Sunday, April 29, 2007

Less is More

Or so they say.

Anyway, I still haven't had much time on a regular basis to post consistently. This is annoying me. I feel like I have a 100 posts written in my head, yet I have only put a few up. Maybe I should quit my job so that I can devote more time to the blog.

We bought a new TV yesterday. Best news of the week. It's a 32" Samsung LCD, HDTV ready and whatnot. Very cool. Of course, the cable signal here isn't the best or most consistent, so we won't be fully taking advantage of this technology for quite some time. But that's ok. We now have a bad ass TV that will soon be mounted on the wall.

The new apartment is still getting sorted out. There are a variety of things that the builders need to fix - a leaky pipe, knobs on the shower doors, an uneven part of the floor, et. al. But, we bought some nice things yesterday and we'll buy a few more things today and that will pretty much be it. Oh, and one of my wife's aunts is loaning us her washer and dryer for 3-4 months, so we don't have to worry about that expense for awhile. I've been investigating the washer/dryer combo in one unit (they really need a good name for that, how about: wyer) but apparently they don't have gas powered versions here in Colombia, only electricity users. So, we have real concerns about the energy usage and now that I have the data necessary on the available units in the country, I have to do the power usage research. Because as cool as that technology is, it just doesn't make sense to pay more for the wyer and more every month in energy bills (not to mention the carbon usage).

I have another month to the semester at Javeriana and I'm happy about that. Teaching english there has not been the best experience. Or, I should refrase, teaching english is not the most favorable experience for me. Anyway, I have one class of all professors of the university. They get to take the class for free, assuming they pass. Never a lazier, more worthless group have I met. It looks like 2 - 4 of my professors are going to fail and have to pay for the course. I should take some blame for that as their teacher, but given that those 2- 4 are taking a course too advanced for them (something I told them at the beginning), that I've given them every resource imaginable to help them (including basically telling them that if they want to prepare for the exam they should listen to a CD that comes with the book), and that they refuse to study outside of the class, they can go to hell. Worthless, arrogant clods, they are.

I still have pics from Miami and the new apartment to put up. But realistically, that won't happen until next week. I really don't have much "at home" computer time during the week and we have more things to do today.

I'm reading John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath right now. Best book I've read in a very, very long time. He is now my official idol. Whatever awards he won for that book weren't enough. If something that I write ever comes close to his level of excellence, I will be pleased indeed. I have two more books to read after this one, Richard Clarke's Against All Enimies and The Making of Modern Colombia by David Bushnell.

Ok, that's about all for today. We've got things to do and there's lunch to be found and consumed. I hope all is well and I hope my cute little niece had a very happy birthday party at the DC zoo.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Castle San Felipe, Cartagena

The waiting taxi driver was tall and black, so black it was as if all the light had been sucked out of him leaving only that from which we all came, the raw material of the universe. A small tuft of crinkly silver hair around the base of his skull was a proud reminder of the full head of hair he must have once had. As there was a standard price that required no negotiation, he wordlessly opened the door and I got in the cab.

We got going immediately as the driver wasn’t the type to lag around. There were more fares to be had and the faster he got me to the Castle, the more money he would make. Or so I imagined.

We exchanged a few brief pleasantries, the types of words men say to put customers at ease, before lapsing into silence. He either wasn’t the chatty type or he needed all his concentration for the road. Or perhaps he just didn’t want to mix words with a stumbling Spanish speaker.

Once the car cleared the hotel lot, the horn accompanied the soft melodies emanating from the radio with a symphony of its own. Up and down the horn sounded, a crescendo of insistence and observance. The driver whipped the creaky yellow Daihatsu past busses, around and over potholes, and through impossible narrow pathways. This would have concerned me except I had lived in Colombia long enough to know that this was more than just one man’s rush to road rage – it was the normal way to drive and I couldn’t complain if it got me to my destination faster. As I had heard once, in Colombia, taxis are only a good thing when you’re in the cab.

The road from the hotel took us west down the coast. Angry blue green waves slapped the sodden beach, lashed on by an unrelenting wind. As far as the eye could see, white caps broke the Caribbean Sea either portending of things to come or reminding of angry storms just passed.

On the horn honked as if it was speaking a language of it own, a language of the road understood only be the drivers and conductors of the great moving heaps that clogged the two lane highway. The car weaved back and forth among those heaps, an incessant race against time. Cool breezes blew in the open windows at regular intervals cutting through the steel oven of a car. It was like opening the freezer on a hot summer day to cool your face, but just like that, as if your mother shut the freezer door and berated you for wasting energy, the car would go around a bend or turn a corner and the stifling humidity and heat would slap you silly.

