Wednesdays with Natalia

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“Do you want to go to Juan Valdez or Kaffe Florida? At Juan Valdez we can sit outside but Kaffe Florida has better product.”

“Wherever you want to go.”

“OK. Let’s go to Kaffe Florida.”

I don’t know much about girls. But there’s one thing I’m realizing: You have to do whatever you want to do. If you try to make them happy you’ll fail — that’s a given — so the only thing you can do is try to make yourself happy. At least that way one person is happy.

Natalia and I walk to Kaffe Florida. I came here last time. One of the servers was cute. I didn’t get coffee last time because it made me anxious. This time I’m getting coffee. I want to see if there’s anywhere in Manizales that has even remotely good coffee. The other day at La Vieja Escuela was an abomination.

“The eggplant a la parmesana looks delicious,” says Natalia.

“So why don’t you get them?”

“Too expensive.”

“Natalia, this is on me.”

“No, I feel bad.”

I go inside and order an americano for myself and also a chocolate brownie with ice cream. For Natalia I get a chai tea and also the eggplant a la parmesana. I’m being cute. It will be nice to surprise her. She’ll like it. This is what you do when you like someone.

To give a little context, I’m in Manizales visiting my friend Natalia. We might like each other. It’s still not clear. Sometimes it seems crystal clear, but other times it’s opaque and muddy, like water in a puddle. The one thing I can say is I feel more comfortable than last time. Last time I was a wreck. “Does she like me? Does she like me? Waaaaaaaa…does she like me?”

Today we’re going to the hot springs. Last time at the hot springs was also kind of a disaster. I was trying to be charming and seductive and dive-bombed. I was like an F-14 whose thrusters have gone out somewhere above the Indian Ocean. And the jerks didn’t even have the bottom pool open. Plus it was night so there were 6,000 people. How can you be charming when you’re surrounded by 6,000 people? Today we’re going during the day. There will be no people.

“The eggplant for who?” the server says when she brings out silverware. I point at Natalia. She makes a face. Awesome. I try to do something nice and she makes a face. Wonderful.

My brownie comes and it’s piled decadently with ice cream. I want to drown myself in this ice cream. I need this chocolate.

Natalia is happy about the eggplant. She keeps talking about how delicious it is even though to me it had the consistency of a bike tire. The brownie with ice cream is good, though. The americano is not good. What is wrong with these people? We are literally surrounded by coffee plantations and the coffee they serve is shit. They don’t even know what good coffee is. You give them good coffee and they think it’s bad. And then you give them the same shit they’ve been drinking their whole lives and they think it’s delicious.

Breathe, Mark.

I’m thinking about a guy who might hire me. He works in Brooklyn for a startup or food magazine or something called Taste. His name is Carter. The problem is this: I just booked a flight to southern Argentina. And here’s the thing: I need to go there. I need to go to this place. It is written. But whenever I make a commitment to something, whenever I start to get my life together bogeys start approaching from all sides threatening to throw me off the path. I’m like the F-14 again, this time being approached by Russian MiGs. Goose is my copilot. Things are going well. We’re following orders. Or rather, we’re not following orders, but we’re the stars of the squadron. We know we’re doing the right thing. All the sudden orders come over the radio to change course towards Somalia. We know we shouldn’t do it; if we do it, some of our squad members will die. Most of the time, though, we follow orders. We’re afraid of getting chewed out. Plus, the orders coming in are logical. But those assholes are also sitting on an aircraft carrier 500 miles away. They’re not up in the sky with several tons of missiles between their legs in a little steal box surrounded by Russkys. Do you see what I’m getting at? This is my life. I always know the right thing to do. But I listen to other people. I don’t follow my heart.

I know I have to go to Ushuaia. I’m going to tell Carter I can be up in Brooklyn for the job in a couple weeks. That will have to do for him. Don’t try to talk me out of it. It is written.

Back at Kaffee Florida Natalia has finished her eggplant. I’ve finished my brownie and my shitty americano. I’ve had a good time. In general, I’ve had a good time with her on this trip. I’ve enjoyed seeing her. I like her because she pushes me intellectually, because she’s sarcastic. Too sarcastic, sometimes. But at least she’s not boring.

