Tuesday, 7 December 2010

FinBOGOTA- your city is MINE yo'

It's me, and the Colombian flag

I have really, really enjoyed sitting astride my high-language-horse for the last few months, earnestly remarking to other 3rd year language students that I have “really grown, linguistically” and that I feel “so alive, culturally” as a result of not counting a single native English speaker amongst my friends. I have advised friends in places where British students flock to, like Paris, to “break out of that bubble” and Bristol (oops, Buenos) Aires, to join interpretational finger poetry societies, in search of an authentic foreign experience like mine. How smug I was. How very, very smug. However, there comes a time in any smuggins’ life when what was originally a source of pride and self-satisfaction becomes a source of jealousy and frustration. Three months in, and I wanted to use Kerry Katona as a cultural reference point, I wanted to not have to defend GREAT British cuisine like baked beans, I wanted to discuss the new series of the Inbetweeners with someone who realised that the funniest part wasn’t when he fell naked off the boat, but the part when he got ID’ed in the underage pub, and I wanted to stop feeling like Mark in Peepshow when he goes to the Rainbow Rhythms dance class and chants to himself “I’m Louis Theroux. I’m Louis bloody Theroux”. I needed a wingman, someone to explain to me the various baffling cultural differences, someone with whom to test the hair-gel vs fertility correlation, someone who would understand my pathetic mockney accent and vague attempts at cockney rhyming slang (you wouldn’t Adam and Eve it...), and the only one I knew to be residing within an 1000 mile radius (but what a wingman at that) was  residing in Bogota. And so to the big city and into the arms of my wingman, Lucy Williams...
Bogota is either an overnight bus ride away or an hour long flight, and being a child of the instant gratification society, I chose the latter. Amusingly, on entry to any Colombian airport, you are greeted with the slogan “Colombia: the only risk is wanting to stay.” Although yes, indeed, I find myself somehow inextricably attached to this country and will find it very difficult to leave, the phrase isn’t strictly true, as I haven’t met a single foreigner here (myself included) who has not been victim or witness to a violent crime.  It’s a nice touch though.

Bogota as a city is a different world to Cartagena. Climatically, it is eternal winter as opposed to eternal summer, it is about 5 times the size, much more “big city”, the population is noticeably indigenous rather than black, and it has a much more menacing feeling, as if it is perpetually on the point of snapping into bloody disorder. Every street corner is guarded by a heavily armed bruiser of a policeman accompanied by a muzzled Rottweiler, one of which I witnessed unleashed on a fleeing thief with disturbing consequences.

Saying that, Bogota has a buzz that Cartagena lacks, a constant feeling of excitement and electricity, with people always searching for something new and thrilling. The shambolic streets are lined with explosive graffiti and witty statues ( like little men fishing bananas of roof-tops), restaurants of every imaginable food and theatres and art galleries. I easily passed an entire afternoon in the hugely impressive MAMBO (Museo de Arte Bogota), and only left in fact after Lucy noisily damaged a priceless piece of instalment art.
This was one witty statue

Where Cartagena is glam and jet set (dare I say it....tacky?) , Bogota is cool, sort of Mayfair versus East London. On the Thursday night of my week there, I went to a very cool party. Very very cool. I didn’t act very cool though. I never do...

Hey Lil Chris you're a long way from Lowestoft!
A friend of mine who works in PR had been invited to some party thrown by Adidas and told me that if I told the doorman that I was a guest of the photographer I would get in. It seemed dubious, and I had been given no details of what the party exactly was, but was sold on the point of free hamburgers and whiskey. I love free stuff.  Lucy and I were taken aback when the taxi driver delivered us to a multi storey car park, and were even more surprised when we saw the queue to enter was several hundred meters long. The queue was comprised of ambivalent looking hipsters with something retro round their neck (name that quote....),  gay boys in girls’ jeans and condescending knitted brows, and stripey shirted loafer wearing preppy sons of the Colombian ruling class (their body guards kept a respectful distance). Lucy looked at me doubtfully, but I was filled with resolve to get into the party. I marched to the front of the queue and angrily declared to the bouncer that I was a guest of “the photographer”. I thought somehow being British and angry would work in my favour. The bouncer calmly pointed to the press entrance. I stomped away, dragging Lucy behind me. The next bouncer asked me who I was as I tried to push past him, as if it were an insult he might be asking such a petulant question. I sighed and repeated that I was a guest of “the photographer”. “The photographer?” “Yes THE PHOTOGRAPHER”. “Which photographer?” “I’M A GUEST OF THE PHOTOGRPAHER” “OH the photographer! Go straight on through.” I couldn’t believe it, we’d just beaten the toughest security in South America, by repeating a meaningless word and looking pissed off. A woman fastened on our wristbands and I was almost stumped by her question, “ so what magazine are you from?”. “the photographer?” I suggested. I felt like Hugh Grant in Nottinghill claiming to be from Horse and Hound, but the woman nodded and pushed us through, indicating the top floor.  
Skipping Competition.....idiots.

Round and round a spiral ramp we climbed, almost disbelieving that a party could be taking place in such an industrial venue. However, it was worth the climb when we arrived at the top floor, and entered The Adidas Originals Street Party. The whole level had been converted into a sort of urban wonderland, with graffitied walls, skate ramps, burnt out cars, street signs, phone booths, swings, hot dog vendors and a basketball court. BMX riders pedalled around, a skipping rope contest was in full swing, afro’ed b-boys threw shapes on the car and giant basketball players slam-dunked (I think that’s how you say it). The DJ was playing electro and techno tunes I hadn’t heard since leaving Bristol, pumping through the crowd more powerfully than the whiskey that was flowing like water. I was over the moon, and very, very overexcited. I darted around like a minnow on speed, noisily exclaiming my enthusiasm, while the rest of the crowd mooched nonchalantly against one another. I was in heaven, almost every single male had a moustache! The crowd was a sea of trilbies and half shaven heads, and geek glasses perched on disapproving noses. How was this possible in Colombia? This was more Brixton than Bogota, but I liked it. The whiskey and excitement overcame me, and suddenly I was riding a racing bike without brakes at break neck (it felt break neck, it probably wasn’t) speed around the floor. Over the course of the night I bumped into an old friend from school who I hadn’t seen for 3 years, who kindly invited Lucy and I to get some food with him and his friends at about 4am. Conveniently he had an armoured 4 x 4 and several body guards, which was reassuring as I happily squirted ketchup over myself. No, it doesn’t make any sense, but it didn’t at the time, so let it be....

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