Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Enough Already! (Petro's back)

A Petro supporter carries flags on Ave. Septima.
I woke up this morning feeling a terrible tension, which lasted most of the day. It continued when I saw the piles of trash on central Bogotá's streetcorners, the vehicles belching plumes of smoke and the endless traffic jams.

Why did these scenes of urban malaise - which I see every single day - bother me today in particular?

Because Mayor Petro's back, reinstated by a judge.

It's not so much because I think Petro was a bad mayor - even tho he accomplished little and seems to believe that billboards and radio ditties will change people's behavior more than enforcing laws will.

No, Bogotá's urban troubles angered me particularly today because, with the city's mayor mayhem continuing into a second round, there's no end in sight for these urban maladies.

Petro was mayor for a little more than two years, the final months of which he spent mostly fighting
Pro-Petro people on Ave. Septima celebrate their
man's return to office.
the inspector general's decision to oust him for allegedly mishandling garbage collection and a recall vote. The scheduled recall vote was cancelled after Petro finally lost a long legal battle against his ouster.

Petro was first replaced by labor minister Rafael Pardo, who actually got things done, who was in turn replaced by Petro ally Maria Mercedes Maldonado, who held the office for barely one day.

Now, the recall vote will be rescheduled, and the legal fight over the inspector general's order will continue.

Bogotá's merry-go-round of mayors will continue, with officeholders who don't know how long they'll be there and who are more concerned about keeping their grip on power than actually exercising it.

And, meanwhile, garbage will keep piling up, the air will get dirtier and traffic jams will get longer, because we've got nobody at the helm.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Very Colombian Send-Off for Márquez

People lined up today to attend a mass in honor of Gabriel García Márquez.
Today's mass honoring the late Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez struck me as an only-in-Colombia event. To enter the Catedral de Bogotá you had to pass thru three (count 'em) police checkpoints, where you were frisked and your bags searched. Would terrorists and assassins really try to infiltrate a revered novelist's memorial service? Well, maybe, in Colombia. 

Just to make certain that nobody could mistake Plaza Bolivar for a scene from a magical realism novel, in front of city hall a group of people displaced by violence were camped out demanding government assistance. 

The principle memorial ceremony for Márquez was held yesterday in Mexico City, where he lived the last half-century of his life. Márquez was cremated and his ashes are to be divided between Mexico and Colombia, but it's not clear where Colombia's share will be kept. Márquez's hometown of Aracataca wants the ashes for a museum about the novelist's life (even tho some of the town's residents feel that Márquez should have helped them more).
'Goodbye to our Gabo.'

A young man waiting in line reads a newspaper about Márquez. Very few of the people waiting to honor the novelist used their time to read.

A last-minute clean-up for Simon Bolivar, who is normally covered with graffiti.
Not a country of magical realism: People displaced by Colombia's violence demand government assistance on Plaza Bolivar. 

Police search people on their way to mass. There were three police checkpoints. 

A generator supplying electricity to the event belches out smoke. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez: Already Forgotten?

A few months ago City Hall on Plaza Bolivar carried a huge banner in memorial of the deceased South African leader Nelson Mandela. I expected at least as much for Márquez, but City Hall's wall is empty. 
Today, I took a cruise thru La Candelaria in search of some memorial to Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, who died a few days ago in Mexico City.

Colombian Pres. Santos declared three days of national mourning for this great Colombian, as well as a memorial service next Tuesday in the Cathedral de Bogotá. Márquez's funeral is to be held Monday in Mexico City, where the novelist lived for a half century. He has already been cremated, but it's not clear whether they will be interred in Mexico or Colombia.

Strangely, even tho Márquez lived and worked for a time in La Candelaria (he worked for the El Espectador newspaper before moving to Paris and becoming a novelist) and several institutions here carry his name, I found no memorial to the novelist.

In the town of Aracataca where Márquez was born, the people seem to have mixed feelings about their most famous son. Márquez visited only rarely and contributed little of his fortune to the development of the town, which still doesn't even have fresh water.
The Gabriel García Márquez Cultural Center was built by the Mexican government's cultural agency. Strangely, the building has never had an exhibition about Márquez, but I expected SOMETHING about the man's passing. However, I saw nothing. 
The old El Espectador building on Ave. Jimenez. They might have hung a black banner here, or a photo of the novelist.

A flag a half mast on a government TV station building on Calle 26 - the only official sign I saw of Márquez's passing. 
A newspaper vendor in La Candelaria. Since Márquez's death, several papers have reported an almost nothing else. 

