Stretched out at an elevation of 8,600 feet and home to more than seven million people, Colombia’s capital Bogotá is best seen in its entirety from Monserrate, a 10,300-foot peak located on the city’s east side. I use the word “entirety” loosely however, because I’m not sure we see anything — including Bogotá from a mountaintop — in its entirety.
I arrived at Monserrate at 4:00 p.m. and would stay until after six so that I could watch night fall on the city. This would also give me the opportunity to descend, through darkness, back into Bogotá aboard a cable car, peering through a glass window at the city drawing nearer. If I recall correctly, this was the first time I had been on a cable car at night. Suspended in darkness you see clearly that many things around you are in fact hidden. Even the handful of passengers in the cable car were but whispering shadows and silhouettes to one another.
In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, a character makes an observation that one could also make as he descends toward a city in an unlit cable car:
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!
We err in assuming that we know all there is to know about someone. Probably we err even in assuming we know half of what there is to know. I often think this when I watch news pundits speak with false authority about people who live in and are shaped by places that the pundit has never been. But sometimes I think it about myself too, not least when I’m gliding through darkness surrounded by silhouettes, approaching a city whose language I do not speak and in which I’ll spend so little time.
It’s a wonderful fact to reflect upon.