Chapter 1: The First Threads

First gold medal

The stamp from NaNoWriMo showing that author completed the requirements.

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – Alll Rights Reserved 

Grace is the blue thread, which is the primary one through the story. She thought her world would always be lovely shades of this color, stretching on infinitely, with waves or curves to mean events–marriage, children, deaths and things like that.

Julian’s thread is red, and like Grace, he saw it as a fairly straight line around which his life would revolve.

Their tapestry probably began before October 1967, when they actually met, because as children, their threads were pushed and pulled by parents who were always tangling and untangling their own lives. It was probably a good thing that Grace and Julian didn’t realize this or else their tapestry would never have taken shape. Or it would have, but in a different way.

Colombia is a green thread, the United States is white (red and white are taken; see above), Arizona is yellow and Mexico is a shifting purple. No offense to Mexico, but as you can see, the primary colors are taken. Besides, I really like purple. And I have to mention Germany, which is a lone, thin strand off to the right, and it’s gray.

On a loom, certain colors run horizontally, others are vertical. Unfortunately, there is no loom here, just threads coming together and entwining. The patterns really don’t emerge until much later, when the protagonists can step back and think about what they’ve done, or haven’t done.  Certain professions, like accounting, medicine and the law, are dedicated to putting all things on a standard loom, where all the threads are visible and move in understandable ways.

But most people–including accountants, doctors and lawyers–are not natural weavers. They’re natural pack rats, collecting threads and tying them together for whatever reason, setting them aside, picking them up again and, in the end, leaving the bundle of threads to the next generation. Sir Walter Scott has been quoting as describing this activity as “Oh what a tangled web we weave/when first we practice to deceive.”

And this happens even when we are not even trying to deceive.

But what the hell–it makes life that much more interesting and–dare I say it?–colorful.

So one day in October 1967, Grace and Julian met, their threads entwined so much they almost fused, and a new tapestry came into being. (Sorry, that is not an analogy about getting married and having children.) Their individual threads, trailing in the wind, in Bogotá, Colombia, already had a few small knots in them. Julian’s parents had taken him and his brother to live in Springfield, Illinois, when he was three, for reasons he still could not quite fathom. He’d been told it was for his own safety, that strangers known as Conservatives, were out to kill him, but that, anyway, his father wanted to study something in the United States. It took him several years to undo the knot this episode caused. Meanwhile, he grew up in Illinois and then Bogotá and met a pretty Colombian girl whose parents did not like him very much. His parents didn´t like the girl very much either. Julian thought everyone was being ridiculous and continued to date her. Besides, she was a lot of fun, very smart and a willing partner in his escapades. They both went to Los Andes University, in Bogotá, and at the time, in the Sixties, they could see a wonderful life together pursuing their careers. She was in Anthropology, he was in Economics, and each supported the other’s goals. For the Sixties, in Colombia, they were considered so radical as to be put in a category apart by their friends. The girl was Teresa, “Tere,” and her color was orange.

To Julian’s chagrin, orange and blue are complementary colors.

Meanwhile, Grace’s life had been badly snarled by her father and to a lesser extent by her mother. She didn’t cut these threads away, but just stretched them til the knots were smaller and more manageable. She moved to Bogotá, kicking herself out of the cinematic perfection that was and remains East Lansing, Michigan. This is a university town (Michigan State University) and it’s populated by Ph.D.s, doctors, lawyers and other professionals who work for the cities of Lansing and East Lansing, the university, the Lansing Community College and General Motors. Originally, Oldsmobile was founded and built there, but now, in its corporate panic, General Motors eliminated Oldsmobile and substituted Cadillac. Talk about a tangled weave!

Anyway, East Lansing is a 20th C. creation formed to fill the needs of the university (at the time, Michigan Agricultural College–the M.A.C. in M.A.C. Avenue–which became Michigan State College). The main roads between Lansing and the College were unpaved until the 20th C., and both students and professors got damned good and tired of slogging through mud and snow down Michigan Avenue or Kalamazoo Street in order to get to class. So, what started with a little US Postal office and stage depot near the Red Cedar River (which flooded annually) turned into a small but well-planned town, with churches and a school and very nicely-crafted houses. Even though the city has grown, its oldest areas still receive national recognition for its landscaping, a visual and virtual carry-over from Michigan State’s award-winning architectural landscaping.

And yes, it really does look like a Hollywood movie set most of the year. This thread is Technicolor.

