A love letter to Colombia, Part I

eternally nostalgic
P1010151

Previously:  Return | Firsts | Memory | Solitude | Nostalgia | Graffiti | Needs | Narratives | Trauma

There are those moments on the Avenida Circunvalar when the clouds lift momentarily and the whole world is flooded with light. In those seconds, the weight of my work here lifts too -- momentarily, as though coaxed to evaporate by a patch of blue sky and impeccable clouds. When I think of joy in Colombia during this field project, I think of a taxi zooming through mountain turns on the Circunvalar.

I will miss the conversations with the taxi drivers. A few remain at the top of my mind: The woman who was navigating the city on her first day as a taxista. Perhaps a place is truly a home when you give your brand new taxista directions 100 blocks North and reassure her that you will neither be lost nor be run over by a bus. When she gets terrified, you encourage her to turn up the Carlos Vives bellowing from the radio. If these field notes had a soundtrack, it would be a marriage of Carlos Vives and Fonseca. Other taxistas would disagree with me: There was the one who loved Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, or the one who paired his sharing his opinions on the conflict here with Bach's cello suites. Regardless of their musical tastes, and for reasons I cannot even begin to understand, all of them thatGreece is a cold-climate country and all of them think its women are beautiful. I never had the heart to correct them.

***

Colombia has grounded me in mountains. Summer to me has always meant waking up to the sound of waves and swatting mosquitoes off my back. This is the first summer of my life that I haven't seen my toes on the sand through transluscent Greek water. I like to dream that this is not a trade-off, that I haven't exchanged the salt and sea droplets drying on my back for mountain sunrises, that I haven't traded in my homeland for all the other homes that have crawled into my heart. On an optimistic day, I hope I am simply adding hues to existing traditions. I am diversifying memories.

I will miss falling asleep to the sound of Colombians dancing. I will miss watching Colombians dance, and eating papas con chorizo at a street corner at 3 AM after letting others guide my own steps. My Colombia tastes like achy feet and papas at a street corner. It also takes like Masa's almond croissants. Almendra, the word for almond, is one of the most beautiful words to my ears. Fifteen years after first reading Love in the Time of Cholera, I can finally begin to understand why Marquez's imagined worlds always seemed to taste like almonds.

This was a summer of rainbows. Of fast-moving clouds and puffy pink sunrises that almost compensate you for your bleary eyes after a night of nightmares. Of feeling the waterfall spray on your face and your heart pounding from the altitude, only to discover that sometimes you best remember to breathe where the air is thinnest, in the most breathless spaces.

I will miss the tree that smells like jasmine during those seventy steps between my house and Crepes & Waffles. When I walk under it at night, it brings me back to Jerusalem. Colombia transports me, as though this one home can contain glimpses of all others. It finds a way to wink at the nostalgic nomad: The restaurant called L'chaim, the salsero who will wish me καλημέρα when he finds out I am Greek. There is something enlivening about remembering from where you have come, with your feet planted firmly on the ground of a place that will make a heart wander to revisit every home it ever loved.

Next: Expectations and the -isms -- Machismo and classismo in Colombia