Friday, February 25, 2011

Bringing back the arts to the Carnival

Barranquilla--my home--has many names: the Golden Gate of Colombia, the Capital of the Atlantic Republic, Curramba The Beautiful (kinda lame translation for Curramba La Bella), The Sandy (yet another lame translation for La Arenosa)... but Barranquilla is mostly known for it's Carnival.

Declared a Masterpice of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003, my Carnival (well, the Carnival of Barranquilla) is a BIG DEAL. Unfortunately, two events make me have nothing but bad memories of this world-reknowned event; they are the reason why I celebrate 12 years of not going to a Carnival. The first one involved a death in the family around this time of year (Carnival is celebrated in late February), and the other one involved many drunk people and a cigarrette burn. You see, people drink a lot during the Carnival. Ok, people drink a lot anywhere, anytime (it's 5 o'clock somewhere, right?), but they do more so during the 4 days of Carnival. Though I have nothing against drinking (before my gallbladder incident I did my fair share of drinking...), I do have something against being-12-years-old-and-surrounded-by-drunken-adults-who-refuse-to-let-me-go-home. You see, Carnival celebrations start (oficially) on a Saturday morning, at around 10-ish, and end on the following Tuesday at around 5 p.m. During those 4 days, the drinking only stops because people sleep (or pass out).

I hated it. And I vowed never to attend a Carnival again.

This year, my brilliant friends from Coliseo Films have done some shots for the Carnival. They are bringing the arts back to the Carnival, and they are making me love it, yearn it,  miss it. You see, I actually do remember a time when it was all about the dances, the beautiful women and their synchronized hip movements, about the costumes and the music; not about the drinking. My friends are showing me that the art I so miss is back.

Take a look at their videos. Aside from the fact that they are amazingly well shot, done and edited, see how artistic my Carnival can be.

That I really want to go back to.




Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Something to talk about...

I think I'm nice to have around, and I think I can hold conversations with almost anyone because I have many things to talk about, and I am also (sometimes, and kinda) a good listener. So, if someone wants to talk about food, I can do that. I am no expert, no chef and no studied connoseur, but I can keep the conversation going on for a while. Same thing goes for politics and science. I love to talk about literature, because I feel that in that particular topic, most of the time I know what I'm talking about.

I can talk to people who are less educated on certain subjects than I am, making me the "main" speaker, so to say; but I just love talking to people who are way smarter than I am, because I feel like I learn from them.

However, I am not one to talk just for the sake of talking. I remember I went to a party once, and was shocked to see people smoking marihuana. I was shocked because I am a prude when it comes to drugs; cigarrette and alcohol, I can handle. But marihuana and everything worse makes me want to leave the place. Anyway, I found myself talking to this guy who, though drunk, seemed to have some good points with respect to politcs; you see, he went to a public school, and public schools in Colombia are completely different from Private schools. So I figured he knew what he was talking about. Until he said we had to legalize marihuana because (get ready for his only argument) "it makes people happy, man!". Personally, I agree with some arguments pro-legalization, but the happiness factor is not one of them. I figured it was pointless to continue this conversation.

It was pointless because we were going to get into an argument, and arguing with drunk/high people is not fun; also, I don't really like confrontation. If you say marihuana should be legalized and your only argument is "because it makes people happy", I have nothing to argue there. I don't agree, period. If I were to argue with someone about whether or not God exists, there is nothing to argue: I believe He/She does exist, and I am not interested in being proven otherwise. I am also not interested in being "saved". So I have nothing to discuss.

I think we were all taught that Religion and Politics are two issues better left untouched.

This weekend I figured I would leave those two subjects undiscussed, and talk about something more "standard", something that I and my interlocutor could both agree upon, or at least have somewhat similar views. You see, we don't particularly get along well, but it is in my very, VERY best interest to get along well with, um, "him". Let's pretend it's a "him".

I figured we could talk about our homeland (we both share the same country) and our current land of residence (we both share the same country of residence, though not the same city). I am well aware of "his" feelings towards both countries (homeland = paradise, land of residence = hell), so I figured that as long as I could stay on subjects over which we could agree (even if I had to keep a little quiet and bite my tounge sometimes) all would be nice and pleasant.

Oh, no.

