Saturday, November 14, 2009

Rescuing Matt

Rescuing Matt (twice in one day)

On Friday night Matt had a party to attend. He wanted to practice dancing in the afternoon, so we reviewed salsa and merengue. I taught him a couple of new steps. Matt and another friend were going to the party together. That boy's father was going to drop them off, and José Miguel said he would pick them up at 1:30 in the morning.

I had a quiet evening at home. I bathed with lavender bubble bath and went to bed early, having had a busy day. At midnight the phone rang. Matt was calling from the party. The party wasn't very good, he said. There weren't many girls. He had only danced once. He and his friend wanted to come back, but José Miguel wasn't answering his cell phone and calls didn't seem to going through to the house phone. Should they take a taxi?

I told them to a wait, and that I'd call José Miguel. I got the answering machine on the house phone. I got voicemail on the cell phone. I tried calling several times. Finally I got up, got dressed, and went out to José Miguel's apartment. At least he is only a five-minute walk away. I rang the doorbell insistently. He finally answered, and I told him that Matt was calling and he needed to deal with it. He did. He went and got Matt and the friend.

On Saturday morning Matt apologized for having woken me up in the middle of the night. It wasn't Matt who owed me an apology.

On Saturday morning I went to the grocery store at the Gran Estación shopping center. I had to go today because I had credit coupons from previous purchases made during the Exito anniversary sale, and these were good until 15 November. I got a very good deal on fish: I bought tilapia, catfish, and surimi. On my way home my cell phone rang. Matt was at José Miguel's. He was back from his tennis class. While he was putting his bike away, the door swung shut behind him, with his keys outside, locking him into the apartment. Where was I, Matt wanted to know, and could I come and unlock him? I diverted my course to head for José Miguel's, and 15 minutes later I was unlocking the door for Matt. That lock has always bothered me. It is a real fire hazard/death trap.

Bogota Life

Bogota lost out to Toronto to host the 2015 Pan-American Games. Political cartoonist Vladdo wrote: "It beats all that Toronto would be chosen for the 2015 Pan-American games when there's no Democratic Security there."

In 1999, while going to Montreal with the boys, we ended up with the last three seats on the plane from Bogota to Miami, traveling with the Colombian team en route to the Pan-Am games in Winnipeg. It is fun to travel with a national team!

Bicycle beats private car and public transit in Bogota transport competition.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I gave up on reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery for book club. I am so disillusioned with the book that I am even considering blowing off my book club meeting this Tuesday. Even when I haven't liked the book, normally I'll go because I enjoy the company, the conversation, the food and the wine, but I just feel so completely negative about this book that I am having trouble picturing myself at the meeting. The phrase, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all, keeps popping into my head, and I don't want to simply trash the book without acknowledging some redeeming feature. I found it pretentious, pedantic, and utterly unbelievable. Reneé, the smug and superior autodidact concierge, bent on feeding her insatiable mind and spewing her wisdom while hiding beneath a déclassé veneer meant to meet social expectations, is a paragon of inconology (as opposed to iconography). Paloma, the malaise-ridden, worldly, weary 12-year-old (tired of exactly what, we do not know) is her junior counterpart. Their common refrain is: "Let me explain…" because apparently that is their job in this novel: to explain ad nauseam.

There is an adage in theater: You can either show it or say it. Meaning that you can use the characters' traits to guide the development of the story through action and interaction, or you can have talking heads expounding on their beliefs. This book was about a couple of talking heads, and I wished that they would shut up. I guess I'm just more of a practical kind of gal and I feel that fiction should have a plot. Silly me. I can think of two similar books that had similar characters but that used the characters to further the action: Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky and Headlong by Michael Frayn. Both handle their problematic characters with much more aplomb, managing to be intelligent without being overbearing, and giving the reader enough credit that they can allow the story to unfold without over explaining.

Sometimes book club readings resonate at unexpected moments. In last week's episode of Dr. House (many weeks ago if you saw it in North America; we have to wait until it has been subtitled before it is broadcast in Latin America), Gregory House used V.S. Ramachandran's mirror box therapy to cure a man who was suffering from phantom limb pain --just like we had read about in The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Putting on Eyres

I was unlucky enough to have read The Thirteenth Tale in my book club. Reading this book made me wonder, what are the elements that inform the reader that a book is meant to be realistic and plausible, or that the reader is meant to suspend disbelief to allow for supernatural elements, and why is Setterfield’s attempt to balance these two approaches not wholly successful?

The style is nouveau gothic, replete with madness, incest, rape, illegitimate births, “ghosts,” arson, murder and, above all, Keeping Secrets, set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire moors, with plenty of nods to the literary inspirations of the genre, such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Woman in White. You can practically hear the creaking doors, whistling wind, and crashing notes on the organ as you read.

