Chapter 4: Red Thread

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

Julian grabbed a taxi in front of the institute that first day, smiling and waving to some of the people he’d just met. Settling back into the seat of the late 1950’s black Plymouth sedan, he seemed to be the well-to-do young man glamourized in film, television and books. With his thoughts and feelings hidden firmly behind that exterior, he watched the people hurrying up and down the sidewalk along Carrera 7, allowing the driver to deal with the heavy noontime traffic. Bus exhaust belched into the taxi’s interior from time to time, very annoying but unavoidable, and he merely held his breath for a few seconds.

It should be said that Bogotá was laid out in a uniform grid of carreras running north-south and calles going east-west, all numbered in logical sequence. Most of the streets were two-way and a few, such as Carrera 14 (a.k.a. Avenida Caracas) were broad boulevards lined with stately mansions. In working class neighborhoods, the houses were simpler and often the streets weren’t paved, but the grid layout ensured that el maestro José Rodríguez Orjuela y su señora Matilde Ramos de Rodríguez e hijos (a master carpenter and his wife and children) were as easy to find (if not easier) as el Honorable Señor Don José de la Santísima Trinidad Rodríguez Orozco y su apreciada señora Doña María de las Mercedes Ramos y Hoyos, who lived in the Chicó neighborhood with paved streets and even lighting. This worked out well until the city began a major expansion after the 1970s (think of mushrooms on steroids) that has the paved streets in outlying areas look like spaghetti noodles dropped on a rough, unfinished floor.

But we’re still in the Sixties, when moving around Bogotá was so easy it was almost pleasurable.

Just past the street that slides right and up around the Parque de la Independencia, which is the intersection of Carrera 7 with Calle 26, Julián asked the driver to stop. He paid the man and got out. It was a sunny day, with people strolling through the park on their lunch break, in small groups or couples and a few solitary individuals. He wanted to join them, just stroll around and enjoy himself for a while before going home, but he was afraid someone from the institute would see him and think he was too poor to ride in a taxi all the way to his house. Still, he needed a few moments to collect his thoughts, so, with his hands in his pants’ pockets, his striped tie floating off to one side, he strode up the wide, paved entrance path toward the shade under the old trees.

There was that sense of elation or maybe relief that kept bubbling up inside him as he realized he was about to get a real paying job that was also honorable, or at least on the bottom rung of honorable. His parents, like most of the people in their social class and generation, felt that teaching was just barely reputable, something one did because it was a polite employment which should lead to a more dignified career. In this rather roccoco idealogy, the sons should aspire to being kings or presidents or cardinals or generals, pretty much in that order. To get there required good connections, either through one’s own family ties or knowing the right people. Marriage was also an excellent avenue. Accepting employment–though it paid little at first–in the “courts” or “dukedoms” of these fantasy leaders was a lifetime goal because, like a good marriage, it led to better things. That’s really why Julian and virtually his entire generation were herded through the Gimnasio Moderno and into Los Andes University. One made alliances that lasted a lifetime and ensured at the very least economic success in one’s life; other successes would follow.

This philosophy seemed to have worked pretty well up to his parents’ generation, but with his and Grace’s, it was crumbling very fast, unable to face the shifts caused by World War II. It certainly did give the post-war generation a sense of purpose–to succeed in life–but broadened the areas in which to succeed far beyond parental control. So in his heart, Julian was almost ecstatic when he realized he had landed a job based on his own merits, and not on a vague introduction arranged by his father to some idiot senator with a marriageable daughter. Besides, what his parents still had not understood was that most of the truly marriageable girls these days were at Los Andes University and the Universidad Nacional, not at home being fitted for a new dress. In his conversations with them, he got the distinct impression that marriage was important but not as much as it used to be. When he once mentioned this to his mother, she almost went into shock, worried that she’d never have grandchildren.

But then his older brother, who was living in New York, married an American, who was pregnant when they came to Bogotá for Christmas in 1966. The Pardo brothers’ mother almost cried with relief.

Julian found a rickety bench that gave him a view of the park that looked south and west, toward Séptima (Carrera 7) down below, and carefully perched on it. He took a cigarette from the pack of Marlboros in his blazer pocket, lit it and straightened up as he exhaled. The wind ruffled his hair and he began to relax.