It turns out that--damn you, Murphy, and your stupid laws--whatever I try to please "him", it just won't work out.

I tried to argue (because I believe it) that although Land of Residence is awesome and has many good things, Homeland is the best and we should all go back to Homeland and live and die happily there. Earlier, I must add, a few weeks earlier, this very same argument got me the most awesome 2 hours drinking coffee and conversing with the very same person.

Not this time.

"He" argued that I was wrong. That in order to live well (and by "well" we were both referring specificially and only to "wealth") one must work hard, have dreams and want to succeed, regardless of where one lives. That all sounds very nice and very pretty, but one must also take into account that the "will" to be better alone does not suffice, I said. One must also take into account what salary one has, what salary one can expect from one's job, and what the economy is like in one's Land of Residence. For example, a janitor will not earn more money than an engineer, no matter how much effort the janitor puts into his job. Also, an engineer in a developing nation (so as to not say "third world country") will not earn as much as an engineer in a developed nation, just because the economies are not the same. So I said.

The counter argument? "Well, those engineers that earn less just don't work hard enough, or don't want it bad enough. I bet that janitor could have a better life than those engineers."

WTF? We were talking about wealth. Maybe the janitor is happier because he gets to spend more time with his kids than does the engineer, but we are talking exclusively about wealth. And he who earns more has more wealth. Period.

I tried to explain the whole matter of economy with The Big Mac Index. Now, after venting about this with my sister, I realize that my explanation was not exactly and entirely accurate; but for the sake of my point, I was close enough.

This is what I said:

In Europe, being "poor" is easier than being poor in South America because (a) the government helps out everyone (btw, when I say Europe, I am referring to one specific country, but for the sake of covering my ass, I won't specify which) and (b) the cost of living, though more expensive, is more affordable. Let me explain further.

In South America (again, I am referring to one specific country...), our society is divided into the wealthy, the high middle class, the middle class, the lower middle class, and the poor. If you were raised in the middle class, you either want to stay there or move up to high middle. That means you need to get a job that will allow you to earn enough money to pay a rent in this zone. And to pay for utilities in this zone. And to afford transportation. And eat. And live.

Let me put is this way: in this South American nation, the minimum salary (like the one a student in an internship would earn) is a little over $500,000 (pesos, common currency name...). The currency conversion of this is about 190 EUR, or USD 260. The thing is, a student in an internship in this European nation would earn around 500 EUR. We can thus "equate" $500,000 to 500 EUR in cost of living.

(I know, I know, I know that this is not exactly how this works, but humor me a little, ok?)

I continued to prove my argument by quoting The Big Mac Index: this index tries to give a more "down to earth" understanding of cost of living. A Big Mac in Europe costs 3.59 EUR; a Big Mac in South America costs $3,500. Again, we can "equate" 1 EUR to $1,000. Also because a bottle of water in Europe costs 1 EUR and in South America $1,000. My explanation makes sense.

My point was, that in Europe you can pay rent, utilities, transportation and food with these 500 EUR (you can't fly to Mallorca every two months, but you can go the movies once a month). In South America, $500,000 are barely enough to cover a decent rent.

Conclusion, it is easier to be "poor" in Europe than in Colombia.

My interlocutor took only ONE thing from my long dissertation: "You're comparing the economy to a hamburger?" I said, "Well, I am, actually, but I am not crazy. Some economist people came up with this idea, I learned about this in economy class..." Now I know it was The Economist people--anyway.

"You cannot really expect me to continue this conversation comparing my job to hamburgers."

Well, I was not comparing your job, but, uh, ok.

"It's stupid that you pretent to use such a stupid example."

Stupid. Twice.

"I'm not making it up," I said.

"Well, it's stupid and I don't like it."

Excuse me?

How do you argue with that? How do you argue against "it's stupid" and "I don't like it"? I guess my counterargument should have been "you're ugly" or "yo mamma is fat".

I would have loved to have this conversation with someone with a better argument than "stupid". I would have loved to be told where and why I was wrong, or mistaken, or how I am right and they agree.

I need to be around SMART people. I need to be around people who like to continue conversations with good arguments, or who end conversations with a decent "I'd just like to change the subject because I don't agree with you" sentences.

