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An evening with the Bogotá Filarmónica

by Alex on Dec.04, 2009, under Blog

The Cerro de Monserrate climbs to 3,152 metres providing a fantastic look out over the great city of Bogotá. We’d reached the top by way of the funicular railway laden with cheese, wine, baguette and an excess of warm clothing. It was about 25 degrees but at this altitude when the sun goes down it tends to get chilly.

We got to the church as the doors closed, it being full. Initially disappointed, it didn’t take long for us to conclude that sitting on the steps above the plaza outside of the church in front of the big screen would probably be a more fitting location to tuck in to our cheese and wine fest, and to smoke. We’d come to see the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá and what an amazing setting, far better than being cooped up inside. Off to the east roll heavily wooded hills for as far as the eye can see, due south lie the last of the hills with some kind of big Jesusy statue a few hundred metres from us. To the west Bogotá. The fading orange of the sun setting behind flat grey clouds gives way to myriad lights – street, vehicle and building, ever brightening as the sun retreats further below the horizon, the city becoming a blanket of dark sequined velvet stretching far across the altiplano.

‘Hovis advert’ declared my brain as the orchestra commenced with Dvorak’s Symphony Number 9, detracting massively I suppose from the appreciation of the music were it not to have such a mundane ‘daily bread’ association, hey ho… With the start of the third movement there was little doubt as to from where John Williams took inspiration for his Dual of The Fates(Darth Maul’s theme) and I wondered if this symphony ‘From the New World’ was as well known here in Colombia as it is back home, maybe there exists here a tradition of small boys pushing bikes laden with bread up steep cobbled streets – I’ll refrain from endeavoring to find out.

The plaza continued to fill as the orchestra played on and no one seemed to mind when we first lost the audio and later the video feed from the church. In my mind I pictured an inattentive security guard tripping over a cable bringing the performance to an end for those sitting outside. In time it was fixed and when the music was over the fireworks started. I don’t wish to come across as being too negative but had they shortened the display to 5 minutes it would have been great, I find the spectacle more… spectacular when the sky is filled with sound and colour, bangs and flashes, screams and sparkles – 2, 3, 4, 5 and more fireworks going off at the same time. For me that holds far more of the ‘ooh, ahhhhh’ factor than does maximising display time to the detriment of what otherwise might have been a veritable extravaganza of light and sound. Mostly black sky and silence punctuated every 3-4 seconds by an albeit pretty high-level firework ain’t floating my pyrotechnic boat baby. Maybe I should have words with the fireworks association of Colombia and tell them what it’s all about.

I then noticed the lights, they were everywhere. Angels in the trees, stars on the buildings, stuff all over the shop. It was… colouful and I shall refrain from proffering my opinion as to how tasteful I thought it, you can form your own from the below:

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I got interviewed on some national radio channel, had a cup of canelazo – a winter warmer made from aguardiente (the national anise-flavoured firewater), panela (sugar cane-based drink) and cinnamon then queued for 3 hours to get off the mountain during the process of which I realised that we were, probably, the only westerners in the thousands-strong crowd – even though tourism in Colombia is increasing at a rate probably higher than any other country in the world, you can still get off the beaten track here, very easily, even at a large event in a city of 8,000,000. Come to Colombia, it’s brilliant!

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