Now You See It, Now You Don’t

April 5, 2011

Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Lourdes, Bogota, Colombia

10:30 a.m. to 11:00ish a.m.

Chosen because…easier to find than the grocery store.

Bums. Old women. Volunteers. Pigeons, thousands of pigeons. Shoe shiners. Teenagers. Assholes. The Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Lourdes in Bogota, Colombia sits in the middle of the city and people and animals, including the rat fink pigeons, move around it. If religion is supposed to be a life fixture, this is exactly what it should look like – a quiet, stable entity a person walks through when she needs it and past when she doesn’t.

I was in Bogota and am now in London because I’m interested in Bogota. And London. Respectively. Bogota was there and so was I. This type of collision is endemic of my life. I’m also fascinated with Central and South America though Colombians don’t consider my favorite country – Argentina – part of South America. Apparently it’s too European. Do dogs releive themselves on sidewalks in Paris?

I wander to mass after two unsuccessful trips to the grocery store. It’s around the corner but I don’t undersand directions in any language so I walk around the neighborhood until I tire of right turns and venture left outside my door, find the grocery store (needed cash) and Lourdes square (pastry, chronic coffee, people watching). Traveling is wonderful if not exhausting and overwhelming.

Bogota is fairly easy to navigate once you accept the fact that one in four streets are marked. Though tired and annoyed, I don’t turn to the Big Guy for help. I eat a pastry instead, accidently elbow the waitress in the crotch. Though embarrassing, this dislodges my mental block and I start seeing Bogota. The toothless trashman; the rows of shoe shiners polishing wing tips, heels and workboots; the seemingly headless homeless man on a bench; the teenagers vacuuming eachother’s necks with their mouths; the man on an ice cream cart in the middle of the square dinging a bell he’ll tap for the next eight hours; the man using a fruit vendor’s macheette to trim his belt. These things. All marvelous and so much more appealing than the dirty streets and broken cobble stones I saw before, the grocery story I didn’t.

A man hands me a brochure. Shiny. The paper equivalent of the tacky shrines constructed in random places all over the city – bus stops, street corners, malls. I don’t understand a word he says, walk into the church. He follows, whistles at me, tries to jam a crucifix in my hand. I refuse, hope he’ll quiet since mass is occurring. He rips the paper out of my hand, yells at me and leaves.

I can’t focus on mass. I’m overstimulated, which is one of the most distracting, besutiful things about traveling. I could focus on the church but that’s not the way my mind works. I can’t pull my eyes from the woman in front of me. She dressed herself according to color completely disregarding texture, content to let corduroy, plaid and striped beiges crisscross her body.

Even though concentration is impossible, I feel everything. I stand. I repeat the Lord’s prayer, something I learned when I was a child. I watch faces, feel memories, loath the contact point between butt bone and pew.

When I leave the trashman is gone. The ice cream man remains. The pigeons crapping along the right side of the church are now on the left, ceding to the “Done sangre regale esperanza de vida” blood donation tent. I consider released my blood into a bag but I’ve had the foreign needle experience and decide against it. Besides, if religion is like the churches in which it’s preached, the opportunity will always be there. Right?

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2 Responses to “Now You See It, Now You Don’t”

  1. […] two attempted purse snatchings and a small run in with the police as an excuse to can the Colombian dive bar experience but then I would have lost to fear and we can’t have […]

  2. […] about everyone else, but I hit a cultural sensitivity breaking point when I’m away from home for more than a month. I never have them during critical periods in travel. I won’t breakdown if I miss a train, […]

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