Just in case YOU're reading this, I think YOU're stupid, and I don't like YOU.


PS: I would really like to read your thoughts on this issue. Do you think it is easier to be "poor" in a developed nation than in a developing nation? And please note that I am talking exclusively about wealth, about $$, about money. I'd especially like to read your comments if you were born in a 3rd World Nation and are now living in a 1st World Nation, or the other way around.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Paradox

What I did today:

I showered this morning, and then I went and got all dirty at the gym.

I brushed my teeth, then I ate.

I washed all the dishes, and then I had breakfast using the same dishes.

I burnt 200 calories, and then ate 200 calories.

I washed my gym clothes and then used my gym clothes.

I hydrated my hair with a super-duper coconut massage thingy, and then blow-dried my hair.

I deposited some money, and then I transfered and spent some money.

I left home, and I came back home.

So, if everything I did today was also un-done, what did I do today?

Paradox...

My Request to All Reporters and Journalists in the World

Dear Reporters and Journalists in the World:

I hereby sincerely request--beg, even--that you stop asking stupid questions, because your public does not want obvious answers. And stupid questions almost always bring about obvious answers, if not stupid answers in themselves. Really, Mrs. and Mrs. Reporters and Journalists, you have to consider that maybe--just maybe--your audience is not a 5th-grade-education level inept adult; maybe, just maybe, your audience isa university-level adult who yearns to understand situations with facts and figures.

You see, Reporters and Journalists of the World, I have been following the liberations of kidnapped people in my country, and I am appalled at the interviews! I can no more believe the questions, as I can believe that some editor/director approved them to be aired!

When a freed person is ready for an interview, "How does that make you feel?" is not an appropriate question. Dude, seriously, how do you think freedom after 3 months or 3 years makes him/her feel? Do not ask his/her family how they feel about their family member being released. Of course they feel rejoiced! No one is going to say (or admit) that they are really unhappy about the release. Also, we don't care what kind of party they will give the recently-freed prisoner, or what food they will offer. Please, ask questions worth answering and worth listening to.

Ask, for instance, which particular experience made more of an impact on him/her. Ask how precisely he/she found out he/she was being freed. If the kidnapped person was a member of the police or military, ask whether they plan to go back to their job. Ask how they were kidnapped, and how they were freed. Ask questions that matter. Ask, for instance, if the kidnapped person could grasp some sort of understanding or compassion for the illegal guerrilla forces while in captivity. Ask how he/she kept sane during the kidnapping.

I am extremely happy that these people are free, and I salute my Armed Forces for their amazing job. I actually am acquainted with two of our "Black Ops" people, and they really risks their lives for these people. Interview them! Interview the dude who flew the helicopter; interview the dude who walked up to the "bad guys" and took the kidnapped person from them, at the risk of being kidnapped himself.

My President, knowing the level of incompetency of our reporters and journalists (they don't even deserve a capital letter), did not allow interviews and just gave a short speech after the liberations. He said he is tired of the show the FARC are putting on, and that he will not allow it to go forth. Why is it, he asked (rhetorically, of course), that kidnapped people coming out of the jungle have perfect manicures and haircuts, and why they are well dressed (the most recent one appeared wearing a suit and tie). Why aren't the reporters asking this? On Sunday, three kidnapped men were supposed to be released, according to Piedad Córdoba, ex-Senator and (in my opinion) undercover member of the FARC; but only one was released. The other two liberation coordinates were false. Why? Why is no one interviewing Piedad Córdoba and asking her why?

I have a friend who is awesome, and an awesome reporter, too. Were he in Colombia, he would be asking all the right questions. He is not scared, and he is most definitely not a 5th-grade level inept adult. We need more people lilke him, people who are not only not afraid to ask the right questions, but who know which are the right questions to ask. We need more people like him. Read his Blog and you will understand what I mean.

In the meantime, Reporters and Journalists of the World, consider my plea. Ask questions worth answering. Ask questions with answers worth listening to. Consider that maybe, just maybe, we have an ounce of gray matter ready to be used.

Respectfully, yet quite annoyed,

--Nat

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The "Living in Sin" Thing

I call it "Living in Sin" because I find the term hilarious; but no one that I know (I, personally, face to face, myself) calls, refers to, or thinks of it as a "Sin", much less "Living" in one.

