Sunday, October 03, 2010
Colombian Flower Power
by tatiana de la tierra
Once a year, they descend from the mountains with their flowers in order. And the crowds are there to cheer them on. The centerpiece of Medellin’s 53rd annual Festival of Flowers is El Desfile de Silleteros, a parade of flower growers who carry arrangements on their backs in customized wooden frames. This year, 500 silleteros came from Santa Elena, a rural town east of Medellin, to march through the city.
It was a hot Sunday afternoon in August and the streets were jammed with people revved up to be entertained by flowers. One side of the street was standing room only, and the other side was lined with bleachers. You had to know somebody or stand in line for hours, or pay scalpers hefty fees to land tickets for bleacher seats.
Once seated, we had to wait in the heat as an invisible emcee told jokes, played Colombian party music, and teased us with tidbits of information about the silleteros. Meanwhile, attractive women roamed the bleacher isles pouring shots of aguardiente. Paisas were drinking, dancing, and laughing; by the time the silleteros took off at Avenida de El Rio Puente de Guayaquil, the crowds were sauced, anticipating the entourage of flowers.
Dressed in traditional Colombian peasant outfits, male and female silleteros wore colorful flower concoctions on their backs. Children, teens, adults and elders carried anywhere from 50 to 150 pounds. They walked hunched over and stood up at intervals, twirling to display their works of art as the audience cheered, clapped, roared and rallied for them.
It looked painful, carrying those heavy loads in that heat. Every once in a while, they would set the flowers down and take a sip of water offered by one of the assistants trailing them. It was when they put the load back on, as they struggled to hoist the frame up and strap a stabilizing band to their foreheads, that you could appreciate the weight of all those lilies, carnations, gladioli, ginger, orchids, roses, sunflowers, tul de novias, pinochos, agapantos, chispas and bromeliads. Thirty silleteros won money and prizes in various categories for their creations.
Yet they were all victorious, rock star flower campesinos glistening with sweat, showing off their flowery artwork.