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PIGEONS AND TIME: THE PLAZA PRINCIPAL OF SANTIAGO DE ARMA DE RIONEGRO, ANTIOQUIA, COLOMBIA

Part II of a series of articles about Rionegro and her sacredness.

A collage of the Plaza Principal of Santiago de Arma de Rionegro, Antioquia, Colombia (Emma-Louise Jay)

In Rionegro it is the pigeons that move time. The plaza principal - not unlike the Casa de la Convención - has been tragically divided into two, but the pigeons choose to fly only over José María Córdova and the most traditional segment of the square, forgoing the 'new' museum and her peculiar troglodytic entrance. As darkness falls and tries to remain, a person who pays close attention would notice that in Rionegro the night time never really comes. That perhaps is not true, night comes by way of hours of the clock, but the sky does not go completely dark over the plaza, and so Córdova appears to be alive as ever he once was, as a man who never sleeps on his promises to his people.



The sculpture of Córdova, by epic Colombian sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancur, watches over the square with the eternal eyes that only belong to heroes of his caliber. When the light begins to fade for the night, Córdova does not appear tired, and so the pigeons create shadowy cascades all about the plaza as if under his command and distinctively Antioquian spell. Indeed, far from being just a sculpture, Córdova frequently appears to break free of the material out of which he has been depicted, so that he comes alive again, natural in his habitat of the saddle and with sword in hand, a rebel to the core.



It is a strange thing to feel such admiration and longing to know a dead person you apparently have not the least personal or historical connection to, and so, I find it peculiar that I want to know all I can about this man, General Córdova. But does he not represent Colombia? Does he not represent our blessed Antioquia? Perhaps it is fearlessness, his sacrifice in blood, or even his humanness despite his military might, which make him an inspiring and awesome character in our history. It could also be his paradoxical fragility and emotional vulnerability; a warrior who was also romantic and tender - a naivety and a cockiness which prevented his seeing his own end.



Or perhaps it is his death at such a tender age at the commands of the eventual tyranny and despotism of Bolívar. Almost everywhere here in Colombia, Bolívar is remembered some kind of mythic political rescuer, as our ‘liberator’, and yet we know that like many a politician once declared as this country’s savior this white-washing quickly reveals itself rather as megalomania, eternal dictatorship and the impulse to eradicate the existence of all other souls who oppose his philosophy. Any revolution carried out in the name of Bolívar must also surely then be doomed by the conjuring of his spirit. 



Rionegro can look like a simple little village if you do not look closely. People here can seem to be so sweet tempered and gentle that it can be too easy to neglect the atmosphere of revolution that permeates every street corner. If you take the time to sit on a bench for example, every man (however ‘humble’ his attire perhaps in wellington boots and jeans padded out with newspaper shavings) is discussing politics with his friend, and if you go to a café, you are more likely to come across political leaflets than toilet paper.



The vantage point also matters. Down in the plaza, it is dizzying the beauty that overtakes you. The sky is so blue and simultaneously peculiarly pink in the afternoon, and it is the kind of blue that only ordinarily appears in dreams . This coupled with the heat which also seems hotter than people tell me Rionegro is meant to be, can overwhelm the soul to the point that you feel you have fainted albeit without any possibility of ever becoming resuscitated. And yet, up in one of the balconies of the bars and cafes that line the square, Rionegro takes on an ever more splendid quality. She becomes grand again. As daylight fades in a typical afternoon, she becomes ever populated by her resting residents after day’s hard toil. Some wear carriels swinging on their shoulders, and others wear tight clothing revealing ever fold of their flesh in a brazen act of civil defiance. I feel love for them all.



As all of this goes on, the pigeons fly back and forth like the waves of outermost ocean; they are wild, but they still obey the laws of physics, and they dance together will all the precision of a well-rehearsed army performing a drill with ribbons and drums. The pigeons appear always to be under the command of General Córdova, and fly back to him and his fingertips in order to regroup and also so as to regain strength and morale.



When I was younger, I used to lie out in the sea when I would visit my grandmother at her house in Eastbourne. I would place my head in the sand of the beach and I would just let my feet travel out into the lapping waves of the water so that the salt would form a crust all over my legs in layers. All of this was forgotten by me until the pigeons came to lap all over me in Rionegro. It was so similar and so different at the same time that I was confused by the mixture of nostalgia and newness from the same blissful sensation.



A certain incarnation of Córdova may have been assassinated, but he is not the kind of person that can ever be killed. This is the paradox. A soul such as his does not rest simply because his body was removed from his as his vehicle on this earth. If his ambitions and work had been achieved by now perhaps the situation would be different, but given the present-tense struggle for liberty and true virtue he does not take his rest any time soon.



This must be the explanation then as to why the plaza never really goes black in Rionegro – Córdova never really sleeps, and when he retreats to his hilltop mausoleum at night he leans against his tomb and dreams of coleo and of love as opposed to surrendering himself to any kind of sleep.



This article is dedicated to the nameless gypsy of the Itagui community who shared with me his culture and kindly chose not put a curse on me when I was too afraid to allow him to read my palm. In fact, I did let him read it, but I asked him never to share with me what my destiny was. I believe in the wisdom of gypsies, perhaps too much, but they don't hold back in their discoveries, and I wasn't ready for his conclusions that day, or perhaps, never.