Chapter 2: Weaving 101

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

“This is such a great group!” Grace wrote later in her diary. “We were all just going along and suddenly, we discovered we weren’t the only gringos in town! This is great, just great!”

She was sitting in the livingroom of her furnished apartment in Chapinero on a Sunday afternoon. The small radio sitting on the buffet near the kitchen door was on and she could hear other people in the building from time to time. Later she’d go downstairs for a while to talk with Eileen Brosnan and maybe they’d go for a walk with her son, Eddie. Eileen’s husband, Sean, was out in the jungle somewhere, working for an oil exploration company. His schedule sent him out to a camp in one of the Colombian departments for around three weeks and then he’d get a week or ten days back in town. (A department is almost the equivalent of a state, in terms of territory, but lacking the political autonomy of one. All of Colombia is divided like this.) There was another couple in the building, in the apartment across the brightly-illuminated hall, from Utah, Jack and Patsy Brown and their two-year-old daughter Becky, who was a pretty strawberry blonde with big blue eyes. She was the object of much attention whenever her mother took her out, which made Patsy very nervous. Her husband Jack as well as other mothers she’d met kept trying to explain why her child seemed so unique–a very fair-skinned little girl with dimples when she smiled amid so many dark-haired, dark-eyed children–but Patsy never quite believed anyone. In her mind, her daughter was not the object of positive attention so much as the target for evil people.

Eddie Brosnan, on the other hand, a very nice-looking three year old with blue eyes, fair skin and sandy blond hair, was allowed much greater freedom. He went to a Colombian nursery school down the block from where he lived, accompanied his mother or his father when they went out and pretty much had the same life he would have had if the Brosnans were in Ireland (Sean’s family) or Australia (Eileen’s family). He was admired in Bogotá in part because of his coloring, but also because he was tall for his age and polite without being smarmy.

Grace’s neighbors across the third floor hall, Arne and Louise Jacobsen, had been invited to spend a weekend at someone’s  country house out near Chía or maybe Zipaquirá, north of Bogotá. He was Danish, she was American from upstate New York, and they met when she was a stewardess for Eastern Airlines. He’d been living and working in South America since the end of the 1950s as a salesman for a company specializing in oil rig equipment and accessories. He didn’t spend quite as much time in the jungles as Sean and Jack, but when he did, he was just as busy. He oversaw the sale of black diamond drill bits, which–Grace discovered when he showed her some photos–were very large and heavy, and required the use of special muds, which his company also sold. He spoke Danish, Swedish, German, English and Spanish fluently and had great self-confidence built on goals reached, not bombast. Louise was taking Spanish classes from a private tutor and picking up the language fast. The alternative would have been to sit in the apartment most of the time, excepts for forays to the supermarket (Carulla, founded in 1905 in Barranquilla) and the Aldina Bookstore, three blocks away, on Carrera 7. Maybe the monthly luncheon with the American Women’s Club, and that would be about it. That is not an acceptable lifestyle for a former stewardess. Carulla, the Aldina and the luncheons are fine, but Ann made friends with other wives and soon found a part-time job helping out at a bilingual (Spanish-English) elementary school. By Christmas of the year they had arrived (1966), both had their drivers’ licenses and Arne had bought a used but in excellent condition VW Beetle.

There remains a tendency to refer to all these people as “ex-pats,” as in “expatriated,” but the truth of the matter is that a person’s cultural and psychological baggage does not disappear when he or she lives in a foreign country. All these people, Grace soon realized, simply recreated their original surroundings but adapted them to wherever they were. This allowed them to go out and have lives, rather than building themselves little fortresses where they would count the days til they left. An outstanding example of this is the US Embassy and their personnel over the years. In the Sixties, they were out and about. In the 1980s, interaction between Embassy personnel and Colombians was reduced. After Sept. 11, 2001, Embassy personnel simply moved to another planet. The Ambassador sees people who’ve passed all kinds of security screenings and in fairly regimented environments. Americans working at the Embassy live in very specific areas of Bogotá and are driven to and from work in vans driven by psychotics. When they confront other Americans who actually live here, speak the language and so on, they freak out.

