Colombia Redux: Medellín Interlude

Back in Medellín, the only things I know for sure are that 1) I'm tired of tourism and 2) I hope to find a constructive routine for this interlude from the Choco (I already know I'll be headed to the Choco's Pacific Coast side next). The first part will be easy: I can't think of any other touristy Medellín things I'd like to do. The second part will fortunately be as simple, if only because I'm more than ready for someone else to make my espressos. With such a mentality I'm more than capable of holing up to read books, work on the trumpet and squeeze in some yoga in every day. I'm more than happy to be back in a larger room, too, with both a mirror (for the yoga) and my music stand again set up and waiting.

Meanwhile, horror of horrors, I'm running low on books. To extend the life of Gabo's The Autumn Of The Patriarch (this time in English), I vow to drag it over seven days. That'll make one sentence-long chapter, each about forty pages in length, go with my first coffee each day. This is a perfect ritual, I'm finding, and one that makes the case sufficiently for being in town for about a week. Once again in the hands of the master, I know that all can only be good. The complete short stories of Mark Twain, in contrast, will wait to get cracked open soon enough in the upcoming Choco - something else to look forward to.

Outside of my stash, however, I don't have much left. The hostel owner promises a book that is "the definitive history" of the Panama Canal. How it will update my existing knowledge of the affair - where the U.S. fomented a "rebellion" to separate the Department of Panamá from Colombia, that after the French horrifically failed on the first go-round - will be interesting to see. I mean read. I'm game, even if I really want more books in Spanish.

For THAT I shortly manage to pick up some more books a la Gabo. This is a mission deemed necessary after my recent completion of Cien Años de Soledad. Thus El Amor En Los Tiempos de Colera makes it into my rucksack, as does Doce Cuentos Peregrinos and three collections of short stories (Ojos de Perro Azul, Los Funerales de Mamá Grande, and La Increible Y Triste Historia De La Candida Erendira Y De Su Abuela Desalmada) that in Spanish are jammed into the one tome Todos Los Cuentos. NOW it looks like I'll securely make it to March 25th ankle-deep in books. Whew!

The mission to purchase them isn't without its comedy, either. That's because I know that the cheaper books are usually sold by the church off of the square at Parque Berrio. I figure on listening to some street music while getting some exercise in walking about while collecting these precious books. What I don't expect is getting the extra entertainment of watching a thief run for his life through the market place. He dashes among the illegal stalls of goods, pushing over a few tables in his mad dash, knocking over sun-brellas, tables, and scattering scads of pirated porn on the ground. Some of this stuff ends up in an unsightly patch of vomit as a cop or two belatedly join the chase with only the most modest effort. See, piracy DOES have its rewards - for us spectators.

The rest of my time in Medellín looks to be spent working on Spanish grammar and vocabulary. I'm continually updating my cheat sheets of problematic words and structures, often creating asinine sample sentences to drive points home. I then run the latest versions of my apparently odd humor by the various native Spanish-speaking folks in the hostel (including the fiance of the owner, who by all accounts is a great Spanish teacher). At times I perhaps trust the staff too much with having mastery over their own grammar, I realize, but I know they'll always sufficiently blanche if something just doesn't sound right. That's something to work on beyond the music and reading to also add to continually perfecting stabs at potato pancakes, lentils, and baba ghanouj in the kitchen. It sure is nice to have access to creature comforts again!

Some things haven't changed much in my two week absence, meanwhile. Chief of those is the driveway for the adjacent house, still under construction after two months and going strong. It's a tiny ^(&*^$* DRIVEWAY, for chrissake!, many of us think when they do something particularly loud at 7 a.m. - or raise clouds of dust at 3 p.m. I nevertheless help myself to a couple more conversations with the overseer of the three guys doing the job. He, too, is apparently incredulous of the pace. But at least the previously concrete-locked trees will see more breathing space for the effort. Tiling the city's sidewalk over will be a nice touch, too, even if using hollow bricks at ground level around the trees is inviting disaster of the kind I've gotten used to seeing all over the entire country. The next holes in the pavement to trap ankles are on their way!

In the national news - and Capurganá did feel a world away - not much has changed. It seems like every day or two there's another guerrilla capture or otherwise success for the military, followed by some more violence elsewhere. Most of the actions involving whatever is left of the FARC, AUC, and ELN seem to be happening in the sticks, in well publicized areas most tourists studiously avoid. But I know that Medellín is ground zero for a lot of hidden activity as well, albeit more hidden from the general knowledge of tourists passing through. I personally find that the names of the big shots caught/killed/sought are by far the most interesting, straight out of a telenovela or pulp fiction. How 'bout El Cuchillo (the knife), El Pajaro (the bird), and La Gata (the cat). Who needs comic books?

The reality that's much closer to home is the crime in the neighborhood I'm staying in. While El Poblado is one of the wealthiest 'hoods of the city, it's also a fantastic target of opportunity for that very reason. I learn of motorcycle bandits who eye when people use ATM machines, or just take their chances on drive-by muggings. The tiny parks between the hostel and the nightlife district have their share of such thefts, too, all serving to influence decisions on a daily basis - but particularly at night. On more than one occasion I detour my path because something just doesn't feel right. Someone's standing just a little too idly by and looking about.

On the music front, however, there's finally some success: Some other musicians come to the hostel! Frenchman Gil has brought a guitar, and it turns out that the trio of Brazilians who've just shown up can all play and sing. Juan the Colombian percussionist soon rounds out our gang, as do the caiparinhas, cuba libres, and refajo (beer mixed with the sickeningly sweet, apple-flavored soft drink Colombiana, an afternoon tradition in partying Colombia). A few jam sessions follow that I can only wish there would be more of. Why can't it always be like this?

Rounding out this group are a number of faces that have become familiar for the week, all acting to stay on the understanding that when something's going well it's stupid to leave. So Tania, the Swedish girl that likes to scalpel faces, takes group photos. So does Minae from South Korea. The German with the scoop on the nefarious ways of the Colombian underworld (and government), doing research on the guerrilla groups, sticks around, too, as does Markus the misplaced Swiss DJ. No, it isn't tough to fill up a week on such fare and friends. But I hear there's PACIFIC CHOCO out there to check out, too...

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