Made in Colombia

The operating room may have stayed dark for the last several days, but that doesn’t mean it’s been a quiet holiday week here in Cartagena.

Cartagena 010

the quiet streets of last week are just a memory

The relaxed, fun atmosphere of the city – due to the tourists, the beaches, the clubs (and the Chivas!) is contagious.  It’s impossible not to be affected by all the smiling, happy people out and around…


 Adventures with Iris

Iris and I have had a fantastic week – wandering around the city and enjoying all that it has to offer.  (I swear, my next book is going to be called, “Adventures with Iris” and I am going to chronicle all of our various escapades).  But since she’s camera shy, it would be kind of a crazy book – with photos of me standing alone in all sorts of cool places..

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Hanging out with Iris usually looks like this (as she hides from the camera).  You can also see my new haircut from a recent ‘day of beauty’ with Iris.

We’ve been all over town, sampling various cuisine, drinking a micholada here and there, and enjoying the refreshing evenings that serve as a relief to the sultry heat of the day.  We get along great so there is always something to talk about when we hang out.

Coconut water from the source

Coconut water from the source

I have a bit of a routine here – in the early mornings (if I wake up early enough), I head out to walk along the beach for some exercise.  By 7:30 or so – the sun, heat and humidity are already out in full force, and it’s time to head back indoors.

bikes in el centro

The rest of the morning is spent sewing, writing, reading, or crocheting.

After lunch it’s time for a siesta to pass the afternoon before the ocean breezes come to shore and cool off the city.  (Without the daily afternoon cool down, I think the city would just be unbearable, particularly for someone like myself, who is unaccustomed to the heat.  People from South Florida probably don’t even notice it.)

Visiting with Iris' Colombian craft class

Visiting with Iris’ Colombian craft class

In the late afternoons – we head out for various activities..

at a recent Colombian cuisine and craft event in El Centro

at a recent Colombian cuisine and craft event in El Centro

Colombian crafts – continued

I am making a lot of progress on my first crochet project – the universal, ever popular  ‘Colombian bag.’

Made in Colombia

Made in Colombia – the typical/ classic Colombian handbag, “Mochilla”

Of course, mine won’t be as fancy as these here (since it’s my first) but I did add a jazzy yellow stripe.

Colombian bag progress update

Colombian bag progress update

Avenida Brasil – More drama than the hair-pulling, cat-fighting “Dynasty” style dramas of the 1980’s.  (That’s probably not their advertising slogan).

I also work on the bag some evenings while we watch “Avenida Brasil” which is one of the typical melodramatic (always crying or screaming) telenovelas on television.  As the name implies, it’s actually a Brazilian show.  It’s a bad stereotype of Latin American soap operas with tired story lines (everyone cheats – no one uses contraception, so everyone gets pregnant (but somehow never gets HIV).  It has none of the substance of “El Patron” but it’s popular here, so I watch it.   But maybe all soap operas are like this – I was never a big fan of the Young & the Restless or whatever…

For the last week of episodes: the wicked Carmina  has been crying/ carrying on (and manipulating everyone) in every episode.  She recently caught her husband, Tifon cheating on her with one of his old friends, Mona Lisa.  But that’s no surprise to chronic watchers despite the fact that Mona Lisa just married another guy..  ( and Of course, Carmina has not only been cheating on Tifon for several years – but actually lives in a shared home with her amante, Max, his unsuspecting family, as well as her in-laws and her daughter (whose father is actually Max.)

Probably the only interesting story line for me is the serial polygamist. I don’t know the name of the character – but he’s suave and handsome in kind of a bland Argentine kind of way.. It’s like he just can’t help himself – as he marries woman after woman and maintains several separate lives.  He was recently found out by his three wives (who were completely unaware of each other) – while dating and wooing a fourth woman.  It’s only interesting to me in that he seems completely oblivious yet totally manipulating and calculating at the same time.  It’s a common theme that reflects much of the ‘machismo‘ here.

Then there is Jorgita (Jorge), the son of Carmina and all of his trials and tribulations.  Of course, he is in love with one woman, while dating and impregnating another.   He’s supposed to be so wonderful and charming – but I find him quite revolting with all of his flashy jewelry and declarations of ardent amor.

Of course there are a myriad of other characters and story lines but this is probably enough to give an accurate depiction.

Hecho en Colombia


Handmade dress - about half way done

Handmade dress – about half way done

I’ve also been sewing a dress using some fabric and patterns I bought here.  I altered the pattern (quite a bit) to make it more of my 1920’s style and on a whim – have been sewing it by hand.

One of my preliminary handsewn seams.  (They are prettier when I finish).

One of my preliminary handsewn seams. (They are prettier when I finish).