I've been living with Honey for almost 7 months now. It's his first time living with a girl, his first time living with a roommate, his first time living with his girlfriend. He seems to be adapting quite well to the situation, and I salute him for putting up with me. We had a "situation" a couple of years ago, and I of course ran home. When my Dad asked what had happened, and I explained that Honey had broken up with me (although that time I think I was the one doing the breaking-up, still, I said he broke up with me), he said, "I'm not surprised; you're a pain in the ass!" My Dad, who btw is not particularly nuts about Honey, agreed with him in the breaking up decision, because I am a pain in the ass. So, Honey, congratulations!

I had no idea how much of a pain I was. I think Monika, Pearl, Nadja and Hitchcock can all come up with a long list fo stuff that drove them crazy about me. And Nini's list is probably 10 times longer. But the stuff I pull now it's, like, completely unlike me. For instance, I'm a neat freak now. Pearl must be wondering where that was when we lived together! I hate disorder, and I pick on the tiniest details. I am also boringly careful. I have to double-check (really, I do it twice) to make sure all the tupperware container thingies are properly sealed, and that everything is in its place. One time, Fede was trying to be super polite by helping me store the groceries, and I rudely stopped him: "Sit down, drink a beer, and stay away from my cabinets!" Honey had to explain that I had a system, and that this system had to be followed. He explained that it would be more polite for Fede to sit down than to help me. I don't think Fede still understands this...

However, and in spite of the on-going list of things that make me the worst roommate ever, I am an awesome partner. It sucks for Pearlie and Nadja that I am only now a good roommie, because I was completely unskilled when I lived with them. Pearl had to teach me (more than 3 times) how to work the washing machine, and how much soap to add--or rather, how much soap not to add. Nadja had to cook herself if she wanted anything fresh, because my idea of fresh was "microwaved only a second ago!". When Honey comes home, dinner (or lunch) is served. And it's always something nice! Sometimes I make Colombian meals (el típico ACPM), and sometimes I make elaborate stuff; tomorrow, for instance, the menu is Cordon Bleu with Rice.

I am a good partner because I plan everything--everything. But I plan it so well that it seems sporadic. I know, right now, exactly what we will have for lunch/dinner for the remaining days of the week, and for some days next week. I have a list of 30 different meals I can cook, so that Honey should not repeat a meal in one month (which sucks, because if it's something he likes, he'll still have to wait 30 days for it to be on schedule again). I schedule time for him to play with his buddies PS3 online games, because that is the time I have scheduled for my Blog writing. I plan grocery shopping (coincidentally after his paycheck arrives, because he pays). I used to have a grocery list, but he would complain about some stuff there; so now I just keep everything on my mind and there is no complaining.

In all honesty, however, and although Liebe geht durch den Magen (el amor entra por la boca, loosely translated as feed someone well and they will love you), Honey and I have had an amazing seven months because we are a partnership, more than we are a relationship. When we realized, four years ago, that our dating thing was getting serious, we promised that we would never fight over money. That has worked wonders. Back in Colombia we would share all our expenses, and once in a while one would invite the other to something special. Things have not changed much now that we are here, except that we both have our "secret" saving accounts, to which the other has no access. I say "secret" because they're not particularly a secret, we both know about them. But they're awesome. Honey saved for 6 months in his "secret" account so that he could treat himself to a PS3; I am saving so that I can treat myself to a trip to Marseille to meet up with GRSP friends (we're trying to make it an annual thing!). Money is a most terrible necessary evil, and if you make it a secret, or a taboo, or if one party deals with all the stress and the other one only spends, then it's a mess. Our relationship has succeeded because (I'm awesome, and because) we are completely open--for better or for worse.

I'm not pretending to be an expert on coexistence, or living in sin, and much less marriage. But I am sharing my two cents of advice as to why we have it so good. And we have it so good because we are open. And we are open about everything. Everything. I once asked whether it was better to know or not to know. We both know (almost) everything about each other, and that's healthy. At least I can say we both know everything about each other worth knowing. And we talk. We communicate. When Honey comes home, I force him (yeah, he still doesn't quite like it, but he does it!) to sit down by my side and tell me about his day. Then he'll ask about my day. Some days, we will talk for 30 seconds. Some days we will talk until it's time to sleep. Both days are good. What matters is that we talk to each other.