But oh, the Sixties. . . when many of us were very young. . .

“I couldn’t believe the number of people who showed up at the language institute because of that ad in the paper,” Grace went on. “There are around ten Americans who are studying at either the Nacional or Los Andes or their parents are here so they want to meet Colombians and have a social life of their own. There’s a really cute Swedish guy and a number of Colombians who had bilingual education, so their English is perfect. One is a cute guy from Cali, who went to a boarding school with his brother in Leiscestershire.  Another has an American father who’s the head of a pharmaceutical company here. Another one from Cali has a German father, but learned English and German when he went to the German school.

“And then there’s Julian.”

She stopped, put her notebook on the end table next to her chair, and then hesitated. For a couple of seconds, she felt she was back in the reception area of the language institute. There were people her age milling around, laughing and talking, and the sound bounced off softly from the plywood walls stained to look like oak panelling. She’d already noticed the pale carpet had lost its original non-color (off-white? beige? light gray?), and the institute was in the process of removing noisy fluorescent lighting in order to install recessed spots. She didn’t know anyone, had simply smiled and given her name, address and phone number to the receptionist, and then quietly moved around the room. Her small polite smile was firmly in place and her white gloves were securely stowed in her elegant purse, which matched her two-inch stacked heel shoes. (This is the result of having a Junior League mother.)  And she was secretly very pleased to see that her simple navy blue skirt and jacket, with the white silk blouse, made her the  best-dressed girl in the room, if not the entire place. Didn’t anyone else care about how they looked?

Grace knew she had few social skills. Going up to strangers and introducing herself was nearly impossible for her, so watching others do it made her sad and envious at the same time. If someone spoke to her, she was happy up to a point. Instead of making idle comments and trying to agree with whatever was said (even when it was unbelievably dense),  Grace found herself starting a kind of lecture, relating the point of the other person’s statement to some obscure historical or religious or even political item she’d read somewhere. This usually ended the conversation. Her self-devised shield against the pain this provoked was to consider herself a writer, one who happily and willingly stands in a corner and observes, making notes (invariably mental, as the act of writing in public made other people nervous). And even though she believed she looked good when she left the apartment,  her self-esteem often evaporated when she found herself in large groups of strangers, like now.

This would explain why a very pretty 22 year old well-dressed woman was standing with her back to a wall, alone, when the romance novelist’s dream hero sauntered into the crowd, stopped and surveyed it. Grace eyed him for about five seconds and turned away, so that he wouldn’t realize she was staring at him. (Staring is rude; everyone knows that.)

What she saw in five seconds was a 6 foot tall young man with almost black hair, which was very straight but not greased back like almost everyone else’s. It was carefully cut so that it fell from its natural part and was long enough to be held back by his ears. This was becoming a popular style for men who wanted longer hair that did not require constant trips to a mirror to make sure the hair-dressing goop kept it in place.

His eyes were deep set, dark and large, under the kind of black swooping eyebrows that make-up artists have to apply, but Grace could see that his were very real. The nose was straight and maybe a tiny bit short, but in proportion to his face. The chin was firm and cheekbones were high and normally prominent.

But his mouth made her exhale and then stop breathing altogether. The lips were firm, full and sensual, but not like a girl’s. Not even slightly. For once, maybe for the first time, Grace wanted to push her way through the crowd to this man and wordlessly kiss him, for at least the rest of her life, if not longer.

But this thought and desire were so new to her that, guiltily, she turned away. Among Grace’s insecurities was the one that would not allow her to understand that women can be viscerally attracted to a man, to a stranger and not be considered “loose.” But then again, those were the times. The majority of women had been led to believe they were pretty much asexual until they met Mr. Right, who would ignite them with more sophistication than a gas company employee starting a pilot light but with the same overall concept–“Let’s get this baby started!” Dressing up and looking pretty were tools to attract the employee.

Nevertheless, the first thread had been knotted securely to the loom and the second would follow shortly, maybe 20 minutes later, when she heard his voice.

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