Chronicle of a Traveler Observed, Day 1
Then he came down on a plane. Appeared in the terminal bobbing in a line, disoriented, pausing like Todd–nose and glasses–with a way of being curiously pleased; calm and expecting. Can he have traveled in a sweatshirt, we wondered. So long have we been with the Latin Americans.
Off in the darkness. The inevitable comparisons. Anybody who has traveled has irritated their hosts with comparisons. You show them something and they say they saw it elsewhere. I’ve done it and I think it is inevitable. We were in a taxi at the time.
Marveled he at the size of our apartment. Anything weird was met with the comment–that’s European. Perhaps it is. Waited we the Lord’s day.
The Lord’s day was a long day for one who doesn’t speak the language when what must be done must be done with the understanding in a place that speaks another tongue. Difficult, that. Lunch with foreigners–man from the Embassy that brings his family to our church. Then the Lord’s Day was over.
Went we downtown and showed him the heart of Colombia. The old, clunky church from 1611 was celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, or getting close to. Heavy wood, thick walls, the colonial massiveness in that old place. The highland damp is in those buildings, inextricably. Packed place that night. Walked we along 7th, before the cathedral, by the congress, up the lane. Eventually we disgorged, returned we through the grim and dingy city home.
Of a Monday we hurried Northward. Flat running, climbing, circling, switching and flat running before the wind in our swift passage. Our conversations had begun. Dawning realizations, compared realizations, adjusted realizations.
Chinese lunch for us: rice, chips and egg rolls. By common consent, all of us had some excellent grapefruit pop, which is the only instance of the flavor, or something not entirely unlike it, in all of Colombian experience. A rare treat. We then found an upstairs cafe, had the music lowered somewhat, and watched the rain on the central square.
Went we through the old town, subsequently, and round to where we caught the last bus (fourth of the day) which would deliver us to our destination, or at least 4 kilometers away. Then went we in the afternoon to that recondite rezendesvous, where there is a bar with the theme of the bullfight.
Music all day is the problem with the transportation. Having our aromatic tea there near the bull’s head, we at least heard this:
Soon the crowds died down. Soon we had our excellent supper. Soon we were warming in the Turkish bath and then bathing in the thermal pool. Then some lousy, talkative Paisas wanted to enjoy things their way: yakking on.
Joke they told me: so there was this kid that had a breathing problem; he only breathed every two years. He breathed at two, and said Grandfather. Next day the grandfather died. He breathed at four and said Grandmother. Next day the grandmother died. He breathed again at six and said Father. Ye dogs! exclaimed his dad, I better get over to confession and repent all my sins. The next day . . . are you ready for it? The neighbor died.
They told me another one I didn’t get. By now, gotten, we had, all the news from the Granite Falls indeed. The drizzle fell on the steaming pool and the night approached the 10PM, so it gave us for giving up and turning in.
The bloody Paisas (Paisas are from the department of Antioquia and talk notoriously) caught me early and had me near them. But then they would have their breakfast indoors and I would stay out. Conversation then we had among ourselves, there in the sunlight, with the breakfast coming hard and fast, and the Paisas disappeared, soon to be seen bathing distantly.
Mused we on Gravitas. What had been, what had become. It is something to have in common. Those dreams: of a leisured life, of agrarian ways–for some, of learning to appreciate art, of making a home for oneself, all tangled with our original dreams of ministry. What now? We saw the peasants up there, and their unenviable ways and children. I thought of Mr. Sensible and his Drudge. We can’t make a home in this world, but we mustn’t loose the habit of trying, it seems to me. Our conversation batted things around perhaps better than formerly. Perhaps in a few years even more? Now it seems to have become with us more a habit, this posture against modernity. A puzzling posture.
Pretenders to a certain extent, he called us. Players acting what cannot be really ours, hoping to instill in the children something more theirs. Hoping to awaken dormant imaginations. Obviously the ambitious projects that a former civilization enacted will not be with us, can they? With no community, even with the wild success of a modest community, they can’t. And what cities? There is the funny thing though, it seems to me: what will come of all of this? Something not entirely seen before.
Mused we on civilization and on decadence, there among the willows. On classes for the kid on the violin, on the circumstance of peasants. That day walked we up the meadow and onto the road. Through the fields and wood, down to the gorge where the water gushed, by the hollow shell of a peasant’s hut. Quarter ponies, ridden, passed us. We saw a yoke of oxen waiting to plow a field for onions. We went down among the pines and mushrooms to the cold waters lapping the white sands. Trout we ate, and rice. The wind blew us, the rain spattered intermittently, we passed the cedars and the eucalyptus, saw the fog on the high hills and the sun on the lake, had the company of a bitch called Luna, which we then abandoned to ride a lousy bus.
Aquitania is the onion capital. Everybody wears a ruana in Aquitania, and black rubber boots. Farming is there, but it is expected that tourism will soon drive it out. And then the onions? Perhaps cuisine will change.
Coffee down in the warmer town, good coffee. A brisk walk to the bus, a brief ride on the bus, and then the journey back. Bathed we then, ate we afterward and watched the fire play magnificently.
Early start. Breakfast before the restaurant was opened and then we went walking on our way. Caught the bus and soon were in the city. Went we to the market, where they unloaded potatoes, the peasants who harvested it all present, haggling the price. Went we also among other goods, where tourists seldom go, I ween. We got our bus and were sped back.
We had an unhygienic lunch, as when I went back toward the kitchen to pay I realized. There is no concept here, no concept. It was good for the price, and now does not seem to have cost us more than money.
More might be said. We had Eric among the willows, the rushing torrent of that most pleasant and still remote valley. There the pines are various, some tangled, some curious in their curved branches when the needles fade them out, some domestic.
Photos by Katrina