We respect each other's activities, and we support each other. Also, we kiss a lot. And kissing is awesome.

I apologize to all conservative catholics out there, and to all conservatives in general, but I do recommend "Living in Sin" before taking the big step. Not everyone can be as lucky as Canuck and Chris, to have a perfect marriage. Maybe living together before committing to forever is a good way to start things out.

Because forever is a damn long time.

As far as I'm concerned, my forever began on July 31st, 2010.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cat Philosophy

I was in the waiting room of Honey's dentist, going through many pages of Apps on my iPhone, when I came accross a quotes App, and saw this one:

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it -- and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lide again -- and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.
Mark Twain

I read it several times. And after I got over being offended about the fact that he was identified as an "American humorist", as if his brilliant quote should be dismissed as a simple joke, I was amazed by the simplicity and profoundness of the idea. 

We always talk about experiences, and what we learn from them. But what we "learn" from them is merely what happened. The cat sat on a lid and got burnt. Period. That cat will never sit down on any lid again. Period. And as he says, it's good that the cat won't get burnt again by sitting on a hot stove lid; but what about that unbearably hot summer day, when a cold stove lid will do the trick pretty well? The cat will never sit there.

How many times have we taken from an experience only that which happened - and never more?

Honey laughs at me quite often, because I won't eat Dönner. It's a very common Turkish meal in Germany, like a wrap. But the first time I ate a Dönner, I wound up in the hospital, having my gall bladder removed. Now I have three holes in my tummy, and a horrible scar down my belly button. Dönner = colicistectomy.

And that's ridiculous. And I know it. But I can't disassociate the idea, the smell of this meal with the idea and the smell of the hospital. And the pain. 

During Thailand, my most traumatic experience, I think, I sat down and carefully evaluated what was that which was so traumatic. I had no idea I was following Mr. Twain's advice, but I was. I had a job that I liked (most of the time). I had super nice colleagues. I was very, very well paid. I had friends and acquaintances. I had sun, I had warm weather, I had amazing beaches and awesome landscapes. I had enough busy time to keep me thinking, and enough free time to keep me rested. I had internet access. I had my own place. I had almost everything a person needs to be content. Satisfied, at least. 

I could have simply said, I will never go back to Thailand, because Thailand = unhappiness. But I realized what it was that made me unhappy. 

I was alone.

Completely-

and-

utterly-

alone.

If something happened to me, assuming my parents even found out, it would take them three days to get to me. When I saw something worth sharing, I could not call my family right away due to the 12 hour difference. I could not turn around and look at my sister and laugh without saying a word, because we'd both be thinking the exact same thing. I could not walk hand in hand with my loved one, while enjoying a sunset at the beach.

I was alone.

So I made a promise. A promise that I kept. Like, the only New Years' Resolution I have ever and actually kept. 

I promised I would never be alone again. 

Traveling is amazing. Living in new places is amazing. Getting to know the world is amazing. I've discussed this with Isa many times--Isa, who is know living in her, what, 7th country?

But doing it alone is just sad. And boring. 

I learned from my experience, not like the cat. I now know not to sit on the hot stove lid, but I also know how to recognize and enjoy the cold one. 

And a stove lid, with Honey, is the best kind of lid there is. Anywhere in the world.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Because everything is bigger in Germany...

Me (at 11 p.m., two hours past our bedtime): Honey, I want a big bed, like the one we used to have in Colombia.

Honey: This one is bigger than the one you used to have in Colombia.

Me: That bed was a 2 x 2 meter bed. This is 1.4 x 1.9 meter bed.

Honey: I meant the one you used to have.

Me: How is this one bigger? That one was also a 1.4 x 1.9 meter bed.

Honey: This one is bigger.

Me: Honey, 1.4 meters is 1.4 meters regardless of where you are in the world.

Honey (half asleep, and not really realizing what he was saying--I hope!): People there are smaller, so the beds seem bigger.

Me: Well, yes, maybe. But I was the one sleeping on my 1.4 x 1.9 meter bed in Colombia, and I am the one sleeping in this 1.4 x 1.9 meter bed in Germany.

