Posted by: Sarah | February 23, 2009

I wanna go where the mountains are high enough to echo my song…

“It’s all too common in Latin America, where the divide between rich and poor is usually very wide, to hear stark differences in outlook and attitudes at the table.  When dining with the rich, the poor are often referred to with varying degrees of fear, condescension, and outright contempt.  Unsurprisingly, conversations at the tables of the poor express an entirely predictable desire to see the heads of the rich paraded on stakes.  Seldom do the two strata of society agree on anything besides soccer.

So imagine my surprise to hear – again and again – expressions of optimism, hope, good feelings, and a general believe that things were going pretty well – in Colombia.  In Medellin, no less, not too long ago the murder capital of the world! In expensive restaurants frequented by the well to do, the kind of people whose cars are bulletproofed, who travel with armed drivers – and later – in what was the toughest, poorest barrio in the city, I hear the same thing.  That the government seemed to be doing a pretty damn good job, that things were getting better and better, that the future looked bright – and that it was a very good thing to be Colombian, and from Medellin in particular.

In a world where the bad guys seem to win with a relentless regularity, and where even the presumed good guys appear, usually to be their own worst enemies, it’s really gratifying to see things get so dramatically better somewhere – especially a place where at one time, it really and truly looked hopeless.  It is inspiring, when you’ve gotten used to the notion that some problems won’t ever be fixed in your lifetime, to see some of the very worst kind of seemingly insurmountable problems so quickly and effectively improve.  When you see a real change in the conditions and in the human hearts of a place where just a few short years ago, one neighbor couldn’t walk twenty yards over without risking death from another, where drug cartels recruited their murderous young footsoldiers by the hundreds, where even the police feared to tread – it makes one hopefully again – about the whole world.

Colombia. Vacation Wonderland? Yes. Absolutely.”
– Anthony Bourdain visits Medellin 

Tiffany had sent me the link to the No Reservations blog review of their episode shot in Colombia a few weeks ago and I was overwhelmingly impressed with the depth and clarity of Anthony Bourdain’s insight into the culture, as well as the simple fact that this hit Travel Channel series had ventured to a country that is still off the radar for so many.

I was chatting yesterday afternoon on the phone with my friend Carol (who had recently ventured out to Queens with me for a delicious, authentic Colombian feast), when she told me to go turn on the Travel Channel because the re-run of this episode was airing.  

I sat glued to the television, feelings of nostalgia washing over me every time the camera panned across the panoramic view of Medellin, through the valley and up the mountains.  My mouth watered as Anthony Bourdain and his local guides visited the markets, learned how to make chicharon and empanadas, and tasted every comida tipica you can imagine when you think of Colombian food.  

Overarching his discovery of the culture through their cuisine, it was evident that his eyes were opened to that simple concept that everyone who visits Colombia learns: Colombia es Pasion.  I was happy to see that he discovered all sides of Medellin that makes it the complex, beautiful city it is… from the Plaza Botero up to the barrios high in the mountains.  He heard the same tale of the metrocable that so many paisas proudly shared with me.  The guides explained to him how the city has been reunited in the past few years, and highlighted the beauty of these “slums”, which were once a death trap and are now the signs of re-birth, possibility and the desire that runs through the souls of Colombians to show the world the true potential of their country.

The show painted an incredibly positive, and accurate picture of Medellin, where it has been, how far it has come, and why paisas are so proud of it.  It also inspired another trip out to Jackson Heights last night.


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