You’re right, absolutely right, this is said about so many things, but if you really, and I mean really, think about it, then this, this must be humankind’s very first technology.
That’s what I was thinking. I cupped my hands underneath the bathroom faucet, the four fingers on each hand crossed perpendicularly, my thumbs sticking out like awkward antennae. Bogotá’s public water was perfectly sealed between the folds of my skin, like an ancient spring, like a summer puddle that will not go away. This means, I realized, that those grooves, patterns, prints that circle around my hands are smaller than water molecules themselves, or at least their adhesive properties. Those lines which metaphysicists say contain our future and which the police say reveal the sins of our past are not even so forgiving as to yield to a single drop of water. How long would this water stay cupped between my hands? Would it evaporate? Into the air? Into my thirsty skin?
All of a sudden, like jumping off the highest diving board, I throw the water cupped in my hands at my face and repeat the act three more times, trying to rub away the purple bags underneath my eyes. I’m in the men’s bathroom at the Bogotá convention center, a bathroom that could be in a convention center anywhere in the world. All around me vibrations of youthful electrons buzz between the urinals, faucet sinks, and electric hand driers. Not me. I am moving at reptillian speeds. I am the only object in focus in a very blurry photograph.
It’s done, I survived. Two consecutive presentations, two hours each, in a language that is not my own. In between, the meetings, the interviews, the taxi rides, the dozens and dozens of emails sent to this and that corner of the globe.
I woke up that morning at 5 a.m., after just three hours of sleep. If I just get through today, I remember thinking as a way to motivate myself out of bed, then everything else will take care of itself, I’m sure of it. My email inbox was over 300, an oppressive weight that almost sent me back into the warm comfort of the cotton sheets. But then I started to read through the first five, ten, fifteen. An enormous smile spread across my face. I decided to take a shower and under the hot water the sleep-deprived hallucinations of five a.m. became 6 a.m. lucidity. I had forgotten that it was my birthday, but so many others hadn’t. My closest friends, my work colleagues, near-strangers from some drunken night in some nameless hostel, those who I have yet to meet in person, they all sent me emails, facebook messages, videos, greeting cards. They sent me this:
In the afternoon, after my last presentation, the 15 or so bloggers from HiperBarrio who came up to Campus Party bought me a cake, sang to me, made me blush, and covered my face in frosting. I felt like the luckiest damn person on this whole planet. I just might be.
Bogotá’s municipal water was no match for the purple bags under my eyes. I walked out of the convention center, into the surprisingly warm night of the metropolis, and told the cab driver to take me to La Candelaria.
From the outside, El Gato Grís could be anything, a seedy cantina, an overpriced tourist restaurant, a bordello. Inside it is a three story maze of spiral stairways, creaky wood floors, and semi-private candlelit rooms. It was perfect. I was to meet Revaz and another friend at 9 p.m. I was sure I would be late, and yet here I was at 8:30, just in time to listen to the last ten minutes of a set by the live jazz band pressed up against the back wall of the ground floor. Coltrane and Correa. Chicken and mushroom crepe. Gin and tonic. I was one slice of lime away from paradise.
At 9 p.m. Revaz strode in alone. His elongated arms, his exaggerated gestures, his hands always communicating more clearly than his words. I felt an enormous amount of fraternal love for my dear friend. I don’t remember what we discussed, it doesn’t matter, but it was right, it flowed, like the jazz below. I was one slice of lime away from paradise.
At 9:30 p.m. the third friend entered with a burst of energy, as if jumping through the doorway, as if declaring ‘here I am, look at me, love me.’ Three years ago I’m sure that I would have felt an immense attraction toward her, to that confidence, to that eloquent exhibitionism. But no longer, not now, a reminder that we change, that we’re always changing. She brings a birthday hug and a bottle of wine. By 10:30 we are out in the sepia-lit plaza of La Candelaria. We are passing the bottle. Somehow I remember us dancing, waltzing for all to see, though I know that we weren’t, nor ever would be.
Two men approached us, one young, one old; one with a guitar, one with a backpack; one with a face of ambition, the other thickheaded; both with long hair and sparkling eyes. They were here to serenade us they announced and they began to play Metallica. It sounded horrible, especially the guitar. Slowly, with songs by Juanes and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, they began to improve. When I say ‘they’ I mean the younger of the two. His simpleminded companion would choose a single word from the chorus of each song and yell that word as loudly as possible. I thought this was great, of course, and joined in. The bottle of wine continued to be passed.
All of my requests were met with raised eyebrows and embarrassing silences. Why was this crazy gringo asking for Ojalá and not Enter Sandman, they wondered incredulously.
Over drinks at El Gato Grís I told my birthday companions that I liked the neighborhood where I was staying, that it had a bohemian feel to it.
– “It may have a bohemian feel to it, but that’s the rich part of town,” she said. “It has bohemian fashion, but that’s about it.”
– “Well, when it comes down to it, isn’t that really what bohemianism is,” I said without knowing what I was saying, but smiling all the same, a slice of lime away from paradise.
– “I guess I’ve always though of a bohemian as someone who decides to value art over money, someone who renounces the easy comforts that money brings to dedicate themselves to some form of art.”
She said it all so eloquently, so glib, (and with a Tasmanian accent no less) that for a second I wondered if I should reconsider my attraction, or that is, my lack of attraction to her.
I was, and I am, reading The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, a book that is about this more than anything else, about a loosely connected tribe of Latin American poets who do everything for poetry. Not for success, not to be published, not to see their names in some magazine or anthology, but for poetry in and of itself. True bohemianism.
The ambitious guitarist and the simpleminded friend ask us for one more request. We are ready to go, but they want to sing us another song and of course we oblige. My requests are met with a few more shakes of the head until we settle on Vasos Vacios by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Celia Cruz. For five minutes I am taken to a parallel universe. There is no corporate hotel for me to return to that evening, no flight to europe the next morning, no expensive hotel room awaiting me in Budapest. There is just the water of the river, dog-eared pages of poetry, and the caresses of poetesses with full lips and, as Fuentes would put it, ojos como uvas.
No sé bien que día es hoy,
sólo sé que te vi salir
y en 5 minutos perdí
las letras para hablarte a vos.
only that I saw you leave
and in five minutes I lost
the words to be able to speak to you
Siempre habrá vasos vacíos,
con agua de la ciudad
la nuestra es agua de río
mezclada con mar,
Levanta los brazos mujer
y pónte esta noche a bailar
que la nuestra es agua de río
mezclada con mar.
with city water
our water is of the river
mixed with the sea
raise your arms woman
and put this night to dance
for ours is water of the river
mixed with the sea.
The next morning, with a slight headache and a talkative taxi driver, I made my way to the airport, to Europe, to hotels, to conferences, to interviews.