Chapter 8: Stretching and Tangling

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

To Grace’s friends and family, she was living an exotic life in a foreign country. Her letters were full of anecdotes featuring streets with strange names and people with unusual names and a real jet set night life. Her mother especially understood her daughter’s life in Bogotá to be unimaginaly glamourous, even though the woman had visited the city in 1966. Arabella Powers had moved from an upper-middle class life in Houston, Texas, to a higher upper-middle-class life in Lansing and East Lansing, Michigan, through two husbands, which was a reality envied by most of her contemporaries. However, for Arabella, life was almost meaningless without a house full of servants, closets full of clothes, garages full of cars and a social calendar bulging with parties. The problem was that she’d fallen more in love with what she saw in movies and glossy magazines than with what she had in real life. Without thinking, she passed this attitude along to Grace by ignoring whatever he daughter was doing in favor of highlighting her own exploits. The result was that Grace herself undervalued herself and what she was doing with her life. Grace had managed to stretch her own thread by moving to Bogotá, but it would tangle whenever she took her mother’s opinions too seriously. In turn, this complicated her relationship with Julian, with work and with a lot of other things.

Grace had always set becoming a writer as her goal, and took to heart the advice that a writer writes from experience. At almost 23, she felt that she lacked experience and knowledge, but that living and working in Colombia would eventually give her that, and it did. But as a woman and before feminism, whatever experience or knowledge she collected would be relegated to a secondary level, and even then there would be excuses–she didn’t have a college degree, she didn’t understand Spanish, she was a girl. She got an inkling about this when she queried “The Lansing State Journal” about doing a series of articles for them about living in Bogotá, and discovered that what the newspaper wanted was something short and cute about native costumes. For free. This was not the way she wanted to go.

But in the meantime, she continued to teach at the language institute and have a social life and even a sex life. By the standards of the day, she was making very good money teaching five hours a day, five days a week (almost US$200/month). Her students liked her, which at the institute was probably more important than how well she could teach the material, and she had friends among the teachers. She realized that she was busier than she knew when a glance through her diary looked more like her mother’s social calendar than the collection of notes on her life. But that was good, she decided, because the alternative was to do nothing. As a Protestant from the Midwest, doing nothing was the equivalent of doing the devil’s work, and she wondered what else she could do to remain busy.

She thought about that when she had the time.

She’d enjoyed herself in Cali over Christmas, even though she found the social life there to be straight out of a 19th Century novel. Or rather, everyone behaved as if their lives were dictated directly by a Queen Victoria transported to a genuine tropical paradise. Cali’s average daily temperature at noon is around 85° and drops down to about 75° at night, with warm breezes mixing with cooler Pacific ones over the Western Cordillera. Never too hot, never too dry. Trees, plants and bushes are lushly bloooming all year round, the men are handsome and the women are internationally recognized as beautiful. The food is good and abundant. She was invited to spend New Year’s Day at the country estate of one of the biggest sugar barons in Colombia, and had a wonderful time. The man’s wife was French, so the home was done as a chateau–a little dissonant in terms of its surroundings, but charming and beautiful just the same.

But when she returned to Bogotá, the relationship with Alvaro Sáenz, who had invited her and had even introduced her to his very beautiful mother, simply fizzled out. Grace wanted something a little more formal and he did not. She cried (for about ten minutes, and it was difficult to force the tears, as opposed to hitting him in the head and yelling at him that he was an idiot not to see how wonderful she was), but it was over. She went downstairs, complained to Eileen and they walked over to the Crem Helado on Calle 67 with Carrera 13 with Eddie. By the time they’d finished their hamburgers with french fries (or “chips,” if you will) and malteadas de chocolate, Alvaro was folded up and tucked away in a very remote corner of her mind.

