The Cupolog

The northwest passage : Live without dead time

Booked Outta TownAnia and I ran.  My backpack was dripping with paint and we needed to get out of Taganga fast.We went around one corner. Then another. Is it this way? I don’t know.Let’s go uphill.No! Let’s take a few more corners.A bus! Where?!Over there!!Shit! Go! Run!We jumped in, took a bench seat up front, and breathed heavily under the weight of our packs as the driver sped uphill towards Santa Marta. I looked at Ania and smiled. She looked back, flushed red and sweating. Laughing.It started with good intentions.It started, after all, with a damned book exchange. One marvelous wall of one thousand books in 18 different languages.At least that’s what the advertisement said in the center of Taganga. It was mural with a map of the town and little footprint directions on how to get to a place called “Liter-Arte.”Ania and I followed the path uphill to a small house covered in sea shells. We were thrilled. We took pleasure in sifting through bookshelves. A decent book, an informative book, a mind-enhancing book, was essential for those long days on the road.We rang the door bell. A short, balding man with a goatee let us in. He introduced himself as Leandro and then he introduced us to the wall of a thousand books. It was marvelous, just like the advertisement said.But there was one thing the advertisement didn’t say.“If you want a book,” Leandro said. “You must give me one book and two dollars.”“Two dollars?” I said. “What kind of a book exchange is this?”Leandro shrugged and looked up at the ceiling.“Well, the electricity doesn’t pay for itself and neither does the water,” he said. “I have to make a little money to pay the bills around here don’t I?” “Okay, what if we give you two books for one?”“If they’re good books, then sure. Maybe.”“Great, we’ll see what you got and then we’ll talk.”Ania crouched over the the French section and I went to the English. The search began. First horizontally, then vertically.Albert Camus. Kurt Vonnegut. Matilda.A Spanish-English dictionary - I’ve been looking for one of those. James Patterson.Dean Koontz.Nora Roberts.Patterson.Koontz.Roberts.The same three names kept repeating themselves. It took 15 minutes to realize the English section was full of modern commercial trash. Popular literature. The crap they sell in airport malls with big, bold fonts on the cover.“You have some good stuff here,” I said. “But most of these books should be thrown in the garbage. I mean look at this.”I pulled out a copy of Three Dogs at War. “Who’s going to read this?”“How do you know that book is garbage?” Leandro asked. “It looks very good. It’s about dogs and war. I like dogs and war.”His wife stuck her head out the kitchen.“Those books are what English travelers brought here, that’s what you people read,” she said. “If you think they’re stupid books, it’s not our fault, it’s your people’s fault.”“Yes, I know,” I said. “Book exchanges make for interesting cultural studies, but I didn’t mean to offend, there’s some good stuff here.”I shut up and kept looking. Eventually I found Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis. Lewis is good. He gets to the point. Most writers never get to the point.Ania picked a French book about neanderthals.“Okay, Leandro, we found two books we’re interested in,” I said. “We’ll be back tomorrow with four books for you and we’ll make the trade.”“Four books?” his wife said. “You can’t just pay the two dollars?”“No, we’re traveling,” Ania said. “We don’t have much money.”“Sure, sure,” she laughed. “You have enough money to buy all the coke you want, but you don’t have two dollars for books. I know your type.”We were confused. There was a silence.“I prefer whiskey,” I said.We went out the door and starting walking towards our campsite.“What strange people,” Ania said.The next day, I showed up at the house with four books. Where I got them, I won’t say, but they were four good books and I traded them for Lewis and the neanderthals.Leandro looked at the four books for five seconds and then tossed them in a corner. He didn’t seem like the literary type.I walked down the hill, towards our campsite again, and found a decent-size bag a coke on the ground. I don’t like coke. It’s the exact opposite of what I want from a drug.But I picked it up figuring someone at the campsite might want it. I arrived and gave Ania her book. The coke went to the skinny girl that slept in a hammock next to our tent. Everyone was happy and the story ended there, right?No.Ania started reading her neanderthal book and it was terrible. The writer never got to the point.“You think I can change it for another one?” she asked.“Maybe,” I said. “It’s worth a try. I mean, what’s the point of leaving the biggest book exchange in Colombia with a bad book?”“You’re right. I can just say you got me the wrong one. I’ll go tomorrow.”A day passed. Then another. Beach towns make that happen.An hour before we left Taganga, Ania went to return the book.She came back crying.“That fucking asshole, that fucking prick!” she yelled. “I can’t believe those people! They’re fucking crazy!”“What happened?! What happened?!” I asked.“I don’t know. I don’t understand what I did wrong. I went up to that house and the wife was sitting on the porch. I showed her the book and told her how you traded two books for it, but got me the wrong one and she just stared at me. She stared at me with a cigarette in her mouth and said, ‘What do I care about your story, little girl?’”“Bitch!”“Yeah, then I asked her if I could change it for another book and Leandro came out, all messy-drunk looking, and started yelling. You again?! No you can’t change the book! You can’t change the book! Get out of here! I don’t want to see you our you pendejo fucking boyfriend again! Fucking gringos!”“I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know why he was so angry so I just said, ‘You know what, if you’re going to act like that, then you can keep your book, it’s yours, I don’t want it.’”“I put the book down on the porch and I walked away,” she continued. “And then you know what the bastard did? He threw the fucking book at me! He yelled a bunch of words I didn’t understand and he threw the book at me!”“Shit! What did you do?”“I turned around and said ‘Oh, so you run a book exchange and that’s how you treat books? Good job! Really good job!’ and then I kept walking.”“Those people fucked, eh?” I said. “Maybe they were hungover or something. Either way, no one throws books at my woman! No one! Should I go over there?”“No! Don’t be stupid, Diego.”“I know, I’m joking, but we need to do something.”“Like what?”“I don’t know, if we confront them I have the feeling this guy will want to fight and I don’t want have a fist fight over books.”“Yeah, but we can’t just leave it like this. We have to do something. Those are bad people up there. We need to tell everyone to stay away from they’re fucking book exchange.”“You know what? I got an idea.”We rolled up the tent, packed our bags, and went to the hardware store. I bought two dollar’s worth of white paint. They gave it to me in an old water bottle.Ania and I walked to center of town, in front of the big Liter-Arte Book Exchange mural - the advertisement that originally brought us up that damned hill and into that damned house.It was 10 a.m. Ania stood guard. Not a cop in sight. We waited. We waited.A father and his son passed.Now!I opened the water bottle and splashed the paint on the mural. The map of the town, the little footprint directions, the Liter-Arte logo - it was all dripping with beautiful, purifying, snow white paint.I stood there for a while, slashing the water bottle through the air over and over making sure to get all the paint out. A couple of old men stopped and watched. Their eyes narrowed, confused.You throw books, we throw paint. The job was done. I tossed the bottle.Ania and I ran.  My backpack was dripping with paint and we needed to get out of Taganga fast.
Taganga, Colombia - © Diego Cupolo 2012

