Friday, March 23, 2012

Bogota, You Are Clearly Trying To Give Me The Willies

I have never had nerves of steal. I cry at the dentist and the slightest hint of turbulence on a flight sends me into an absolute panic. Therefore, it is not too surprising that I found all of the police/soldiers with automatic weapons a little difficult to get used to when I first got here. I am used to seeing serious weaponry on clips from the news and movies with Sly Stallone, not at the mall. However, I finally convinced myself that since I am not a thief, a rapist, or a drug trafficker, there is probably little reason for any of these guys to want to riddle me with bullets.

Next I started noticing the dogs. To be clear, I am afraid of all dogs (except for Tootsie Pop), even ones that go to groomers and wear little sweaters. I don´t play favorites. However, I am especially afraid of stray dogs. I would say that even when dogs are well fed and given lots of treats they are at best unpredictable. They are animals after all.  Life on the streets is tough and stressful. I would venture to guess that this sort of life makes no animal less volatile. The fact that all of the strays look really well fed as if they are existing on a steady diet of small children did little to help me chillax. The only thing that helped is that most of the dogs looked really, really sleepy, like they were going nowhere fast. I figured as long as I kept my distance I could probably avoid being attacked by a pack of strays that thought I looked delicious.

I just tried my best to put the knowledge that the suburbs of Bogota has about 30,000 stray dogs out of my mind and forget about that show I saw on Animal Planet about a pack of wild dogs eating an unsuspecting elederly couple out for a Sunday stroll.

As soon as I had finally gotten over the heavy artilliary and the dogs I began to notice something far, far more sinister. MIMES. However, they were not just ordinary mimes. There were silent, but there make up had an added hint of color that made them look like mimeclowns. If I was asked to conjure up an image more disturbing, I´m honestly not sure that I could. Has anyone ever really enjoyed any performance by either a mime or a clown? If so, why? Mimes are especially creepy because of the not talking. I don´t trust the quiet and I double don´t trust the silent. The fact that a mime may or may not be pretending to be trapped in an invisible box only makes them seem more creepy, not less. There is something even more sinister about clowns. All of the forced laughter and silly tricks are just an attempt to distract people until they find the right moment to strike. I know I am not alone in my feelings. There is clearly a reason so many people found Stephen King´s It so terrifying. Combining the two truly might be one of my worst nightmares.

The wierdest part is that I started seeing so many mimeclowns. In New York, I was used to a variety of street performers. There is the tiny Mexican man who does a magic show on The L Train using real bunnies, the man with multicolored dreads who wears antennaes and  plays the saxaphone very loudly even though he doesn´t know how and talks about aliens, and the one-eyed African American guy who does the best rendition of The Carpenter´s Superstar I have ever heard (however, I think just about every song sounds better when it is sung by a guy who sounds like Barry White). Now all of a sudden in Bogota, the only kind of street´performers I see seem to be mimeclowns. I can´t tell you what I would do for a magic show or an extremely untalented saxaphonist.

They especially like to perform at traffic lights. I can honestly say that when I am in the back of a cab trying to figure out if the driver is trying to steal me or not the appearance of a mimeclown juggling fire does little to help me relax. The worst was when I was at the food court at the mall. I had just settled into a plate of Taco Bell because processed cheese always reminds me of bowling alley nacho plates and America. I had had a long week playing the part of Nell while trying to do just about every daily task and just wanted to eat something comforting and chill out. As soon as I took my first bite I started to relax and understood that the way in which I had had to humiliate myself in front of the Taco Bell cahsier had been totally worth it.

My feelings of serenity, however, proved to be short lived. As soon as I finish my first bite who rolls up but a mimeclown carpenter and a mimeclown doctor ready to perform some guerilla theater for the lunchtime crowd. What the hell was going on???? How had I managed to land in a country that was apparently inlove  or obsessed with MIMECLOWNS??? Bogota, was clearly on a mission to give me the willies and I was not into it. I wanted some answers.

So of course, I took it to the internets. What I found out was so much wierder than I imagined. I learned that in 2004 Bogota elected this mayor who was an academic, a mathematician, and a philosopher. He was into the idea that if people know the rules and are "sensitized by art, humor, and creativity they are much more likely to accept them". His ideas were based on a Nobel Prize winning economist, Douglass North, who looked at the tension between formal and informal rules. apparently, when these two things clash it does bad things to the economy. The first part I am totally down with. I like the concept of not shoving rules down people´s throats, but finding a pleasing way to suggest them. That´s a good idea, right? However, the way the Mayor expressed this idea, I find nothing short of incredibly scary.

Traffic is a huge problem in Bogota. In addition to this, a lot of pedestrians don´t like to follow the rules. So what did they mayor do to fix this problem? He hired MIMES!!!! He began with 20 mimes who were hired to shadow pedestrians and mock reckless drivers. The program was so successful he hired 400 more. These means that at some point in 2004 there were 420 mimes roaming the streets of this city. Just the idea of this gives me the shivers. The program was so popular he talked about it at Harvard and several other Latin American countries copied his idea. Clearly, Colombia has some sort of long history with this particular artform.

 It´s not like I don´t have faith in the good people of New York, but I can´t help thinking that if Bloomberg tried a similar program in the Big Apple at the end of the day there would be a lot of messed up mimes wandering around. I just don´t think too many people in Brooklyn or the Bronx would take kindly to a mime telling them how to drive or cross the street. Come to think of it, I can´t think of a single part of Manhatten or the surrounding burroughs were people would be OK with it.

Since I haven´t seen any official mimes directing traffic, my guess is that the mayor who came next didn´t keep the program in place. Therefore all of the mimes I keep seeing "entertaining" people around the city must have been left jobless after the program was disbanded and have been forced to freelance. They must have also added the clown touches to broaded their appeal which accounts for the fact that most of them looklike mimeclowns. It´s enough to make a girl sleep with one eye open.

My greatest fear is that somehow the mimeclowns and the straydogs will somehow join forces. That I will start to see puppies dressed as mimeclowns or the two performing joint fire juggling acts while my taxi is topped at a red light. If that happens, I´m not sure I´ll be able to stay unless I figure out how you say "valium" in Espanol.


  1. How many times can I type on here that you need to turn these into a book when you're Stateside again? Your musings brighten my day. Puppy mimeclown in sweaters juggling fire may very well find their way into my nightmares tonight.