He was born at home in Bogotá in 1946, which was normal then. Hospital childbirth was reserved for difficult deliveries, so Julian popped out at his parents’ modest house in the Chapinero neighborhood one day in August, a strong, healthy and attractive child. Outside the house, however, political forces were clashing over everything from major national problems to such nitpicky items as what to name a new boulevard planned to extend westward along Calle 26. The two major political parties–Liberals and Conservatives–pretty much confronted each other in Congress with guns drawn. There were strikes and general unrest, but life went on in the house on Carrera 9 with Calle 59. The two Pardo boys–Diego and Julian–were lively and happy, doted on by their mother’s maiden aunt, who lived with them. She liked to entertain them during afternoon tea (actually called “own-ses,” to give you the phonetics of a word spelled as “onces”) with stories of growing up in “old” Bogotá, now known as the Candelaria. The aunt, María del Rosario Osuna Lopez, had even been baptised in the Jesuits’ 17th C. Bordadita Chapel, on Carrera 6, and considered living in Chapinero a big come-down, which she blamed on her niece’s having married this nobody, José Eduardo de los Angeles Pardo Lleras. After all, the Tía Rosario’s father was the second son of a Spanish duke, so matrimonial expectations for María Mercedes Osuna Lopez, Julian’s grandmother, had been high. A grand marriage and the production of three or four sons were the minimum desire. But the great marriage to Jaime Rodrigo Samper Gómez had only produced a pretty little girl, María de la Luz Eterna Samper Osuna, who was then raised by the aunt after her mother died when Mariluz, as she was known, was three years old. Sometimes, as he grew older, Julian felt amazed that his mother had even wanted to get married, considering how anti-man his Tía Rosario often was.

For a few moments on that park bench, all that family bickering was reduced to inconsequential background noise. He was achieving something on his own. The job offered money that could be applied to going back to school and finishing his degree. In fact, he was only two semesters short of that goal when his father apologetically told him there was not enough money to cover those last two periods. Julian would have to find some sort of employment or maybe a rich wife.

Julian was pleased–he had found employment. He’d be able to finish school and have a degree, like his father and uncles and his brother in New York, now about to start a Master’s degree in something, Julian had forgotten the field.

As for a rich wife, he’d almost solved that problem as well. He’d been seeing a girl he’d met when he was at Gimnasio Moderno and she was at Gimnasio Feminino, the sister school (but located a couple of miles apart). She wasn’t as beautiful as his mother and aunt would have preferred, but he’d dated some very beautiful girls in the past and found himself competing with mirrors, clothes designers and hairdressers. Gracias, pero no, gracias. María Teresa de Avila Gutiérrez Jaramillo–“Tere”–seemed small and delicate when they met at someone’s house after a dance in their last year of high school. She had a mane of light brown hair, lovely pink and white skin with big blue eyes, a good figure and a silvery laugh. In the full American sense, he was smitten. He asked her out, she said no, then she said yes, and eventually, they went to a movie one Sunday afternoon, accompanied by her 12 year old sister. As they got to know each other, they also met each other’s parents, but promised all the family members that they were not thinking even of an engagement. They were trying out the new American custom of dating, and that was all.

Until they got into Los Andes University, which allowed them much more freedom all day long. When Tere discovered that Julian was taking the bus to school sometimes, and not even a taxi, she offered to pick him up because her family’s chauffeur drove her to and from the university. He thanked her, but said no. The bus was just a temporary thing; next semester he’d be able to get a taxi and pick her up instead.

But the next semester he was driven to school with Tere in her family’s new Dodge, unless he and Tere were having a fight.

But to be fair, when Julian took her out on a date–every Friday and Saturday night–he drove his father’s 1955 black Mercedes, which he and the maid cleaned up every Friday afternoon in the garage. It had sandy beige wool upholstery which was holding up very well, considering its age and constant use, but Julian wished it were leather, which is simply easier to keep clean. Nevertheless, to have a car–and a Mercedes Benz, at that–for personal use in Bogotá at that time was considered a major status symbol, and he hoped it would continue to impress Tere’s family. Besides, it was such a great car for making out!

As he stood up and began to walk down the path toward Séptima to catch a bus, he remembered the American girl he’d seen that morning at the institute. She was beautiful and, to judge by her clothes and behavior, not some middle-class chick passing through town. He hadn’t caught her name, and she probably didn’t know he was there, but he’d try to talk to her sometime. She might be really nice. Maybe they could go out for coffee sometime.

 

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