MOUNTAIN HIGH: 45 Years in Bogotá

Girl with umbrella along the Eje Ambiental ('10).

Walking along the Eje Ambiental in the rain ('10).


(C) Text and Images 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved
 Home, Saturday, 5 March 2011

Walking from Dunkin’Donuts on Calle 15 and the Olímpica (and the new Exito Express) down Carrera 4 through the Parque de Periodistas toward the Olímpica on Avenida Jimenez around noon, I had a strong, almost 3-D flashback–all the Saturdays spent in Bogotá in my life summed up in a momentary past-in-present moment. It was overcast and hazy, cool with light traffic on Calle 19. The big red TransMilenio buses were rolling smoothly up and down Avenida Jiménez-Carrera 3 for the first time since the last weekend in November 2010. What a RELIEF–no longer so isolated from the rest of the city!

I saw couples and small groups (families or students) meeting up or walking toward whatever their destinations may have been. Each cluster was unto itself, talking, maybe laughing.

And suddenly it was a Saturday 30 or more years ago, any Saturday, and I’d be going out with Rebecca or Barbara, to a movie and dinner or shopping and a late lunch or dinner at Unicentro (opened in 1976, the first mall in Latin America; everything in Bogotá was moving north at the time). Home to our respective apartments by 8 or so (though Barb lived with me for about 18 months, til I did the STUPID thing and left!!!). When Rebecca got her own place in the Quinta Paredes neighborhood, close to the Universidad Nacional where she taught, Ii’d go over there for a while. Sometimes we’d fix dinner.

At home–watch TV, read, write letters, finish something, talk to the maid while we watched TV. (We liked “Concéntrase!” a lot.)

Or maybe there’d be a party on Saturday night. I didn’t go to many, but I had a social life and even had a few parties at my place.

And suddenly, it was all those Saturdays rolled into today, and maybe all the Saturdays in the future.

My life, all my Saturdays, and how empty they were in Michigan and Arizona and Los Angeles. Dead, in fact. No friends, and not even family. Americans use Saturdays differently. Football season in East Lansing can be D-E-A-D, even if you’re going out with someone. Getting wasted on cheap beer is not a party. It wasn’t in the Sixties and less than that in the Eighties.

My “friends”–Saturday is for family.

My own family ignored me completely.

I was supposed to have my own family. Dogs don’t count, except with single people like me.

When I worked in offices or as a teacher, 50% of me wanted to be alone and away from that whole environment on Saturdays, and 50% of me was dying to do SOMETHING–movie, shopping, lunch or dinner, whatever–WITH SOMEONE. All of me wanted to replace what I had in Bogotá, but I would not admit that to myself, much less to anyone else.

Now I’m back and much more independent (or LESS dependent on others). I go out by myself and usually enjoy coming home to the dogs. Now that TransMilenio is returning to Las Aguas station, going up to the Andino is “do-able.”

My social life may not be active, but I have a life.

NOTE: It may not be fair to compare East Lansing and Bogotá in this sense, but somehow, I’m more comfortable here than there. My thesis is that TV permeates American culture and society to such an extent and in such a way that I automatically expect American reality to be like TV–and so does everyone else.

I’m always disappointed, of course.

But Colombian TV can be pretty yucky and 98% of Colombians see it as an entertainment medium only occasionally connected to their reality. Even when showing the “upper classes” in a telenovela, the differences between TV and reality can be very clear. For instance, in the real world people buy semi-palatial apartments or houses but have trouble buying furniture til most of the mortgage is paid. In a telenovela, however, these places are overdecorated to the hilt, the female residents likewise (or more so), and NO ONE EVER comes to the door in piyamas y pantuflas (pajamas and slippers). Even the live-in maids are overdressed!

And no mention is ever made of the financial resources needed for this eye candy!

I mean, this is the REAL  “magic realism”!

Anyway, I had this interesting moment today and I’m glad I could write it down.

TransMilenio bus on the Eje Ambiental ('11)

A TransMilenio bus on its way to Avenida Jimenez from Las Aguas ('11).

Crepes & Waffles, Atlantis Plaza, Sunday, 6 March 2011


In spite of the rain, I took TransMilenio from the reopened Las Aguas station. Two discoveries–A) these buses are now crowded on Sundays; B) the B74 AutoNorte does NOT run on Sundays! To get to Héroes station, take the bus to any stop along Avenida Caracas between Avenida Jiménez and Calle 76, then change to the B-1 route which goes to Auto Norte (calle 170) but stops at ALL the stations!