Maybe when I get done – I can label it ‘Hecho en Colombia’ since I made it here in Cartagena using a Colombian sewing pattern, and Colombian fabric.  (Both the pattern company and the fabric manufacturer are in Medellin.)

Iris has a perfectly fine Brother sewing machine – (I used it to create a new helmet guard for Dr. B’s helmet light) but I just felt like doing it by hand.

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Dr. B’s new helmet liner

It’s a cushion made of fabric covered foam that keeps the metal frame that holds the surgical light from shifting or weighing too heavily on his head during surgery.  It’s navy blue so it’s hard to see in the photos.  It has velcro strips to affix it to the metal frame, and adjust for individual sizing.

photo showing Dr. B and his helmet light.

photo showing Dr. B and his helmet light (and the old liner).

Haha.. Kind of funny how even sewing always circles back to surgery, isn’t it?


Downtime in Cartagena

Ribbons, fabric and sewing supplies in just one of several stores in El Centro

Ribbons, fabric and sewing supplies in just one of several stores in El Centro

As I mentioned in my last post – with no surgeries scheduled due to Easter week (Semana Santa), we returned to Cartagena Thursday evening.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the custom, Semana Santa is a big deal here in Colombia.  People from Bogotá and other cities escape to Cartagena and the coast areas to celebrate and join in the parades and processions.

The city is already packed with tourists – enjoying the historic quarter, and the beaches.  The tour buses are full and blaring loud music for laughing visitors.  Clubs and restaurants are full to bursting and swimsuit clad vacationers wander the streets along side Cartageneros.

For my roommate, Iris and I – it’s a great chance to enjoy a leisurely Saturday.  We headed down to the old quarter to do some shopping. But instead of chotskies, tacky knickknacks or random souvenirs, we have a special mission in mind: Fabric shopping!

Outside a fabric store (with a very well-endowed friend) in Cartagena (photo Aug 2011)

Outside a fabric store (with a very well-endowed friend) in Cartagena (photo Aug 2011)

One of the things I love about El Centro is the abundance of stores devoted to fashion, sewing and clothing design.  There are stores filled with ribbons, lace and buttons; stores just for knitting and crochet with thousands of yards, threads and other accessories in a rainbow of colors.. Stores filled with sequins, beads and pattern magazines.

Then there are the fabric stores – all clustered within several blocks.  The richness of the fabrics displayed in the windows draws you in: elaborate laces, rich, silky satins, shimmering sequins and super-stretchy spandex.  There stores are different from the United States – where crafting and quilting have dominated and shunted fashion sewing to the side.  Instead of a huge assortment of quilting cotton, a large array of home decorator fabrics and a miniscule array of fabrics for clothing – here – fashion is king!  There are meters and meters of silky jerseys, swimsuit fabrics, lighter than air sheers, wrinkle-resistant polyester blends and traditional hot weather favorites like linen.   I am in heaven – and I’ve only just entered the first shop.

Magazines containing 10 - 40 different patterns

Magazines containing 10 – 40 different patterns

The next great surprise is the pattern department.  It’s not in the fabric stores – it’s at the bookstore or magazine stand.  Bianca, Quili and other brands offer the latest in fashionable attire in handy magazines.  Each magazine contains paper patterns for 10 to 40 different pieces of clothing  – and each costs 9,050 (COP) or less than five dollars.

Better yet – they have all the specialty patterns a girl like me could ever want.  (I enjoy making swimsuits/ exercise apparel in my spare time – and Kwik Sew is the only company in the USA that makes these sorts of patterns in any kind of variety.)

I am like a kid in a candy store – and I can’t resist buying a small handful of glossy magazines.

But before we go home, we head to the Getsemani neighborhood just outside El Centro – to a small local restaurant specializing in seafood called “A Casa del Buen Marisco“.  It’s down the street from a much more expensive place, Antilles de Mar, but has its own reputation for excellence among the locals.

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I had the house favorite, the seafood soup and it was delicious.  I snuck glances at fellow diners plates – and everything that came out of the kitchen looked pretty savory.

After a terrific lunch – it was time to return home for an afternoon siesta.  Once the afternoon cooled off, we slipped out to get Dr. Barbosa a surprise gift before returning to work on my evening project: Learning to crochet.  (Don’t worry readers – Dr. B doesn’t read the blog so it’s still a surprise).

making progress on my Colombian bag

making progress on my Colombian bag

As I mentioned before, Iris is teaching me to crochet a traditional Colombian style handbag.  She’s been taking classes for months and recently received her certification from a specialized government agency.

It’s a pretty cool project, actually:

The Colombian government has a division that certifies artists who make authentic style Colombian goods.  The government offers classes to teach people how to make these crafts (or cuisine) in the time-honored way.  These free classes offer (predominately) women with a way to supplement their income, while preserving Colombian heritage.  These classes and the resulting certification process are also used to ensure the quality of the goods / services provided.