Booked Outta Town

Ania and I ran. 

My backpack was dripping with paint and we needed to get out of Taganga fast.

We went around one corner. Then another.

Is it this way?
I don’t know.
Let’s go uphill.
No! Let’s take a few more corners.
A bus!
Where?!
Over there!!
Shit! Go! Run!

We jumped in, took a bench seat up front, and breathed heavily under the weight of our packs as the driver sped uphill towards Santa Marta. I looked at Ania and smiled. She looked back, flushed red and sweating.

Laughing.

It started with good intentions.

It started, after all, with a damned book exchange.

One marvelous wall of one thousand books in 18 different languages.

At least that’s what the advertisement said in the center of Taganga. It was mural with a map of the town and little footprint directions on how to get to a place called “Liter-Arte.”

Ania and I followed the path uphill to a small house covered in sea shells. We were thrilled. We took pleasure in sifting through bookshelves.

A decent book, an informative book, a mind-enhancing book, was essential for those long days on the road.

We rang the door bell. A short, balding man with a goatee let us in. He introduced himself as Leandro and then he introduced us to the wall of a thousand books.

It was marvelous, just like the advertisement said.

But there was one thing the advertisement didn’t say.

“If you want a book,” Leandro said. “You must give me one book and two dollars.”

“Two dollars?” I said. “What kind of a book exchange is this?”

Leandro shrugged and looked up at the ceiling.

“Well, the electricity doesn’t pay for itself and neither does the water,” he said. “I have to make a little money to pay the bills around here don’t I?”

“Okay, what if we give you two books for one?”

“If they’re good books, then sure. Maybe.”

“Great, we’ll see what you got and then we’ll talk.”

Ania crouched over the the French section and I went to the English. The search began. First horizontally, then vertically.

Albert Camus.
Kurt Vonnegut.
Matilda.
A Spanish-English dictionary - I’ve been looking for one of those.
James Patterson.
Dean Koontz.
Nora Roberts.

Patterson.
Koontz.
Roberts.

The same three names kept repeating themselves. It took 15 minutes to realize the English section was full of modern commercial trash. Popular literature. The crap they sell in airport malls with big, bold fonts on the cover.

“You have some good stuff here,” I said. “But most of these books should be thrown in the garbage. I mean look at this.”

I pulled out a copy of Three Dogs at War.

“Who’s going to read this?”

“How do you know that book is garbage?” Leandro asked. “It looks very good. It’s about dogs and war. I like dogs and war.”

