From junk room to study

We’ve been living in our apartment for 18 months now and until today, our spare room still had nothing but an inflatable orange couch, an inflatable kangaroo and a small folding table to keep the modem and router off the floor. The cupboards held an incredible variety of toys, games, motorbike accessories, cables and cords and a ridiculous amount of cardboard boxes being saved for some creative project.

After a year of desperately wanting a desk but being unable to justify the expenditure, I said to Edwin just before Christmas “I need a desk” followed by something stubbornly sulky that represented “now!” Perhaps it was D visiting his mother for the holidays or the December bonus, but either way, I was prepared to shop and spend to get a desk that will ultimately – so I keep telling myself – improve my happiness by giving me a space away from the TV.

Edwin had been planning a day trip to some waterfalls he’d read about a week earlier and was adamant that we would go there before Christmas, however I won him over to a day trawling antique and second-hand furniture shops by telling him that my desire for a desk pre-dated his interest in that particular outing which could wait until the new year.

Having been pinning photos of desks for a year, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. Drawers on the right-hand side, wood (definitely not that laminex wengue colour that is all department store furniture is made of), not too big, and preferably in mid-century modern style. Finding the right desk was a whole lot more difficult, but the one of the great things about Bogotá is that where there is one antique shop, there are many.

We started in Calle 79A between Carreras 7 and 9 where all the fancy antique stores are to find a store dedicated to mid-century modern I’d seen on a previous visit. Only one shop was open at the hour we arrived and it didn’t have anything from the fifties or sixties, but there were some lovely, and expensive, pieces there.

Next we went to Chapinero to Carrera 9 between Calles 60 and 62 where there is another antique shopping strip. In one of my favourite stores to poke around in, we found a huge black desk that was close to the style I wanted but too big and too black for my liking. Edwin took a shine to a desk in another store but I didn’t like how heavy it looked with drawers on both sides.

The third antique district we visited was in Chapinero again, but the other side of Carrera 7 and between Calles 65 and 67 where there are few stores. In one of the stores whose specialty is selling old furniture painted shabby chic, I found exactly the style I wanted, except the paint job was hideous. The top was a streaky white, the legs and framework a burgundy colour and sky-blue drawers. Looking beyond the paintwork, the desk was a beautiful mid-century modern desk with rounded legs, the desk top creating an eave over the framework and long, wide brass drawer handles. But it was more than I wanted to pay and I didn’t think I could live with the paintwork.

We went back to Calle 79A and I found the store I had been looking for, Dessvan. I asked after desks, but while there was nothing that took my fancy, the assistant took me a few doors up the street to another store that had the most divine mid-century modern furniture. We fell in love with a pair of yellow tub chairs and I could have gone home with a completely redecorated apartment if my pockets were deeper. But it was a desk on our shopping list.

Using my feminine wiles, I told Edwin just how much I was in love with the desk with the horrendous paint job, and how if it was in a different colour, I would be so happy with it. I think it was partly to do with the begging face I put on and the other part his patience at an end but when he said the magic words every woman loves to hear “Mi amor, if this is the desk you want, I can repaint it for you,” I was sold on it.

We went back to the store to buy the desk and I let him negotiate the price and the terms (as all good Colombians must do).

Happy as a lark, we spent the next couple of hours warding off the rain in Chapinero, eating pan de bono and buying wool for more crochet projects, before heading home to await the arrival of the desk.

When we got home, we found that despite being told the delivery man would call us when he was on his way, the desk was already there and waiting in the communal reception room. The doorman couldn’t believe that we’d paid for a desk with that paint job; he thought we’d found it really cheap somewhere on the side of the road. I guess also the fact that most Colombians like to have new things and despise second-hand or old things had something to do with his reaction.

Straight to work sanding the hideous paint back
Straight to work sanding the hideous paint back

 

Once we put the desk in the spare room, it started to light the room up. Edwin could see the potential, and immediately pulled a piece of sandpaper out of thin air and started sanding back the sky blue paint on the drawers. When I said I wanted to paint it turquoise, a colour I am in decor love with, and showed him some similar projects on my Pinterest Desks board, he also came around to the idea.

Shiny new desk!
Shiny new turquoise desk! Edwin did a great job.

