Bon Voyage

I can think of few things I enjoy more than buying a new book at an airport. The thought of being trapped in the air inside a metal tube for hours with nothing to do but read or watch bad movies is thrilling. The more so with a brand new glossy book upon my lap. 

On my flight today I carry the story above. Garcia Marquez’s first formal forray into the novelesque: a literary rendition of a true-life shipwreck tale. The “actual” story took place here, in Colombia, where I often work and play. Marquez’s version was first published in installments in one of the main national newspapers. 

Which brings forth the question: why doesn’t installment writing happen anymore? Perhaps this blog will do something about that. 

But, for now, there is nothing but paper and plane. 

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Great News for Colombian Literature

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Stop what you are doing and read this name very slowly: Tomás González. It is the sound of the future of Colombian literature.

Mr. González’s first novel, “In the Beginning Was the Sea,” recently translated into English, was shortlisted for The Independent’s 2015 foreign fiction prize. The Independent is one of Britain’s premier newspapers.

Heavyweights such as Haruki Murakami, Jenny Erpenbeck and Erwin Mortier are also on the list.

The only book I’ve read by González is “La luz difícil,” which I consumed overnight.  I cannot wait to read “In the Beginning was the Sea,” or “Primero estaba el mar,” which was first published by the owner of the Bogotá nightclub were González once worked as a bartender.

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It Existed


mark strandThis post was written from Roldanillo, Colombia, a tiny town toward the west of the country.  I was there all week attending the Colombian Women Poets Festival for the first time ever.

So I had time for a quick post featuring U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand, taken a few months ago in a páramo, a cloud forest located at more than 3,000 meters above sea level. Few nations in the world possess these natural wonders, which are rich sources of water, so Colombia is lucky to be among the countries on the planet with the most páramos.

 

Once Upon a Cold November Morning

 

I left the sunlit fields of my daily life and went down in the

hollow mountain, and I discovered, in all its chilly glory,

the glass castle of my other life. I could see right through it,

and beyond, but what could I do with it? It was perfect, irre-

ducible, and worthless except for the fact that it existed.

A Week with Colombia’s Women Poets

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I am in the small Colombian town of Roldanillo for the 30th Annual Meeting of Colombian Women Poets, held at The Rayo Museum (above).

I will be here all week, the longest I spend alone in such a small town.

Below is my official badge, which features an emblematic work by Omar Rayo, one of Colombia’s most important artists and the founder of the museum.

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Apart from hosting over 100 poets, The Rayo Museum is also presenting two exhibits by two of Colombia’s foremost women artists: Deborah Arango and Beatriz Gonzalez. Below is a work by Gonzalez I loved.

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And, finally, below are two photos from the streets that corner my small, tidy hotel.

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Shameful and Shameless Election Coverage in Colombia

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Election Day

Today, I am veering off topic to write about politics in my home country of Colombia. Today, is the presidential run-off between incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos and hopeful candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

It is a very tight race, exacerbated by the reprehensible media coverage of the candidates and the positions they represent. Every major Colombian news outlet blatantly supported President Santos since the elections began, and with increasing force when his campaign faltered as it became clear that he would not count with a decisive win.

 

How Elections are Won

It is easy to see why El Tiempo, Colombia’s most-read newspaper, serves Santos. Its majority owner and one of Colombia’s wealthiest men, Luis Carlos Sarmiento, is after the adjudication of massive infrastructure projects that the country desperately needs and that the Santos administration is late to deliver.

It is less clear why the much-respected news magazine Semana would put its reputation at stake. A cousin to President Santos does act as Director, but one would hope this is simply an unrelated fact.

El Espectador, the nation’s second newspaper, gave the candidates somewhat more equal air time and deserves recognition for that.

Serious media outlets have a duty to inform opinion and to express it. News informs opinion; editorials express it. Trouble arises when news headlines and content begin to express an opinion. This is when newspapers lose credibility, relevance, purpose.

Such is the case of Fox News; no one watches it to form an opinion. It is watched by those who wish their views mirrored back to them and by others who want a laugh.

 

Headless Monster

The Economist usually takes an open stance a week or so before a presidential election. Prior to that they present the candidates, their positions and the country’s current state with accuracy. And, when they finally pick sides, they say why.

Last week, the British weekly threw its support to President Santos, citing the importance of giving him more time to close peace negotiations currently under way with Colombia’s FARC rebels. If the negotiations are successful, they would put an end to 50-year’s of guerrilla warfare. Of course, this sounds great. The problem is that this peace is a symbolic peace. And, Colombia does not have the luxury of staking an election on symbolic peace.

It is unlikely that the FARC leaders negotiating the deal with Santos’ government in Havana still control the 8,000 or so members of the guerrilla group. Originally a Communist movement, the FARC devolved into a profitable, ruffian ring dedicated to drug-trafficking and extortion.

Some would lay down arms in the event an agreement is reached. But a large part would simply continue their daily routines, without the banner of Communist justice.

For me, the problem is that Santos has proved inept at dealing with violent crime. Sure he will take a pretty picture with the FARCs head men, but I have serious doubts he will effectively control the headless monster that will remain.

Uncontrolled violent crime is not peace.

 

Peace on Paper

Colombian media also claim that they support peace, and so Santos. A respectable stance if left to the editorials and columnist sections. But, they molded everyday headlines to support their position. One day giving scant airtime to reports that the FARC killed a police captain. Another day headlining the President’s agenda. Yet another day editing videos of opponent Zuluaga to fit their views.

A debate in which Santos fared poorly, organized by El Tiempo, could not be seen on the newspaper’s website. An interested reader could only find the raw, unedited footage on youtube.

Yesterday, I spoke to an individual personally vested in the President’s win who could not believe the Santos campaign was doing so poorly considering he has the entire governmental apparatus in his pocket and the nation’s media up his sleeve.

Voters are not as clueless as they seem. Ineptitude pays a price at the ballot box. One can only hope that today’s results will be a faithful reflection of what the Colombian people want, nothing more and nothing less.

 

 

 

 

 

El Dorado, unwakened

Mark Strand Hiking Nature Poetry LiteratureThe silver blue horizontal slice between the mountains in the picture above is Colombia’s Guatavita Lake, better known as El Dorado. The legend that its bottom is heavy with treasure arose when the conquering Spaniards learned that the then-native Chibchas sunk gold there as an offering to the gods.

The actual gold found at Guatavita never met expectations. Today, a small part can be found at Bogotá’s Gold Museum and a much larger part is likely housed in museums that display the former wealth of the Spanish Crown.

After the seven-hour hike I took this week I can say that, regardless of the lack of gold, time spent near Guatavita is invaluable. To me, the poem above, written by former U.S. poet laureate Mark Strand, accurately describes the view. Or, rather, captures the shortfalls of language, of description, at the feet of the truly magnificent.

Read La Calera 2013