I go inside and pay and we take a bus home. We ride the bus leaning on each other, arm in arm. It’s nice. It’s like having a girlfriend. We get back and I sit alone on the porch looking out over the finca. The view is incredible. You can see almost all the way to the Pacific coast. In the far mountains, lightning dances in the sky. A thousand crickets sing. I breathe in deeply.

I look out into the night.

Tuesdays With Luna


It’s so nice to get out of Bogota. To be in Manizales. To be playing with a golden lab named Luna who’s obsessed with a bottle. To not sleep on my air mattress in my apartment that has nothing and worry about whether my neighbors are going to come home at 2am and start blasting shitty music. To be tranquilo. To be in the hills. To maybe drink coffee. To maybe not drink coffee. To make homemade pizza last night that sort of turned out and was semi-delicious but also had crust that was the relative consistency of a hockey puck. To travel. To get on a plane. To eat torta de milo. To drink the shittiest aeropress I’ve ever had in my life by a guy who’s probably never had good coffee.

My friend Natalia and I went to a coffee shop yesterday called La Vieja Escuela. Actually, you know what? I don’t want to talk bad about the cafe. Who cares. It was coffee. There are better things to talk about. Like Luna. Luna is a golden lab. She spends all day enclosed on a balcony because her owners are afraid that if they let her out she’ll maim other dogs. Luna has probably never hurt anything except the plastic bottles she likes to chew on. They let her out once a day in the evening. She goes crazy. She has the time of her life. She smiles and pants. She doesn’t think, “Ohhhhh boo hoo I only get to be outside for a half hour so I’m going to mope around.” She doesn’t resent the people who keep her caged on the balcony all day. She forgives and forgets rapidly. She loves them because they give her food. I want to be like Luna (except for being enclosed on a balcony).

I’m not going to be in Colombia much longer. I’m going to wander once again. I’m trusting my instinct. I’m sick of trusting my instinct. Or rather, I’m sick of not trusting my instinct. Of not trusting my instinct every minute of every day. Of taking breaks. Sometimes I make decisions and I think to myself, “This is not the right thing. You’re not trusting your instinct.” But then I do it anyway! It’s like Sam Harris says in his book Lying, “We often behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy.” Like the other night when we went to the club with those girls in Galerias. Like when I got my stupid apartment. Like when I smoke cigarettes. Like when I eat shitty food. There’s this little voice that says, “Mark, this is stupid….” and then I do it anyway. I’m sure we all struggle with this. Or rather, I’m sure there are people who don’t struggle with it. There are people who are ultra-disciplined and then there are people who aren’t disciplined at all. There are people who’ve ignored their little voice for so long it doesn’t even speak to them anymore. And there’s people whose voice is a crazy person.

I’m going to make some eggs now. Some delicious eggs with onion and mozzarella cheese and a yellow pepper. Luna is next to me. She’s panting. She’s smiling. She’s wagging her tail. She’s slightly overweight. Luna does not want you to pet her. She only wants to play with the bottle. Anytime you try to pet her she either bites your hand or lunges at the bottle.

After I make eggs I might eat some more of the pizza. I’m going to do laundry. I want to go to a cafe and work on an article I’m going to submit to the New York Times (the New York Times is unique in that anyone can submit; of course, not anyone can get published). It’s about my friend Leider and social classes in Bogota. I don’t even want to write about it. I’m only writing about it because I think that’s what real writers write about. Social issues and shit like that. But I know what I really want to write about. I want to write about going to cafes. I want to write about the guy yesterday who gave me the coffee to smell, as if it was some excquisite harvest that couldn’t be found anywhere else, perfectly roasted, even though the first thing I thought when I smelled it was, “Geeze, that is bad coffee. This is going to be bad.” And sure enough it was. My friend Natalia liked it. I liked the cake. And I like playing with Luna. And making eggs.

Feature: Making Coffee in Manizales


These are coffee beans. They are picked off a coffee plant when red. You just pull them off.


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