Bogotá good and eh

Some recent big public events in Bogotá have warmed my sentiment toward the city. Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of the place. Nothing new has happened; I’m just reacting to the madness and disorder more strongly, and negatively, than I did before.

But last weekend Isa and I went to Alimentarte, a big international food festival that lasts two weekends every year. I let the first weekend slip by, not enticed enough by what I had heard about the event to make myself go. The same almost happened again last weekend, but at 5:30 on Saturday, when Isa asked if I wanted to go, I had no reason to say no, so we went. I enjoyed every minute there, especially because our dusk arrival time let us catch both daytime and evening vibes, and I was in heaven once we started eating.

Alimentarte fills one of the city’s nicest parks, Parque Virrey, which sits between two upscale neighborhoods. So I wasn’t surprised that the event was well organized, attractively set up, and (thanks to many sponsors) full of small but valuable public-event amenities, like spotless port-a-potties, lots of staff walking around dispensing napkins and collecting trash, and a large outdoor screen showing movies. The event is free to enter, though the food isn’t free to eat (it costs about what it would at restaurants in the city). The park is ringed by tents, from which restaurants (many independent restaurants I had never heard of, as well as Bogotá’s big chain establishments) serve fare they hope will attract new customers to their permanent locations. Isa kept saying that the food this year wasn’t as good or as international as last year, but I had no complaints. For dinner on Saturday night we split a big dish of stir fry from a Japanese restaurant’s tent and a couple dishes, including an amazing shawarma, from a Middle Eastern restaurant’s. We topped the meal off with some pastries from a French-style patisserie. I knew I had to go back the next day, so we took advantage of Ciclovía to run there (it was about two miles from our apartment) and fill ourselves up again—this time on more traditional Colombian food—before taking a bus home, too full to walk.

Alimentarte came less than a month after Rock al Parque, another annual event that’s many times the scale of Alimentarte. Rock al Parque is a massive free rock concert that takes up three and a half days over a long weekend every June. On three stages, 90 bands played this year. I had never been to an outdoor concert before, so I had nothing to compare it to, and I’m sure there are bigger events elsewhere in the world each year, but I was blown away by what Bogotá put together—and by the fact that this happens every year, and totally for free. Some of the pictures from that Google search show the size of the main stage, the venue, and the crowd.

The day we went was the hottest and sunniest I’ve yet seen over ten months in Bogotá. Prepared for the rain, as you have to be every day here, I was one of thousands of people who ended up using their hooded jackets as protection from the sun. We arrived early, around noon, and Isa and I didn’t stay through the main acts in the evening. But we still saw half a dozen acts, and crowds into the tens of thousands—not to mention over 1,000 police officers. I’ll probably never rock hard at a concert, but I really enjoyed the feel of the event, the energy all around, and one of the bands, a reggae group from Medellín.

If I’m in Bogotá a year from now, or for any other June or July, I’ll definitely return to Alimentarte and I may go back to Rock al Parque. But even if I don’t make it back to the events, I’m glad to know they exist, and that they’re so cool. They help Bogotá a lot.

The city needs it. Bogotá isn’t terrible. In fact, a lot of things about it are great. But there are a lot of things that could and should be so different. If the residents and the city administration acted differently, if there were more of an ethic of citizenship, cooperation, and just basic awareness of efficiency in a shared environment, so much would be better. I won’t hold my breath for that—though maybe I should, because of the pollution. As I said, I haven’t had any new bad experiences; this is all just wearing on me, more so with more time. Sigh.

In a class a few weeks ago, one of my students showed me photos he took while on vacation in New York several years back. It made me really miss the city and very happy I’ll be there next month. I know it’s cliched, but I love that city so much.

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