Monthly Archives: January 2016

Conversations from a bar

Every empty bottle is filled with stories

–a conversation that occurred in Medellin bar in August, 2010.

A Bar is a unique place

Colombia is a beautiful country.  The Andes Mountains, the Amazon jungle, the Cocora valley are all amazing. In addition to the natural beauty, Colombia has beautiful people.  Some of them are naturally beautiful and some of them–well, they have a little help.  The plastic surgeons in Colombia do a fantastic job. Medellin is my third stop in Colombia.  It is kind of like Goldilocks and the 3 bears.  The weather in Bogota was too cold.  The weather in Leticia was too hot, but the weather in Medellin is just right. The days are warm and the nights are cool. It feels like fall. [or spring]

A funny thing happened at a bar last night.  I went out with some English/Australian guys that were staying in the same hostels (We had actually met on the cable car that goes to the top of the city.) So at some point during the evening after an indeterminate number of drinks, in an unidentified bar, a conversation much like the following took place:

Guy 1:  “Are those real?”  (referring to boobs, but not mine of course)
Me:  “Nope.  No way”.
Guy 2:  “Yeah.  I reckon.  You can tell the difference.”
Guy 1: “Aha ha.  I agree.  Definite difference in shape.”
Me: “Yeah.  But there’s no way that they could be real.
Guy 2: Compare hers (Colombian chic) to hers (mine).  Definite extra perkiness. No offense” (referring to Colombian chic)
Guy 1: “I’m still not convinced.  They’re too good to be real.”
Me: “Why don’t you just ask her?”
Guy 1: “Huh?”
Guy 2: “What?”
Me: “Just ask her”
Guy 1: “That would be funny.”
Me:  “Yeah.  Go on.  Or I will.”
Guy 2: “I don’t know.  That’s pretty random.  Imagine if someone came up to you and…”
Me: “C’mon’.  It’s the only way to settle it.  Fuck it.  I’ll do it…”

So somewhere, in the night, after an indeterminate number of drinks plus a few more, in the same unidentified bar, another conversation, much like the following, took place:

Guy 1: “What the fuck did you touch them for?”
Me: “She said I could.”
Guy 1: “And so you just grabbed them?”
Me: “Yep.”
Guy 2: “And?”
Me: “Real.”
Guy 1: “Definitely?  Did she say so?”
Me: “Yep.”
Guy 2: “What did she say exactly?”
Me:  “They’re real.  Good hmm?
Guy 2: “In English?”
Me: “In English.”
Guy 2: “Fuck off”

Me :  You know, that’s the first time I’ve ever touched a pair of boobs other than my own…

busty plastic girls
These are definitely fake

Conversations similar to the above are, probably, not uncommon in Medellin.  It is, apparently, the plastic surgery capital of the world in a country that is probably the most plastic surgerized in the world.  Or at least close to.  Such a place has a significant reputation to live up to.  However, Medellin does it with aplomb, cosmetic surgical intervention striking you anywhere you turn.  Seriously, fake boobs are everywhere. They are more normal than natural boobs.  If you don’t have them, you’re the odd one out.  Old woman have them.  Girls far younger than the legal drinking age have them.  Yes, I even saw a cat that had them (this may or may not be true).  I read somewhere, but I now don’t recall where, that the prevalence of silicon in Medellin is largely due to Medellin’s former status as the center of the world cocaine trade.  Don’t ask me why that means fake boobs all over the place – I guess drug lords liked them big.  In any event, the reality remains, and it is one scary, bouncy and far too perky reality.

packin fellas
The same can be said for the fellas

The theory attributing Medellin’s curvaciousness to the drug lords is a popular one.  However, my own personal theory is that the female of residents of Medellin are paying homage to the great Colombian artist, Fernando Botero.

Medellin born and Medellin raised, Botero’s sculptures dominate the public artistic landscape of central Medellin, his ludicrously proportioned, voluptuous and humorous bronze figures in the Plaza Botero in particular a highlight.  If you are not familiar with Botero’s work, I can probably sum it up for you in a single word – fat.  Not ‘ph’ fat.  Just plain old ‘fat’.  Like everything being seen through one of those crazy mirrors that makes everything look fat. Not ‘ph’ fat.  Just plain old lazy bastard fat.  Having viewed a reasonably large collection of his work in Bogota, it’s clear to me that his work is at its most impressive in sculpture – the central focus of his work, the roundedness aka ‘fat’, most effective and striking when experienced in three dimensions.  Fat.  Not ‘ph’ fat.  Just good old ‘if it sits on you it’s going to hurt’ fat.