Besides, she ran into Eduardo Borda, whom she’d met casually the summer before at an open house hosted by the Bristish Embassy. They eyed each other but nothing happened. And then one night, Grace, Ellen and her boyfriend had gone to The Ranchburger, on Calle 77 with Carrera 15, after their classes. It was around 9:45 p.m., but they knew that Ranchburger stayed open late precisely to accommodate the late hours kept by the foreigners in Bogotá. The restaurant was owned and run by an American couple, and was a gathering place with a big bulletin board for any and all the foreigners living in the city at the time. The hamburgers were frankly legendary–half-pound patties cooked to order, served on fresh buns, with fresh lettuce, tomato and onions, and your choice of mayonaise, mustard and ketchup (all locally produced, too, by Colombian companies). There were soft drinks, fruit juices and coffee/tea or beer. Plus the malteadas. Desserts were pies and cakes, and by special order, a double-layer deluxe chocolate cake with marshmellow frosting. And ice cream.

It wasn’t crowded that night, and when Grace spotted Eduardo sitting with friends facing the door, she exclaimed, “That’s him!”

There was a moment of embarrassed silence and then everyone laughed. Grace apologized, and Eduardo invited her and her friends to join him. Diplomatically, Ellen said she and her boyfriend would be at the next table, so as not to make everyone scrunch up at Eduardo’s.

“I’m so sorry I yelled like that,” Grace apologized again, unbuttoning her jacket after sitting down. “I saw you at the British Embassy party and told my friend Ellen about you, but. . . ah,  well, I told her that I saw you. . .” she trailed off, not sure how to continue. Fortunately, the young Colombian who managed Ranchburger, Antonio, was standing on her left, ready to take her order. She asked for a hamburger and a Coke, and thanked him before turning back to Eduardo.

“Anyway, my name is Grace Adamson,” she said, smiling and offering her hand.

“Eduardo Borda Ospina,” he replied formally, taking it. “What were you doing at the Embassy party?”

“Oh, I was just there,” she answered lightly. “I saw the announcement on the bulletin board over there and I know one of the guys in the band that was playing. Peter, the McKenzies’ son?”

“Oh yeah!” Eduardo said enthusiastically. “That’s why I was there too! I live about a block away and heard them playing, so I went over to see what was going on. And I know Peter and a couple of the guys in the band.” Like many upperclass Colombians at the time, Eduardo spoke fluent American English without an accent. “Besides, I play guitar and I’ve been playing with some friends off and on for a while, so I wanted to know who else was playing rock now. I mean, I thought it was just my friends and I who were interested. You like rock music?”

“Sure! And lately I’ve been buying more at Pro-Disco.”

“Because Pro-Disco is finally getting more!” laughed Eduardo’s friend, whose name was Hernán. “It’s a real drag to have to go to Miami with an empty suitcase just to buy records!”

“Yeah, and I notice how hard you cry when you sell ’em here,” Eduardo chided. He signalled Antonio for two more beers. “But why don’t you try Disco Club?” he suggested, turning back to Grace. “They have a better selection, I think.”

“And they have a neat plan so you can get a free LP,” Ellen added. “I think that’s so cool!”

“You’re right!” agreed her boyfriend, Carlos. “My brother is building quite a collection doing that.”

“Do you have a record player?” Eduardo asked, hesitantly.

“Of course. I bought it at Sears just after I moved into my apartment in Chapinero,” she answered, almost as if the idea of not having a record player was unheard of. What she did not say was that she also had a nice 19″ Magnavox TV, which she’d brought back from the US the summer before. It sat next to the record player in her living room.  Both Sean and Arne had already asked if they could watch the World Cup final on it later in the year, when it would be broadcast for the first time internationally. Grace wasn’t a soccer fan, and neither were Eileen and Louise, but it would be fun, like a party.

“You live by yourself?” Hernán asked, disbelieving.

“Yeah. But my neighbors in the building are foreigners like me, so I’m not ‘alone,’ like. . . living in a house in the country or something,” Grace answered casually. She leaned back slightly so that Antonio could put the food on the table. “Where do you live?”

