Chapter 24: Soft fuzzy threads

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved 

Architectural patrimony in the Candelaria

Aug. 6, 1978

The bedroom door was shut, the curtains drawn against the damp and chilly afternoon and the radio was on. Lacking a nighttable with a lamp of any size, Grace had left the overhead light on. She and Julian lay naked on the bed, exchanging comments once in a while, but mostly silent. The city itself was pretty quiet because it was August 6, a holiday to celebrate the founding of Bogotá in 1538 by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesda. The Spaniard was also taking the day off, in a way, resting in his tomb in the Cathedral downtown. That was an idle thought that occurred to her as she traced circles over Julian’s chest with an index finger. Julian, meanwhile, drifted in and out of a light sleep, relaxed from the pot he’d scored earlier in the day. He was very mildly irritated that he’d had to go all the way downtown, to the Candelaria neighborhood, to find some, and having to wait two hours for it was ridiculous. What actually made him nervous was to have Grace with him, because the Candelaria had such a bad reputation for thieves. He thought the errand would take maybe 45 minutes, tops, instead of over three hours. She never said a word to indicate she wasn’t happy or that she was nervous, but still, they could have been mugged, and that was an unpleasant thought.

Grace, however, had a different point of view. Going out to score pot–which she didn’t use and wished heartily that Julian would stop smoking–went against her grain. It was about as degrading as cocaine, which Julian was now doing, but not around her. He had originally brought some to her apartment in 1976 and did a line on her coffee table. He was about to offer her some, but her expression of distaste stopped him. He asked her instead if she’d ever tried it, she said no and then told him with her usual quiet politeness that she thought snorting coke was degrading, that it made a person look subhuman. That was the last time he did coke in her presence. He just didn’t stop using it. But on that particular August 6, she would have gone with him anywhere, even if they just hired a taxi to drive the length of Séptima for a few hours.

Right after Julian returned to Bogotá, Emma was informed by the landlady that the lease was cancelled, effective almost immediately. Reason: the landlady had a family emergency and needed the apartment right away. Grace asked a couple of lawyers she knew about the legality of the situation and they told her the following:  There was a valid contract, so the landlady was bound to give Emma a letter stating only that the contract would not be renewed. The landlady could then add that she needed the apartment for personal use. The lease could only be cancelled immediately if there was some kind of catastrophe (fire, flood, earthquake) or Emma and Grace were arrested for a major crime. It was more likely that the woman wanted to raise the rent and was using the letter as an extorsion–pay more and you can stay.

The apartment was tiny, it was damp and Grace had begun to have worse problems with her psoriasis because of it. Besides, she wanted to move out, but she didn’t want to just take off, leaving Emma stranded. Emma also wanted to move, but teaching a class in the morning and three classes in the evening hadn’t given her a lot of time to look for another place.  However, Emma had good luck almost immediately–a woman with a big apartment just two blocks from the Colombo-Americano on Calle 77 with Carrera 15 was renting a large bedroom with private bath and kitchen privileges. And for less than what Emma had paid as her share of the apartment’s rent. Emma was so relieved she almost cried.

On the other hand, Grace could not seem to find anything at all. She certainly could afford a small apartment in Chapinero or even Chicó, but she could not find an apartment owner with whom to deal directly. Instead, the real estate agencies refused to consider the rent received from two apartments that she owned as collateral against non-payment–which was illegal–and did insist that she provide three people as co-signers. And at least one of the co-signers must own property worth as much as the rent being charged. Given a month or so, Grace would have been able to find someone willing to rent on a month-to-month basis, especially to a foreigner with property, but with two weeks’ notice, her choices were more limited. So, she contacted the woman who was renting her apartment on Carrera 7 and asked if she could move in temporarily. Fortunately, the woman, who worked with a Central American diplomatic mission, said yes.

The day she moved in, Grace set up the bed but left almost everything else on the floor or in suitcases. The secretary-cabinet she’d bought for the other apartment fit into the space along the wall in the dining area of the apartment. And then she went across the street to La Pozzetto for a pizza for dinner. For a few hours, she felt relieved–she had a place to stay–and kept the anger at being forced to be a guest in an apartment she owned in a far corner of her mind. She’d given Julian the phone number and expected him to call or show up very soon, which he did.

He was glad she’d moved out of that damp little cave, but felt inhibited by the presence of the diplomat, cordial as she was. He did marvel at Grace’s equanamity–she shared the bathroom, she cleaned up after herself in the kitchen and she kept the door shut when he was there. They only used the livingroom when the diplomat wasn’t home. And anyway, after a few days, he suggested the trip to Cali and Popayán, by bus, so they had time to themselves.

But after they came back, Grace almost fell apart–or he thought she would–and he became angry with both of them, for a while. There was a message for Grace from the accounting firm that handled her income taxes as well as from the US Embassy, with whom Grace never had any contact. Both said she must call them right away, regarding her mother. Julian knew better than to get involved with a mother-daughter argument, but he was quietly furious when he found out what had happened.