Soon, we turned off the main road and headed inland, for the Castle was not directly on the water. This part of Cartagena would never be found in the glossy brochures or alluring advertisements. This was the unseen and unspoken Cartagena where the desperately poor constructed rough houses out of steel, stone, and brick. You could see the poverty immediately, just as you could in every other part of Colombia, as the potholes got bigger, the streets more littered with every sort of unwanted waste that could be imagined, and the looks alternated between vacant stares, downtrodden, stressful faces, eager eyes seeing only opportunity.

Back and forth we weaved to the point where I almost expected that my stoically quiet driver was taking me for a ride that would only end in a lighter wallet, if not much worse. But soon I saw the Castle peek above the semi-urban wasteland and knew that I was only minutes away.

A stoplight reared ahead of us and the little yellow sunbox skittered to a puttering stop. An attractive black woman squeezed into a pair of jeans two sizes too small sauntered by, ass beckoning man’s most primal instincts. As she passed the car, the horn barked out a new melody as the driver hung his head out, mouth slightly ajar, the tip of his tongue on his lips. A movie score has never been as…enthusiastic as this new symphony of admiration, although it seemed to be ignored by its target audience. A grin and a wink in the rearview mirror told me the driver was as much the dirty old man as I expected, not that I judged him for it. The lifelong drive of delivering tourists had but few spoils, and the admiration of youthful beauty offered the man momentary respite from an otherwise stuffy, boring day. Perhaps it was his way of stating to the world that he was human, he was alive, he was more than just a moving part of a speeding yellow box. Whatever his motivations, it marked the only moment where the driver and I shared a moment that was more than just customer-client.

Moments later we arrived at the Castle. I paid him his $12,000 pesos and he was off, his melody ringing out on the street, letting the world know he was still alive or, maybe just telling the next heap to move aside so that he could chase after the next client. Either way, the North American was forgotten.

I, however, was besieged by a legion of hawkers, each offering something different. Interested in only one thing, I declined hats, sketches, water, beer, and a half-dozen other things that I either could not directly classify or was too inattentive to bother. Another $12,000 pesos later and I was off, ticket in hand.

Up the long stone path I walked, gently rising from street level, slowly becoming steeper, it zigged and then zagged before I found the ticket collector. He was stationed in a stone guard station that I could only imagine was a sort of waypoint years before. I chuckled that they still used it to regulate passage into the Castle and handed him the ticket.

As I continued on, I found the Castle to be more than a bit confusing. There was virtually no information, nor restrictions on where you could go and what you could do. But, after spending a few moments gaining my bearings, I made a plan and headed to the Eastern side. It seemed like a good idea to go from one side to another as the Castle was at least twice as long as wide.

From the stone guardhouse, I traversed the Castle taking in the different sights and sounds. I found it to be majestic, but a place barely utilized, said better, exploited, by the city. The Castle should have been a place to go and spend hours, it should draw millions per year, instead it’s a lonely old stone fortress with an untold stories and a forgotten history. The subterranean tunnels bore out my thoughts. Underneath the Castle they went, back and forth. They represented different points of access and security against invasion. A man could hide in a dark crevice, of which there were many, while his eyes adjusted to the light. Waiting patiently, he could easily spear an unsuspecting invader who could barely pierce the gloom. This history should be told, the tunnels should be mapped, explanations should be given, yet there was barely enough available for me to concoct my explanation.

I walked down a very long, twisty, and truth be told, creepy tunnel expecting it to lead me somewhere. But it did not. Whether it should have lead to an exit, I never found out, for the bottom was flooded from the previous day’s drenching, as I realized when I splashed into cool water. I had to climb the slippery path with soggy, traction less sandals and never before had I felt so much like a tired hobbit. I left the tunnels wondering why that path existed, where it led, and what history has been left unsaid.

The high parapets of the Castle, while not as grand as those in Warwick, gave a great view of the city and the outlying areas. Shaded guard towers rifled with cool breezes pushed away the oppressiveness and I imaged that it must not have been so bad to stand guard in scratchy uniforms when the wind blew. Of course, the view of the sea was mostly obscured by the rigors of modern development, but the vision of turret and cannon, gun and spear remained in my head.

After just over an hour, I left the Castle feeling slightly unsatisfied, although duly impressed. The Castle, as castles are prone to do, carried a certain historical significance like those I had seen in England, yet with fewer frills. I imagined a world of traditionally garbed soldiers stalking the walls, a site in which explanations were given about the various histories of the outpost and in which the visitor’s experience was greatly enhanced. It was a more crowded and expensive vision, but those were costs I would have been willing to pay.

