Category: Vignettes from the Field

Possibly the Best Coffee in Bogota

As someone who recently started to explore sensuous ethnography, I use every opportunity to train my senses. What better way to do so in Colombia than checking out the best coffee places? The following alphabetical list is 100% fieldwork approved. All the places use coffee from Colombian farmers in different parts of the country and roast themselves at the respective places, so that the beans are always freshly roasted and ground, sometimes only minutes before serving.

Abadía Café, Calle 119 # 14A-14

It’s a grey sunday afternoon on a long weekend, few people are on the streets. I stroll down the small side alley that is Calle 119 at this height, and after a few steps find Café Abadía. I feel immediately confortable, the ample space is full of cozy sofas. There are two other guests, both reading books in their chosen corners, and enjoying a coffee. I sit down and order a cappuchino and a chocolate cake which looks amazing. It doesn’t deceive me, and neither does the cappuchino. They are served on handmade pottery, and I am convinced at that moment that I found the perfect place for a lazy sunday afternoon read surrounded by people who seem to think the same.

Amor Perfecto, Calle 119 Bis # 5-37

It’s a Saturday afternoon, my husband and I have just had lunch with his family at a vegan restaurant in Usaquén. We’re all pretty full, so Juan and I decide to go for a coffee at Amor Perfecto, which is close-by. We walk up the few blocks, the streets are bustling with locals and tourists alike, because Usaquén is a nice area to go for breakfast, lunch, coffee, drinks, etc. We arrive at Amor Perfecto, and before we can lay eyes on a cosy sofa right at the entrance, we’re escorted to a “table for two” somewhere inbetween the bustling front and the quiet patio. The decoration is tasteful, but somehow the elements don’t combine. All details have been carefully selected, but the overall atmosphere is a little cold. We order two Macchiattos, which arrive promptly, decorated with hearts in milkfoam. As I take a sip, I am surprised by a strong bitterness on my lips and prominent citric notes on the tip of my tongue. The coffee is otherwise rather tasteless, between those two sensations exists a vacuum, that is only filled by the background noise: “What a wonderful world” is playing, and I think I agree. But there’s still room to improve the coffee here.

Azahar, Carrera 14 # 93A-48

It is already rather late for coffee, for my standards, when Juan and I arrive at Azahar a Wednesday evening at 7:30pm. Before, we were checking out recent novels by Colombian authors at a bookstore close to Parque 93, and when they closed at 7pm, we headed to the café. On tripadvisor, people had bemoaned the site, as Azahar is not a proper place, but rather a small stand with a roof – but still offers a few tables. Even though the nights have been cold recently, we’re fine under the roof, enjoing Macchiattos with banana cake and almond croissant. The macchiatto arrives with flawless latte art, but develops many bubbles in short time. The aroma is strong and earthy, exactly right to renew energies for another few hours. The banana cake is fluffy and tasty, only the chocolate decoration is the tiny bit too much for me.

Bourbon Coffee Roasters, Calle 70A # 13-83

I am showing around a friend from highschool, who is visiting Colombia for the first time and has a day to spend in Bogota. As I am always keen to show what I think are the best places in town, I propose we have a coffee first. I am almost two hours late to our appointment, because I was stuck in a traffic jam that surprised even my otherwise patient nature. She agrees, so we walk south the 15 blocks from where she is staying to Bourbon’s. As we enter the little street that is Calle 70A, the buildings become much more charming. Lush green trees and romantic, small front yards mix with red brick buildings, a few cafés, a theater, and one or another embassy can be found here. We enter Bourbon’s, I order a cappuccino and an almond croissant, and we sit down in the patio, which is filled with succulents hanging from the walls. Through one of the windows, we can see the roasting machine, and the air fills with the smell of roasted beans every time the wind changes its direction. The cappuchino arrives, and as I take the first sip I am overwhelmed. No, seriously, I have tears in my eyes. I’m not exactly sure that’s an appropriate reaction to coffee, but thinking about it in terms of that scene from Ratatouille, when the restaurant critic get’s a childhood flashback, I guess that’s fine. The soft, then stronger coffee flavour finishes with slight citric undertones. Combined with the delicious almond croissant, this is the clear winner for Best Coffee Ever.

