A The Main Park
In a small town what people do is gather together. They can. In any Colombian town you still have a village square: a central park that may have trees and shrubs and benches or may just be a plain, paved square city block with a fountain or a monument in the middle. In Bogota you have a statue of Bolivar in the center, the cathedral and episcopal palace on the east, the congress on the south, the mayor’s offices on the west, and the palace of justice on the north. In most towns the mayor’s office and the church dominate the square, and then there are stores, restaurants, or other things. The space in these plazas (in Bogota there are a bunch, though the main one is the one I described) is used variously for itinerant music festivals, book fairs, and other such activities.
But in the small towns of hot weather that is where people go, and there you run into people, and for this they dress up—in their hot weather understanding of the term. One night our hosts were there till 2 AM, the night of the high festivities. And what do they do there? Mostly talk. During festivities they also dance. It used to be the marketplace, but nowadays markets have moved to covered locations and left the main squares for the congregation of the idle (time, in hot weather, adopts a more leisurely pace). In Spanish the word for Leisure is also the word for Idleness = ocio.* When you really need to distinguish you have to add the adjective ‘noble.’ And there is a lot of truth in that, I think.
B The Food & Attractions
Campoalegre’s main square (el parque, they called it, as opposed to la galeria, the marketplace) is of the kind made of intersecting paths, benches, and lots of trees. For the holidays they also had a bandstand from which to play obnoxiously loud music, beer drinking tents all along the peripheries, with intermingled shooting booths and other such things carnival attractions. I am pretty sure you can buy raspados (snow cones) or ice cream there any night of the week, but perhaps for the festivities there were a few more such. My joy was the empanadas.
C The Bugs, the Music and the Darkness
I don’t know why, at this point, my outline mentions the bugs. The bugs were not a problem in the park. The music was obnoxiously loud.** They had the traditional Bambuco and San Juanero stuff, but they had other more vulgar things. These are not present when there isn’t a fair and people go to the main square to see who they will run into, which is a pleasant thought, isn’t it?
My conversation there was an interesting one about how things were when the guerrillas were in charge. It was only eight years go, before Uribe was elected. A previous president turned over a whole lot of the country to the guerrillas for reasons I do not understand, and the guerrillas made hay while the sun was shining: running drugs, getting cash, stockpiling weapons, imposing their ruthless rule. And Campoalegre sits under a hill that still harbors them (one of the big problems with the guerrillas is the terrain. It is very easy to get lost in the jungle or in the mountains of Colombia. They dig tunnels under the jungle, they dart around in inaccessible regions). So in the quiet of the dark park, with a few glances around from time to time, I was told a few stories about it.
I don’t know how you feel about hot weather evenings: the warm, distant lights, the slamming of screen doors, the creaking of the bugs. None of these is true of a Colombian hot weather town. The lights are dim, all right, but not distant; they don’t use screen doors, the bugs apparently leave them alone (they eat foreigners up. They don’t use repellent and are safe, but we had repellent and have never been so bitten in our life. Not at the park, mind you, but in bed); and you don’t really hear the sounds of insects in the town. And yet there is the night, the breeze, and above all the stars. I felt like Dante emerging from hell to be able again to see the stars all bright, and so many.
*You can look it up here. You can find a more philosophical view, which I think confuses the concept with the word too much, here. This last cites as its only source Pieper’s book. Interesting, and curious, and perhaps too much ambiguous because it fails to introduce the word ‘noble.’
**Curious thing about the noise, it was right beside the Catholic church. They were celebrating something in the church too. How did they resist the noise from the park in a hot weather church that is all openings? They had a praise band and the front and the people were holding up their arms and carrying on all evangelical. I did not realize the Catholic church had sunk to praise bands and praise leaders and the vulgarity of praise songs. Our confession identifies the pope with the antichrist, and I’m beginning to think perhaps it has a point.