Once outside the Castle, I bought a tourist priced bottle of coke. I should have bargained the price, but the savings just wasn’t worth it to me. I was sure the vendor needed the extra $1000 more than I did. While having a portfolio of paintings hawked at me, I negotiated a price with a waiting taxi driver, and headed back to the hotel. This gentleman was much more talkative and we had an amicable chat.

The path we took was shorter, as he explained, but took us directly through one of the poorest barrios of Cartagena. I believed that the driver wanted me to see it, that he felt I needed to see it. He had misjudged me on the latter part. I was not and am not the typical tourist. I was not bound to look away and ignore the poverty that is everywhere. Instead I drank it in, wondered what the lives of the downtrodden and forgotten must be like, and got high on thoughts of how to help those most in need.

Eventually, we arrived at the hotel and, after paying the man, I was forgotten like yesterday’s breakfast. He had new clients to negotiate and ferry along and I had to find a nice quiet place to listen to the wind, cool in the shade, and think deep thoughts about things which are outside of my control yet with which my heart flagellates my conscious.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Paucity of Posts

No internet in the new apartment yet. Getting ass kicked in at work. Feeling very tired.

Pick your explanation.

Short version: We moved into the new apartment on Saturday. It´s great. Internet and TV got hooked up yesterday but I´ve been overloaded with translations at work (worked all day Sunday) and now I´m feeling loathe to lift a finger to do jack taco.

But on the bright side, the wife returned from Miami this morning and we´re going to Cartagena tomorrow night for the weekend. I win.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A High Priced Lesson in Stupidity

Shocking. Abstinence programs aren't more effective than condom promotion.

You know, there are obviously methodological problems with any study relying on self-report data, but what I don't understand is why they asked kids if they had remained abstinent WITHOUT asking them if that was a CHOICE. There are lots of kids/adults abstinent by a lack of opportunity. But it doesn't mean they're not trying. And, it seems to me that the attitude toward abstinence is a more important variable. Because out of the 50% that reported abstinence, it could very well be that 75% of them just can't get any booty. I mean, they are like 15 and all.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Here´s a randomly organized post with some initial thoughts

While I very much enjoyed my trip to the US, I was equally happy to return home to Colombia. I wouldn’t say that my emotions were akin to the first time I returned to London after being out of the country (which was when London started feeling more than just a temporary home), but I would say that I was pleased to be coming home and back to my normal life. In fact, my greatest sensation might just have been one of relief. I have yet to fully puzzle that out aside from this observation: my detachment from American culture is that which enables me best to analyze and evaluate it objectively.

I know the airport is not the best place to judge the average American, but if the behavior I witnessed during that trip is any indication, then Americans are ruder and generally more obnoxious than your average Colombian or European. I mean, I witnessed several people really behaving badly at a Sbarro in Miami, others complaining about things that clearly weren’t worth the effort, and one woman who was so starkly ignorant, loud, and uncultured, that Diana and I and everyone else sitting in our area were clearly embarrassed for her. And you wonder why foreigners criticize Americans as being loud, uncultured, arrogant asses.

At any rate, it never ceases to amaze me that you can leave a truly luxurious world and 3.5 hours later, you can land in a developing nation with tragically severe poverty and conflict issues. If you look at the world from above, you see land and trees and oceans, and rivers. There is no division. We draw lines and divide up the world. What makes us so different? What makes us so damn fortunate?

Ultimately, we have every advantage yet too few take notice of just how privileged they are. And it saddens me to think I come from a world of self-absorbed people with little interest or concern for that which lies outside their demesnes. Yet, at the same time I am reminded of the central position of the realist, a line that ultimately should be the guiding light in every endeavor, “See the world as it truly is, not how you want it to be.”

To do that one must realize that a world in which 80% of Fox News viewers believe that we found Nukes in Iraq is unsustainable. A world in which the majority of Americans can’t point out North Korea on a map is equally unsustainable. And a world in which we don’t, as a culture, as a people, live up to the creed written on the steps of the Statue of Liberty, in essence turning our back on one of the founding principles of our nation, is ultimately undesirable.

Even living outside of the US for the better part of 3 years, I have never felt disconnected or free of American culture. Some ex-pats leave the US and have little intent of ever returning. I’ll not judge them for their choice. Indeed, I understand it, probably better than some of those who divorce their country and remarry into a totally different culture. But that’s not me. My sadness in relation to my country makes me want to try to change that which I see. What forms my efforts shall take or are taking remain unclear. But I shall not shy away from my culture of origin. I shall return at some point and I can only hope to make my influence felt.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Full Post Tomorrow

Just wanted to pass along some positive stem cell research news out of the UK. Apropos on a day in which the Senate once again passed a bill that would relax stem cell research restrictions. Too bad King George is going to veto it and further hamstrung the biomedical industry.

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