Tag Archives: Bogota

Ten Sounds You Miss from Your Hometown, Part One

23 May

My vast work-in-progress moves ever nearer to completion. The narrator is living in exile. He has been thinking about the sounds he misses from his home country.

Here are the sounds I miss the most: the chatter of the liitraavn in Rezistanzskvaar, the two-stroke clatter of Noorskii-SEATs, the jingling of the signals at pedestrian crossings, the chiming of the bells in Klokksskvaar, the breaking of waves on the Valtikkzii shore, the clunking of the otiis-mekanismis in the Berkmanis department store, the whine of the locomotives’ electromechanical motors, the four-note fugue of the train’s public address system, Tiia’s voice and those of my family, Jovaa and Valeriia, the sound of my own language, its cadence and intonations… 

It got me thinking about the exiles I know – and there are quite a few of them – and which sounds they miss the most, or vice-versa, those they don’t. 


So I asked my wife, the Colombian illustrator, Catalina Carvajal. It seemed the obvious place to start. And this is what she told me. 

Her grandmother’s voice

Aeroplanes flying low overhead on approach to the airport

The prerecorded voice of the tamales-vendor, advertising his wares

The whistle of a mobile sweet-potato oven

Comforting conversation coming from the TV downstairs at her mother’s house in Bogota

The marimbas of street musicians

The sound of departing underground trains on the Mexico City metro

Her friends babbling in the background at a dinner party

The noise of the crowds in downtown Mexico City

The clattering plates and chattering clientele of the cantinas 


In the coming weeks, we’ll be hearing from other exiles about the sounds they miss.

All text and images © PSR 2017


Travelling the World to End up at Home…

14 Jan

Ah, globalisation. Modern communications enable you to meet fascinating people from all over the world. You can fly swiftly across continents and oceans and travel through mind-blowingly beautiful landscapes like the one below.


Mist over the Andes

But some of its consequences are less exotic. You fly five-and-a-half-thousand miles across the ocean to Colombia and what do you find? Roott and Co., a British-themed clothing store, adorned with the Union Flag and red telephone boxes. In La 14 department store, there’s a range of men’s clothes called Burtton (note the subtlety with which copyright infringement has been avoided). If many Bogotanos had crossed the ocean in the opposite direction to witness the panache with which the average Briton dresses, they might be less smitten… 


British-themed clothes store in a Bogota shopping mall

And then there’s “Beer Pub”. This chain seems to have branches distributed across the shopping malls of Bogota. It’s steins of craft ales are remarkably good value and the food is perfectly acceptable. The numerous TV screens were a little over the top, though, as can be seen in the picture below. Some of them were showing the Sunderland against Liverpool football match. The others transmitted Burnley versus Manchester City. “I’ll give you television,” remarked Mr Pop. “I’ll give you eyes of blue.” Is this global interchange or cultural imperialism? It depends how you see it, I suppose… 


“Beer Pub” – how Latin can you get?


Yes, it really is AFC Sunderland versus Liverpool FC…

Pity the Swiss. They might travel all the way to provincial Choachi, in search of the Latin American experience, only to be confronted with a Swiss-themed restaurant. Its tariff proved to be Swiss-themed too so we went to a bakery where we ate cakes and coffee instead (the bill came to £1.50/$1.80). Apparently, there’s something of a love affair with Switzerland going on in Colombia and the influence of its architecture can be found in a number of buildings, such as the passable attempts at a mountain chalet seen in the pictures below (the latter is actually a Peruvian restaurant). And thus, through the exchange of two consonants and a vowel, Los Andes become Les Alpes…


A Swiss restaurant in Choachi


Swiss-style architecture on a Peruvian restaurant in old Bogota


The bakery apparently made loaves in the shape of sea lions…

“I’ll give you mens who want to rule the world,” commented Mr Pop. “I’ll ruin everything you are.” And so every other car in Bogota is a Chevrolet. Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts are ubiquitous. But I encountered very few Westerners in Colombia. That suited me just fine. Frankly, I don’t travel to hang around with my fellow Anglophones. And you can still buy a loaf of bread shaped like a seal… Popular culture aside, Colombia remains very much itself, for the time being, at least. 

All text and images © PSR 2017

The National Library

5 Nov


Please listen carefully to the following important security announcement.  One of your fellow citizens has been reported missing.  If you have any information regarding his disappearance, please contact the Compartment of Internal Affairs at your earliest convenience.