My dad always says that a man has got to have a project, and the refurbishing of the desk was a good hands-on project for Edwin during his end of semester holidays. He sanded and scraped the paint off until we exposed the bare wood. He bought a caramel coloured stain and turquoise paint. He patiently painted layers of paint and varnish. He shined the brass handles to life and we ended up with a stunningly beautiful desk where I will write blogs, Edwin will use the computer and D will do his homework.

Transporting a desk chair
Transporting a desk chair

The concession to an antique desk was a modern chair, so one Ciclovia Sunday we picked out a comfortable chair that would fit in the hutch space and rode back with the box perched precariously on Edwin’s handlebars and me with two new prints to hang on the walls sticking awkwardly out of my basket.

A wooden shelf Edwin had found abandoned in the carpark after some residents moved out, finally found a home on the new study wall after being painted with a turquoise trim.

We spent New Years Eve and New Years Day hanging pictures, washing walls and cleaning out the wardrobe, getting our study into order and I couldn’t be happier.

The only things left for us to do to finish the room off are to find a rug and then get a new light fitting and a desk lamp. Oh, and wash the window so my new outlook of the cerro from my desk isn’t obscured by dust and grime.

Happy New Decor from my fabulous new study!

My fabulous new study!
My fabulous new study!

Pieces of home

Contents of care packageMy mum is coming to visit soon. Yay!

She was here just 6 months ago with Dad to celebrate her birthday (which I completely forgot to blog about), so it was very unexpected that she would make the long journey again so soon. She either loves Colombia, loves to travel or loves and misses me… Most likely her reasons are all of the above.

The great thing about having Mum visit is the second 23kg suitcase of goodies she can bring me. And of course the simple fact that I get to hug my mummy and laugh crazily about silly things with her; we’re two peas in a pod in that respect. The post in Colombia is notoriously unreliable and cannot be trusted, which means care packages and online shopping are out of the question, unless of course you like throwing your money to the gale-force wind. While my aunt sent a small parcel before Christmas that arrived two days after Christmas, the two parcels Mum sent in December haven’t. The government contracted post company 4/72 said it could take up to 6 months to arrive and they can’t do anything about finding it unless they have a registered mail code for a service which Australia Post doesn’t provide for Colombia. I have little hope that either will arrive, and believe that some Colombian is now wearing Chesty Bonds singlets meant for mi novio and watching my friends’ Aussie film Blinder (doubt there’ll be a Spanish option there). This situation makes me cranky just thinking about it, and I think Mum secretly has some ulterior motive to come and give the postal company here a good ear-bashing along the lines of how she managed to arrive in Colombia before her parcels.

So, the goodies!! Mum will be bringing more items from my wardrobe, that is, what she hasn’t already brought over. I just hope she can find my pink heels which are probably stored in some plastic crate in her container.

I also took the opportunity to do some online shopping and have it sent to Mum. I bought some Bonds underwear because that is a staple. Did you know that here in Colombia that don’t let you try on white bras?!?!!? I don’t get it, are my boobs supposed to be dirty?!?! Anyway, I also bought some new pajamas because I like a slouchy style that is difficult to find here in nice patterns and colours ie. not cutesy prints on white or a bedtime version of the legging. Speaking of leggings, I also bought a couple of pairs of them too since I haven’t had much luck with the leggings here. Two out of three pairs developed a mysterious illness called “Camille is too grande for these poorly made, imported from China, tight pants” and have split while trying to contain my backside. This wasn’t just a seam split, but a failure in the fabric that saw it disintegrate and leave a huge gaping hole directly under the buttocks while riding my bike one Ciclovia Sunday; hardly a modest look for a girl in her mid-thirties and truth-be-told it’s scared me off buying more leggings.

My shopping spree wasn’t just all about me and my penchant for Australian brands, I also bought the boys some clothes. A tee and hoodie for D and a couple of singlets for mi novio because he is obsessed with showing off his biceps and rarely finds formfitting singlets for males here and so spends most of our shopping outings drooling over women’s active-wear. If I don’t feed his need for tight muscle-flashing singlets I’m convinced he will one day buy a women’s tank top and work a bit more on his pecs just to fill it out at the front.

