Tuesday, 7 December 2010

I call this one "Culture"

Colombia is an undeniably erudite, urbane and sophisticated country; however there are instances which lead me to doubt its dedication to high culture. While there is plenty to keep one entertained in the city, I have a slight suspicion that rather than cultivating cultural richness, the aim of events here is basically just another excuse for a party. Take the opening of an art exhibition, “Faces of Colombia”, with purely Colombian artists presenting their view of their country. I was interested to see how Colombia would be presented by different races. No one else was. The view of the paintings was blocked by people swigging down the free bad wine, and every time a waiter emerged with a tray of meatballs there was a stampede towards him as the guests shamelessly grabbed from all angles. None of the English “After you,” “No, after you,” “No, I insist, after you,” “No I really must insist, after you.....” Paintings and the elderly were elbowed out of the way and knocked down, and I realised that I looked like a bit of an idiot actually trying to look at the paintings, so I took my meatballs, and left.
My second experience of culture that week fell on the next day, a poetry gala to commemorate the end of a weeklong festival of poetry. Having had the opportunity to sit in on the various poets being interviewed in my job in the culture section of the city’s main broadsheet newspaper El Universal, I was reasonably excited for the reading. I had been moved by some of their responses: poetry as confession, the fear of running out of words, blablabla, and hoped these sentiments would be echoed in the poems.
The evening started badly when, having decided to attend the gala alone (I say “decided”, I mean that no one wanted to go with me) I was approached by a rodenty young man clutching a notepad. In one of those unfortunately nasal and monatonal voices, he told me that he had seen me at the art exhibition the day before, and proceeded to ask the normal questions of what I was doing in Colombia, if I was married, how many children I had etc. Suddenly he began furiously scribbling on the notepad and then triumphantly tore a page off and handed it to me, staring at me expressionlessly. I was baffled. What he presented me with was a sort of home made contact card, with all his important details, but surrounded by a very badly drawn picture of some trees in the rain. Due to his lack of expression, I was unsure of how to react and so waited for him to make the next move. “See, I drew you a picture,” he said, robotically, “It’s just something a do. I’m always playing the clown.” He then shook his shoulders up and down as if convulsing with laughter, but with his face still fixed in an unreadable grimace. Abruptly, the shoulder shaking stopped and he asked me if I wanted to go to a talk on oil refining with him, because he finds oil refining really interesting. I laughed heartily and walked firmly away.
I was not perturbed by the fact that gala started an hour and a half late. My English sense of punctuality has gradually evaporated, so this was to be expected. What did irritate me though was the opening of the gala: a short film some moron had made. It was a terrible film and the first 3 minutes were shown 4 times as it kept skipping to the beginning. The closing scene portrayed a baby crawling along the ground to the music from Chariots of Fire. It was meant neither in irony nor jest, and the large crowd in the theatre summararily ignored the film and continued talking amongst themselves.
Finally, the poetry began. It opened with a young Mexican poet, who I knew would be incorporating both singing and the flute into her poetry. It was horrible. Just horrible. The words were rubbish, something like, “motivate yourself, we all learn together,” the flute element of the equation had neither rhythm nor melody, and her “singing” could have been from one of those X Factor auditions that makes the front page of The Sun. Horrible. She finished and stomped of looking pleased with herself. Poet number two was somehow worse. He was clearly very nervous, and with shaking hands proceeded to read his set of poems at a locomotive shout, neither looking up from his sweaty little piece of paper nor drawing breath, nor pausing in between poems. It was a constant stream of assault until seemingly out of nowhere he shouted “GRACIAS!” and sat down. Sweaty men and timid women and a Slovenian hermaphrodite took to the stage, interestingly reciting her poetry in Slovene, (which I can confidently say that no one understood,) while the ambivalent audience continued to talk amongst themselves. At one point the man next to me stood up and yelled “MARICA!” at a friend at the front (marica is Colombian slang for gay). This is not what I had expected.
My discomfort reached fever pitch when a stout, hairy little woman took to the stage. Her dress was stained, her armpits unkempt and her expression petulant. Feminist. I took a deep breath and mentally strapped myself in whatever gauntlet she would lay down. I wasn’t ready for the attack. “MI CLITORIS”, she bellowed. A 15 minute anatomical ode followed. Once again, I left, somewhat disillusioned with the Cartagena cultural scene.

Yesterday the city was brought to a halt by 18 street blockades by protesting taxi drivers. The day before, 2 taxi drivers were simultaneously murdered, shot for the 50 odd quid they would have had on them. So the taxi drivers shut down the city to beg for their safety. In England when there are strikes on the public transport it’s about money, or longer holidays. Here they’re just asking to not get shot. Just a thought.

1 comment:

  1. That was thoroughly entertaining Izzy. I'm going to keep reading your stuff, if I can bear the nostalgia.