Monday, February 19, 2007

Carnaval parade in Cochabamba

The Corso Infantil, or kids' parade, in Cochabamba, was interesting to see after a day in Oruro seeing an adult version. (That was spectacular; see next post) The kids' parade involved a lot of interaction between the participants and the crowd. Kids in the crowd used big soaker water-guns or cans of foam to shoot at each other and at the kids in the parade.
Certain people seemed to be identified as non-combatants and therefore escaped attack. Grandfatherly and grandmotherly types, very small children, people without protective plastic smocks and the Aymara and Quechua vendors of spuma (foam), water balloons and snacks.

There was a lot of warfare going on. Among the images you see are an Inca queen with a golden backdrop behind her throne, a devil dancer, a little chola girl in a white hat, a chola woman selling a can of foam, $1.25 each.

Oruro's world-famous festival

Many people had recommended taking a trip into the mountains to the mining town of Oruro to see its annual Carnaval (Mardi Gras) festival of dance and music. Every town has its own version of Carnaval, but Oruro’s is famous in Bolivia for its ancient dances and traditions.
It’s a 40-minute plane flight to Cochabamba and then a winding four-hour bus ride up to 12,000 feet and Oruro. It lies at the foot of the mountain that still yields tin and other mineral riches. I went with about 15 other people, mostly Bolivians but one Russian, two Chileans and a French couple.
It was worth the trip for the pictures I got. The spectacle is impressive. Some 28,000 dancers and 10,000 musicians start making a circuit at around 5:30 a.m. and go for 20 hours. The United Nations has recognized the dances and traditions as Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

What the dances mean depends on whose history your read. The 24-page special section in the local paper, La Patria, traces this particular Mardi Gras fest to Feb. 2, 1789, when the Virgin of the Grotto appeared to a mortally wounded thief named Nina Nina and saved his life.

It’s a feast of the Virgin, then. And then she is also connected to a Robin Hood-like character named Chiru Chiru. What’s clear in reading the histories of each of the dances and the origins of the 40-some dance troupes is that there are numerous explanations for the meanings of particular dances and costumes and traditions.

Here is what the United Nations website says about the Oruro festival’s origins: “[It]
was an important pre-Columbian ceremonial site. It was refounded by the Spanish in 1606 and continued to be a sacred site for the Uru people, some of whom would travel from far afield to perform the rituals, especially for the big Ito festival.
“The Spanish banned these ceremonies in the seventeenth century, but they continued under the guise of the Christian
liturgy: the Andean gods were concealed behind Christian icons and the Andean divinities became the saints. The Ito festival was transformed into a Christian ritual, celebrated on Candlemas (2 February). The traditional "lama lama" or "diablada" dance became the main dance in the Oruro Carnival.

“The Carnival now takes place once a year, before Lent. It lasts ten days and gives rise to a whole panoply of popular arts expressed in masks, textiles and embroidery. The main event in the carnival is the procession "entrada", which combines Christian elements and borrowings from the medieval mystery plays.”

So it’s a mixture that is difficult to sort out. Arguing about what’s authentic and pure seems kind of pointless, but people get passionate about it.

Even modern choreography, despite written dance notation forms, is very much handed down person to person. And when you consider the difficulties modern choreographers have in maintaining some consistency in movement and meaning over just one generation, you have to imagine that these dances have been transformed over the past 20 generations by the individuals who performed them.

A sideshow was the battles between those armed with globos (little water balloons) and cans of espuma (foam). I tried to identify myself as a noncombatant by refusing to wear a long plastic poncho that many spectators wore. Mostly I suffered only collateral damage from nearby bombardments, but one globo exploded on my chest when I got caught in a crossfire.

We had great seats in a grandstand along the main drag. Vendors hawked Bolivia’s best-known beer, Paceña, for 60 cents a can, and a lot of people were drinking, but I didn’t see anyone really drunk. I watched and shot pictures for about five hours and then the sun got to me. It’s particularly strong at that altitude, even when you have a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt. My exit was delayed for a minute as President Evo Morales and his vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, crossed the parade route to take their seats in the celebrity box. I got a good look at close range but a mob of journalists blocked my attempts to snag my own picture.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Watching the Super Bowl in Spanish

Dear Friends,

On Super Bowl Sunday I watched los Potros de Indianapolis trounce los Osos de Chicago on ESPN in Espanol. In about 210 minutes of an NFL broadcast, there is only about 20 minutes of actual action, so I flipped over during breaks to watch “American Splendor” on HBO, the biopic about Harvey Pekar, the comic book author from Cleveland, Shaker Heights High class of 1957. (Photo shows Paul Giamatti as Pekar and Hope Davis as his wife, Joyce Brabner.)
One of the scenes takes place in Elmwood Home Bakery, where I used to buy maple cinnamon doughnuts on the way to elementary school. Another takes place outside the Detroit Theater where we used to take in Saturday matinees for 25 cents. To see those familiar images and hear a couple of authentic Cleveland accents here in Bolivia was at first an emotional shock followed by waves of nostalgia. It was a pretty good movie (subtitled in Spanish). A little too sweet, probably, for the real Harvey.