Arabella had called the apartment and only understood that Grace had gone out of town, without leaving an address or phone number. She assumed the worst–kidnapping, rape, extorsions, ransoms, etc.–and began to call the people she thought knew her daughter. One place was the Embassy, and Arabella insisted they institute a massive search for one 33 year old American woman. The other was the American accounting firm, whose managers were American men. Julian knew that once in a while, Grace attended a cocktail party at their homes or maybe had lunch with them, but the accountants certainly were not a kind of legal guardian assigned to follow her around. Arabella got very angry when they would not contact the Policía Nacional to start looking for Grace.

The younger woman was devastated when she found out how her mother had behaved. The Embassy had no interest in the matter, but the accountants–with great diplomacy–made it clear that they would not speak with Arabella nor represent Grace in any matter that did not revolve around Colombian and American income taxes. They carefully advised her to keep her mother better informed of her movements, to avoid problems in the future.

Grace was dead white and barely breathing when she got back to the apartment after that meeting. How could her mother do this to her!? The accountants had recommended she call her mother to let her know she was safe and Grace at first said yes, of course, but without conviction. So they placed the call for her and Grace sat in the elegant conference room listening to her mother rant hysterically about what a goddamned irresponsible little snot she was not to have written or called her mother, not to have sent an itinerary and other information (such as daily postcards) to make sure Arabella would not worry too much. And anyway, why the hell did Grace want to go running around Colombia by herself?

“I was with Julian,” Grace replied in a very cold voice. “You’ve met him.”

For a full two seconds, Arabella was silent. “Oh.” Pause. “Well, you coulda tole me!” she exclaimed, beginning the second part of her rant.

Grace watched the wall clock across the room and after two minutes, interrupted her mother. “I have to go, Mom. I’ll write you.”

Her daughter’s freezingly distant voice stopped Arabella in mid-sentence. “What!? When!?”

“This week. Good-bye, Mom.”

“Oh good-bye, honey, I’m sorry, but you didn’t write me. . .”

Grace hung up, biting her lip to keep from crying. She looked out the window, which overlooked the Antiguo Country neighborhood, full of trees surrounding large houses or clustered around apartment buildings. The afternoon light was soft and there wasn’t much of a breeze, which was unusual for August. She took a deep breath. At least she was in Bogotá, where her mother couldn’t reach her. She was thankful for that.

Grace picked up her purse and left the conference room to find the American who placed the call. He was in his office and looked up when she tapped on the doorjamb. He looked up and motioned for her to come in.

“Can I get you something?” he asked. “Coke, coffee, tea, aromática. . .” His concern was genuine, as Grace looked like she’d just been used as a tackling dummy.

“No, thank you,” she answered, walking shakily toward his desk. “I just wanted to apologize for my mother’s behavior and to thank you so much for letting me talk to her just now. This won’t happen again.” She smiled wanly and blushed.

“Are you sure you don’t want to sit down?” he asked, concerned.

“I’m all right, thanks. And I’m very very sorry my  mother called you and yelled and. . . and acted the way she did. Um, but. . . I think. . . I think I should go home now.” She extended her hand over the desk. “Thank you again, very much. I appreciate your help.”

He took it slowly and squeezed it briefly. “It’s okay, Grace, glad we could help,” he murmured.

She smiled and left the office.

By the time Julian arrived the next day, she’d eaten something, changed clothes and tried to pull herself together, but she was still very pale. When he asked what had been said at the accountants’ offices, her answers left him feeling impotent and enraged. Arabella had to be completely insane! Grace had withdrawn into her own cave to get over the pain and he hoped she’d feel better in a few days. One reason he’d asked her to come with him to the Candelaria was precisely to get her out of that bedroom and out of herself, at least for a while, and mostly, the therapy worked. He knew she didn’t like the dealer, some idiot guy so stoned he could barely function, but he noticed that she was observing every part of the huge and almost bare apartment as well as the view it had of the streets below. This was an improvement.

What he didn’t know, because she didn’t mention it, was that Grace wanted very much to go out and walk around the neighborhood, and to ask about the architect who’d designed the building. She hadn’t been in the Candelaria in many years (and neither had he) and the mixture of architectural styles interested her a great deal. But she didn’t say anything, he didn’t ask, and they felt they’d wasted their time in that apartment.

Ironically, many many years later, Grace found herself living in the Candelaria. She past by the building a few times, thinking that it seemed familiar, and one day, she remembered. She stopped and looked at its streamlined Art Deco exterior, which curved around the corner of Carrera 4 with Calle 13, and noticed that it now bore a plaque with the names of the architects. She wanted to ring the bell to Apartment 201 and ask to see it, but didn’t dare. She didn’t want to disturb the memory of Julian sitting there one day in August 1978, impatient but making polite chit-chat with that kid, his voice filling the almost empty space of the livingroom, his face illuminated by the incomparable Bogotá light as it came softly through the big window behind the battered couch they were sitting on. It was a “time-island”–a moment when being together in a place both known and unknown seemed perfectly marvellous.

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