His wife stuck her head out the kitchen.

“Those books are what English travelers brought here, that’s what you people read,” she said. “If you think they’re stupid books, it’s not our fault, it’s your people’s fault.”

“Yes, I know,” I said. “Book exchanges make for interesting cultural studies, but I didn’t mean to offend, there’s some good stuff here.”

I shut up and kept looking. Eventually I found Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis.

Lewis is good. He gets to the point.

Most writers never get to the point.

Ania picked a French book about neanderthals.

“Okay, Leandro, we found two books we’re interested in,” I said. “We’ll be back tomorrow with four books for you and we’ll make the trade.”

“Four books?” his wife said. “You can’t just pay the two dollars?”

“No, we’re traveling,” Ania said. “We don’t have much money.”

“Sure, sure,” she laughed. “You have enough money to buy all the coke you want, but you don’t have two dollars for books. I know your type.”

We were confused.

There was a silence.

“I prefer whiskey,” I said.

We went out the door and starting walking towards our campsite.

“What strange people,” Ania said.

The next day, I showed up at the house with four books. Where I got them, I won’t say, but they were four good books and I traded them for Lewis and the neanderthals.

Leandro looked at the four books for five seconds and then tossed them in a corner. He didn’t seem like the literary type.

I walked down the hill, towards our campsite again, and found a decent-size bag a coke on the ground.

I don’t like coke. It’s the exact opposite of what I want from a drug.

But I picked it up figuring someone at the campsite might want it.

I arrived and gave Ania her book. The coke went to the skinny girl that slept in a hammock next to our tent.

Everyone was happy and the story ended there, right?

No.

Ania started reading her neanderthal book and it was terrible. The writer never got to the point.

“You think I can change it for another one?” she asked.

“Maybe,” I said. “It’s worth a try. I mean, what’s the point of leaving the biggest book exchange in Colombia with a bad book?”

“You’re right. I can just say you got me the wrong one. I’ll go tomorrow.”

A day passed. Then another.

Beach towns make that happen.

An hour before we left Taganga, Ania went to return the book.

She came back crying.

“That fucking asshole, that fucking prick!” she yelled. “I can’t believe those people! They’re fucking crazy!”

“What happened?! What happened?!” I asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t understand what I did wrong. I went up to that house and the wife was sitting on the porch. I showed her the book and told her how you traded two books for it, but got me the wrong one and she just stared at me. She stared at me with a cigarette in her mouth and said, ‘What do I care about your story, little girl?’”

“Bitch!”

“Yeah, then I asked her if I could change it for another book and Leandro came out, all messy-drunk looking, and started yelling. You again?! No you can’t change the book! You can’t change the book! Get out of here! I don’t want to see you our you pendejo fucking boyfriend again! Fucking gringos!

“I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know why he was so angry so I just said, ‘You know what, if you’re going to act like that, then you can keep your book, it’s yours, I don’t want it.’”

“I put the book down on the porch and I walked away,” she continued. “And then you know what the bastard did? He threw the fucking book at me! He yelled a bunch of words I didn’t understand and he threw the book at me!”

“Shit! What did you do?”

“I turned around and said ‘Oh, so you run a book exchange and that’s how you treat books? Good job! Really good job!’ and then I kept walking.”

“Those people fucked, eh?” I said. “Maybe they were hungover or something. Either way, no one throws books at my woman! No one! Should I go over there?”

“No! Don’t be stupid, Diego.”

“I know, I’m joking, but we need to do something.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, if we confront them I have the feeling this guy will want to fight and I don’t want have a fist fight over books.”

“Yeah, but we can’t just leave it like this. We have to do something. Those are bad people up there. We need to tell everyone to stay away from they’re fucking book exchange.”

“You know what? I got an idea.”

We rolled up the tent, packed our bags, and went to the hardware store.

I bought two dollar’s worth of white paint. They gave it to me in an old water bottle.

Ania and I walked to center of town, in front of the big Liter-Arte Book Exchange mural - the advertisement that originally brought us up that damned hill and into that damned house.

It was 10 a.m.

Ania stood guard.

Not a cop in sight.

We waited.

We waited.

A father and his son passed.

Now!

I opened the water bottle and splashed the paint on the mural. The map of the town, the little footprint directions, the Liter-Arte logo - it was all dripping with beautiful, purifying, snow white paint.

I stood there for a while, slashing the water bottle through the air over and over making sure to get all the paint out. A couple of old men stopped and watched. Their eyes narrowed, confused.

You throw books, we throw paint.

The job was done.

I tossed the bottle.

Ania and I ran. 

My backpack was dripping with paint and we needed to get out of Taganga fast.

Taganga, Colombia - © Diego Cupolo 2012

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