I also bought a really cute dinosaur print doona cover for D. As it’s a kids print, the biggest size was a double and I’m now worried that his doona is queen size. That may require another shopping trip to buy a new doona for the dino cover…

I think that was about all the online shopping, but as if I haven’t already spent enough money on things just for the sake of it, I’m still toying with the idea of buying an on-sale Charlie Brown dress as she is my favourite designer and makes such flattering clothes for my shape and has great prints. I’ve also been researching fleecy-lined leggings/footless tights. I asked for a pair of these last time Mum visited since my one and only pair have started to emulate the dodgy street-bought leggings, but think they were either out of season or unavailable in Target or Kmart. Actually any hosiery in general is good. Cool colours and designs of good, non-ballsy quality are hard to find, and if you find them, chances are the biggest size still won’t accommodate the legs of an average sized foreigner who towers over most Colombianas and will leave the crotch hanging about mid-thigh height.

As far as what I’m leaving it up to Mum to buy, Australian food is high on the wanted list. I’ve got a good stock of Vegemite and recently received a care package from a friend via her colleague’s parents who live in Bogotá which included Vegemite. Tim Tams are always in fashion (original flavour or the dark choc covered bites are the best). I also love, love, love Cherry Ripes and ask for Caramello Koalas which D loves (not sure if it’s because it’s chocolate or if he likes the koalas because they seem so Aussie to him). I usually also get Murray River Pink Salt, which if you are Australian you really should have in your house, not just for its great taste and cool colour but because it helps overcome an environmental issue and is one of the flagship brands coming out of my hometown. I also recently got pink salt from my friend so I think I have enough until the next visitor comes.

Other great Australian products I love are Lucas’ Papaw ointment for my lips, Thursday Plantation tea tree ointment for insect bites and, it’s a bit icky to say, feminine hygiene products. I have plenty of papaw and tea tree ointment, and can get by with OB tampons (even though they’re not as great or technologically advanced as my favourite brand back home) but I have been unable to find a good pantyliner here that is thin and doesn’t feel like photocopy paper, so I put in a request for those from Mum.

Living in another country makes you appreciate all the little everyday items from home, and due to their scarcity they become little luxuries. While I’m looking forward to Mum arriving with a suitcase of little luxuries and a taste of my homeland for us, I think she’s hanging out for the luxury of eating patacones, arepas, empanadas and mi novio‘s special arroz de coco.

What are your top three care package items from home? How do you get around unreliable mail services in Colombia?

Settling in to Bogotá

I’ve spent the past few weeks settling into Bogotá, my new job and our apartment. After seven months living with la suegra, I’ve been busy creating a home with mi novio. The shopping and nesting has been aided somewhat by three long weekends in the space of a month.

Apartment hunting in Bogotá isn’t as straight-forward as I thought it would be, and we ran into one huge obstacle, the aseguradora. It seems the majority of apartments for rent send the applications off to an insurance company who scrutinise your income and debts and those of your guarantor (in Spanish it’s called a co-deudor). Your guarantor needs to not only own property, but have an income higher than your monthly rent as well. They also must be Colombian, or here in Colombia to sign the paperwork, a difficult requirement to meet if you are a foreigner. All this is just to RENT an apartment.

When our application for our favourite apartment failed because our co-deudor didn’t have one document they were asking for and we refused to pay a deposit of COP$9,000,000 (US$4,680) we had to start all over again and about COP$100,000 (US$52) poorer with the application processing fee of COP$80,000 and the zillions of phone calls that were made over it.

We were more than a little disheartened, but thankfully mi novio spent a day traipsing around the neighbourhood where we wanted to live and set up four inspections. We loved the first one. It was very similar to the previous favourite, but had three bedrooms plus a servant’s quarters (something that I’ve never seen in Australia except heritage properties) and was a little bit more expensive. We loved the apartment so much that we called the owner and managed to arrange a contract where in lieu of going through the aseguradora, we drew up a contract with the owner and agreed to pay one month in advance so we will always be a month ahead of our rent payments. We cancelled the rest of the appointments and started jumping around with joy.

Because we were dealing directly with the owner – who conveniently is a lawyer – we were able to move in three days later. Woohoo! No more hostel!

After the early morning handover with the owner, we hit the shops to start buying homewares. We happened upon a great bargain on a TV at 25% off the regular price, and although it wasn’t the highest priority, it found its way to the register along with a fridge, washing machine, crockery set and a few other bits and pieces. When I went to pay for everything with my Australian credit card it came back rejected. Uh-oh! It turns out my credit card had been blocked after withdrawing cash from the ATM (which I never do) and in three transactions in order to get the amount we needed to pay our landlord that morning. We then had to reprioritise our purchases as I couldn’t pay for all of them with my Australian debit card either and mi novio had nothing left in his account. So we took the TV home as that was on sale for one day only and I wasn’t prepared to lose the COP$300,000 discount.

