Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Magical Night

Time's arrived; Lore and I decided to start our on-site investigation to find locations to film last Thursday; today it was the night of San Per Mendoza, a market located right in the city centre that is visited by the campesinos [peasants]twice a week. Lore had already warned me of the incredible experience I was about to live... she wasn't playing it up.
At 2:00 am, we took a taxi and drove to the now almost empty streets only populated by street walkers, wanderers and people searching bin bags or just sitting around fires in waste lands that surround San Per Mendoza. It was a haunting ghostly scenario... 

Under the twilight of the street lamps, we walked through the lorries parked towards the market. It was chilly and strangely heart was beating with excitement.

We walked inside a poorly lit and very humble tiled building, and there it was: on both sides of our path hundreds of heaps of herbs and plants of every imaginable kind: were above people sitting on the ground quietly and very still under their straw hats. My eyes scrolled through the hundred of herbs used for fragrance, for cooking, for decoration, for homoeopathic purposes...

Sudendly, we heard a voice: "Lorena!" and saw two men walking towards us with a welcoming smile in the faces. They hugged her and immediately I was introduced as the Spanish London-based artist who was making a project on Colombian food. Alirio and Juan are two campesinos from Mesa, a small rural town in the region of Cundinamarca about 62 kms South from Bogota who had come to sell the products they grow on their farm. They invited us to sit down at a humble table and have a tinto, a small black coffee.

Whereas Lore, Juan and Alirio were involved in a lively conversation about the last time she'd been at this amazing place, my eyes started looking around. From the corner of the small cafe where we were sitting, I could see the hectic movement of young men carrying wooden carts loaded with bunches of herbs and plants. Some people had already started coming in to buy herbs for their shops; some of them wearing ponchos and Panama hats. The owner of the cafe, Sra Cecilia, offered me another tinto and with a smile said: "Isn't it a wonderful place, Senor?" She could see my response in my eyes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Corabastos Market

On Sunday morning, my flatmate and I decided to go to Corabastos, the biggest market in the whole continent.

We took a buseta (small bus) and headed off to the South. As we arrived it was 10:30 am and the market was already bustling with people shouting to sell their goods to anyone who could bear their screams. Cars, donkeys, policemen, trucks... an incredibly chaotic choreography of movement and noise! Pure energy!

...and people eating and eating, and eating everywhere, anything.

We walked around the trucks and inside the bays, where hundreds of workers were downloading the goods from the trucks and piling them in symmetrical order so the buyer could purchase it and take it to her/his shop. I decided that I will start filming here, the beginning of this universe where all imaginable food has been brought by the peasants from all over the region around Bogotá at 2:00 am. This goods would be purchased, generally, by a guy who will buy the whole content before is downloaded. After that, the workers would take down the goods.

Corabastos Market is located in the South-West of Bogota, in an area known as Ciudad Kennedy. It is the eighth locality of Bogotá and the most populous of all localities being home to 14% of the city's residents.

The Muisca people originally settled the area now known as Kennedy in the 16th century. From the colonial period until the early 20th century, it was mostly large ranches. From the 1930s on, it began a period of urbanization.In 1961, an urbanization project was undertaken, financed in part by the Alianza para el Progreso (Alliance for Progress). The locality was known as Ciudad Techo until 1963, when the name was changed in honor of the assassinated John F. Kennedy, who visited Bogotá in 1961 and supported the Alliance for Progress.

These are the maps of Corabastos; we are now mapping out the technical equipment required to film during the two nights that we will be there. At 23:00 pm, hundreds of lorries arrive from every town/village outside the metropolitan area of Bogota and park in the bays. At 4:30 am they will be ready to start the commercial transactions with the outsellers of the capital negotiating prices. The whole place is devided in areas calientes (busy corridors) that need to be cleared of people so they can be quickly transported into the bay.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Meeting Dr. Dagoberto Castillo

I have been eating at the Alterna, a small casa de almuerzos, almost every day since I arrived; Antonio and Magali, their owners treated me as a real guest preparing nice arepas, arajicos, frijoles... and explaining what the ingredents were. That morning, Antonio introduced me to a man who was having lunch at the table next to me. He happened to be a profesor at La Salle University specialising in Economy and Local Development; Profesor Luis Eduardo Mutis told me that he knew a goup of people at the University who had been researching the comedores comunitarios, an initiative set up by the Council as part of the program Bogotá Sin Hambre (Bogota Without Hunger) and that he thought I might be interested in meeting them. "Of course!", I said; and he grasped the celular (mobile phone) and set up a meeting with Dr Dagoberto Castillo, the program's coordinator, right after our lunch.

