Let me tell you a secret. I, Victoria Unpronounceable (that’s a nudge for the Colombians, by the way, because they make such a mess of saying my surname. In fact, I am now registered with several Bogotá taxi firms and pizza deliveries as Victoria Sanchez and will be until I actually date someone with the surname Sanchez, in which case it will be too weird and I’ll have to invent a new cover)
Anyway, I Victoria Not-Really-Sanchez, would like to confess. I am secretive. Yup, secretive, even though we have previously ascertained the difficulty of my being secretive (what with the fact that when I press my ‘publish’ button, almost 1,000 of you will receive this by email and many more will read it later) I have still pretty much managed to obscure what I actually do when I am not writing this blog.
Part of my secrecy is that I am now an adopted Colombian and have absorbed every habit, good and bad, from the home I have chosen. Be too open about success here and there will be a queue of people looking for your help and not all of them will be deserving. Be too open about your struggles, on the other hand, and, probably for the above reason, more than a few doors will close.
A friend remarked to me, not so long ago: “You really do need to filter more. Smoke and mirrors, darling, smoke and mirrors, that’s the key,” and I was briefly famous among my Colombian friends for remarking: “You know that guy who is always asking to borrow money? Well, he told me he earned five million pesos a month!” (“Mentira!” they shouted in unison) Another time a colleague of mine commented airily: “This country has some serious issues and you can’t be blind to them… well, unless you come here and wander around like Snow White,” (You git, I thought, I was always much more of a Cinderella and I do notice some stuff)
Anyway, I have learned to be secretive, so secretive that until last week I managed to conceal just how much, lately, I have spent every waking second preoccupied with the publication of my first book.
Finally, though, I can report that finishing said book (writing it, editing it, worrying over it, dreaming about it, editing it again, letting go of it) has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. And I am lucky in the fact I co-wrote it with Sergio (he also designed it and drew all the cartoons, so I can hardly complain) and it is true that a problem shared is a problem halved (especially when your co-author is half-British, half-Colombian with a Swiss wife and kids and has even more identity issues than you do)
The last two months were the toughest. The two of us kept ridiculous hours and exchanged the weirdest messages at the weirdest times (“Do u think we need Ingrid Betancourt?” … “No, but yes 2 El Pibe and Rojas + cannot 4get Shakira,”) As the end drew near I was the tiredest I have ever been. At one point, a good friend (sick of not seeing me) took me out for lunch. “Did I order any food?” I asked suddenly, as we waited for our meal. “Er, well, the waitress took the order,” she said, confused. Nope. It turned out that, despite my hunger, I’d only managed to order juice and, worse, I couldn’t even remember ordering that.
One Saturday, towards the deadline, I came home from a long day, got into my pyjamas and went to bed. My phone woke me up an hour later. “Are you invited to so-and-so’s birthday party tonight?” my friend said cheerily. “No,” I grumbled, “And it’s far too late now anyway. I’m in bed. I’m asleep.” There was a pause. “Eh?” she replied. “You know it’s only 7pm?”
The trouble with writing a book about Colombia is that you can never finish it. Sergio told me, right at the start: “The problem won’t be what to write. It will be what not to write. The thing could end up the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica.” You never get to switch off either, not when you are living in the very thing you are writing about. I dreaded seeing my friends by the end. I even dreaded leaving the house. Every step reminded me of a Colombian and a Colombianism that just had to be included.
One night I took a break. I slathered make-up onto my grey-skinned face and sleep-walked to a glamorous cocktail party. I couldn’t shake the auto-pilot though and somehow I told the first young man I met that I’d bought a portrait of Simon Bolivar to “protect my house” and, when the poor sod happened to mention the prices in a posh restaurant, I replied: “Hmph, well, 35% of the minimum wage is lost to essentials in Colombia, compared to New York, where its 17% and London where its 9% and please consider that 90% of the population live in homes that run on less than two minimum wages, so perhaps we should all travel back to 16th Century Spain and tell them to put that in their pipe and smoke it, excuse my French, well, it’s hardly French considering we live in a Republic where people still say su merced (your mercy) and call you doctora if you have 20mil in your pocket and the only thing French about it is that weird hat thing on the Coat of Arms and even the bloody anthem was written by an Italian.”
He put down his whiskey down then and made an effort to look at me, which wasn’t easy considering I was masked by the dim lighting and my inch-thick foundation.
“I’m sorry,” he replied. “But what exactly is your book about?”
“It’s a cultural, economic, social and not-at-all political analysis of Colombians,” I replied. “And it has cartoons.”
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.