I have often written in this blog about where I live in Bogotá, a small lower middle class neighborhood called San Francisco. It sits on a steep hill where the Muisca people used to worship the sun, which is “sua” in their language. Thence the greater urban district of Suba takes its name, which incidentally also means “go up” in Spanish. This is an appropriate description of my daily experience climbing to the very highest point in the neighborhood to reach my house.
I have tried to get to know this little corner of the world, where a tall wall separates the poor working class from the luxurious condominium complexes of wealthy elites who opted for a semi-rural enclave with a sweeping view of the city. Exclusive private schools, a horse farm and a Catholic retreat center run along a dirt road just beyond the fringe of the barrio. The neighbors fight with each other but tenderly take care of stray dogs. The baker and the stationary store owner have a certain sweetness to them. Rock musicians, folkloric musicians and indigenous activists leave their marks on the aural landscape or the wall murals.
And now I am leaving it behind. I’ve returned to live in the US for a time, full of hope and nostalgia, wishing as always that I could have done more in the place that I called home for a time, and grateful, for it gave me much more than I returned.
On the occasion of my departure from this neighborhood named after my favorite saint, and taking advantage of the fact that I finally had a camera, I will recreate it here in the amateur photos I took in the days before leaving.
The most important thing to know about my neighborhood is that a sheep lives behind my house, but only about 2-3 days out of the month. Apparently it’s a join custody situation. For more about this particular sheep, see the entry “Sounds of My Neighborhood.”
My best friends in the neighborhood, as well as my worst enemies, were of the canine variety. Porca lived outside our door, because no one seemed to want her in their house. Our neighbor took care of her, and we gave her food sometimes—as well as christening her “Porky,” then “Porca” when we realized she was a girl, and finally “Porquis” as a term of endearment. I don’t think she could see much because she had grunge hair as well as a growth over one eye.
Another one was named Luna. We couldn’t figure out what house Luna came from, but she was always around, and she protected me from the mean little yippy dogs who appeared to be Porca’s evil brothers. In turn, she expected to be able to come into our apartment and get food out of us. Sometimes she achieved this goal.
These dogs hung out on the street down the hill from our house, and they were the most beautiful creatures and gentle souls.
Not pictured: the pit bull who lived along the shortest route to our house and would bite people, such as my husband, stealth-style as they passed by. Nor her companion, a behemouth black dog who laid around all day sleeping until he died.
In Casablanca, which is a continuation of my neighborhood in tone and location, there is a man who sits on this chair every day and makes jokes with people or provides incomprehensible reflections or delights in birds (see: Collaborators and Friends in the Effervescent Moment).
Across from his spot, there are other kinds of birds on the walls, which is perhaps not a coincidence.
I wish I had found ways to learn more about it, but from what I could gather, these hilltop neighborhoods indeed had a special energy around ecology and indigenous culture. On the edge of the largest park they painted a mural promoting indigenous culture, and it faces a community garden.
But gentrification threatens at every turn. Here is the sign for a new condominium complex they’re building that claims to allow you to “discover your own nature” (see: “How Not to Discover Your Own Nature“).
On this bridge that leads down to Suba, between the reports of muggings, the pirate ship, the castle and the dizzying drop, it’s no wonder they felt the need to call it the “Bridge of the Virgin.” I certainly feel I could use a little divine favor when I cross this bridge.
What I said before about my neighborhood, I take it back. The most important thing to know about my neighborhood is the climb.
It just keeps going up.
Yes, I have climbed those stairs many times. No, I don’t recommend doing it even once. The following two photos show the alternate route—the one with the mean dog.
Sometimes, the streets go up so high that they turn into pianos.
But it’s all worth it when you come home to beauty, and to someone you love.