Huffing and Puffing in Potosi

I am not a tea drinker, but I also don’t like taking medications. However, altitude sickness is no joke. And Diamox was not working. So, I bowed to pressure and tried the local cure for altitude sickness… coca leaves.  At first, the idea of buying coca leaves seems almost rebellious.  After all, coca leaves are the beginning product cocaine.  Drinking coca leaf tea was a novelty for me. It  has a bitter taste; it’s primarily coca leaves and hot water. But being in the world’s highest city requires some concessions, and for me, that concession was ingesting coca leaf–in my case, by chewing the leaves.

Coca leaves became an integral part of my day; I chewed the leaves multiple times a day, and each time, I got a little mental boost–a bit of alertness to soothe the metal sluggishness that goes along with altitude sickness.  In some way, I became addicted to the sticky green masticated leaves–it was the only thing that soothed my altitude sickness and made my stay in Potosi enjoyable.

coca leaf
Sticky, green, masticated, coca leaves… my only salvation from the crushing pressure of altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness aside, spending two week in Potosi, was a great decision. A better decision, perhaps, would have been to come to Potosi from La Paz instead of the realitively flat Cochebamba.

At 13,500 ft above sea level, Potosi will literally take your breath away, but it’s colonial charms will figuratively leave you breathless.

Potosi Bolivia 2

Potosi is a UNESCO protected city and walking around the flat parts of the city, it’s easy to marvel over the beauty of the buildings or wonder what the area must have been like when the Spanish discovered the silver in the Cerro Rico mountain that looms over the city. However, when walking uphill around the city, which is at least half the time, my will to explore was seriously in question. But my desire to explore won out, and while walking down the well-maintained colonial streeets it’s easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of the 16th and 17th century when Potosi was one of the world’s richest and had a population larger than Madrid.

cerro rico

On the darker side of things, it’s also easy to imagine the amount of work that mining the silver for which this town gained famed, and how that work would have been done. When the Spanish discovered the Cerro Rico in 1544 it was the richest source of silver in the known world. Potosi and Spain grew rich from the proceeds, but this wealth came at an tremendous cost in human and animal lives and pain and suffering. The Spanish brought an estimated 30,000 Africian slaves, enslaved indigenous locals, used untold numbers of horse and llama to get the goods to the Atlantic coast to ship to Spain. Historians claim that the system of slavery that Spain’s Viceroy Toledo created resulted in a massive depopulation of the Andean highlands. The mortality rates in the mines were amazingly high, and over the next three hundred years, the Spanish authorities, in collusion with the mine owners and the Catholic Church, pressed millions of indigenous Andean peoples into slavery to work in the mines.
It’s estimated that the barbaric conditions in the mines caused the deaths of between eight and ten million indigenous and African slaves.

money machine potosi boliva

So important was the Cerro Rico, and so entwined was the Catholic Church with the mines, that all the churches in Potosi point not to the east, but to the mountain, and some of the religious art is shaped to represent the pyramid shape of the mountain. If you want to see some Bolivian silver, there’s plenty on display in Potosi’s churches, but you could equally go to any of the major cathedrals in Spain to uncover where all that silver went.

san teresa convent

The Spanish brought the Catholic Church’s Inquisition to the Spanish colonies, something dramatically depicted in the painting below. As per usual, it was often women on the receiving end of ingenious methods of torture…

san teresa convent

Falling in love again

Charleston is the first city that stole my heart.  I was 9, on a South Carolina history field trip, and riding the boat to Fort Sumter.  I knew at that moment that I would do everything in my power to have that feeling again…wind in my hair, salty air on my lips…freedom….Nevermind I was with 50 or so other 3rd graders, in my mind, I was on my own.

Approaching Fort Sumter

Charleston was also the city I escaped to when I ran away from home at 15. For three glorious days in June, I was a beach bum in Isle of Palms. I read books and swam in the ocean and my hotel’s pool. Then I decided to return home before my absence was noticed. Once again, Charleston represented freedom.

2016 Isle of Palms

Charleston was also the first place I had my heart broken. No, not by some boy, [although that did come later], but by a school. I had an athletic/academic scholarship to College of Charleston to play volleyball, but when I got hurt playing softball my senior year of high school, they took it back. I still wonder what my life would be like if I had gone to CofC instead of Erskine. There’s a good chance that ever single aspect of my life would be different than it is now.

college of charleston
The oh-so-beautiful College of Charleston campus. It was founded in 1770, before the USA was even a country.

Charleston is also the one place I return to at least yearly, if not more often. Whenever my energy level is flailing, I return to Charleston, or at least to the beaches nearby. Sun and salt water heal me faster than nearly anything else on the planet.

