In all Colombian travel guides it is written that one should always carry a thick wad of not-too-large banknotes in one’s trouser-pocket – a bundle that is held firmly together with a rubber-band or some such fixing agent. In case of an armed robbery one should simply hand over this money without protest. One can thereby avoid unnecessarily frustrating the contemporary behind the waving pistol or glinting knife – because «people have been murdered for pocket change», as the «Lonely Planet» warns. That sounds like a sensible precautionary measure. Problem is, it’s not easy to get together a bundle of such notes because the bank automats dispense only high-denomination notes: 50,000 pesos, roughly 25 US dollars.
Since my arrival in Colombia I have taken pains to put together a bundle that will come in handy during such an attack – and almost every day I have pondered over how its composition can be improved. I have even considered the fact that a few larger and medium-denomination notes should actually be visible in it – in order to provide the hasty look of the robber with a certain sense of satisfaction. But the bulk of the notes should be really small notes – to some extent the lead-padding of my security wall. For the first impression the colour composition of the bundle is certainly important, the glow out of its cracks, the texture, the form of the transition from the more valuable to the less valuable material. The bundle must be so constituted that it creates a pleasant excitement in the attacker but does not aggravate his appetite – ultimately, he should not get the idea that there’s possibly more to loot.
The bundle appealed to me more and more with every passing day – so much so that I began to carry my work through the streets with a certain pride: a work that I had created for an unknown recipient, an anonymous public. When the composition turned optimal in my view I began to increase the symbolic worth of the bundle – by, for instance, exchanging dirty notes for clean ones. Eventually, I saw the money not as my own but as my bandit’s; it was meant to stand in service of a higher goal. And when, during an encounter with a criminal taxi-driver who claimed to have no change, I came close to being forced to fish out a small note from my portfolio, it flashed through my mind that I could myself be the robber who grabs money from others. It was not a good feeling at all.
Now, after one whole week in Colombia, the bundle is perfect: plump, handsome, clean and inviting – like a well-trained muscle. It feels good to have it in the pocket of my trousers: it gives me a sense of security, strength and courage – almost as though the packet itself were a weapon.
And a weapon it is, too – in its own way. In any case, it is a manipulation of the robber, a trap for the attacker, a chess move, almost a trick like that used by politicians: a fat promise which will be followed by a frugal reality. Perhaps I should proceed further along this path – at long last, the presidential elections will soon take place in Colombia. I could have a small stamp made and every note embossed with my message: Peter Polter President, Peter Polter President, Peter Polter President…
First Publication: 10-3-2014