January 21st, 2018
The morning ritual ensues, involving washing dishes, frying sausage and arepas, drinking mandarin juice, attending to personal hygiene, checking email and social media, all banal rituals that create a sense of certainty and comfort in an uncertain world.
In the late morning, I migrate to the Parkway for a coffee. And there is at least one café open on the Parkway. And who do I find sitting in front but Jason, now what a coincidence! Although he does apparently live around the corner.
Not surprisingly, we launch into another engaged discussion. While he teaches radical theoretical subjects at Javeriana, for some nine years he has been teaching systems theory to MBA students with Marxist inflections at another institution. He is quite skeptical as to the value of what he is presenting, given how far outside of the students’ paradigm the material is.
I comment that he can’t possibly know what the impact of his teaching could be on the students in the long run, as he may be planting seeds that may come to some fruition. He confirms the notion with the case of a student who came to him years after taking the course, who subsequently left university and began a now successful organic farming enterprise.
Ironically, the importance of alternative commerce will grow in the country’s future, given that with increasing political stability the economy will grow, and perhaps even rapidly. Of course, the social injustices that the revolutionary movements were triggered by have hardly been resolved, but violent conflict will hardy resolve those issues either. This subject belongs in a very substantial sidebar.
He continues that universities in Colombia have been held hostage by administrations in the same way as in North America, perhaps in fact even more so. Where years ago administrative costs comprised a very small portion of overall budgets, they now make up the bulk of soaring budgets that students are paying rocketing fees to sustain. Administrators have crafted a business model using foundations for the purpose of funding their growing empires.
Off by taxi to Candelaria to take in some of the most important museum exhibitions in the country, ensconced in a complex combining a historic colonial-era palace and modern structures. Access to the displays is by means of intriguing passages, circular staircases, and elevated ramps. The Museo Botero occupies both levels of the old palacio, with a broad internal terrace focusing on a manicured garden intersected by stone paths, and punctuated by small trees on both ends, centering on a fountain.
The lower galleries are dedicated to artists from periods ranging from early French Impressionism to American Abstract Expressionism, in between Fauvists, exponents of the Blue Rider school, Surrealists, Cubists, Russian Suprematists, in addition to major sculptors. Many artists are represented, and while most of the work would be considered less significant, there are intriguing works of artists such as Picasso that fall far outside of his typical canon.
The entire upper floor is dedicated to Botero, an artist originally from Medellin, Colombia. His typically large canvasses are luminous, paint applied in a clear and unambiguous manner, the forms stylized, almost cartoon-like, but composed with consistently clean and rounded lines. And most significantly of all, the primary subject matter the female nude, corpulent to the point of obese, specifics of expression typically abstracted from the subject’s gaze. Scenes of couples, families, and sometimes even landscape scenes are also present, but always highly stylized, the human subjects typically filling the entirety of the canvass.
His sculptural work is also riveting, almost always in bronze, with sleek lines, the female nudes corpulent as in his paintings, the gaze abstracted, with a sense of symmetry pervading the massive, sinuous forms. Botero’s work is consistently riveting: bulbous, but not garish, obese, but sleek, abstracted, and yet somehow utterly intimate, flat, and somehow luminous.
Wandering back from the Candelaria through the masses gathered on the street for the combination carnival/ambulatory homeless shelter, vendors loudly promoting their trinkets, whole and cut fruit, lottery tickets and other small items, a minority of people present families and couples, the demographic largely modest if not disenfranchised.
Tawdry costumed street acts with jarring Latin music setting the stage for their acts, crowds gathering in large numbers to witness the latest spectacle. The entertainment value for me is minimal, and my greater consider is safety, as this area will be a rife haven for pickpockets looking to profit from the traffic having been brought to a virtual standstill by the crowds watching the street acts.
Now how to get back to my place. Take the bus? I have no idea how the bus system works, not that it would rocket science to find out. But then I also don’t want to risk ending up in the wrong area at night. Exact fare may be required, which I don’t have, either. Take a cab? There are plenty of cabs on the street, but there is also the issue of security if you are not calling a cab using an app, which I can’t do without cell phone. The adjacent group of Policia Nacional feign interest but are ultimately of little use.
A search for food ensues, the usual limited and unimaginative offering hampered by the fact that this is Sunday evening, and many businesses are shuttered. So the somewhat overpriced Colombian chain outlet for grilled meats – which accounts for the bulk of food in restaurants here – with its upscale 70s decor will have to do. And the food is indeed quite good, which is more than I had hoped for.
There are unspoken edicts about traveling through Bogota. At night, clear off the street, unless there are many people and the area is known to be safe. Do not frequent any area that is deserted. Hence even a good area that is very quiet at night is automatically considered unsafe. Call a taxi via an app – don’t just get into any vehicle, even if they may be marked with identifiers, call numbers, etc.
Back in the Parkway area, quiet, comfortable, a few cafes and restaurants still open, and the walk back to my apartment building, a welcome anchor in my stay in this vast and chaotic city.