There’s a reason why I’ve never discussed the District Phenomenon in Bogotá – you know, the strange way this city concentrates all of the shops selling one item in just one place – because I’ve come to accept it. And it’s never previously caused me any emotional distress.
Of course, when I needed a lamp, I went to the Lamp District – that mecca of lighting where 20 or more lamp shops converge, leaving the rest of the city entirely lamp free. It was quite nice. I saw the same lamp in five adjoining shops before I got tired, bought my lamp and went home.
Similarly, when I wanted a new leather jacket, I went to the Leather District – although I’ve since discovered the Leather District is a bit like the lost city of Atlantis. I know it’s somewhere on August 7th Avenue, but I keep being unable to find it and am too embarrassed to take a taxi. I suspect it’s always just around the corner, taunting me like a near-yet-so-far paradise with all its leather jackets and brightly coloured handbags.
Friends laugh about the Screw District too (that’s the hardware folks, nothing raunchy) and the Uniform District, where you can buy chef jackets and cleaner coats in every colour.
So now I see why I’ve never described the District Phenomenon. People from Europe, the United States, Australia, Canada etc. could never believe, without first hand experience, that an eight million-strong capital city could be organised in such a way. That we have a Printing District and a Wig District and an Office Furniture District and the only way to find the district you need is to ask around, because, of course, no-one has ever mapped them all out.
I mentioned this to a Colombian friend once. “Don’t you think it’s weird, you know, that all the shops selling one thing are in one place?” I ventured. “No,” he replied, looking surprised. “It’s completely logical. It means you always know where to go.”
Hmmmm. I may never have written about the District Phenomenon, but I’ve certainly always explained it carefully to people who are even newer in this city than me (Sometimes people write to ask me for advice on life in Bogotá. I know! Apparently my make-it-up-as-you-go-along-and-don’t-tell-anyone-if-it-goes-wrong approach is not immediately obvious on this blog)
But it’s weird right? No-one ever believes you and then there they are, a week later, saying: “I need a new fridge… do you know where the White Goods District is?” or “I need to practice my Spanish, do you know where the Book District lies?” And somehow we figure it all out.
I’ve recently moved house – again – to a nice place; central location, good price, TV, internet, apparent lack of weirdos. But it’s made my friends laugh because, yes, I’ve moved to the Mariachi District. Not that I mind. My walks home in the twilight are now punctured by the sight of faux-Mexican singers who, like ladies of the night, tout their fares until eventually a desperate husband picks one up and carts him home to serenade apologies to his wife.
(I hate to digress, but I’m a bit obsessed by the mariachis - particularly as they never seem to expect anyone to hire them, hence the streets are littered with men in ornate white suits and sombreros, clutching huge guitars as they smoke and fight with their girlfriends. Their lack of employment gives the neighbourhood a whiff of dejection that can only be likened to the sight of a circus clown slumped in a gutter, with smeared make-up and a wonky red nose)
No, I only became truly devastated by the Bogotá District Phenomenon when I realised I’d inadvertently moved next door to the Pet Shop District. Yes, there they all are – 40 pet shops (I’ve counted) all in a row and all, without fail, offering some kind of cute puppy – generally behind glass – to whichever soft-hearted, dog-loving English girl happens to be walking past.
I’ve seen Labradors, Dalmations, even a German Shepherd – already far too big to be spending his days smearing a glass window with his nose as he gazes longingly at the Transmilenio. There are kittens too, fish and birds, but it’s the puppies, so many puppies, some with unknown breeds, others with breeds I can’t even pronounce.
Besides the fact I’d very much love a dog in my life, I loathe the Pet Shop District because I hate seeing them behind glass, weeing and chewing and fighting each other for goodness knows how many hours a day. I know Bogotanos are dog-loving folk so I suspect this puppy-in-a-display-cabinet onslaught is all part of some evil sales technique.
Well it’s working. I can never leave the house with spare cash again.
So I was hoping to make my first million by ending all the fun and creating and selling the first Bogotá District Phenomenon Map. But now I might have to erase the Pet Shop District from history. And, while I’m at it, I can subtely delete any other dangerously tempting districts out there. We don’t have a Chocolate and Red Wine District … do we?