Colombia has been continuously surprising me lately by the unexpected presence of books everywhere, not something I remember from my childhood. Maybe things are just different in Medellin and Bucaramanga (as in, there’s an active reading culture, as opposed to Cali). Bucaramanga does have 10 universities so I’d bet that has a lot to do with it. On many street corners, there are vendors set up with books to sell, in the same way that other vendors set up their stands to sell illegal DVDs and plastic bags full of mango and salt: coloring books, puzzle books, sudoku, english-spanish dictionaries, paperback novels in Spanish, science and psychology textbooks. I even saw a copy of La casa verde by Mario Vargas Llosa once (I stopped in my tracks and contemplated buying it, but I really can’t bear the thought of lugging more than what is absolutely necesarry back to Portland with me). At the traffic lights salespeople walk by and pass you a book to hold in your lap through your open window, so that you can flip through the pages and wonder about buying it, before they come back around and collect it before the lights change. Apparently school starts up again here in February, which explains why so many books are fill-in-the blanks math and grammar exercises for primary students. In this age of fussing about electronic publishing, I never really thought of books as a seasonal business before.

"city of knowledge"

It amuses me that "dummies" isn't translated

“meatball ice cream” (some kind of how to succeed at business book…)

"the magic, the madness..."

an example of an unexpected corner libreria

Crazy looking cube-shaped library in Medellin, apparently built by Spanish royalty. It kind of reminds me of a spaceship. Corey, our friend and I took the teleferico up the top the mountain to walk around the community. There were a lot of aerobics classes going on and really cool murals painted on the walls, murals that promoted vegetarianism and spoke out against sexual violence. It made me feel quite heartened. This library was built in this neighborhood as part of a campaign to build libraries in the poorest neighborhodds of Medellin, which I found touching. There was this little kid who told us the story of how the library was built for 500 pesos in broken, fragmented English. He claimed that a gringo volunteer had written down the story for him in English but that he'd lost the piece of paper, thus excusing his fragmentary translation. He was a cutie.

An example of one of many poetry/fiction excerpts hanging on the walls of the Medellin metro station. This is a passage about happiness written by a Colombian author I'd never heard of. The metro stations also had these little libraries where people could borrow books and take them on the metro to read, and then later return them at another mini library in another station. Our host in Medellin told us that the book return is based purely on an honor system--that there's no membership card or anything--which I found absolutely astonishing, not to mention hard to believe.

Here’s my stab at a rough translation of the quote above: Happiness, so long as we create it, is not outside, it’s inside ourselves, sensory or however you call it. We must be quiet as so not to scare it, as it’s a bird that flies away at the slightest noise. Let it repose within us, so that it might emerge when we least expect it. It’s true that happiness that does not always rest in any soul, but the souls have their summers, and the swallows return; they have their spring and the roses open.

My head has been full of a lot of things lately (too many things!). This weekend Corey and I are heading to Barranquilla (city of Shakira’s birthplace! Apparently there’s a giant statue of her somewhere too) for Car-na-val. One of the many reasons why it will be exciting and enjoyable is the presence of my sister, coming up from Medellin. Twins shall truly be together at last.

In other news, I’ve been reading Gabriel Garica Marquez’s Collected Stories and have really been enjoying it. Next up is either War and Peace (euargh!) or the appealingly titled Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte, a collection of short stories in Spanish written by the Argentinean author who went crazy in the jungle.


What I brought and what I have left. Corey borrowed "The Fountainhead," which I really enjoyed when I was fourteen but I'm sorry to say that Ayn Rand's political stance makes me sick now. Ick.

I discovered recently that apparently on the internets there exists the concept of “lit-blogging,” or literary reviews and analysis of books via a plethora of blogs online (here’s a list I found of the Top 50 lit blogs; according to what and whose standards, who knows/cares). I went on a frenzied Google Reader subscribe-to binge earlier this week (I only just recently figured out how to use Google Reader… sorry, technology gods) and found some interesting reviews of Bolaño and Aira. It’s been fun, if a little surreal to experience how “small” and artificially connected the internet can make you feel. Ultimately, though, my FAVORITE book review site remains the high school classic, as recommended by my AP English teacher, Doug Reviews the Top 100 Novels. His review of Ulysses is a classic, as is The Ambassadors (kind of makes me not want to read it, even though I got it for Christmas. yikes!).

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Filed under books, colombia, Dear Diary, photos

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