Get Shorty, and the poetry of profanity

A couple of weeks ago, HBO showed the 1995 movie “Get Shorty,” a great comedy based on an Elmore Leonard novel. I hear and speak Spanish all day, so to hear authentic American accents from a variety of familiar types had me grinning.
Gene Hackman does a wonderful job playing a slimy movie director named Harry Zimm, and Dennis Farina does a perfect rendition of a foul-mouthed Miami loan shark named Ray Bones Barboni. Farina makes profanity sound like poetry. He has the rhythms perfect. It doesn’t translate well into Spanish subtitles. John Travolta might not ever be as good in a movie. I just died laughing. Could be homesickness. (Photo shows Gene Hackman as the movie hack and Danny Devito as the insufferable movie star, Martin Weir.)

Shakespeare enamorado

Could be a pattern here…..”Shakespeare in Love” was on cable the other night, and again it was the sound of the words so beautifully and truly spoken that carried me away. Tom Stoppard, one of the best playwrights alive, did the script, which is filled with delightful inside baseball for both Shakespeare fans and modern theatergoers (jokes at the expense of directors and producers).
In an odd way, these doses of English at its best have a way of making Spanish come easier. For the first two months here, all I read was in Spanish – novels, history, newspapers, magazines. And I went to lots of Spanish-language movies. But dipping into great writers of English lately has been very refreshing. It seems to make the Spanish easier. (Photo is of Joseph Fiennes as the young Shakespeare.)

James Bond's botched subtitles

The pirated DVD of Casino Royale that I bought here for $1 had laughably bad subtitles in Spanish. The pirates evidently hired someone who couldn't make heads or tails of one character in the movie who had a German accent. "What did you do with the bodies," he asks Bond at one point. The subtitlist rendered that as, "What did you do about Boris?" There's no Boris in the picture. The subtitle writer also had trouble with the code name Ellipsis, which enters into the plot several times. He confused "ellipsis" with "lips" and used the Spanish word for lips (labios) in several baffling subtitles. The Spanish subtitles in the legitimate version of Casino Royale are, by contrast, quite well done.

The El Nino effect

This is the rainy season, but the El Nino effect has made it worse this year. The city where I live, Santa Cruz, had rain on 27 of the 31 days of January, and the entire eastern half of the country is suffering from flooding. Paved roads are few here, and many of them have been washed away by high water. Many communities are isolated. (The photo is from El Deber.) There are 15,600 families that have been rendered homeless by the flooding, according to El Deber. The Spanish word for victims of natural disasters is "damnificados," which pretty much describes their situation. I wondered how the number of families displaced compares with New Orleans.

Here in the city, the rain is more of an inconvenience than a disaster.
It translates into a lot of mud, big puddles and enormous potholes. People don't dress for it. Only about half the people use umbrellas. They walk through light rain unfazed, and if it's heavy, they wait until it stops. What's the hurry?


My media class

Sunday morning I spoke with Cindy for 90 minutes as a
way of celebrating the completion of final grades for my 25 students in
the course on how to start and run your own newspaper,
magazine, TV or radio program, etc. They had to do a
business plan and marketing plan. The photo shows the dean of Bolivian television sports, Papi Nurnberg, addressing my class. He was one of four guest lecturers I invited, all of whom started their own media companies.

There are lots of
talented people who just shouldn´t be in college, including a couple of my students.
They´re bored out of their minds and want to get their
hands on something real. They should be working as
what used to be called apprentices, now interns.

A tribunal of two other profs
and I listened to 10-minute presentations of the students' projects. We were
supposed to be potential investors or funders who they
were trying to persuade to lend or contribute money.
One kid who is bright and talented
came in with his proposal for a film production
company. He didn´t have any required samples of any
work. I told him, “This is the first time that this
group of movie investors has ever been handed a
proposal by an unkown without being offered a single
film clip or or sample script.” He was shameless and unfazed.

Today, I gave the third of a series of seminars at a weekly business newspaper
here. They asked me for help in meeting deadlines. We were always pretty good at it.
The problem with the paper here is that they basically have one deadline, Friday night. Last week, the paper went out the door at 3 a.m. I gave them a couple of tips. We'll see how they do.