Artesanía: Werregue Bowl

I bought this bowl on a trip to southwestern Colombia in February, during a visit to an indigenous community that lives up the Río Calima, right near the border between the Valle del Cauca and Chocó departments. It’s made of werregue, a palm fiber native to Colombia’s Pacific coast. Werregue crafts are one of the country’s most distinctive artesanías, and also one of the most intricate: it can take 1-2 months to weave a basket or a vase, and the best ones are woven so tightly they can actually carry water. I’ve been using this bowl to hold my necklaces, since it’s too beautiful to risk putting anything in it that could tear or stain it.

One of my favorite things about this bowl is the fact that I had the opportunity to buy it directly from the woman who made it. We were visiting the indigenous community as part of a work trip, but at the end of a productive meeting, some of the women wanted to show us the artesanías they had created, in case we wanted to buy something (which of course we did). They make everything from complex beaded necklaces to these stunning werregue jars and bowls, which they often transport along the three-hour boat-moto-bus trip into Buenaventura to sell. Due to some of the serious violence and security issues around Buenaventura right now, as well as direct threats against some members of their community, they haven’t been able to travel for a while, so they were happy to show off the work to us while we were there. I feel so much more comfortable buying beautiful crafts like this directly from the amazing people who make them — it’s a relief knowing that my money is actually going to the community that deserves it, rather than any other buyers or middlemen.

I would have loved to bring back about 9000 more things, but could only take what I could fit in my bag, which ended up being this bowl as well as a pair of beaded earrings and a bracelet. The women gave all of us necklaces as a gift before we left, and mine is sitting in this bowl right now, which feels like exactly where it belongs.

Bottle Lights in Villa de Leyva

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Last week I got a chance to make a quick visit to my favorite place in Colombia (by now we all know that’s Villa de Leyva, right?). I stopped by my favorite hostel in my favorite town — the one run by the woman who acts like she’s everyone’s Colombian grandma, who calls every guest “mi amor” or “mi cielo” so she doesn’t have to try to remember all of our names, the one with outdoor showers and four cats roaming the premises and a huge lawn with plenty of space for tents and furniture made out of wine bottles and other recycled items. One of the best things about this hostel (after the hostess and the friendly cats) is that it’s always changing. They’re always moving rooms around, constructing new additions, changing the layout. It’s constantly in flux, so it’s a different experience every time you come back. Even though I’ve been there three times now, there were still plenty of new developments — my favorite being the new outdoor lounge space: a platform in the middle of the yard, covered by a tent made from a parachute and populated with pieces of lumpy furniture in various states of transition, including two “chairs” made of sofa pillow stuffed into dresser drawers. The best part of this room, though, is the light: a hanging garden of colored wine bottles, lit up by LED lights at night and casting splotchy colorful shadows across the interior of the parachute. I liked it so much I practically tried to sleep out there — the mosquitoes won this round, but I’m sure I’ll be back soon enough. I just hope I make it back there before the bottles move to a new location.

Summer Flashback: Otavalo Market

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This gallery contains 33 photos.

One of the (undoubtedly many) reasons I tend to drive my friends slightly crazy is that I am maybe the world’s least reliable photographer. I’m not necessarily saying that I’m bad at taking pictures (although I certainly didn’t get the … Continue reading

Boyacá In a Day

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This gallery contains 45 photos.

At the beginning of June, my friend Brighid’s host family offered to take a few of us along for the ride to spend a Sunday in Ráquira, a town a few hours outside of Bogotá. Ráquira is in the department … Continue reading

Writers, Wands and Weekend Wanderings (plus a brief mention of Westeros)

About 12 years ago, my mother began refusing to take me with her to bookstores except on very specific occasions, because I have this unfortunate habit wherein I attempt to read and/or buy almost the entire contents of the store (obviously disregarding any Dan Brown or Twilight books), and taking roughly three hours to do so. I have yet to grow out of this — and honestly have no intention of doing so anytime soon. It’s part of my eccentric charm, dammit! — so you can imagine how I felt about a week ago, when the Feria Internacional del Libro (International Book Fair, or Filbo, if you’re on a first-name basis) came to town.

too bad the world is ending this year. these are nice signs

Oh right, this is where we actually are. Thanks for the reminder.

I’m going to preface this whole post by clarifying that my idea of heaven is a room filled with books. Okay, and a freezer for ice cream. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt to read said books to me. But for the moment, let’s stick with the books. I could (and have) happily spend basically all day in a library or bookstore, trying to absorb as much as possible before I’m forced to leave. However, the Filbo, which was held at Corferias — a lovely outdoor conference complex with various pavilions, fountains and people selling all manner of tasty snacks — was more than a room filled with books. It was about the equivalent of 500 rooms filled with books, and that’s not even getting into the exhibits, artists’ booths, auditoriums for speakers and the fake Iron Throne (why aren’t you watching Game of Thrones right now??), strategically placed for photos ops right outside one of the publishing house display rooms. [Sadly, I do not have a photo of myself there, since it was dark/there was a long line, but once I conquer Westeros for myself, I’ll have no shortage of opportunities to document it.]

what are you supposed to throw when you don't have any pennies?

