Friday, October 24, 2014

Colombia 8: La Ermita at Last!

Dad, Dan and I see the city today. I need to go, I want to go -- but most of yesterday was spent away from Mom and it would be nice to stay home. I would enjoy the relaxed pace of this paradise. The cook and the nurse are so entertaining as they go about the day, discussing this and that, teasing each other, and dancing to music on the radio. But I won't have this chance again. I will sit with Mom on the veranda later.
I kiss her goodbye and this time she seems grief-stricken, as though we will never meet again. It's so unsettling I almost stay behind, but Dad assures me that as soon as we drive out of the huge gate of the home she will have forgotten again.
At least she is in good hands; this is my mantra.
I look ahead to memories that are about to come to life. I have three places I want to see: La Ermita, our house in Miraflores, and the seminary. I freely admit I'm downright childish about my list, and I will regret my demanding attitude, but I've come a really long way to be here. Lucky for me, the others aren't as "exigente" and the driver humors me. Dan, my Harley-riding brother, is mostly interested in the astounding risks the scooters and motorcycles take, zipping among the cars and buses.
After the obligatory stop at the statue of Belalcazar, we look for our old house in Miraflores, a middle-class neighborhood tucked into the Andean hills of Cali. We don't remember the address for the house but manage to find it anyway, and when I see the black metal door, balcony, patch of grass, and big windows, the memories come in a flood: reading on the porch, catching the school bus, playing with our dog Goldie, entertaining grandparents, waking up to late-night serenades for neighbors. Part of me wants to see who lives there now, but we don't even get out of the car.
We drive along Rio Cali and park downtown to walk through Cali's crowded streets, and I'm surprisingly unafraid. It's as it was over thirty years before, only now the many street vendors are selling yellow jerseys for Colombia's soccer team. Colombia is one of 32 teams to play for the FIFA World Cup, and the country is enjoying the anticipation of the games to come. I will regret not buying a jersey, but I keep our group moving; I'm on a mission to see the iconic La Ermita.
I've been working on a novel, "The Existence of Pity," and La Ermita plays a role. Having never been inside it when I lived in Cali, I fell in love with the old Catholic church on the internet. Now I'm nervous. Will it meet my high expectations?
When I finally catch a glimpse of La Ermita, it is as beautiful and otherworldly as I hoped it would be. I run ahead of the others and try the door, but it's locked. I go to the front entrance, but it won't open either. I'm disappointed, but still glad to be here, taking in the white and gray Gothic spires, amazing against the blue sky.  La Ermita is more perfect than I dared hope. We take pictures and move on.
As we walk to Plaza Caycedo, we see a young woman selling Panini. This is the official sticker book and stickers for the World Cup.  Groups of adults and children gather all over town to trade the stickers to fill up their books, talking about the great Colombian team that could finally win that cup. I want to join in, so I buy my own book. A woman with short white hair starts up a conversation with me, but she's eyeing the bottle of Coca-Cola I'm holding. It seems she wants the rest of my Coke, so I offer it to her. She gratefully accepts, and finishes the drink I had started. I am definitely far from home.   
Back in the car, we take the scenic route to the seminary. By the time we get there, we only have time to drive by, but I am content. I've honored past memories, made new connections, and am ready for some lulo and pandebono with Mom. I will sit beside her on the veranda and tell her all about our day as many times as she wants to hear it. I won't regret that.

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