Friday, July 24, 2009


First off, apologies. I had some amalgamation of swine flu and was flat on my ass for days. Hence no writing or meeting fascinating people.

Anyway, am back on the stick. Earlier this week was Colombian Independence Day and I spent the afternoon with my roommate and her cousin. We lounged away the last day of a long weekend in the most delicious way – eating, slurping creamy cappuccinos, and chatting. After we scarfed down a traditional Colombian meal of hearty soup and succulent meat with aji that packed a spicy punch, we headed to a coffee shop and sprawled ourselves out in front of a huge window, snuggled into scrumptious red leather seats and lapped up the afternoon Andean sun that filled up the room.

We of course talked about traveling and the amazing range of cultures that exist in Latin America. In Argentina, where the influence of Italy and the old country reigns supreme to here in Colombia, where the imperialist North Americans have left a King Kong sized footprint in the culture. In the middle, in Bolivia, there is a starker line – in one glance native culture fills your vista with the women dressed in their ballooning polleras and bowl hats, while in the other it's first worldified women in tight jeans and pointy stiletto heels wobbling down ancient city streets. These orientations not only affect how things look, they also effect the social dynamics of each place.

The classism and racism are different when the cultural contrasts are so stark. They even cloud the political landscape, creating divisions of animosity and instability for everyone, regardless of their tailor. In North America, while we have our distinct subcultures (even our own albeit meager sized Native America culture), none of them dominate the landscape with nearly as much force as they do in a place like Bolivia. Constant strife exists between the indigenous people of the Alto Plano and the more European influenced residents of the eastern side of the country.

Why is this? The modern Americas -all of us- are the teenagers of the world (compared to other places), but not all of us seem to have to gone beyond young adulthood. Part of it may be the size of each country- it’s pretty easy to exist as a subculture when there are a myriad of subcultures a la the US or even Argentina or Colombia to a lesser extent. These places all share a relatively large mix of ancestries – from the wide reaches of Eurasia and Asia to almost everywhere in Europe and into Africa. Whereas in Bolivia, there isn’t much of a range of subcultures, there’s just two very dominant ones – indigenous and European.

I guess the more flavors you’ve got, the less extreme the contrasts. Plus, isn’t it more delicious? Sorry, it’s lunch time.

Friday, July 10, 2009


It’s my first days in Bogotá and I am trying to find my way against a maze of zig zag roads that climb through the city like vines and addresses littered with a mouthful of numbers (which are my nemesis in Spanish). Add to that a radical microclimate where it goes from spring to fall in less than 15 minutes and you have my first days here.

Yesterday I did a little site seeing and went to the house of Simón Bolívar. Of course, it was a grand affair- a lush garden brimming with gorgeous plants, rooms where Bolívar entertained the intellectuals of his time, and a proud display of weaponry used by him and his compatriots. I went with a young Austrian woman who had studied Bolivar and his battles, which proved to be useful as we traded my translations services with her vast knowledge of all thing Bolivarian.

When we were chatting, she mentioned to me that Bolívar was not an indigenous South America. While born in Venezuela, he came from an aristocratic Spanish family. Simon was a pretty impressive dude, leading efforts to liberate what was known as Gran Colombia, which included parts of today’s Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia. Basically this dude was George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton all rolled into one. Or else he had a better PR person than anyone else.

Anyway, Bolívar was an extremely liberal thinker and wrote about creating government with checks and balances and individual rights a la the US. But it all kinda went south on him, he went the dictator route, which of course got ugly. He was planning his exile to France when he died.

In this tragic story, my favorite irony is that a dude totally worshipped by the likes of Chavez and Morales was thinking along the same lines as their present day nemesis. I get how it’s all been distorted, blah and blah. But still, a paradox, no?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

First World Fear

So this is my last week in the states before I head off for the next great adventure – Colombia! I have been bouncing around yet again and this week I’m house sitting in a lush DC suburb, staying in a quiet rambling house hugged by green trees, early summertime flowers and a Hollywood movie-like vibe of peace and tranquility. For this, it makes me think that some of my friends in Latin America would probably conjure up images of this kind of place when thinking about the states.

The other morning I woke up to a glorious summer morning. I felt for a moment like I was at summer camp, that youthful freedom that comes with being a city kid out in the country. I slurped my coffee slowly on the spacious back porch, looking up to see a cerulean, cloudless sky and heard only the clicky chirps of the birds lounging in the trees. I decided that I needed to fully enjoy this deliciousness and take a morning run. I started off slowly, the mini mansions that tastefully looked modest from the road churned by. I picked up the pace, deeply inhaling the thickening summertime air filled with the smells of the impeccably cared for greenery that lined the roads. Zoned….

After a while, I looked around. It all still looked the same. The tasteful homes, the front yards perfectly manicured by a third world person, the politically correct hybrid car parked in the neatly placed driveway. My heart was struck with fear as I realized that I was lost… totally, utterly lost and there was not a soul around to direct me back home.

In the moment when this hit me, I was terrified of this suburban existence more than I had ever been walking home wasted at 4 am on the streets of Buenos Aires or New York or even sketchy ass Washington DC. It was the lack of people, the lack of noise, the lack of someone to help when you are lost. When I did see people, they were cryogenically sealed into their nice cars likely only interacting with other humans through the cloistered veils of cell phones or emails, Facebook or Twitter.

I eventually found my way back home, but found myself pondering this isolated first world life. You make more money to buy a big house, away from people in the city. You make even more money and you hire a nanny to care for your child, instead of caring for them yourself. Your parents get old and you pay for someone to take care of them. Money puts more distance between you and other people.

I guess it is no different for those third world elites I saw in BA. They have fallen prey to the same Hobson’s choice that the first world has already committed itself to lock, stock and barrel. I know we all think this is progress, but is it?