People ponder an exhibition about Márquez's life on the wall of the BLAA library in La Candelaria. But the annual exhibition was here before the novelist's death. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Complicated Character

Gabriel García Márquez: 1927-2014
Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel Prize Winner, Colombia's most famous author, leftist icon and a writer whose work captured Colombian history and culture, died today at age 87.

I'll leave evaluating his fiction to others with better literary taste, except to say that I've enjoyed his autobiography and journalistic reporting more than his fiction, and his lesser-known works - particularly the historically-based ones - more than his master work, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

It's sad that Márquez, Colombia's only Nobel Prize winner and a pioneer of a style of fiction known as magical realism, died as the second-most-famous-Colombian, behind the monstrous Pablo Escobar. 

Márquez will be remembered as a great artist and great Colombian - both of which are true. But, unfortunately, he'll also be remembered as a kind of saint and patriot - which is less true.

Márquez was a leftist, and perhaps something of a leftist of convenience during his later decades. During its early years, when it was still politically palatable, Márquez associated himself with the M-19 guerrillas. Threats resulting from that relationship drove him out of the country, and Márquez lived for the last half century in Mexico City, even tho Colombia's political climate had improved enough to permit him to safely return home.

Márquez's leftist rhetoric and ideas earned him the friendship of Fidel Castro, whom Márquez visited repeatedly in Havana, where Márquez had a home. Márquez, who got his start in writing as a journalist, also created a foundation to teach journalism and purchased and then sold a weekly newsmagazine, Cambio. Yet, I almost never heard anybody call Márquez on the contradiction between promoting free speech and befriending - and thus supporting - the hemisphere's last dictator and greatest repressor of free speech.

Márquez was sometimes criticized for not being more philanthropic. The comparison to singer Shakira, of Hips Don't Lie fame, is not flattering. Shakira's art may be more superficial than Márquez's, but with her Pies Descalzos children's foundation she's given a lot more to her country.

In 1972, after winning the Venezuelan Romulo Vallegos literary prize, Márquez gave the $100,000 award to a Venezuelan political party: the Movement Toward Socialism. Couldn't Marquez have found a worthy cause at home? his critics asked.

Where Márquez rested on his leftist laurels, his sometimes-friend, sometimes-enemy, fellow Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, remains politically active and opinionated (Vargas Llosa is also a decade younger).

Márquez was certainly a great artist. But whether his character made him a great man is a different matter, and the two shouldn't be confused.

Addendum: Maria Fernanda Cabal, recently elected to Congress with the conservative Centro Democratico Party, made waves by tweeting a photograph of Márquez and Fidel Castro with the phrase 'Soon they'll be together in hell.' A few hours later, she erased the tweet. She later tweeted that she didn't question Márquez's literary greatness, but did question his 'indifference toward Colombia.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fish Feeding Frenzy in Paloquemao

The venerable Paloquemao market's fish section is packed these days (while the neighboring meat section stands vacant). This is Holy Week, of course, and even if the number of Colombian Catholics is declining - and many of those Catholics are only nominally so - as these photos show, eating fish during Holy Week is still popular, if only for cultural reasons.

Bagre on the chopping block. The fish is endangered and may be absent in future years.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, April 14, 2014

Finally, a Bridge to Somewhere

Concrete beams and a construction crane to lift them across Calle 26, where they will connect Parque de la Independencia to the modern art museum.
After a multi-year legal battle between the city and neighborhood residents, work has finally restarted on the bridge over Calle 26, between Parque de la Independencia and the Museum of Modern Art.

Neighbors had sued to stop the project, objecting in particular to the way it invades the park. It was halted for years while the court battle played out. The neighbors are right about the project's poor design. But, now that it's been started, it seems like the best solution is to finish it once and for all. The long-suffering park used to be much larger, but sections were sliced off as the city built avenues on its western and southern sides.

The idea of expanding the park above the avenue came from famed architect Rogelio Salmona, who also designed the Torres del Parque behind the nearby bullfighting stadium. Ironically, many of those fighting the bridge project live in those towers.

The section of Calle 26 between Carrera 3 and Carrera 7 will be shut for three months while huge beams are lifted into place. The platform, which is to contain green space and areas for cultural activities, is supposed to be completed in early 2016.

Three neighborhood residents - part of the group which fought to stop the project - watch the construction.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Nemcatacoa 'reinvents the Landscape'

The Nemcatacoa Theatre performed in front of the Museo Nacional today. This Bogotá troupe, which does 'street and experimental theatre' is participating in the ongoing IberoAmerican Theatre Festival. The performers were 'reinventing landscapes,' they said.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours