricating self-awareness of it, the blatant linguistic tricksterdom involved, the contradictions encoded to the degree that this idiocy passes for advertising, a sophisticated marketing scheme, somehow acceptable precisely because it is so damn bold, so bald.

Blockbuster video still exists. I've seen it; it's true.

Way out Calle 26, otherwise known as Avenida El Dorado, near Carrera 66, a man was sleeping on the sidewalk. His upturned head was tucked into the cement corner of a storefront, but his body was entirely exposed to the morning sun. It was almost 9 am. To be honest, this did not strike me as immediately unusual. The bus driver touched the brakes as we passed. I continued watching the window. Then I noticed an aberration in the sleeping mans jeans, just below his belt. Well, obviously, his half-erect penis was protruding, propped up through his unzipped fly. Of course it was; why wouldn't it be? I've since rationalized, accepting my suggestion that maybe it was a prank, a realistic fake. But wishful thinking rarely leads to stable logic, far from any form of truth.


There will be more where these come from.

Dinner at Chez Daveed

We've been cooking.

Over the last two weeks, Patricio and I have enjoyed delicious home-made dinners at least 5 times. One time, Diana came over and put her chef-school skills to work to create a feast of veggie curry, complete with mango and crushed cardamom seeds; there was such depth and complexity to the dish that I was able to finish off the copious leftovers in little more than a day and a half. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of this deliciousness.

These pictures are of a more humble meal I created. So we have kitcharee (read: Indian)-style rice and beans, spiced w curry, ginger, cumin, some aji picante and a base of ghee. Then we have our veggies, sautéed in oil and garlic: fresh red and green peppers, carrots, and onion. Then we boiled the baby potatoes until they were super-soft and mushy to be a vehicle for the soupy beans, contrasting the crunch of sizzling vegetables.

Vegetarian, well-rounded, and scrumptious. Hot sauce always helps, as does the salt and beer pictured. The other thing about this meal, is that my big Budweiser cost more than everything else together. All the veggies and potatoes were something like 2,800 COP, which is $1.50 US. Beautiful.

I believe Patricio had jugo de mola in his cup.


Feeling damn-near civilized, I tell ya whut.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

For What It's Worth

So today I had that classic, tragic song by Buffalo Springfield in my head all day.

"There's something happening here,
what it is, ain't exactly clear.
There's a man with a gun over there,
telling me, I got to beware.

Stop! Children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's goin' down!"

Now lemme tell you, "that shit was goin' down" (Uncle Dick) tonight in downtown Bogota. Independence day stampedes, pickpockets and smoke bombs rumored to have been built by rebellious students punctuated an otherwise tame evening.

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 marked the 200th anniversary of Colombia's independence from Spain. This accomplishment is largely credited to General Simon Bolivar. He was at various times, and often simultaneously, President of Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. The main square in Bogotá, as well as innumerable other cities and towns throughout Latin America, is of course, Plaza de Simon Bolivar. Bogotá's edition is surrounded by the principle halls of court and government, truly grand and gallant structures, as well as the most imposing cathedral in the city.

The plaza was thus the place to be for the bicentennial celebration, the prime location to watch the fireworks.

It was a dry night, and clear. We'd heard they would close the gates at 7, but the surrounding streets were already so packed that we quickly knew we would not make it to the square. I was with my Argentinian amigo Patricio, and a mixed group of gringo's from Hostel Sue: Australians, English, American, I think that's it. Lina, who is our loyal local, and manages the front desk at the hostel, was originally with the group as well.

There was a wall of police enforcing a boundary, because the area around Plaza de Simon Bolivar is only so big. As a group, we crawled our way slowly forward through the crowd. It became steadily more packed. At some point, we stopped at an intersection. The gibbous, Scorpio moon was overhead, above the mountains in the Eastern sky. Jupiter was huge, shining over the city, further to the South and West.

There was a crush, as streams of people crossed in opposite directions. A middle-aged white-man passed us, obviously on his way home, with his girlfriend carefully clutched behind him. He said "if there's a stampede... watch out."

Two minutes later the air was tinged with a palpable panic, and I believe I then placed my left arm straight up in the air in order to lead the retreat. "Disculpa, disculpa. Perdon." We'd slithered 20 m back up 6th when the first bomb sounded. I heard it, and turned to see a small-tree-sized plume of white smoke.

The second explosion, moments later, did not appear to produce any smoke.

At first I figured it was a failed firework. The second opinion offered was tear-gas, intended to disperse the crowd. At last, Lina explained her smoke-bombing student hypothesis. Their precise motivation remains vague.

Patricio had his wallet nicked from under his poncho; I had 23,000 pesos pulled from a zipped pocket. Impressive, really.

Boom! Instant forgiveness in action! I say: Thank you sir, brother angel, for providing me the opportunity to practice!

Anyway, then we went home. Enough intensity for us. Several groups made their way back separately. Patricio, two Aussie lasses and I scurried back first, and had beers in hand before the next crew arrived, followed eventually by the last two girls, who had walked ahead of the group from the very start. Right back where we began, we sat in the Sue courtyard and listened to the fireworks.

I wish I had pictures. I'm glad I didn't bring my camera.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Save the Rave!

Of all the things that need saving at this moment in this world, I cannot honestly say the rave is one of them. It was a beautiful morning in ColOMbia all the same.

Hoffen is a friend of Sherm's friend Cata, and a member of my twice-weekly English class. She is in school for movie-making. Somehow she had all these free passes, and I ended up with 9 of them.

This made my Aussie pal Marli real happy. Like most Australians I've met, she digs on electronic dance music. Also, she had friends from home who had arrived just the day before; so, perfect.

After some hemming and hawing, hesitating and complaining about how much it was going to cost, I allowed the peer-pressure to wash over me like clean hot water on a cold night. I ran back to the apartment to get my bus pass. After procuring sufficient sustenance to last me through morning, I had no cash.

Save the Rave was held on a beautiful piece of property in Chia, which is almost an hour by bus North of Bogotá. Chia is a tranquil farming area in a verdant valley, cuddled under el Cordillera Oriental de los Andes. Obviously, the view was improved by the dawn, but we had many hours to go before concerning ourselves with such luxuries; first, we had to get there.

We = me, Lina our Loyal Local, Marli and her two friends from home, Beauden and his girl Alex.

There were rumors of a bus, a free bus picking up at Calle 85 y Kra 15. Lina was unsuccessful in several attempts to call the Help number given on the tickets for information about this potential bus.

Another Aussie friend of Marli's has an apartment "near" to the pick-up. I was imagining walking distance. But nope, hop out of the cab at Calle 50-something. Woop, but we're several hours late, and that group had just left for this bus we've been discussing.

Okay, no problem, new cab. Lina finally gets a hold of someone, and she says the arrival of the bus is imminent. Great! Vamos!

So we get out at the prescribed intersection, and there is a grocery store parking lot half-full of minglers, groups of individuals wandering around at 9:30 on a Saturday night. Marli called her friends from my phone but hung up before saying anything because there was only one other large group of gringos standing around on the edge of the parking lot.

Aussie dudes with Colombian girlfriends and long flowing locks of golden hair awaited the bus, and also us. We sipped on vodka and Coke for half an hour. Just as we were getting nervous, a big white school bus appears down 85th, heading West. Yes. Cross the street, nominal fee, and we're on board, basically there already.

This is Marli (on the left) and her friend Alex:

It was a lack of forethought that led to us finishing all of the alcohol before we even got on the bus. I would have taken some responsibility, but I wasn't drinking.

Okay, okay, so we get there, and understand immediately that we should have worn boots instead of valued sneakers. Earth plus Water makes Mud. Mud in the dark makes for very dirty shoes, and splotches of splatter half-way up my pants.

The music was on and off: interesting at times, enough to inspire some dancing, but overall very average. I don't know if it was due to issues with the equipment, but some of these DJ's were having trouble matching their beats on a very basic level. This led to choppy, incoherent transitions, eliminating any chance to create choral tension, much less let it drop.

The dance floor under the tent was uneven and covered in mud. The acoustics were better just outside the tent cone covering the stage. Plus Jupiter was huge in the sky! I spent several hours shuffling about, half-dancing and staring at the one star, in fact a planet, visible through the benevolent cloud-cover.

There were fire-pits scattered throughout the campground. We spent some time sitting near one such fire, on this log:

These here are the aforementioned Aussies and Irish with said Colombian girlfriend(s).

And then the sound system failed. The first time, there was about 10 minutes of silence. The second time it went down, we were treated to almost half an hour of morning sounds, complemented by the residual throbbing the hours of techno had installed in everyone's equilibrium. I was a trifle disappointed when the music sputtered to life again. The ambiance of a new day awakening outside the city felt far more in line with my sensibilities by the time 4 am came around.

So like I said, it was on and off.

I would like to take a moment now to discuss the ridiculousness of naming a party "Save the Rave". The party business is as booming now as it ever has been. People think the world is ending, and like Prince all they want to do is party. The rave is in no danger of dying. Extinction seems out of the question, if truly this percentage of teenagers are exposed to dangerously enticing pharmaceuticals, finding short and false jollies on what are essentially numbing agents. Brain-cell genocide, pushing the big red button and dropping chemical weapons on their brains. Why then, must this rave be saved? And from what (besides simple rhyming)?

But we had to laugh when the sound went off. Just imagine the headlines, like: "Music Dies at Save the Rave", or, "Pave the Rave: Who Kicked the Plug?". Is that irony?

Did I mention there were some teenagers there? They came and stood next to the tall, blond Alex and tried out their newest dance moves, experimenting with wing-flips and leg-kicks -- the evidence, I suspect, of having You-Tubed Michael Jackson or Justin Timberlake over and over.

Eventually the girls got cold and we skipped and stumbled toward the gate. Bad news: the bus that brought us will not be back until 7:30 in the am. Oops. Lina needs to be at work at the hostel at 8.

More information: the local buses start running at 5:30. It was then about 4:30. We can make it.

I passed the time staring in this direction:

As it tends to do, the time passed and soon there was sunlight, and Sunday traffic, and finally, a bus with "Bogota" posted in the window. I snagged a window seat right behind the driver and had a fantastic ride back to the outskirts of Bogota. I watched the sun rise over the Andes, bestowing light on the agrarian geometry of crops and fences, trotting dogs and horses.

The driver and his assistant refused to let me pay, finding it funny somehow when I tried to hand them my fare (2,000 pesos had magically appeared in my pocket). We got off at Portal Norte, and my bus pass was a Godsend. J95 brought us home to the Gold museum.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

El Apartamento

This is where I live. Guided tour. Ready, set...

GOkay, this is what you see when you walk in the door. Green spiral staircase and a desk. This is not at all what the furniture was like when I arrived, but after applying some spontaneous amateur feng shui, the space has a nice functional flow about it. Also, I have a fireplace.

Then, turn to your left. You can see the window, which opens out onto the street. This allows me to bypass the buzz system. Not to worry Mom, there are bars on the window. The kitchen area is back there, comprised by a simple two-burner electric stove, a table and some storage racks. Here we are looking Northeast.

This is the view from the kitchen, sitting in the window and looking back at the ground floor. Here we are facing Southwest.

Okay then we go upstairs. This is the view of the bedroom from the top of the stairs. The bathroom door is to the left of the bed there. My meditation corner is immediately to the left of where this picture is taken from.

Now this is the view looking back, sitting on the bed, facing Southwest again. Note the blue-tinted tigers on my bedspread. I like tigers. And the color blue. And big warm blankets.

My little meditation corner is my favorite place to be these days. It makes such a huge difference to have a space dedicated entirely to the practice. For example, meditating in bed is difficult because there is a lot of sleepy energy lingering there. Sitting in the kitchen wouldn't work because of the temptation to cook or nibble. But with this special little spot, I sit down and slip quickly into calm, breathing slow and trying to attune to the rapid pace at which that blinding light in the front of my forehead is vibrating.

Here's a closer look at my make-shift altar:

So you see my green and orange yoga mat. I sit on this, plus a little mat and a pillow. The blue cloth there sits on my lap. On the left is a representation of Pachamama ("Mother world"), plus two other Peruvian underworld deities. I purchased this hand-stitched cloth-of-three-pockets on Lake Titicaca. Literally, on the lake, on one of the floating islands, from a nice Uros lady named Maria. Then there are three rocks I collected from around the continent, arranged in a triangle. The point of the triangle is a crystalline stone from an island in the Beagle Channel, just south of Ushuaia, El Fin del Mundo, Argentina. It came from a spot where shamans used to sit and pray for days, naked except for a layer of seal fat.

Then you see my green goblet, with some mineral water in it. The purpose of this is to help focus healing energy towards the water principle. All things being interconnected, if I focus love and healing on this little bit of water, in theory, the butterfly flaps its wings and the oceans have a smidgen more support in this time of great peril. Placed around the base of the goblet is a gift for Lulu. Cappo and I met this amazing girl in Capilla del Monte, Argentina. She gave her name as Lunita Kosmica, and she makes jewelry to support herself. She spends some of her time in a traditional Mayan community in Argentina, using the 9 ancient, inter-locking calenders and the moon as their guides. This piece was the first she ever made, and she said she'd been waiting for the right person to come along and buy it. Me!

On the far right side, we have a marble owl I acquired just outside Uyuni, in Bolivia. It is a present for my Father. The owl represents perfect wisdom, symbolized by its ability to see clearly in the darkness, and rotate its head all the way around. In front of the owl is a gift for my Mother. It is made from a stone (I wrote down the name, but lost the page!) which is said to assist with circulation. I found this, again, just outside Capilla del Monte. This was a rather magical place, with several pyramids overlooking a long and many-fingered lake, surrounded by rocky hills becoming mountains. I strongly encourage everyone to investigate pyramid power. The Russians have done some spectacular research concerning their profound healing qualities.

The last aspect is a 200 peso coin, because money is just another form of energy exchange, and can be consciously manifested just like anything else. I also sometimes keep my copy of Autobiography of a Yogi on the altar. I am also in the habit of offering food items, to be blessed before I consume them. If Krsna is hungry, he is more than welcome to sample my apple; but for now, it seems he wants me to have it. In return, the endearing trickster, that stealer of hearts has my endless thanks and gracious obeisance.

Two more photos, just for fun.

Pachamama (sideways):

and the green goblet, with Lulu's amulet:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Today in The Life

Anyone out there interested in what I did today? Entonces, mira.

So after a hectic yesterday full of running around town, some movie auditions, and finally a private class in Chapinero (Northern Bogota) that lasted until 10 pm, I ate a small bowl of ghee-sweetened rice and found myself five hours of sleep before my first alarm sounded at 5:25 am.

I forgot everything about my dream, which continues to strike me as some deep loss.

So I pull together, turn the key behind me and turn down the street toward Jimenez when my "Leave the House Now" alarm goes off at 5:55. I take an experimental route, which eventually gets me where I want to go, but ultimately proves to be entirely stupid. It involves way too much walking and my chosen buses go unecessarily roundabout. Today I can clearly see my undue reliance on the Transmilenio, and an instinctual lack of faith in the Colectivos.

In any case, I walk through the door at 7:04 (early, since my "Start Class Immediately" alarm was set to sound at 7:07). Naturally, I'd neglected to bring any ID (who carries ID these days anyway?), so I have a nice long talk with the security guard, who eventually accepts the combination of a dirty printout of my birth certificate, a Delta Air miles card, and my passport number.

I find my elevator and am on the way up when I check my phone. Lo, a message. My client, the lovely Claudia, writes (with almost impeccable grammatical execution): "Hi. I am sorry. I can not meet with you today. I will speak with you more late. Claudia" Like I said, almost.

Okay. "No problem. See you Thursday".

This is, in fact, entirely fine, because I get paid anyway and now I'm awake and have the whole morning free. First I have to get home. The building where Claudia works is one of a cluster of classy-looking office buildings out near the airport, North and West of where I live in La Candelaria. So I hail down a bus displaying a wooden sign in the front window which lists, among place-names I´recognize but don't know, CentrO. That's me, we hope.

Calle's and Carrera's slide by, sinking from 68 as we move South and East toward the mountains. We pass a black pyramid. Things are going well until I begin to overthink, and soon I'm second-guessing whether this is a Cl or Cra, and what's this Diagonal 22? I can see Montserrate, but it ought to be nearer; now it's passed, is behind me, drifting back from where we've come. I see a cross-street I like and hop off.

I didn't even make it to the South side, reaching Calle 0. I could take a two-dollar taxi, but it's a beautiful morning in Bogota, so why not walk? There is rarely an ugly morning here; the trusty rains arrive in the afternoon. The walk was uphill, but otherwise uneventful, except for the crazy statue outside the Colombian Finance Ministry building.