Café Cultor @ Wilborada Bookstore, Calle 71 # 10-47, Int. 4

The bookstore is crowded to overflowing on that saturday afternoon. Several baby buggies are cramed in the entrance, and from upstairs the voices of a woman and a girl can be heard singing songs to the sound of an accoustic guitar. The café within the building is equally exploding, and I have to share a table with a woman and her baby. Apparently I entered a parallel dimension beaming me right back to an Eltern-Kind-Café in Prenzlauer Berg. I feel completely out of place, as I am at least five years younger than the average woman around, and have come by without a child, but still order a cake and a cappuccino. As I eat the first bite, which is surprisingly tasty (I expected much sweeter), even the singing child sounds nice to me. The cappuccino comes with flawless latte art, the milky white leaves forming a perfect contrast to the otherwise caramel coloured foam. I am surprised to find notes of peanut in my coffee, a soft scent and low accidity. The coffee is indeed very good, but I will have to come back on another, less crowded day.

Café Mundano, Diagonal 40 # 7-40, Local 03, Semisotano

I almost don’t find the café. It’s noon, the sun is shining so bright I just want to hide somewhere but still run around the block clueless for about three times, until I realize I’ve tried to early. I find the café a block away from where I was searching. There’s only two more people here, but the place will become crowded during the 30 minutes I spend there. The place is small, but has a charming industrial chic and welcomes with the smell of coffee. The place mats display the coffee variants on offer, and I decide for a capucchino, a glass of water and a vanilla-blueberry cake. The coffee itself smells very nice, but doesn’t have a strong taste, and the vanilla-blueberry cake has only few blueberries, but convinces in terms of taste. Plus, the sparkling frosting makes for a glamorous experience.

Catación Pública, Carrera 120A # 3A-47

It’s my birthday, and my husband and his family invite me for lunch in Usaquén. After a delicious Italian meal, I want to have coffee and desert at another place, using the opportunity to get to know new locations. We head a little north-east from the plaza to climb up to Catación Pública, a coffee place dedicated to educating locals and foreigners alike in terms of how to make the most of the precious bean. My husband and I are the only coffee lovers in the family, so while everybody else it getting down for desert, we decide to use the opportunity and have a selected bean prepared in three different styles: french press, metall filter, and siphon. We’re skeptical about the french press, and have tried with a Chemex at home, but are fascinated by the sciency aura of the siphon and willing to be surprised. We select a variant from the Huila, that is supposed to have notes of blackberry and black tea. As we try the three different preparations, we’re surprised to actually taste differences. The french press again deceives us, even though without milk it leaves soft notes of coffee on our tongues. The metal filter brew surprises with heavily acid notes, bringing out this quality of the selected bean. The siphon gets closest to an Espresso preparation, as it emphasizes both the earthy notes and the citri acids, without overemphasizing any. I don’t think this is going to become part of our own kitchen, however, as the sciency aura with the Bunsen burner like aesthetics doesn’t seem to be an everyday option.

Salvo Patria, Calle 54A # 4-13

I’m around for lunch on one of my last days in Bogota. The neighborhood is beautiful, some taller buildings, but mostly two- to three-story houses made of brick, similar to those around Bourbon’s. The first thing I like about Salvo Patria is that guests get a carafe of tap water right when they take a seat, as I am thirsty from walking. I then order an Amazonian fish filet for lunch, with blue potatoes and salad as sides. I’m a huge fan of lulo juice, so I get one of these, too, which comes with the sugar on the side so that guests can decide for themselves how much they would like to add. My main dish arrives with delicious homemade mayonese that combines nicely with the blue potatoes. The fish is very tasty as well. I order two kinds of chocolate mousse for dessert and accompany them with a macchiato. The dessert is amazing, but I have to take half of it home because I can’t finish it there and then. The macchiato is from Azahar. The strong variant from the Huila region is full-bodied and finishes with some citric notes, making it the perfect side for the chocolate mousse.

Varietale, Calle 41 # 8-43

It is Dia sin Carro, or car-free day in Bogotá and I get to Varietale surprisingly easy. Many people are riding their bikes, and the area around Javeriana University is crowded. I meet a friend in front of the university and we walk down the two blocks to Varietale, as we catch up on the news. The street is crowded with food stalls and cafés, so it’s not easy to see the cute white and teal coloured façade from afar. Inside, it is crowded as well, but we manage to find a place in the ample patio. I order a cappuccino and a Pastel Gloria, a bocadillo- and arequipe-filled pastry, which is one of my favorite Colombian sweets. The order arrives as we exchange news on current projects and plans. The cappuccino is very soft, generally good in taste, but not too varied in nuances. I suspect they use too much milk. The pastel is amazing, however.

