I wrote this while in a small village, just north of Bogota, but did not have the chance to post it while there. Now I'm back in the States, but think I'll put it out there anyway.
Villa De Leyva
August 28, 2009 Friday 8:20 AM
I’m back in the café Salim and I had coffee in yesterday. The woman who runs it is very sweet, very charming, clearly satisfied with life and happy to be running a business where she can see and speak with her friends nearly everyday and meet new people as well. Salim was quite taken with her. I could merely nod, smile, and order a coffee. A pigeon just wandered in. She crumbled up a crust of bread and spread it outside the doorway, then got behind the pigeon clapping and took tiny steps after him, shooing him out the door.
Villa de Leyva is a very small Colonial village that is comprised of no more than a square mile or so of 18th century buildings and narrow cobbled streets, tucked into a valley some hundred miles north of Bogota. It is a beautifully preserved place that can hardly be believed unless seen.
There is a military presence here in Villa de Leyva, but there is no feeling of fear or intimidation amongst the people. The mood is safe and calm, and it’s a genuine calm. Not the calm that is artificially installed by fear mongering or the calm that comes before a storm. The people know they are safer for the soldier’s presence and they go on with their business as if they (the soldiers) were just another part of the landscape.
Curious, Salim asked one of them what they were armed with. We had been looking at the guns for a while. Automatic assault rifles with a collapsible buttstock, folded on a hinge over the body of the gun. The young soldier, no more than nineteen years old, told us it was a Galli 556, which is and Israeli rifle, though he claimed to us it was American.
Last night, Salim and I just relaxed on the plaza. We had gone hiking and then taken a two-hour nap. We sipped a few cold beers on the plaza then some lasagna and wine at a restaurant, just a few steps from the bench where we were perched and then returned to after our meal. Looking west over the plaza from there, the sun had already set, but there was still a dim velvet glow under the clouds which made a serene backdrop for the Plaza and fountain, illuminated by the glow of street lamps and bodega storefronts.
There are eight roads leading to and from the large rectangular plaza, two in each corner. On our last night we had not yet explored them all. I was curious and suggested we go for a walk to see what we had not yet seen.
Some people think I am incautious. Others tell me I do foolish things against better judgment, put myself in dangerous situations when I could easily avoid them. I believe I am actually a very prudent person, very careful and always aware of my actions. I, like FDR, simply believe that what people really fear the most, even if they think it is something else, is fear itself.
We turned right down a dark street away from the Plaza. Residential it seemed with cobblestones on the ground. There were two people sitting at the opposite end of the street, talking quietly, just dark silhouettes against a distant street lamp. As we approached Salim suggested we turn around, but it was too late for that. The two knew they had been spotted and had gotten up and were walking in our direction. Moments later we crossed paths with them; a 16 or 17 year-old couple, holding hands and strolling, trying to casually act as though they had not just been caught necking on their front steps.
We kept walking and circled back to the Plaza, where I entered a store to purchase a beer in fairly broken Spanish. Waiting for the shopkeeper to grab my cerveza I turned to my right and saw a large bald-headed man looking at me with a mix of contempt and disgust - a powerful brew indeed. I paid for my beer and left but rather than continue on our journey down darkened streets, I suggested that we take a break on one of the benches and wait until the bald-headed man had taken leave of the area before continuing on our adventure.
Like I said, I am not imprudent or incautious, nor would I put my friend or myself in any unnecessary danger if I see a potentially problematic situation. I simply will not allow my actions to be dictated by irrational fear caused by rumor and hearsay. The rest I leave to chance, and isn’t that all life is anyway? It’s always a risk to leave the house in the morning. But in this sleepy town of 13,000 it is no more dangerous to walk down the streets at night than it is in my own.
I very much doubt the bald-headed stranger was dangerous at all; probably just a local resident that does not like the idea of his quiet town turning into a tourist attraction for Americanos or Europeanos who don’t have the courtesy to properly learn his language. But why risk it? We sat and enjoyed the scenery of the plaza until the man had been gone for a while, then continued to explore the streets of this small Colonial town, which remains unchanged by time, at least for the present.