This is Miss Lucy, head of English instruction at Newman School in Cajica, about an hour outside of Bogota, where, as you can see, school is nothing but “nose to grindstone.” No, seriously, Halloween here is HUGE. Some of the schools I’ve been to have a day-long festival to celebrate, and Newman’s festival was about the best party I’ve ever seen.
It’s a small school — 520 kids from pre-K thru level 11, which is their senior year. Lucy told me the student body is divided into four houses — like Hogwarts. The houses are Earth, Air, Fire, Water. The kids within the houses collaborate on different activities throughout the year, and the collaboration was evident in their Halloween colors and costumes. I think this division into “houses” is a splendid idea. It sorts kids randomly into groups they otherwise would not be part of, forcing socialization across cliques and across age ranges.
This school lies about an hour north of Bogota — about a two-hour commute from where we’re staying. Mauricio took us halfway, and then we hooked up with Lucy, who drove us the rest of the way. Since we had to stick around until the end of the school day, and since I was finished performing before 11:00, Lucy arranged for a cab to pick us up and take us to the Salt Cathedral about 15 miles up the road in Zipaquira.
The Salt Cathedral is the decommissioned part of a salt mine 500′ under the surface of a mountain of salt. It’s a subterranean church made of salt — kneelers, altar, crosses, rail, baptismal font. They can accommodate up to 8,400 souls for masses, weddings and baptisms. Water for the baptisms has to be dense saltwater, though, because fresh water eats divots out of the font. Here’s a picture of the archangel Gabriel, looking down from the choir loft.
And here’s a picture of me looking up at Gabriel.
Yesterday, I was feeling especially homesick. I realized that even though we have fresh air in abundance here in our little apartment — all the windows swing wide open — and even though they overlook a crisp, airy courtyard, it’s not meant for hanging out. No benches or chairs or tables to invite you to sit and relax. The only outdoors for us is the street and the square. Those are pleasant places, but there is no green space that’s open to the public within a 15 minute walk of our front door. The outdoor spaces at the museums are all hardscaped. I miss walking from my house to the post office, past park, playing field, another park, a cemetary, and front lawns that are not bound by walls, fences and razor wire.
If green space is in short supply, though, there is sky in abundance. I know why Colombia produces so many painters. The light here is sumptuous. So yesterday I decided that even if there are no handy park benches, fresh air and sunshine would lift my spirits. I took myself a few blocks north of Bolivar Square to a smaller square that is set up with used book sellers and dealers in cheap souvenirs. I gawked and ogled for awhile, and then I began to look for words in English. My medium of choice. In all those stalls, I found three books I could read: Richard Scarry’s Best Story Book Ever, James Michener’s The Covenant, and Bocaccio’s Decameron. I’m not proud to admit it, but I’ve never read The Decameron, and it seemed just the thing for a homesick storyteller. I shelled out my 8000 pesos (about 4 bucks) and made my way to the coffee bar outside the Botero Museum and spent a happy hour drinking strong black coffee and reading about the bubonic plague. I came home in a much better mood.
All the way home, I walked through a steady stream of costumed children and their parents going from shop to shop, where shop keepers stood waiting with penny candy. There are two trick-or-treat chants I heard. The one in the title line of this entry — “Quiero pan. Quiero amor. Quiero dulce por favor.” (“I want bread. I want love. I want candy please.”) and “Tricky tricky Halloween. Da me dulce por favor.” (“…Give me candy, please.” This is sung to the tune of “Trick or treat / Smell my feet / Give me something good to eat.”)
Today’s Sunday. Sol and I, on our own, managed to catch the right bus to take us to Usaquen (I misspelled it last week) for storytelling. Again, I didn’t understand more than half a dozen words spoken, but watching these people at work was a joy and a study in timing, body language, pace, timbre. They’re really, really good. And again, by about 5 o’clock, there were a couple of hundred listeners hanging on every word. The jugglers and the opera singer on the other side of the square didn’t draw anywhere near that size crowd.
It’s Sunday night. 11:30. Sol left an hour ago to go dancing. She’ll be home around 4 or 5, and I’ll have a long, quiet morning tomorrow. Jack’s getting in tomorrow night. I’ll be so happy to share this place and some of these experiences. Especially with my favorite traveling companion. (Toby… Alice… you both run a close second.)
Maybe a treatise on politics next time I blog.
p.s. Sol asked me if the Phillips beat the Jankees. Alas. Not tonight.