Llamas, Boleros and Pigeons, Oh My! – 140 Seconds at Bogota’s Plaza Bolivar (And a word about mute Santandereano)
BOGOTA – You can’t go far in most cities in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia —not to mention his homeland of Venezuela— without seeing some sort of significant tribute paid to Simon Bolivar, the military and political leader who played a pivotal role in the independence of each of those countries from Spain nearly 200 years ago.
Here in Bogota, it’s the city’s main square in the historical center that bears his name. Among those who pay homage on Saturday afternoons are llamas with purple bandanas wrapped around their tiny heads and pink tassels secured to their skinny legs. I didn’t go for a ride, nor was I talked into a photo op, choosing instead to enjoy some sweets sold by vendors in tents on the fringes while watching others entertain the llamas.
Unlike most of the squares I became accustomed to in Quito in recent months, where just one building generally takes on a primary role, the Plaza Bolivar features dominant structures on each of its four sides: to the east is the city’s primary cathedral, constructed between 1807 and 1823; to the south is the National Capital and seat of Congress; to the west is the Lievano building, the Mayor of Bogota’s seat; and to the north is the newest building, the Palace of Justice, constructed in 1989 to replace the former structure that was destroyed during an infamous 1985 siege by the M-19 guerrillas. The battle to retake the building left 120 dead on both sides including 11 of the 24 Supreme Court Justices who were taken hostage.
The square’s original use in the late 16th century? A farmer’s market and pillory, where the Spanish doled out severe public punishments while locals watched and/or shopped.
Considering it was a weekend, and a fairly pleasant day despite a brief light shower, the square wasn’t as full as you’d expect. ‘Full’ isn’t even a word that comes into play. Those who did pass through were mostly families with small children, young couples, a smattering of tourists, and vendors hawking bags of corn for the pigeons, ice cream, CDs, souvenir bags and other trinkets. Few were buying. Most seemed more preoccupied with either snapping selfies in front of the cathedral or keeping their children from pulling on the llama’s tails.
Or, making short videos with their smart phones, like mine below, that tries to capture the essence of a few minutes in the shadow of Bolivar’s statue on a pleasant late May afternoon. To help with your bearings, the vid vignette opens with a view of the cathedral’s front, then spins to the south and the Capital before completing the circle.
The music was being played by a pair of CD vendors; if you know the artist, please, do tell. Enjoy!
A Word About Mute Santandereano
I was told that mute was a specialty from Santander, the department in the north central part of the country that is home to the extended family that operates the restaurant I decided to walk into. It’s pronounced MOO-tay and roughly translates to “hot bowl filled with whatever you find in the bottom of and underneath and behind the fridge with chunks of tripe added”.
The experience began reasonably well; the dish was pleasant to the eye, the broth light curry in color, with hominy, potatoes, beans and pieces and parts of beef and pork floating almost elegantly in the steaming black cast iron bowl.
But the deeper I probed, the more my stomach protested. I can eat just about anything –and I have— but draw a firm line with tripe. My last spoonful reminded me of why. It’s a shame too, because I would have really enjoyed this without the diced beef stomach chamber parts. Here’s a recipe for those inclined; I’ll probably give it a try at some point when my stomach chamber recovers.
The saving grace was the white rice, a wedge of avocado, arepa (a corn flatbread) and yucca served as a side dish. That tied me over until I reached the square where I ate coconut macaroons as I watched children pull bandanas over the eyes of llamas.
And for the record, the lead shot of Plaza Bolivar serves as today’s Pic du Jour, the blog’s 503rd (!) straight. If you missed it, the landmark #500 is here.