On one of my last few days in Barcelona, I was observing the world on the road by the Arc De Triomf and watching an Eastern European make giant soap bubbles that kids manically chased around.
I thought how I’ve never once seen anyone do that in Colombia.
The margins on making soap bubbles are amazing and I’m sure kids would love it. Vendors are doing less worthwhile businesses, like one guy selling a solitary chirping bird sculpture to people having lunch from shop to shop.
I think they’ve just never seen the idea before. And no one has ever decided: I’ll stop here for a few days and start making giant bubbles.
I decided to be that guy.
Travelers are meant to transport and connect cultures. How often are we doing that nowadays? My thoughts go to Melquíades, the fictional gypsie from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 years of solitude. He’d stop into the Colombian village once year and display marvels from around the world.
In my imagination it was going to work out like this:
- I would learn how to make the magic soap juice
- Buy materials for 5 locations
- Start bubbling for 30 minutes in each spot
- Find someone who was doing something random, show them how to do it and give them supplies for a few days
- Peace out of there and maybe they’ll keep doing it
In one year, I would come back and perhaps there would be a bunch of giant bubble buskers.
Surprisingly, the first five steps worked out almost exactly like that 1
The first location I went to was “El Centro”. On the way there, I chatted with the taxi driver and told him my idea, which he loved and asked me to credit him for being the person to drive me to the first location. I was a reassured and promised to credit him, so shout out to Juan, my taxi driver. He dropped me off in a busy square with my bucket and bubble wand and gave me his blessings.
There were dozens of vendors all around me, from guys selling socks, to throwing paper airplanes, to literally running snake oil scams with a microphone speaking about how it can heal anything.
I was immediately overwhelmed and was this close to letting my ego tell me that I’m too good for this and need to walk away.
I went with the inertia of already being there, and having asked a photographer to join me (thanks Hernan!), and started brewing my bubble concoction in a bucket in the middle of the square.
There was a little dread when I couldn’t get any of these bubbles going (It was my first attempt), but then finally a few big ones started floating out.
First one kid, then 2, then 5. They’re gathering, doubling back and freaking out because they’ve never seen anything like it.
One lady stuck around for the whole time. I asked her what she did, and she replied that she goes to the center everyday and does nothing. Boomshakalaka – I found my first apprentice.
I show her how to make the bubbles, hand her a recipe, and ingredients for 5 days.
Another vendor comes over and I copy him over a recipe and show them how they’re made.
A few minutes later, the lady is loving it, and I slowly backed out and disappeared.
The moment that really lit me up, was when I turned around and from a distance, my bubble busker trainee is looking at me with a smile and laughing eyes. I wave to her and slip farther away leaving her with the bucket between her feet and the bubble wand in her hand.
I did this in 3 more locations. The second where my bubble materials were stolen on a tea break, which is perfect, because that’s the point, and third where I tried to teach a bathroom attendant how to do it, and he kept asking if I was going to come back to take fifty percent of the money. (Tune in to the next season of The Soapranos)
Will it be a trend in a year? “American guy brings over bubble job from Spain…”
I don’t know… long shot… but I hope so!
Personally, this is exactly the kind of randomness I want to make time for and lets me know I’m on my own right track.
What are some projects that only you would do?
1(I got stuck on finding this one ingredient called “guar gum” that makes the bubbles really thick. I put my manufacturing and importing skills to work and tracked down import records to a distribution center. Then eventually to a warehouse in the far side of town. I sent a driver to pick up a kilo of it for me and put their info on all my recipe sheets.
September 2016 – Thank you to Andres Gomez and Hernan for the photography
I loved this podcast about the guy who invented giant bubbles in 1984. His father was part of the team that worked on the atomic bomb and he wanted to take a different path http://www.radiolab.org/story/bigger-bacon/