Despite the stretched daily finances, we went to another store where we bought an inflatable couch that flips into a mattress so we had something to sleep on. Realising that we hardly had any cash, I went to the ATM to withdraw enough to get us back to the hostel and then a taxi with all our bags to the apartment. I had insufficient funds. Slightly preoccupied, we went back to our new apartment, complete with big screen TV, and counted every last coin to come to a grand total of COP$14,000 (US$7.30). We needed COP$3,000 for the bus to the hostel, and then we only had COP$9,000 for the taxi back, which was going to be a stretch. We were also starving because we had hardly eaten all day.

First night in our apartment with just the essentials.
First night in our apartment with just the essentials.

I thought mi novio had a few thousand pesos in his account so I said we should go to the supermarket to get some food. Unfortunately his card was rejected. So I tried my credit card again. No go. I then handed over my debit card praying the purchase of COP$12,000 would go through, and it did. We had similar pure luck in flagging down a taxi and negotiating with the driver to peg the fare at all we had, COP$9,000. So rather than celebrating our first night in our own place in a grand style, we sat on our inflatable couch/bed in front of the TV on the floor eating bread rolls and sharing a bottle of Coca-Cola.

The next two weeks were filled with the arrival of our furniture and belongings from Santa Marta, shopping for more homewares and four deliveries of white goods (although I should call them silver-goods since the fridge and washing machine aren’t white) and furniture. Delivery by delivery, our apartment transformed from a shell into a home.

I love the process of setting up home – must be my Taurean traits shining through – and this is the second time in two years that I’ve furnished a place pretty much from scratch. This apartment of our own has been such a long time coming that I’ve been reluctant to leave it at the weekend, which I’m sure has caused my housebound novio some frustrations. I’ve been baking and although the oven isn’t perfect (the temperature dial requires the use of pliers and the temperature range doesn’t have precision markings) it is holding up to my needs and placating mi novio somewhat with sweet treats.

The best part is that we live a short walk from my work so not only do I avoid the gridlocked commute,

I can come home for lunch. If that’s not luxury in Bogotá, I don’t know what is.

We have transport!

Our new motorbike
Red goes faster, but this colour in Spanish is ‘vino tinto’ or red wine. Let’s hope that means it’s a little more mellow than fast!

In Santa Marta there are more motorbikes than cars. As seems to be the case in many tropical areas of developing countries, the motorbike is the most prevalent mode of transportation.

Today mi novio and I join the ranks of transport owners after buying a second-hand Suzuki motorbike, or as I’m accustomed to calling it, a scooter.

Coming from a country where the majority of people have a car to a place where the most common forms of transport are buses, taxis and mototaxis (motorbike taxis) has been an interesting change. Not everyone here has their own transport and it is still a dream for many people to have a motorbike and even more so, a car. I’ve come to realise how important transport, and lack of transport, is to lifestyle and culture. For many families even a local bus fare stretches the budget very tight.

I can’t count the number of times I took for granted popping to the supermarket or shops only to come home with a heavy load of groceries or a armfuls of shopping bags. That was when I had a car to haul my goods. Going to the supermarket here for a ‘big shop’ to stock up on bulky and big essentials such as washing powder, sugar and rice means having to pay a taxi fare to get home as it’s too far to walk carrying plastic shopping bags. The taxi fare is dirt cheap by Western standards, but constitutes a fifth of the daily minimum wage. No wonder the vast majority of families sh0p daily at their local corner store, buying only the quantities necessary for the day.

Our new motorbike
Our new motorbike, yet to be named…

Having a motorbike now means we have freedom. We can go to the beach without having to catch two buses. We can look for an apartment. We can visit family and friends (when I make some!) and we can go to the supermarket without having to take a taxi.

Mi novio has such a big smile on his face today. He’s so excited to have a motorbike and our own mode of transport. I’ll still use the bus regularly to get to the city centre because it is

convenient, but I’m looking forward to discovering more of Santa Marta from the back of the motorbike.

