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Bogotá is a strange city. It’s not beautiful but it has charming moments, dreamy courtyards and mossy green trees. Yet it can’t escape its history-revolution, corruption, violence, brutality.
On the picturesque streets of La Candelaria, the old city, you notice the amateur graffiti on the aged walls, the police in milita uniform, the big dogs with covered muzzles, the handheld metal detector before you enter every museum.
There are more pigeons than people in La Plaza Bolivar. The churches have vibrant, ornate exteriors, but inside are grotesque wax statues, tortured saints flanked by stained glass windows of pink and blue flowers.
It is a contradictory city. In the North, the apartments are sleek, glossy and modern, and the streets are no different than any major Amercan city. The restaurant we went to had New York prices and everyone spoke English.
But elsewhere the streets are crowded, dirty, gray. The pollution is visible and burns my eyes, though you won’t find garbage without recycling. Colombians wear clothes that seem dated and conservative.
There are small escapes. In the Quinta de Bolivar, a lush green cobblestoned garden surrounds too-pretty houses, pink walled with red tiled roofs. The gallery complex around Museo Botero has that quality too, that timeless sense of pleasure and beauty. (Also, Botero is a delight. Famous for his fat paintings-of adorably fat subjects of classical art, naked women and sliced oranges and amazing fat ponies).
It is not an instantly welcoming city, but there is something fascinating about its divisions. I’ve been here only a few days, and tomorrow I’m off to seek something more idyllic. Maybe I’ll be back after the weekend, for Spanish classes and to explore it better. Or maybe I’ll be ready for something different, something easy.