“Oh, in Chicó, near Eduardo. We went to school together and now I’m at university,” he said, with a slight accent. “I’m studying to be a lawyer at the Rosario. You know it?”

“Kind of. . .?”

“Oh I do,” Ellen answered. “It’s on. . . Carrera–no! Calle 14. Beautiful building, too, with an old courtyard. Too bad it’s so hard to see from the street and it’s so dark back there, because I’d really like to take some pictures of it.”

“Really!?” Hernán’s surprise was genuine. “You would take pictures of that place? Why!?”

Ellen held up her hand to ask him to wait til she’d swallowed her food. After dabbing at her mouth, she said, “It’s really beautiful in there! I love the architecture and the fact that it’s still standing after, what? Three hundred, four hundred years? I wanted to take a picture of just the entrance the other day, but I couldn’t back up enough to do it.”

“I’m still kind of lost. . .” Grace murmured.

“You know where we go to lunch sometimes?” Ellen asked. “We walk down Séptima to Jiménez and turn up to the left. There’s El Tiempo and a building attached to it, and then a street, and then another building. We go to the end of the second building, turn right and go upstairs, right?”

“Oh Yeah! Sure!” Grace exclaimed, waving her hamburger and almost hitting Eduardo with it. “Sorry!”

“Well, if you just go down that street and turn right, you’re on Calle 14 and the Rosario is in the middle of the block on the left. It’s really crowded there, too, and I didn’t see any girls, you know,  students. Why’s that?”

Hernán was shocked into silence. Two independent American girls who travelled around Bogotá and knew where things were and even thought really old stuff was “beautiful”! ¿Cómo puede ser? This was unheard of!

“Um, it’s an all boys’ school,” Eduardo explained to fill the silence. “But it’s a Jesuit school, you know, run by priests, so. . .” he shrugged, “no girls allowed.”

The Americans nodded. A boys’ school was a boys’ school, and there was probably a good girls’ school nearby.

After they’d eaten, it was almost 11. Antonio was sitting near the closed front door, waiting for them to leave. They paid their bills and Grace handed Ellen a two-peso note. “Here, that’s for the bus fare you loaned me the other day.”

“Oh thanks!” Ellen put the money in her purse as she and Carlos walked toward the door.

“You paid her back two pesos!?” Eduardo exclaimed, in awe. “Colombians would never do that!”

“Yeah, well, we do,” Grace answered drily, but with a smile. She liked Eduardo and didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

They stood together on the sidewalk, discussing who was going in which direction. Grace was going with Ellen and Carlos because they lived south of the Chicó addresses where Eduardo and Hernán lived. They were laughing, and telling jokes, too, and suddenly, Ellen leaped up on her boyfriend and exclaimed, “Hey! The clinging vine position!”

Grace and Carlos laughed hilariously, while Eduardo and Hernán seemed to giggle. The Colombians were entranced as well as shocked. Their conservative bogotano upbringing told them that a “young lady,” like Ellen or Grace, would giggle shyly behind her hand, would stand behind a boyfriend or a father or a brother, would not ever call attention to herself and certainly would not know how to handle money. Carlos, from Barranquilla, had a similar background, but it was modified by the more casual life he had in that Caribbean coastal city to the north. He knew that Ellen could be every bit a lady in public, as well as a free spirit among her friends, and a wild one when they were alone. Like most costeños, he figured that the bogotanos just did not know how to live, period.

Still laughing, Grace, Ellen and Carlos got into a taxi heading south on Carrera 15, while Eduardo and Hernán began walking home. In those days, it wasn’t as risky to walk up Carrera 15 to Calle 85 and then up 85 to Carrera 11, turn left and go north a few blocks to their respective homes. Almost every apartment building had a night watchman, and so did a lot of the private homes they walked past.  Besides, it was a pleasant evening with clear skies and, since everyone walks in Bogotá, two young men on their way home were just part of the local scenery.

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