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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

Roses in Bogotá, Colombia

Updated: Apr 12

While living in Bogotá twenty years ago, my husband Mike regularly returned home from work with a dozen roses. This was new in thirty-four years of marriage. The roses might be red, pink, yellow, or write. The colors varied but the price didn't. Two U.S. dollars on a busy street corner, where flower peddlers dashed out to sell roses when cars stopped for a red light.


While in Bogotá, Mike worked for the State Department. His office was located at El Dorado International Airport, where planes loaded with roses left daily. Each 747 could hold 5,000 boxes with some l.65 million roses. Extra flights near Valentine's and Mother's Day were needed for the multi-million sold for those two occasions. In decades past a "deal" was made between the U.S. and Colombia to create an alternative crop to the growing of coca for cocaine. Today Colombia produces 80% of roses sold in the USA, according to Rebecca Solnit. As to coca, "best laid plans" of too many programs.


During our time in Bogotá , I had no idea about the industry that produced flowers flown to the USA and others sold locally. I only knew the roses beautified a dreary apartment on a noisy street in a country that used leaded gas. Our tan canvas deck chairs turned black and were not used on a tiny balcony that overlooked the congested street below. Everything we owned was in storage in Virginia, including books and art, which means we lived with State Department furniture and empty white walls. That's why the weekly roses lifted my spirit, innocent as I was at the time as to how Colombia's roses were produced.


Only on a later trip to Washington, D.C., when I saw the 2004 film, Maria Full of Grace, did I get inside a Colombian rose factory. This week I saw the movie again, recalled it so vividly, then read the late Roger Ebert review of the movie. It is interesting to know how this low-budget movie was made and how unknown Catalina Sandino was nominated for Best Actress for that year's Academy Awards for her captivating performance as Maria. I found Ebert's review insightful. He admitted he had not given thought to roses and their production before seeing the film. (I heartily recommend seeing Maria Full of Grace.)


Besides seeing the movie this week, I visited a flower factory in Rebecca Solnit's book, Orwell's Roses. The seventh part is "The Price of Roses," and the second chapter, "In the Rose Factory." Solnit is following in Orwell's footsteps, you might say. He went into the backbreaking coal mines and wrote The Road to Wigan Pier in 1937. And years earlier, he dressed as a tramp, worked in fields and kitchens, and wrote, Down and Out in Paris and London. What can an individual do about injustice and human inequality? I believe the least we can do is open our eyes widely in whatever span of life granted us, and read the best literature, not the escapist 'stuff' produced by hucksters for profit. I leave George Orwell for now… until I return in the fall for a new class about him.


Next week I begin a second course on Penelope Fitzgerald. As a transition to my next blog, I offer this factual statement. Fitzgerald's most admired writer in her Oxford days was Orwell.


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