So it was with some trepidation that I returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak. Quite some time ago, I was here for my friend’s wedding with my then boyfriend as my date. Of course the wedding was the main focus, but we had hoped to carve out some alone time, too. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, due to how to say it—I fucked everything up due to excessive alcohol consumption. [Note: 2016 version of Michelle does not consume alcohol for several reasons, but a big one is to avoid future situations like this one.] The relationship sputtered on for a bit, but ultimately ended. And I’ve always felt bad about that. So Charleston became the place where I fucked up the best relationship I’ve ever been in, and despite my love for the city, it’s always hurt to return to Charleston, but I do, because really, how can you not love a city that looks like this?

Charleston walkabout 2016 queen st
Houses that look like this

Charleston walkabout 2016
Buildings like this

Arthur_Ravenel_Bridge
Bridge architecture like this

UNITARIAN CHURCH YARD, CHARLESTON, SC
Cemeteries like these

another-broken-egg-cafe
food like this

battery-park-cannon-sunrise5
History such as this

capers island sc
and beaches like this

However, life is funny and fickle and as fate would have it, we both had reasons to be in the city at the same time years after that fateful weekend. And we both knew ahead of time the other would be there too.

Running into each other Friday night on King Street was magical. One hug melted away years of what-ifs? Dinner of hamburgers and fries tasted like the most wonderful food on the planet. We made plans for Saturday to do some of the things we were unable to do together all those years ago… like wander around an aircraft carrier…

Flight deck on USS Yorktown
Flight deck on USS Yorktown

get up close and personal with airplanes

P1010031

and tour a decommissioned submarine, because you know, us history nerds  in the world have to stick together.

Life inside a submarine
Life inside a submarine

We also took a walk on the beach hand in hand, watched the sunrise over the Atlantic, and wrote our initials in the sand. Sure it was cold. After all, it IS January, but 40 degrees at sunrise in January is just about perfect.

2016 folly-beach-sc

And just like that, the weekend was over. We went our separate ways. Who knows what the future holds? Certainly not me, but at least I can say that I fell in love with Charleston again. The most negative memory of the city in my memory-bank has been removed and replaced by the most perfect weekend in recent memory.

Places are like that for me. Linked forever with memories of people and events and food, not just the scenery. Charleston and I have a rich, complicated history and while things are good now, like the most complex relationship with people, I expect it to be ever-changing, ebbing and flowing between love, languish, serenity, and hate.

Charleston walkabout 2016 ghost sign
Relationships are like ghost signs; evidence of their past are etched all over a city.

Enjoy this post? Look for other posts with the #weekendwanderlust tag.
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A letter to myself

Dear self,

Here are your tasks for 2016… It may seem like a lot right now, but you have an entire year + an extra day, so no whining*

  • You have a new job this year… so don’t suck at it… Also, do not kill anyone. [I kept the new job for a grand total of 6 months.  The environment was highly toxic, and for my own sanity, I left.   And I didn’t kill anyone… I call that a win]
  • Keep your shit together… organize your mail, email, and any other important communication and keep it that way for more than 3 nanoseconds.  Along those lines, keep your space organized. [Organization has been my nemesis since birth, but I try.  I call this one a draw]
  • Spend time with people who love you and believe in you.  [There have been more days than I care to count where the only words uttered from my mouth were LUCY! or CHRISTOPHER! I say this was a miserable failure. Going to school and working full-time in the evening make socializing harder than it needs to be]
  • Acknowledge that some things are out of your control and above your pay grade.
  • Stop saying sorry when that’s not what you mean. (Acceptable times to apologize include: when you break something that’s not yours, when you hurt someone’s feelings accidentally, when you step on someone’s toe, etc.).  Stop apologizing for every.little.thing that goes on in life.  Not everything is your fault.
  • Take responsibility for your self… (Examples including finding a dentist, dealing with the DMV, investing in your future, ect).
  • When needed, remind yourself that you have a right to take up space whether that is on a trail or in a hospital room surrounded by physicians.  Do not be intimidated by others.
  • Be nice to yourself.
  • Don’t completely succumb to adulthood, but still try to pay bills on time. [Yay, another win.  I dance with patients in their rooms, play with therapy dogs, and generally try to have fun while working. Health is a serious business, but I don’t always have to be serious]
  • Re-define impossible.
  • Do that yoga push-up chataranga thing that currently makes you feel like you’re going to collapse and smash your nose on the ground.
  • Remember that you always, always, always have a choice. We choose our emotions.  Sure, there are situations which will frustrate you.  There will be times when you are disappointed, but being disappointed is a choice. Being frustrated is a choice. Smiling and laughing it off is a choice… On that note, choose smiling.
  • Try to see failure as a painful, but necessary part of success — not a mandate on your character. Try.
  • Keep getting stronger.
  • Embrace partial success. Embrace progress, even the very small, barely noticeable, infinitesimal progress.

Celebrate life.

Lots of love

me, december 30, 2015

PS:  read & re-read this letter as many times as necessary throughout the year.  If needed, print off this letter , carry it around with you, and read this letter any time you need encouragement.