The City Library replaces the former Naroznikkviivljotat that stood in the Uuniivrsitat district of the capital. The head librarian is Hr Kaarel Nuubøj.  It’s a position of some cultural significance.  Previous post-holders include the writer Juuri-Luukas Borkmanis and Viliim Bejr, former director of the Knigisbørg City Archive.  If Nuubøj is intimidated by his illustrious predecessors, he doesn’t show it. 


A seemingly serious and studious young man, by evening, like some crepuscular creature in a gothic novel, Nuubøj undergoes a transformation.  In the bars of Vitomokol, he may be observed with his friends where he becomes merrymaker-in-chief.  He is inclined to give impromptu and heart-felt performances of famous ballads, all of which would astonish the library’s regular users.  He is also a skilled Latin dancer, engaging random women in the samba or rumba, given the slightest opportunity.  Not without reason, then, Nuubøj is a great admirer of the works of Wilde and Stevenson. 


Hr Nuubøj has been interviewed extensively – some might say excessively – by both the External and Internal Agencies over the disappearance of Iivo-Jaan Knuutssendaal, former assistant librarian at the City Library and occupant of Compartment 19B-4.  The head librarian has stated repeatedly that he knows nothing whatsoever about the whereabouts of his subordinate or the circumstances concerning his departure.  He suspects that the Compartment of Arts is trying to sully his name, having taken exception to his Bohemian alter-ego. 

How would you know him if you saw him?  What did he look like, then, this Knuutssendaal?  Well, that’s rather hard to say, to recall precisely.  There are few photographs of him as an adult and those that do exist are either out of focus or taken from a distance.  He was tall, for sure, a little overweight, perhaps, and pasty-faced.  It’s not much, admittedly, but it’s all that we have to go on. 


He’s been free for a number of weeks now, never staying in one place for more than a day, moving around by train.  Old habits die hard.  He has travelled many hundreds of kilometres, had his hair cut short, shaved off his beard and exchanged his spectacles for contact lenses.  As the train approaches the provincial railway station, he takes down his valise from the luggage rack (the manuscript is safe inside it) and pulls on his overcoat.  The brakes screech and the train jolts to a halt.  He steps down from the coach.  It’s shortly before noon and the sun blazes above the platform awning, immersing the station in shadow.  His eyes take a moment to adjust.  He looks either way along the platform.  The ticket hall and exit are to his left.  Four or five other passengers have disembarked and are heading in that direction.  And though he knows it looks suspicious, he can’t quite resist glancing over his shoulder.  There’s a railway inspector standing between him and the entrance to the ticket hall.  As he approaches, she holds up her right hand, addressing herself directly to him.


‘Excuse me, sir.  May I see your ticket?

‘Of course.’

What does he have to hide?  It’s inside his wallet, in his left trouser pocket.  He puts down the valise, retrieves the ticket and passes it to the inspector.  She frowns at it.  The other passengers have all dispersed.  The station is deserted.  She looks him in the eye. 

‘Would you just step into the ticket hall for a moment, please, sir?’

Unnerved, he follows her.  It’s darker still inside the building.  He thinks about the cold metal object that he keeps in the inside pocket of his coat.  Two figures emerge from the gloom on either side of the hall – railway officials in peaked caps – exactly as he knew they would.  They’re wearing gunbelts.  It’s too late now.  They take an arm each, like old comrades. 

‘This way, please, mij haar,’ one of them says, as if some choice still remained in the matter. 


Extract from work-in-progress and images of Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango in Bogotá © PSR 2016

Travels in Sudamérica

30 Oct

I’ve travelled to three continents this year. I’ve just got back from South America. I stayed in Bogotá, capital of Colombia. I mentioned before the Colombian illustrator with whom I was going to work. Our collaboration continues. It’s all part of the creative process, the work of el escritor experimental. I am writing her narrative. She is illustrating my story. We’re planning to construct a dystopic graphic novel and to make people. But that’s all for the future. In the meantime, I’d like to share with you some of the scenes I saw in the city – all taken on my not-very-smartphone – and my remarkable command of Spanish.


El teatro


Una calle de la ciudad


Un mural


Una iglesia colonial


Otra calle de la ciudad


El perro


Una iglesia gótica


El patio de una casa colonial


La ciudad moderna

All text and images © PSR 2016