There is this statue, maybe 13 feet tall, of a thin man striding forward. The man has the head of an eagle. I wish I could remember what it said, but it it made reference to an Egyptian pharoah from 1400's A.C., which I assume to signify Antes de Cristo, or, Before Christ. It's a representation of Horus, but I believe all the early pharoahs adopted the name Horus. So yeah, curious. I will do some research and report back to you on the specific esoteric symbology in operation here.

On the way home I buy a canteloupe, some granola and a delicious cinnamon-flavored oatmeal-based beverage. Breakfast.

After breakfast is meditation. Super peaceful; my practice is strong these days. I have set up a small altar upstairs where the desk used to be. I will post a picture soon.


Listo. Next I get the grand idea to inflate my new soccer ball. I won a red Budweiser 2010 Word Cup soccer ball at the Hard Rock Cafe on Saturday night. I am not at liberty to publicly discuss my reasons for enjoying drinks and an extended dinner there (seriously), but the Bud girls did come around, so I bought a beer and played their silly little mini-game and won, (of course), scoring 2 out of 4.

So I have this soccer ball, but it's pressed flat. I walk two blocks to the closest mall, and climb the ramp and stairs to the 4th floor where the indoor footy courts are. Hand-pump, done. Crappy ball: lop-sided from the start, with seams coming exposed when a little air-pressure is added. Nonetheless, I have my very own soccer ball!

I buy a lighter on the way home. Home, I sit in meditation for some minutes more, just because it felt so nice the first time.

Then off into the street, wearing grey basketball shorts and Uncle Jay's t-shirt, with a Canadian Maple Leaf stamped on the front of a classic VW bug. I am wearing white sunglasses and carry a quarter-full 5-gallon jug of water. The ball is at my feet. First, it occurs to me to check the hostel, to see if anyone wants to play, but no, still asleep, hungover. Fine. Good.

So down to the closest plaza. If you search GoogleMaps for "Parque de los Periodistas, Bogota, Colombia", you'll see what I'm talking about. I set my jug of water down by the big circular monument in the center of the triangular square, and start juggling. I make some darting runs, play myself two or three through balls, then turn with a quick change of pace and blow right by the unsuspecting pedestrian defenders.

A siren sounds, at a pitch far more frightening than any tornado warning. As I consider becoming concerned, the pitch goes up, intensifying for a moment before winding down. It leaves a very loud silence in its wake of sound waves.

Eventually someone else wants in. A young man with skin so black it's damn-near purple shares my enthusiasm. Our errant passes invite others into the game. Soon we have a group of 5 hitting long balls, juggling, taking clumsy touches and chasing around downtown. If we had had mini-goals, we could have been a World Cup commercial, the one that comes on immediately after the national anthems, enthusiastically ruining all the excitement and momentum they create before kick-off.

After lots of laughing, showing off and one or two confused headers from passers-by, the fun runs its course. It is down to just me and my first friend. We are just juggling, getting a little lazy. The ball rolls toward two men dressed in orange jumpsuits, complete with yellow reflector vests. The nearby Las Aguas Transmilenio station is under construction. After passing back the ball, one of the workers says, slowly, in a tone sprinkled with condescension and pity, plus maybe a splash of envy, "Buen-nos noches", his pitch sliding ominously upward at the end.

Turns out my dude Manuel (he had lots of other names I could not understand) is from El Choco. He is happy to hear I've been there, and is inclined to agree that it is "como paraiso".

The rain comes pouring down as soon as I step inside the outer door of my apartment. I shower. Now, I have been sitting at this computer for more than two hours. I have now finished my two beers, meaning it is time to go. Soon, I will head North to collect a fresh teaching assignment from Peterson's, followed by an intimate dinner with Autobiography of a Yogi (my second time through since I've been in Colombia), before attending a free reading and discussion with the Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko.

(Update: Mr Yevtushenko apparently gave his reading at 11 this morning; the reception was at 7. I was under-dressed and not brave enough to crash it. Plus there was a line. Oh well, next time.)

Opportunity for ecstatic experience continues to slip through the thin filter that is my ego-consciousness. I am grateful for what this has allowed me to learn thus far, but these days that filter seems like little more than a crack in the dam, destined to expand and eventually explode out, allowing a flood of divinity to overcome previous restrictions and cleanse all in its path, a grand letting go that allows us to simply embrace an existence beyond distinctions.

Life is fun if you let it be.