Advertisements

Living Memories at Londres 38

P1000198

Londres 38, a former torture centre, is in walking distance from my friend’s place, so we stroll through the neighborhood to get there. Before the official visit starts, we’re invited to explore the house on our own. It’s a beautiful building with light-flodded rooms with wodden floors and big windows, a dream for anyone with a taste for period property. But I have to imagine living there on my own, because the rooms are empty and don’t offer any anchors for the imagination. Or that’s what I think then, because when the visit starts, I will be told about the meanings of the holes in the plastering. The visit is conceptualized as a dialogic encounter, inviting the visitors to engage with the place in their own terms, rather than explaining and lecturing about historical events. This is why we are not considered visitors, but rather, participants in the construction of memory. I am not entirely sure that’s what we did there, because as a non-Chilean I am not too confident about my ability to help in this construction. But I do my best trying to relate what the guide tells us about the place with what I have heard and known about other episodes from the German past. Among these thoughts is the questions of what the neighbors knew, since the house is in the middle of a busy quarter, and the adjacent houses a stone’s throw away. It’s impossible to imagine that they haven’t heard or seen any of the extralegal proceedings. Then again, they wouldn’t be the first to ignore these kinds of activities, be it out of fear, ot because they believed that surely, the people abducted there must have done something to deserve this kind of treatment. Which is what brought me to wonder about what I would have done. Sure, I like to imagine myself as the kind of person who courageously intervenes, accuses and resists. But I have never been in a situation like that. How would I know?

P1000197

If you liked this post, here is another one about my visit to Villa Grimaldi.

“I didn’t think you would…”

I am apparently taking the Party Bus to work. When it arrives after an unusually long time, I can hear the bustling vallenato sound from far away. As I get on and try to get to one of the free seats in the back, I have to get past the singer, who’s also playing the accordeon in the middle of the car. The bus is on fire! At first, I am bugged by all the noise, and try to hide in my chair in the back. But a few seconds later, I start to like what I hear and my feet start tapping. I fumble for coins and pass them to the singer when he comes around to collect. He looks at me curious and says: “I didn’t think you would give us anything.” Perplexed, I ask him, why not. He responds with a gesture, signaling my face, and I am not sure whether he is aiming at my skin colour, or whether he is trying to tell me I look so serious. Then he starts to sing “Bella flor del campo”, smiling at me as I turn red. At that moment, the bus arrives at the next stop, we fist bump and say goodbye, and he and his two companions get off the bus.

D+90

Today is the day. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias officially start disarming. 90 days ago, the peace agreement was signed, starting the preparations for the long and possibly arduous legal journey to peace between the Colombian government and the continent’s oldest active guerrilla group. I’ve been to a conference on peace education for the whole day and almost missed the news, but then, someone mentioned it there. So I was checking press coverage of the day, and found an article on RCN (which I don’t exactly consider a balanced source, but read the article anyway). I came across a quote that says:

Pese al retraso, Maritza González, de 54 años y guerrillera desde los 14, está esperanzada. “Estoy dejando el fusil por la escoba”, dijo esta indígena Wayúu.

[Despite the delay, Maritza González, 54 years old and a guerrillera since she was 14, is hopeful: “I am leaving the rifle for the broom”, said the Wayúu (an indigenous group).]

I am reading and re-reading the quote and don’t even know where to start, because the phrase strikes me as utterly dense. The delay she is talking about is the delay in constructing the sites where the guerrilleros are supposed to gather and disarm. But what strikes me more is what we get to know about her in just one sentence: She is part of an indigenous group and guessing from her young entry age possibly a forced recruit. She spend 40 years with the guerrilla, which is almost 4/5 of her entire life. I can not even remotely imagine what this means for her hopes and aspirations for the future. What leaves me speechless, however, is what she says: I am leaving the rifle for the broom. While I can see how leaving arms might be a hopeful prospect, in the sense that her live will possibly become less stressful or life-threatening, I have serious difficulties in seeing how a broom is a hopeful prospect. Then again, maybe this works as a kind of Biedermeier-esque return to private life, and the broom here actually stands for the construction of a household, or an income in the way of getting a job in cleaning. Other than that, it does not strike me as an exceptionally liberating metaphor. And it makes me wonder about her experiences within the guerrilla, about the role her gender played during those 40 years. As I think about it now, maybe she wasn’t forced at all, because 40 years ago the political positions of the FARC were still a reason to join. And I sense a prejudice on my side: a broom doesn’t have to be a tool of patriarchal oppression. But then again it might. I’m still confused.

