Sunday, April 23, 2017

climbing the greasy pole

Every major city has its swankier part of town.

New York has its Park Avenue. London has Belgravia. Mexico City has Polanco.

Bogota is no exception. It has Usaquen.

Once a separate settlement (founded in 1537), it went through some rough times. Depopulated. Repopulated. A battle site during Colombia's war to attain independence from Spain. The scene of the termination of one of Colombia's many civil wars.

It is now part of Bogota. And if you want to be seen, this is the place to live and work.

Because it has been around since the 1500s, it has some venerable colonial buildings. Like this church.

It also has what every Colombian town seems to have -- a flea market. The kind of place where you can buy plastic souvenirs, some handicrafts, and clothes.

But Usaquen is different. It has an artisan fair that is so tidy and organized, you quickly learn that Colombia is an unusual South American Country -- with uniform booths lined up like soldiers marching off to make the world safe for artisans.

You will find a lot of the same category of goods as are in the flea market. But the quality is not what one usually finds sold in the street.

Rugs. Jewelry. Boutique clothing. Woven goods. Coffee. Dried fruit and nuts. Specialty shoes. Leather goods. Paintings. Sculptures.

Anyone who has ever attended a craft fair in Sausalito would feel right at home. And, of course, there are the inevitable musicians. All of them quite good playing Colombian music.

But this was the booth that caught me in mid-step. Please remember I have lived in a small Mexican village for almost a decade, where books are somewhat rare. So, this booth was a pleasant surprise.

The book stall is indicative of the high percentage of educated Colombians. That is evidenced daily by the number of people -- young and old -- sitting at coffee shops or in the park reading books and newspapers.

When we had had our fill of batik and wool, we took a taxi to the zona rosa -- where small hotels and restaurants cluster. This park was our introduction to the area.

Being a Sunday, it was filled with parents watching their children play on the park's equipment while dog owners allowed their dogs to do what dogs do -- as long as the dogs remained leashed. The children roamed freely.

But we cut our Sunday in the park with dogs to sit down for a platter of blood sausage, chorizo, and criolla potatoes to watch Real Madrid defeat Barcelona in a Spanish league match.

That is, that was our intent. We did get our snack platter at La Hamburgueseria -- a sports bar on the park. Unfortunately, Barcelona proved to be too much for the combined strengths of Real Madrid. Even though the fans were split in their allegiance, we were in the vast majority with our support of Real Madrid.

The high point of the game for the local fans was in the second half. Real Madrid trailed Barcelona 1-2. Then, out of nowhere, Marcelo of Real Madrid put a simple cross into the box and James Rodriguez, unnoticed by the Barcelona players, directed it into the net to tie the game.

The goal was important on its own. But the fact that it had been made by James was even more important. He is a Colombian who has been pressured by the team management to move on to Manchester United.

The Colombians in the sports bar roared in approval -- without regard to their team loyalty. To my surprise, I spontaneously joined in the melee.

And what better way to see another area of Bogota? On top of the greasy pole I have never deigned to climb, but with people who were truly proud of their country and the accomplishment of its citizens.

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