Dr Dagoberto was sitting at his desk talking with his daugther when we arrived. Without much formalities after a warm welcome, he started explaining what the program was about: The program started in 2004 as a reponse to the phenomena of many children who'd fainted in the school because they lacked proper nutrional levels in their diet which mostly consists of Yuca (Manioc). These roots are very rich in starch, and contain significant amounts of calcium (50 mg/100g), phosphorus (40 mg/100g) and vitamin C (25 mg/100g). However, they are poor in protein and other nutrients.

138 comedores were established on the 19 localidades (quarters) in which the city is administratively divided: Usaquen, Chapinero, Santa Fe, San Cristobal, Los Martires, La Candelaria, etc. Through this program, people who have been displaced from their homelands have the opportunity to become involved in training and other activities to improve the very vulnerable situation in which they live.

I arranged with Dr. Dagoberto a visit to some of these places, and we decided that I will go to Ciudad Bolivar, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Bogotá.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Plaza San Victorino

On Monday, I went to the Patrimonio Fílmico, a film archive where I would spend the next days watching films produced in the 30s and 40s in Bogotá. The building is located near Plaza San Victorino, a lively square packed with people selling everything. It is known as the commercial "pot" of Colombia where most of the money is made in the whole country! It is also an area in which "your level of anxiety rises", one of the frightening places, yet the most visited places in Bogotá. Somebody said that the more dangerous the street is perceived to be the cheaper the goods are...

and this is one of the things you see every day. People searching in the garbage bags looking for anything that can be re-used from food to paper. I saw one of these mostly men, called recicladores, collecting pens from bags left near the University a lining them up on a stoned bench at the Plaza de Bolivar; patiently, he started to repair them, changing the broken parts or using the ink from one to fill the empty ones. That afternoon I saw spotted him again as I was having a coffee at the Garcia Marquez Cultural Centre; he walked around the tables offering the now-repaired pens to students.

I walked into the office of Patrimonio Fílmico, and I started watching some footage of documentaries produced by Arturo Acevedo, pioneer of the Colombian cinema and a producer and theater director from Antioquia who lived in Bogotá. After their introduction and the fascination foreign films caused in Colombia, theaters were no longer were as profitable and Acevedo decided to found a film production company called Acevedo e Hijos (Acevedo and sons).

Acevedo and sons has been longest lasting production company in Colombia and which existed from 1923 to 1946 and the only one to survive the 1930s crisis caused by the "Great Depression". Acevedo and sons produced the films "La tragedia del silencio" (The Tragedy of Silence) in 1924 and "Bajo el cielo antioqueño" (Under the sky of Antioquia) in 1928. Under the Sky of Antioquia was financed by back then local magnate Gonzalo Mejía. The film was criticized for being elitist but despite this the film had a somewhat positive acceptance among the public. Films in Colombia were mostly based on themes such as Nature, folklore and nationalism with some exceptions in literature. In 1926 the film Garras de oro (Claws of Gold) which was based on a political issue, the separation of Panama from Colombia and which criticized the role of the United States.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Plaza de Bolívar

Somebody told me: "Has you been at the Plaza de Bolívar today? There is a Campesinos' Market". So there I went walking down Calle 11 where I live. is located in the heart of the historical area of Bogotá. It has a statue of Simón Bolívar sculpted in 1846 by the Italian Pietro Tenerani, which was the first ever public monument in the city.

On the northern side of the square is the Palace of Justice, a big modern building where the Supreme Court works. The history of the Justice Palace is tragic enough and maybe symbolic of the problems of the nation. The first building was built in 1921 on the corner of the 11th and with 6th street and destroyed by a fire during the Bogotazo in April 1948. A new palace was built on the north side of the Bolívar Square and destroyed again in November 1985 by the guerrilla movement M-19 during the "Palace of Justice Siege", while the army tried to take control of the building. The ruins of the building were kept untouched for four years until the government decided to demolish them and construct the new building that currently exists.
Since its construction the square's been generally used to run public events of any kind: religious, army, students and political demostrations...and the campesinos's market. Once a month, peasants who reside outside the city come to this square to sell their products: meat, fruit, marmelade, hats, ponchos, music, herbs and flowers... and there is, obviously, a comunal meal in which everyone buys arepas, mazorcas, jugos, roast meat... and sit or walk around chatting with other peasants, children, turists, policemen, beggars, civil servants, students... 

