I caught sight of this man crossing the Plaza de Bolívar, and from a distance something looked very wrong. He had a strange loping gait, and was clutching a small white ticket in his right hand, and what looked like sheets of parchment in his left. I am sure they were not sheets of parchment, but they could have been, in another story. His eyes were gone, into the lost territories of the crack addict or the madman. I had the sensation that something or someone was speaking to him, and he was attempting to respond, talking aloud, although not shouting, and waving the sheets of parchment as though they had a particular meaning. He seemed accustomed to the fact that people turn away from in the street, and dogs follow him nervously, but no longer paid it any mind. Like many homeless people in Bogotá he lives mainly off the things he finds in refuse bins, eating food that people have thrown away, searching the same street or group of streets again and again in the course of the day, occasionally confronting an intruder on his territory, at which point the two will face off, possibly come to blows, and then one will shuffle off. I saw this happen earlier in a park at the top of Avenida Jímenez, where the San Francisco river once came down from the mountain and is now channelled via a concrete waterway, where it accumulates debris and rubbish and plastic bags, and is left that way. The mountain beyond is nearly always covered in mist. The weather is complicated, and the late afternoon and evening, inexplicably, is colder than the night.
Why would anyone leaving a sign above a sink with a warning that femurs should not be washed? Probably only in an archaeology laboratory at the University of the Andes in Bogotá. I was visiting the labs with two archaeologists at the university, Elizabeth and Luis, who showed me some of the work they are undertaking with human remains from the pre-Columbian period: burial chambers, sarcophagi and what not. They also showed us around the Museo de Oro, a fabulous museum containing more gold than anyone will ever need. I am not big on gold, but some of the craftsmanship of the work was extraordinary. I was more struck by the section on shamanism, the images of animal transformation and artefacts associated with the use of hallucinogenic plants, with which many of the indigenous people of the region have been closely associated.
The figure below, a pre-Columbian anticipation of Rodin’s Thinker – the elongated head apparently indicates status, but could equally well be the result of ingesting too many of the aforementioned hallucinogens – was particularly striking.
Finally, on a not unrelated theme, a nice piece of street graffiti from Bogotá advertising a ‘Carnaval Cannabico’, in which we might safely guess that very little got done.
“While it’s true that later on I read quite a lot and my literary knowledge was strengthened, it’s also true that LSD, by opening up my visual field, was not at the time by any means an insignificant source of inspiration. Besides, some of these perceptions of a distinct reality have lasted firmly and still today carry a highly remarkable energy, and are the reason I can laugh at realist writers, for example, who duplicate reality and so impoverish it.” (Enrique Vila-Matas, from Never any end to Paris).