Wednesday, March 13, 2013

René, Seventh Ave. Movie Man

He's one of those people you pass every day. Or maybe you've even given him a couple thousand pesos for a pirated movie, without thinking twice about it.

Rene Aragon has been selling pirated movies on Ave. Septima, near the Centro Internacional, for about four years. He's become something of a landmark, with his grin, loquaciosness, bad teeth, bad Spanish, ebullient personality and shabby clothes, which make him resemble something of a movie character himself. He's 43, but looks a decade older, for which you can blame the sun, pollution and perhaps certain substances consumed along the way.

A native of Spain's Basque Country, Aragon hawked candies and cigarretes and taught languages before selling movies on compact discs: besides Spanish, he speaks English, French, German and Basque, his native tongue.

He recently told an interviewer with a Bogotá cultural magazine that he didn't like racism, 'bad police' and pollution - which is certainly understandable considering his location on Ave. Septima, one of Bogotá's smoggiest spots.
He also surprised the interviewer by saying that his expensive
pleasure was not going out to the movies, dining or even traveling home for vacations, but paying for his wife's rehabilitation for her addiction to basuco, a cheap form of crack.

But movies are his pleasure and his passion. He sells dozens on a day when the weather's good. His secret of success, he says, is the breadth and sophistication of his cinematic knowledge, particular arts films. He also sells documentaries, war films and even new releases.

One thing which surprises you talking to Aragon is the roughness of his Spanish. But that's deliberate, he says, because of his distaste for the language of the occupiers of his native Basque Country. Leaving Spain, he says, was his gesture of protest in favor of Basque independence. A strange way to rebel, it seems to me.

Before Colombia, he'd lived in Ecuador, where he taught English. But he got bored and came to Bogotá, where he met his girlfriend.

Pirated movies have done well for him. He can sell as many as 80 per day. At 2,000 each, you can do the math yourself. I always suspected that he secretly sold a less legal product as well, but he told me gave up selling that years ago.

Even tho Aragon operates beyond the edge of the law, occupying public space and selling pirated goods, he says he's reached an understanding with the police. Before they carry out sweeps against street vendors, he usually finds out.

"It's not like I give them money or anything," he explains. "But we're friends. We talk. They want to know what Europe's like. Sometimes, I give them a few movies."

His strategy's worked. Not long ago, Ave. Septima's sidewalk was almost too crowded with vendors to walk down. Today it was actually passable. And Aragon is one of the survivors.

Aragon feels no guilt about selling tax-free and rent-free on the street. Once, he said, he went down to City Hall and offered to pay taxes - but was refused. He'd tried, at least.

"If you pay taxes, you're legitimate," Aragon observes, pointing out that many Bogotá stores, such as internet cafes, sell pirated CDs. "But you only get hassled if you're on the sidewalk."

Neither does he feel any guilt about profiting from the labor of the movie industry. After all, he points out, the movie houses make millions. Rather, he considers himself a sort of revolutionary, putting movies within reach of the common person.

But how about those small-time movie studios who make the artsy movies he likes so much? Well, he's doing them a favor too, Aragon explains, by helping spread their message.

"Is it fair that they charge 30,000 pesos for a CD which costs 600 pesos to make?" he asks. "To me, it's elitist."

Want a movie? Call René at 301-528-1153

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


mauricio forero l said...

One of your best Mike, just, love it.
I really like the way you describe some characters, I really do.
" Leaving Spain, he says, was his gesture of protest in favor of Basque independence. a strange way to revel, it seems to me." Awesome writhing Mike.
No even New York can provide characters like this guy.

Miguel said...

Thanks Mauricio. He is a character. I'd passed by and talked to him many times, but this was the first time I learned his history.



Miguel said...

Yes, to me, too, moving out of Basque country and Spain seems like a strange way to rebel against Spanish domination. Some of René's values seem to be a bit self-serving. One has to suspect that if he were a music executive his business morality might be a bit different.


rojito said...

Great post! I have often walked by this guy and wondered what his story was, it was always obvious he wasn't Colombian.

Maybe he is self-serving, I can't say, but people will always find ways to justify their actions. No doubt though that he has a fascinating story.

Alongside your posts on the various interesting local characters you meet around town, it would make a great series of posts to document foreigners who live on the edge of society here, as opposed to the sickeningly self-congratulatory profiles of expats that appear on another well-known blog.

Miguel said...

Thanks for your comment Rojito.

René's also an example of a person without much in the world who nevertheless looks on the bright side.

Whenever I run into an interesting person, foreigner or not, I try to write something about them. One I'd love to write up, if he ever lets me take his picture, is this beggar/alcoholic who lived in the U.S. but got deported. He hangs around the center bumming food and money off of people - and then spends his 'earnings' in the casinos. He actually boasted to me about it, and how well he lives. I don't know why people sympathize with him, but he manages.


Miguel said...

Tell René I said 'Hi'. And, yes, his ideas are self-serving - but just about all of us are that way.


Elyssa Pachico said...

Wow, I totally know this guy, I'd always assumed he was Dutch.

Miguel said...

Funny, despite talking to him numerous times over the years, I'd thot he was French.