The Square is an extraordinary place where people meet other people; where a sleepy street photographer walks around asking you to have your picture taken; dogs wandering around and pigeons pestering about too.After 5:30 pm I came back to the Plaza to see how grasp a glance of the place at sunset. Everyone has gone and slight rain has washed out any sign of the real comunal event that has happened there ealier on.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's raining in La Candelaria

Yes, and how... After 2 pm, I was meeting a friend at the Juan Valdez's Cafe to talk about my project. At one point I could see darks clouds crawling over the mountain of Monserrate, and I thought "here we go..." - fifteen minutes later, a curtain of water was falling heavily over the Old City Centre of La Candelaria!

It rained and rained...and rained! I recalled the short story of the Colombian writer, Garcia Marquez,
Los funerales de Mamá Grande, based in the mythical town of Macondo. I mentioned to my friend that I thought this is supposed to be the dry season in Bogotá and she told me that it had always been but that recently the climate change is also affecting this area of the world as everywhere else.I ran inside a church, San Agustin Church,a Baroque style building near Calle 7. The interior was quiet and other people had walked in to also avoid the rain that was pouring outside. I walked towards the altar and saw the magnificent wooden carved front covered with gold paint. I noticed the three armchairs standing at the bottom and their overwhelming presence. There was one there, yet I could feel the power emanating from that absence.

I continued walking around looking at the statues which were lined up on the walls and suddenly my eyes stopped on a beautiful figure holding a lamp that represented an angel. Oddly, I felt its eyes were directing their gaze towards me like acknowledging my presence.
I stayed there for a few minutes silently...

This angel reminded me of a Paul Klee painting named "Angelus Novus" shows an angel looking at he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating:
His eyes are staring, his mouth is slightly open, his wings spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps pilling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.
The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grow skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Calle 11

Next morning I started to walk down the streets around Calle 11. It was colder that I expected but then I heard of the snowstorm that brought London's transport system to a complete standstill!

It was pretty early as I woke up at 5:00 am.

Bogotá has over one thousand localities, forming an extensive network of neighbourhoods. Areas of higher economic status tend to be located to the north and north-east, close to the foothills of the Eastern Cordillera. Poorer neighbourhoods are located to the south and south-east, many of them squatter areas. The middle classes usually inhabit the central, western and north-western sections of the city.
The urban layout in the centre of the city is based on the focal point of a square, Plaza Bolívar, typical of Spanish-founded settlements, but the layout gradually becomes more modern in outlying neighbourhoods. The current types of roads are classified as Calles (streets), which run perpendicular to the Cordillera, with street numbers increasing towards the north, and also towards the south from Calle 1. Carreras (Avenues) run parallel to the hills, with numbering increasing as one travels east or west of Carrera 1 (other types of roads more common in newer parts of the city may be termed Eje (Axis), Diagonal or Transversal).

Arriving in Bogotá

On February, 1 I arrived at the airport El Dorado after a long journey, a fifteen hours flight. On landing I could see the flickering lights of the city that would be my home for the next three months. Hundreds of little lights shaped the cartography of streets and avenues which I was planning to explore. In the distance, Monserrate, the impressive mountain that overlooks Bogotá as an impassable lookout.

After the arrival, I was put into a taxi and driven by Carlos Andres through surprisingly quiet avenues: "Today is Sunday, señor, and driving is banned in the city centre". We drove around a bypass with lots of trees and vegetation on both sides... From there I caught a glimpse of the city tall buildings. "We are in La Candelaria, señor" as we entered a neighbourhood of little houses aligned on a very steep slope which happens to be Calle 11, my house.

As I walked into the house, a smiling middle-age woman welcomed me inside, Señora Cecilia. She showed me around and told me that she lived in the house next door and would be happy to help me with anything I might need. We gave each other a goodnight kiss and I went upstairs where my bedroom was and dropped my body on the bed.