Honey: Yes. Everything is bigger in Germany.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Uneventful Events

Someone said that, in order to write, you need to want to write more than you need to have something to write about. At first, I was amazed by that simple premise, and so decided I would write a novel. You see, there: I want to write.

But, alas, that premise was all too simple to begin with. For, although you need to want it first of all, THEN you need to proceed to have something to write about. It’s not just a matter of wanting it and then finding it done the next day on your desktop. I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for about 15 minutes (rocked to the sound of the washing machine, with a kitchen sink filled to the rim with dirty dishes laughing at me) and I have no idea what I want to Blog about.

I remember living in Augusta, where every day was a new day. Of course, some better than others. I always woke up asking myself, “What am I doing here?” I never had that question answered. But there was always a new boyfriend (ah, the joys of the American Military…), or a new professor, or a new student in the Writing Center or a new article submission for The Bell Ringer or the Phoenix. There was always something happening with Monika, or Pearl, or Nadja, or Hitchcock. There was always something happening. Then there was the whole incident with 9-11, then my father, then my graduation, then Thailand—

I remember living in Thailand, where every single day was an adventure. And I’m not over-doing it. It was. Taking the bus was an adventure (I remember one day arguing that I should pay fifty and not fifteen Baht for the ride… the poor driver was completely confused), ordering food was an adventure (krapaw-moo-grop, nung Gai was boring for every day), conversing with the housekeeper dude was an adventure, traveling around with Tomoko to undiscovered and forbidden places…

I remember living in Bogotá, where the nothing-happens status quo began to set in. I got up, went to work, got home, slept, then I got up, went to work, got home, slept—rinse and repeat until three years go by. Of course stuff did happen: I met Honey, which completely changed my life. My “sleeping” cycle then included a +1 clause. Sometimes. But our lives were normal, charming and normal. Our lives were enough. Now, I am not complaining about enoughness. Sometimes enough is quite nice. Sometimes normal is nice. But sometimes normal becomes boring. And it’s weird, because you can be completely happy with what you have, but want more. More what?, you may ask.

But you don’t know.

Now I live in Kiel. At first, things happened. Oh, did they happen. I was hospitalized, I underwent a major operation (well, ok, it was not really major, but it was my first one ever), I started learning a new language, we moved to a new house, we had the bomb incident… Things do happen, but they are a little uncathartic. (Is that a word?) They are, well, uneventful.

I had pain. I was operated. I was cured. Nothing happened.

I moved to a new country. I learned their language. I adapted. Nothing happened.

I (we) wanted a bigger apartment. We moved. We settled in. Nothing happened.

They found a bomb under my apartment building. They took it out. Nothing happened.

You see? Everything is so German here: they are so prepared for everything, so ready to face every possible problem or any imaginable event, that nothing happens.

The other day, I was walking around Wellingdorf with a friend, and we entered a building, hoping for something to happen. I don’t know: A guy asking for our IDs, someone kicking us out, discovering some kind of underground, illegal edification… but no. We went in, looked around (it was a campus-like restaurant; Mensa, they call it here), and left. Nothing happened.

Maybe that’s why I can’t write—because I can’t think of anything to happen in my story.

When something happens, everything is more exciting.

Like, when I used to ride my bike (when the weather was above 0°C), things used to happen all the time: it rained, or the wind blew too hard, or I fell. Ah, those were the good days. Now I take the bus…

Maybe when we start using La Golondrina more often, more things will happen.

But what’s weird about this all, is that I am so happy. So happy with nothing happening. My life is normal, it is predictable and scheduled. I love that. I love that so much. We have plans, we have agendas that we follow. Precision. Timeliness. Exactness. My iPhone beeps or rings to inform me that I should shower; or that it is time to read; or that I need to do some thing or another. I cannot begin to express how much I am pleased with the seemingly boring life that I live. But it’s not at all boring. I myself am the one preventing things from happening. When everything is so precisely scheduled, there is no space (and no time) for something to happen.

Silly idea, something happening. Ha.

Maybe I will take a look at this week’s plans, and schedule “something” for happening.

In the meantime, I have found the storyline for my novel.

I guess something happened, after all.