A gothic cathedral’s spire reflects the snowy cone of a sometimes dormant Andean volcano.  A crucifix towering over the skyline, a beacon guiding home the lost; roots buried in white crystals; encasing bright sparks for little boys to free: The pearl of the Andes, the City in the Sky.

Undulating streets make driving an adventure of shifting gears and grinding brakes.  Tall, twisting trees grasp for stars as muddy waters stream to the swiftly frothing Magdalene.  Carnations and roses and fruit trees circle below a tiny pink and gold castle, above a pool, a lake and a stream, by the side of a peaked gazebo.

Madonnae, encased in stiff, starched white habits and billowing gowns, belted with sacred black beads anchored with crosses of silver or gold, pray their Rosario in a small hillside chapel on the street near the school by the convent’s stone wall.

The songs of haggling housewives and cunning vendors compete with the enticing odors of tropical fruits and the acrid smell of freshly slaughtered meats in the central market, just under the Liberator’s plaza.

Men, young and old, elegant and passionate, in threadbare suits, bright vests, white shirts and old ties, argue political theories and aesthetic merits in the cafes, while their shoes are shined and pigeons redecorate the ledges of nearby buildings.

Sardine sandwiches on Sunday, then cinemas with subtle subtitles and strange sounding words, and fresh fruit ice cream, in sugar cones, from sidewalk stands on the long slow walk home.

Feria: Streets flow with laughter and music and joy.  Entwined, sensuous dancers; the savory smell of empanadas, arepas, buñuelos and mangos; the bouquet of Ron Rico de Caldas and Aguardiente; the sounds of salsa, mambo, and merengue.

Eden.  Hiding in bustling streets.  Its soul echoing in the sound of church bells and in steaming waterfalls crashing into pools filled with hot, friendly faces.  Paradise reflected in the eyes of the girls in the parks and in heavens too close not to touch.

A cosmos of schoolchildren grows wise then leaves, heading fables from far off wealthier shores but tied to echoing memories of the country they adore.  Now they wander, melancholy, remembering and alone, in the cold streets of a new place, far away from home.

[1] © Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Ocala, Florida, 1998; all rights reserved

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