Good to know.

Discovered en route that it’s raining all over town. Thunderstorms in some places.

Thoughts on the Way up Calle 82 to the Andino

The trash along the sidewalks and around the Héroes station irritated me no end, as usual. But then I thought, as I trudged up the stairs to the overpass, that the subways in NYC are probably just as littered with débris, only we don’t see it in films and TV because the producers pay to have it swept away before shooting. Lo mismo for other major cities in the world. It’s not that people here are messy. Pedestrian traffic anywhere is equally messy.


Second, as I walked through that formerly elegant formerly residential neighborhood (Calle 82 between Carrera 18 and Carrera 15, specifically because Calle 82 was originally designed as a pedestrian walkway), again I had that flash of past/present, like yesterday. The streets and sidewalks were almost empty, it was very peacefully quiet and the light was beautifully luminous (Bogotá between 2 and 2:30 p.m., approximately).

I remembered Barb walking briskly through this environment, focussed on something internal, often with her head down; navy blue trenchcoat, gray scarf; mochila; slacks or jeans; sneakers. Slender, with long, clean light brown hair held back with a stretch band. I decided as I crossed Carrera 16 that I wanted to capture so faithfully in Part II this environment that when Barb and Signe read it, they will also have that time-warping sensation of “here/there.” (Or “past/present.”)

And that this happens to other readers, too. I want to rattle their cages.

A lot.

Home, Sunday, 6 March 2011

This morning around 9 when I walked the dogs, I had yet another one of those “past/present” moments, but not based on anything that’s ever happened to me.

We walked along Carrera 1-A toward Calle 15 and there was a young couple on the right-hand corner, entwined and kissing and grinning between the kissing. I caught a glimpse of the girl’s face–utter bliss!

This never happened to me, but I imagined it and fantasized about it often in the ’60s and ’70s. When I saw the scene in French movies, the luminous silver Parisian light became in my mind Bogotá. The city was romantic in that sense, for me, even way back then.

It remains romantic in that sense now, and I saw it this morning. I HUGELY regret not having one of my cameras with me, loaded with color film! Talk about a Kodak moment!

But I saw this and watched them and felt, “A-HA! I was right all along!” without remorse or animosity.

I saw “my movie,” private showing, 3-D, unknown but attractive actors (SHE–black hair, fair skin, cute, glowing with love, radiant smile) (HE–sandy-blond curly hair, blue eyes, fair skin; so in love he couldn’t stop looking at her adoringly). My script, my art direction, my cinematography–looking up Calle 15 toward a genuinely misty mountain, some dark pines just below the cloudline; leafy cherry trees on the left as a framing device as COUPLE comes does the moist brick sidewalk entwined, stopping to kiss and embrace every few feet. Palpable love.

And I’m on the sidewalk in front of them, but down Calle 15 below Carrera 1-B, trying to be surreptitious as I glance back at them.

And. . .


And finally–

Also walking up Calle 82, I remembered the Cafetería Monte Blanco, on Carrera 13 between Calles 62 and 61, when Chapinero was still nice and not a pigsty. The cafeteria was pretty large, but it’s real attraction was its chimney in the center of the main room.

General floor plan of the Monte Blanco on Cra 13

The general layout of the Monte Blanco in the Sixties.

The cafeteria was a chain–downtown, where McDonald’s is now (the Chaux Building, corner of Carrera 7 with Avenida Jimenez); Casa Medina, when it was a gorgeous apartment building (Carrera 7 and Calle 70, corner); and some other places in town. One was still functioning on Calle 57, down from Carrera 13, on a second floor, when I came back to Bogotá in 1990. Took Fernando to it and he told me he’d been to a Monte Blanco in another part of town “in his youth.” (He was born in 1968.)

I went to the one on Carrera 13 with Mary Nelson, her little boy Lee and her maid (also our confidante) Lina, pretty often. Also went with Rebecca. It was clean, the food was good and the prices were modest. It ws one of the great places to go with a friend on a rainy afternoon or evening. It rains here frequently, so everyone went, frequently.

(C) Text and Images 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved


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