Just don't put your books in the fountain.

Needless to say, I went three times — with rather diminishing returns, if we’re being honest, but it’s not like a complex filled with words could be anything less than glorious. I’ve been to a few book fairs in my life, both at home in Boston and one glorious time in Buenos Aires, when I got to chat with the fantastic, totally charming Junot Díaz (but that’s a different story), and I have to say the Bogotá one does a pretty good job of holding its own, give or take. Obviously, I only saw a small slice of it, as there was just an overwhelming amount of things to absorb there, but I think it did the city pretty proud. Brazil, not so much, but we’ll get to that.

The fair had already been here for over a week by the time I finally made it down, and I was already feeling like a terrible, guilty person for ignoring it for so long. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way of gallivanting around unfamiliar neighborhoods of Bogotá in search of literary inspiration. But Jonathan Safran Foer was speaking on Saturday afternoon, and the prospect of getting to hear a real, live author talk about writing! in English! was simply too much to resist. I made it there, covered in rain (further proof why I should never leave the house without my umbrella) and about 15 minutes late, and stumbled into a gorgeous auditorium about 3/4 full of people, all intently listening, many through headphones playing the Spanish translation.

I mean, I'm sure someone in Westeros has written one

Poems! For every occasion! Do you think they have poems for sitting on the Iron Throne?

Being one of the few people who can understand a non-translated presentation, whether it’s a speaker or a movie, is always kind of an amusing experience, what with the delayed reaction times. Whenever Safran Foer said something funny, I would be one of the few people laughing immediately — then, a few seconds later, when the translation caught up, the rest of the room would chuckle. I probably sounded like a crazy weirdo, but that’s nothing new for me.

I don’t have much to say about the talk — it was nice just to hear someone talking about writing, but to be perfectly honest, he came off as kind of a dick, which wasn’t unexpected, but it would’ve been nice for one of the few Americans there to make a slightly less pretentious impression. Then again, American fiction writers named Jonathan haven’t exactly been known for being modest or particularly charming lately, so I suppose it’s nothing new.

anyone want to buy me a Mockingjay pin?

Hands-down the best booth in the whole place.

I had better luck the next day, when I headed back (in sunlight this time!) to meet up with a few other volunteers. I’ve always treated book time as alone time, or Alone With Characters time, so it was definitely a bit of a challenge not being able to wander the shelves on my own schedule. Honestly, it was a challenge just trying not to lose anyone in the huge Sunday crowds, particularly in the packed, overheated pavilion containing artists, anime booths, comic vendors, caricaturists and other design products. Apparently the people of Bogotá are big fans of cartoons. Really the only part of the pavilion worth mentioning was a certain booth called Ollivander’s — selling all kinds of Harry Potter and even Hunger Games memorabilia, natch. I might have considered buying something, if I’d been able to get within five feet of it.

I'm sure if I understood Portuguese, this would be really cool

Children's author readings: basically free babysitting.

For my third day (in a row, might I mention), I managed to finagle an invitation to go along with my school’s Spanish/literature teachers and about 90 students on Monday morning. There was no real reason for me to go, honestly, other than that I thought it would be fun and it was a chance to hang out with my awesome kids outside of school. Again, this field trip just reminded me the difference between Colombian and American teenagers — the kids could not have been more polite, well-behaved, orderly and (almost all) on time. The morning was a bit of a whirlwind, racing from an exhibit to the aforementioned art pavilion (rather less crowded this time, although the kids obviously still made a beeline right for the Harry Potter and Hunger Games stuff. Because they’re smart) to a somewhat underwhelming author’s talk, where the kids did their best not to fall asleep or look at all their purchases.

someday I swear I'm going to learn Portuguese

So, uh, this wood didn't come from the Amazon, did it?

One of the other teachers and I also stopped by the Invited Country of Honor pavilion — each year, another country is specially invited to showcase its literature, art and culture, with its own pavilion and various events. This year, the country was Brazil, and honestly, it was pretty disappointing, especially considering the amazing range of cultures and artists in Brazil. I’m not sure whether it was the fault of the organizers or the vendors, but where the other book pavilions were brightly-lit, jam-packed mosh pits of literature, the Brazil pavilion was open, dark and had a surprisingly small number of books. The design of the space was gorgeous, with all these three-foot-tall letters made of wood and beautiful photographs hanging from the ceiling, but it looked more like a museum exhibit than a celebration of literature. All I’m saying is, when I am promised books, I expect books, dammit.

In the end, though, there were more than enough of those to go around. Now I just have to figure out how I’m going to fit them into my suitcase, come December.

In the meantime, the final tally, for those of you who are math people:

Visits to book fair: 3

Books purchased: 4, plus one notebook. This demonstrates highly impressive willpower on my part, since I usually find all notebooks utterly irresistible. I think I like the idea that someday I will fill up all those pages. Even though I won’t.

Cups of mango with lime, salt and pepper consumed: 2

Discussions held in Spanish about the works of David Foster Wallace: 1

Books accidentally knocked over: 2. Also maybe a new record low for me.

Umbrellas forgotten: 1

Plus a few more photos, each worth 1000 words:

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