July 22

Tourist Time – La Candelaria

Christy spent last week with us, visiting from Austin and loving the eternal autumn weather we enjoy down here in Bogota. Sixty-eight degrees fahrenheit is nirvana when coming from central Texas in July, no doubt. But even after four months, I still appreciate the daily call for sweaters, blazers and scarves. Fall fashion trumps all other seasons, easy.

Her visit brought with it the much-desired compulsion to leave the apartment. Of course, I go walking twice a day, but I’ve stayed close to home and the coffee shop where I’m a regular. My fear of Spanish recedes with each passing week, but if I can make life easy on myself, I figure – why not?

But you can’t allow a guest to leave her native country for the very first time and then ask her to be satisfied with repetitive strolls around the same five – ten blocks. And so – thank you Christy – we were off on almost-daily sight-seeing excursions. With a sliver lead my favorite was La Candelaria, the historic section of Bogota, boasting plenty of gorgeous old Spanish-style cathedrals (see: Iglesia de Lourdes below). Christy and I wandered, no travel books or tourist guides. Be in the city for any small stay, and you’ll get used to police and military personnel everywhere. But I was surprised at the pulsing mobs of neon-vested Policia surrounding the Plaza de Bolivar. One or two were stationed every corresponding couple of feet, and huge numbers mulled in various clusters on church steps and road sides. Unbeknownst to us, a ceremony for Mother Laura Montoya was in session at the Catedral Primada de Bogota. Apparently, this warranted the extra (excessive?) armed presence. Let it be known, I was expecting to be stopped and frisked by at least a couple of them on our way into the heavily-guarded sanctuary.

The interior was beautiful, but impossible to really appreciate. Pews were blocked off and still somehow filled with spectators. We crept along, flanked by police. Up front by the altar, a priest held high the hand of an indigenous woman who was indeterminately ill. Perhaps a skin or nerve disease, I don’t know, but she was obviously disfigured and in pain. He chanted, and there was a wildness to it. The ceremony gave impressions of a snake-dance, or a charismatic scene from Flannery O’Connor, something I didn’t think the Catholics really went in for. Christy and I exchanged puzzled/frightened looks and moved towards the exit.

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I did some research and discovered that Mother Laura Montoya worked mainly with the poor and indigenous peoples of Colombia. The admirable and imminently likable Pope Francis recently announced her candidacy for Sainthood, making Mother Laura Montoya Colombia’s first saint. Excitement here is understandably boisterous.

After that unexpected encounter with history, we wandered. Parts of the neighborhood remind me of Cartagena – very colorful, lots of cobblestone, reminiscent of Europe’s architectural New World transformation, the streets look a little like New Orleans. Mainly, we looked for churches. Our favorite was Iglesia de Lourdes, a relatively very new structure, finished in the 1900s. I’ve affectionately dubbed it the “Candy Cane Church,” though assuredly I cannot be the first to have made the comparison:

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Next time, I’ll be sure we get a tour guide and get a full history of the extraordinary catedrals in La Candelaria. Also, I will need to check out the Botero museum. Though I’ve heard the sculptor’s best is on display in Medellin, and it’s likely I’ll be there next week as a business trip tag-along, so stay tuned.