So, unwilling or unable to actually cut the knots out of her thread, Grace just yanked on it and took off. In hoity-toity contemporary circles, one would say that Grace had “patience issues.”

Bogotá itself in the Sixties was beginning its own new tapestry. Founded in 1538 by a Spanish lawyer who also studied philosophy, the city had grown over the years, but by the 1960s was showing signs of imminent tangling. Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada’s tidy little tapestry of a Spanish city (a lovely grid) laid over moutainous terrain 8,680 feet above sea level had never been finished off. It did not have a wall surrounding it, which made it pretty much a modern city in a new world. The dirt and cobbled streets were paved over in the 20th C., and the major rivers were channeled to control flooding. Even though the Catholic Church was against it (“all good Christians are at home praying by 7 o’clock at night!”), street lights were installed, at least in major areas of town. There was a phone company and a mass transit system. But then all hell broke loose in the 1930s and ’40s, and waves of peasants flocked to the major cities, but especially Bogotá. In the 1960s, there was another wave, which established itself firmly, because in part, these were relatives of the peasants who’d arrived twenty years before and that group had had children. To those who ran Bogotá, the city was an elegant haven of slightly less than one million Christian souls. (Well, that’s how it looked from the windows of The Jockey Club on Carrera 6.)

To those who lived here and arrived here, it was a large and disorganized city with really fuzzy edges. (And when the Sixties turned into the Seventies, the edges got fuzzier and fuzzier.) Nothing was really what it seemed. The Europeans and the Americans were very very eager to “help” the Colombians “modernize” Bogotá, and the sooner the better. There is, even now, something really fascinating about watching a German describe how Bogotá could be improved–his eyes glitter as he stares off into this bright future, gesturing toward sidewalks that would be swept and repaved with polished marble, schools with bright-faced and irritatingly cute children, blindingly clean hospitals, and so on. (To be fair, German women also want to modernize and improve the place, but they don’t glow with fanatacism when they discuss it. They’re very matter-of-fact and even pragmatic, probably because they know what all women know–the men expound the ideas, the women actually carry them out.)

This is the frame that holds the first threads in our tapestry.

It is October 1967 in Bogotá, Colombia. Grace had spent part of the summer months in East Lansing, because her brother had gotten married and she was a bridesmaid in the wedding party. That’s almost an afterthought, compared to the emotional theatrics she witnessed as the mother of the groom realized her little boy was an independent individual. Back in Bogotá, her own emotional threads lost their tension and she thought about what kind of job she could find in this energetic place. She came across an ad in El Espectador newspaper one day (she subscribed to it) in which a language institute was looking for native speakers of English for its new academic year. Their offices were downtown and she recognized the address–the corner of Calle 19 with Carrera 7–because there was an Olivetti store located on the first floor of the building. She’d bought her prized Olivetti Lettera, a beautiful and practical little portable typewriter, in that shop, and used it constantly to write long letters to family and friends. She wanted to be a writer, and the Olivetti was her first step.

Meanwhile, in a wealthy neighborhood north of where Grace was living in Chapinero, Julian was facing a small crisis of his own. He was close to finishing his degree in Economics, but his personal finances were less than his tuition per semester. Underneath that problem was the realization that he actually did not want to become an economist and snag a cushy job through family connections with the Banco de la Republica, which would lead–again through family connections–to a career in Liberal Party politics and a shot at becoming a senator. Maybe even President. Much as he loved Tere, he knew that part of the attraction was her “intangible dowery,” shall we say? Her family was influential in the coffee federation, members of the Liberal Party, and had political contacts in Antioquia and Caldas. These would certainly help Julian if he got into politics. His parents may not have liked the girl, but they sure did like those intangibles.

But here he was, the future senator, possibly even a future president, with everything going for him except this little economic problem. He had to graduate or kiss good-bye to all his political aspirations.

But somehow, he too heard about the job opening at the language institute, and it seemed like opportunity had fallen into his well-tailored lap. The institute was pretty much four blocks down the street from Los Andes University, paid well for the time and put to good use the English he’d learned in Illinois and which he spoke flawlessly. Having gone to elementary school in the 1950s, he had been indoctrinated into English grammar, spelling and writing. On top of that, he had an incredible voice–bass baritone–and he was good-looking. More than anyone else at that institute, he was the virtual poster boy for what an English teacher looked and sounded like.

So on a sunny October day in Bogotá, these two threads finally crossed.


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