The Trees are Talking in Villa Grimaldi

It is a warm summer day in February, shortly before noon, when I arrive at the gates of Villa Grimaldi with a friend. The place is quiet, no-one to be seen walking the beautiful gardens. We enter the site and get two audio guides to do the tour. The sun is burning, so we rush from shadow to shadow to listen to the explanations of the guide. I don’t really connect to the place until we’re halfway through, instead being fascinated by the incredibly noisy birds populating the scrawny araucaria trees. The place was a restaurant before it was appropriated by the secret police (DINA) shortly after the 1973 coup. It was then used as a secret detention center, where people were tortured and disappeared. While the original main building and detention cells have been destroyed, the trees bear witness to the history of the place. It comes to no surprise, then, that many of them have specific meanings in the context of constructing memory.

p1000129

Apart from the araucarias, another tree that captures the attention is a bushy bougainvillea right next to the closed former entrance door. Its bright pink flowers remind of the lush garden surrounding the former restaurant. The door, however, has been closed forever, expressing the desire that no political prisoner will ever have to enter through that door again. In general, the plates and sign-boards have been attached close to the ground, to resemble the view blindfolded prisoners had of the place – never actually being able to see the beautiful trees and green spaces, but only the floor through the tiny holes the fabric left.

p1000132-minAs we continue walking, we enter a kind of field, about nine squares separated by tiny cobblestones, each with a birch at its center. As the audio guide explains, they symbolize the former prison cells, the birches being the isolated prisoners. Next to them, there’s a giant evergreen ombú, a species native to southern Patagonia. As we learn from the audio, the majestic tree has been used to create examples for the prisoners: some of them were hung there for everyone to see.

p1000135-minNext to the ombú, there is a circular bed of roses, interspersed with orange-red signs. Some of them have names of former female prisoners on them, some of them are left blank to remember those who passed through Villa Grimaldi unaccounted. At the center of the bed, there is a small fountain with a quote of Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral at the bottom: “We all would have been queens”.

After around two hours, we have explored almost every corner of the park. During that time, we were the only visitors, and only one or two employees crossed our path. The atmosphere was peaceful, the airy spaces and the plants make this a solemn experience, that allows one to connect to the history of the place, but not in a ravagingly emotional way, but much more quietly, with the option of just taking in the contradictions of the place. As we take the bus back to Santiago’s city center, we pass by a restaurant with the telling name: El Trauma. 80’s.

More information on Villa Grimaldi can be found on the webpage of the Villa Grimaldi – Corporación Parque por la Paz (spanish only).

Gender Ideology

It’s a lovely sunday afternoon, I’m sitting at a public library and am surprised at how many others had the same idea. The staff is busily returning books to their shelves, helping users find what they are searching for. I’m writing a review on my visit to Villa Grimaldi, as I overhear a conversation between two employees. “Budy, where can I find books about Gender Ideology?” – “No, that’s not going to work. That’s a political term. Try ‘Homosexuality’ instead, that way you might find something. Or check the ‘Gender’ bookshelf.” – “Thanks, budy!” He returns to the computers where people consult the catalogue, where a young women in animal print leggings waits for him, eager to find out more about gender ideology.

“You’re not living in Switzerland!”

I’m on my way home with Transmilenio, and fortunately for me, I got a seat. I’m staring out of the window into the dark Bogotan night and think about nothing in specific. At the next stop, many people get in and the bus becomes crowded. As we continue the ride, I hear the voice of a man announcing his goods: the new police code (of conduct), and some drawing books for children. He patiently explains in detail some of the news, that police may now control your ID, that they may enter your car or your house for searches, and some other rules that to me actually sound a little encroaching. Then there is a short moment of silence, until he continues to speak. His voice is patient, but also more assertive and very tired, as he exclaims to someone I can’t exactly make out in the crowd who apparently told him to stop selling stuff on the bus: “You’re not living in Switzerland, sir. This is not Sweden, either. 54% of the people living in this country make their living doing what I do. You have to be a little more realistic, and face the kind of country we’re living in.” The other man stays silent to this, and he continues to explain the new police code. At the next stop he gets of. No-one bought anything.