Stationery shopping

I really love shopping for stationery. There is nothing better than wandering around Officeworks, plying the stationery aisles of Kmart, making a round of Kikki K or Smiggle, or longingly browsing a boutique stationer. I just love it.

Here in Latin America it is quite a different shopping experience.

On my first day of Spanish classes, I found a papeleria where instead of wandering around, touching and feeling items that arouse curiosity, everything is behind a glass case, or tucked away on a shelf out back somewhere. So you have to ask for what you want. On Spanish Class Day 1 I was just looking for a notebook, a cuaderno. It is also important to ask for one with lineas, or lines, as the majority of latinos write on that graph paper with little squares. I don`t really understand that one at all. Perhaps a question to ask my teacher tomorrow.

At the end of classes last week, I needed something to put my photocopied handouts in. I asked my teacher to tell me the name of the plastic pocket he had, and he said separador plasticos. I probably should have used this terminology at the papeleria because when I said “Estoy buscando por algo para proteger mis hojas” (I`m looking for something to protect my pages”) the joker responded “¿Policia?”. It was quite funny and I laughed a lot. Instead of a plastic pocket, I got one of those coloured plastic things you close using the string and two circles. I am still debating the functionality of these closures.

Anyways, todays papeleria outing was for paperclips. While in the library doing my homework, I asked a couple of guys at the same table how to say paperclip, since I happened to have a sole example with me. It was funny to hear that the answer was “clip”. That is pretty easy to remember, and the girl at the papeleria knew exactly what I was after when I asked.

Whilst stationery shopping is rather different than in Australia, there are good points too. I only wanted a few paperclips, I didn`t need a whole box, so when I asked for 15 paperclips it wasn`t a strange request. It saves a whole lot of waste instead of buying everything in bulk like we seem to do at home and are constantly pressured into doing by retailers.

So my papeleria expenses so far are:

  • cuaderno, 200 page, A5 = $2,500 pesos
  • plastic folder = $2,500 pesos
  • 15 paperclips = $350 pesos

A grand total of $5,350 Colombian pesos or AUD$2.85 (the paperclips cost 18 cents).

Stay tuned for more papeleria shopping trips!

Curled up in a bookstore

I’ve just popped into Denver to go to the Tattered Cover which has been talked about endlessly on NPR.

It is fabulous and all wooden inside. Floors, beams, ceilings, bookshelves, furniture. It’s all wooden.

It has a coffee shop, is cosy and feels like a place of great knowledge. It’s kind of like a library, but better because the hush isn’t from fear of librarian wrath but from the peace of those inside. Sipping a coffee, hiding in a cosy nook and thumbing the pages of a good book are part of the charm of this place.

It is well-lit with soft, vintage ceiling lights – no harsh fluoro lights. The books are given plenty of space to hold their own the shelf, falling over slightly in a “pick me up” repose that makes you curious beyond the cover. Staff picks and displays abound, making ever corner you turn a new discovery.

I imagine this would be a great place to escape on a cold Denver day.

I’m excited because I now have 18 hours of Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea to listen to on my roadtrip and fill in the miles of highway to my next destination.

A deserted Beverly Center

With the Aussie dollar at such a great exchange rate, Movie Lass had to go shopping, so we went to the Beverly Center.

It’s a large shopping centre in LA with both a Bloomingdale’s and a Macy’s along with a stack of other shops. I was astounded by a few things there.

  1. Unlike shopping centres in Australia, there were barely any seats in the concourse. I was weary and needed to take a seat, but it wasn’t until we were out in front of all the luxury brands like Prada were there any seats.
  2. Again, unlike shopping centres at home, there weren’t really any mall furnishings like potted plants and bins. It felt like an empty warehouse.
  3. Adding to the empty warehouse feel was that there were hardly any shoppers. The concourses were virtually deserted. I think it is a telltale sign of the economy that on a weekday evening during the spring break there was hardly anyone there. And those that were there were clearly tourists like ourselves.
  4. Whilst in Bebe, an entourage of people descended upon the store and started asking questions about products, what was selling, pointing out bits and pieces that they loved. There was a clear leader and all the rest were here followers. Movie Lass asked a sales assistant who they were and apparently she is the visual designer for the store, so it must be going to have a makeover soon.

I am being very good at not getting caught up in the spending frenzy, trying to watch my pennies and not succumb to temptation. I did buy a bag, dress and skirt that I am going to need, but I spent less than $70 so that was okay.