Medellín, Colombia

Reid Peryam · June 30, 2017 · South America, Travel · 0 comments

As a travel hipster, Medellin is a place I’ve never been interested in visiting. It’s probably the most popular white person and ex-pat destination in Colombia owing to convenience, temperate climate, great infrastructure, lush flora and legendary, beautiful women. Without a doubt Medellín is the prettier, daintier little sister to the hulking, dirty mass of my-favorite-Colombian-city, Bogotá. So while I have been able to avoid it for sometime it was too easy to spend two days there on my way back from Santa Marta en route to Bogotá. In preparation, had so many reasons to be unimpressed.

The best way I can describe Medellin is “Colombian Disneyland”. If you walk into a café in Poblando, aka Gringo Central, it’s not unlikely to find everyone there is an American. The city has been the beneficiary of a lot of post-Escobar foreign and local investment (Bogotá is a little sore that the money set aside to build its subway went instead to Medellin’s metro and Bogotá got stuck with the much-detested TransMilenio instead) and from where I have been in Colombia thus far it’s the most cush.

Back when I was in Barth-a-lona I lamented the city’s infatuation with its own Antoni Gaudi, at the sight of whose work my soul hemorrhages. Medellin takes a page out of that book in utilizing every opportunity to showcase Fernando Botero‘s works. Like Gaudi, Botero has an atypical style celebrated for being so unique. Both a painter and sculptor, he works at gigantic scale and his creations are always bloated, obese caricatures. His paintings are beautiful if only for their craftsmanship: the color and brushstrokes (invisible) and simplicity but the subject matter seems purposefully disgusting.

Here’s a good example named La Familia depicting a father giving attention to a cat instead of his two daughters, one of whom mirrors his action with a doll of her own (will the cycle continue?). Mother/wife in turn pets Father/husband like the cat — the only sort of familial responsibility seemingly being the outstretched hands of the off-canvas servant providing coffee. Everyone is morbidly obese – something I infer to suggest that surplus of comfort is itself ugly. In the background flies hover over what must be rotting meat — or you know, this family.

Of course such a subject is culturally interesting; is Botero making a statement of Colombian society? Is it warranted? I’m more perplexed by Botero’s own reputation in Medellín. Do people celebrate him because of these sorts of commentaries or because they believe the art itself to be beautiful? To me these are very important distinctions. The internal anatomy of a moose is interesting, but I don’t want to look at it as art. Am I close-minded or perhaps naïve to differentiate aesthetics from artistry? Is Colombia astute not to? Are they even aware that in terms of aesthetic value Botero is the inverse? Do they care? Should I? Does the city knowingly showcase ”ugly” art because it is also interesting? Would beautiful art that is boring be better or even any different? I do believe the fact that I ask all these questions is a credit to the Fernando Botero. Nevertheless, if I can think about something long and hard and still dislike it — I believe I am justified in my disgust, or at least have a better claim to it; and so perhaps Botero was the perfect artist to complement my Medellin visit.
I’ve transformed from travel hipster to Negative Nancy in the span of a few paragraphs. Medellin has a lot of great things going for it. It is a beautiful city, has a Zona Rosa (nightlife district) about four times larger than Bogotá’s (which is no small feat considering the size differences between the two cities). It’s the cleanest Colombian city I’ve been to and the traffic is much better than Bogotá’s. If I had arrived in Medellin before I visited Bogotá it’s possible that I would have been comfortable there instead. It’s interesting to think about because the distaste (discomfort?) I harbor for Medellin is more my own personal bias in ascribing it a manufactured inauthenticity and hype. But at least a million very authentic Colombian people live in Medellin — everyone I have talked to about Medellin from outside it rave about it too. I really have no claim or validity in pretending that Medellin isn’t a real or authentic, Colombian city.
So instead I’m forced to reflect on myself. Why does Medellin, a place I describe as the most comfortable place in Colombia, feel so uncomfortable to me? It has everything to do with my own personality and perspective than any of the city’s faults. In fact I can’t really find something to fault Medellin for other than the fact that I didn’t find any. And yet there are few places that I have felt so uncomfortable (Penang). I am reminded of Botero’s La Familia and think that the artist himself is suggesting to me why.