I found the story’s resolution to be completely contrived, sentimental, and implausible. At least Vida Winter, did have an interesting story, even if her telling of it was exceedingly coy. Unlike the whiny Margaret who has spent most of her life trying to work herself into a romantic hysteria over the loss of her own twin at birth, which she accidentally discovered when she found the birth and death certificates at age 10. I also have serious doubts about Margaret’s competence as a writer, mainly because of her persistent habit of using prepositions to end sentences with: “Contemporary literature is a world I knew little of” (p. 29). One of the first major mysteries that the book presents is why the famous author Vida Winter would hire the unknown (and grammatically challenged) bookstore clerk Margaret Lea to write her autobiography. It is revealed at the end of the book that Winter had read Lea’s little known biography of the Landier brothers, and figured that she had insider knowledge about siblings. That seems to be an awfully flimsy pretext that we are given to resolve one of the book’s Burning Questions.

The book actually acknowledges its own silliness when Dr. Clifton prescribes Margaret a dose of Sherlock Holmes as a cure for her ailments wrought from romanticism. This Sherlock Holmes reference also serves as the turning point for the book’s resolution, in which Margaret puts her analytical skills to work and resolves Vida Winter’s mystery. And, just to ties things neatly together, we are informed in the final chapter, that Dr. Clifton has romantic intentions toward Margaret. His attraction to her would have to be the great Unresolved Mystery. Frankly Margaret has more in common with the reclusive Aurelius who has spent his life pining for his unknown family, as Margaret has been pining for her long-dead twin sister, whose ghost appears to her in the book’s postscriptum to say goodbye, and to wrap up the story.

Along the way, Margaret, an avid reader, makes an observation about the process of reading a book and being aware of how many pages remain in which the author will present her dénouement. All I can say is, I’m glad it is finished.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Madonnas of Leningrad

The Madonnas of Leningrad: A Novel (P.S.) The Madonnas of Leningrad: A Novel by Debra Dean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Memory allows us to survive under duress. Memory also plays tricks on us, incorporating magical elements into our lives. Memories exist of things that could not possibly have happened, and yet that is how we remember them. Marina's hallucinations, brought on by hunger, enable her to see visions in the paintings, and allow her to process her rape on the rooftop as a visitation by a god. These become survival mechanisms that allow her to accept and incorporate the events, without being certain what, if anything, actually took place. Her mind finds beauty, and this quality also enables her to survive. Anya, the babushka, teaches Marina to build a "memory palace" in order to recall the paintings that once hung on the walls of the Hermitage Museum. Recreating the memory of those paintings, stored away to protect them from the ravages of the Second World War, allows Marina to keep her mind sharp and focus on beauty when the rest of her life is hardship.

The book moves back and forth between the contemporary Marina who is suffering from Alzheimer's, and the young woman who was a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum and who lived in the museum's cellar that was used as a bomb shelter during the war.

Author Debra Dean juxtaposes descriptions of the paintings as an indirect commentary on the characters' lives in a way that is evocative without being heavy-handed. What might have been trite, sensationalist or cruel, transcends to become hyperrealist and universal.

The book is slightly uneven, in that the story told in the past is more interesting and compelling than that of the contemporary characters. It could be argued that this is also true of people with Alzheimer's, that their memories of the past are more vivid than their present, but that does not mean that this makes a good literary device if the contemporary story is noticeably weaker. With Alzheimer's, the rooms of Marina's memory palace are emptying. Still, this book had moments of high beauty, and overall I recommend it.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

The War We Have Not Seen

The exhibition "The War We Have Not Seen" opened on 14 October at the Bogota Museum of Modern Art, Calle 24 No. 6-00. It runs until 14 November.

View the exhibition online at:

"The War We Have Not Seen: a historical memory project," is an exhibition of 89 paintings organized by the Puntos de Encuentro Foundation. It presents works by former combatants from the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), ELN (National Liberation Army), AUC (United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia), and National Army soldiers who were wounded in combat. All of them are anonymous fighters: campesino men and women whose common denominator is the desire to paint what they witnessed and experienced as the protagonists of Colombia's armed conflict. The objective of the exhibition is to provide an occasion for artistic and social debate, so as to raise awareness and take a stance against war.

Picture a Unicef card: The naïve style of painting scenes of daily rural life and celebrations in bold bright colors. Picture a child's painting of a hamlet in the mountains where the townspeople are dancing in the streets in celebration of a saint's day, or simply going about their business: the world of Macondo where "nothing happens." Now picture the same scene, only instead of dancing, people are fleeing armed gunmen, and rather than banners festooning the streets, bodies streaming blood are strewn about.

Because the technical execution of these paintings is not skillful, the portrayals are not very realistic. This makes it possible to view them without turning away in the way that a more graphic and realistic image would cause the viewer to do. Still, the contrast between the primitive, childlike technique, with simple shapes and bold, bright colors, and the profoundly disturbing subject matter, dispels any illusion of innocence. One artist stands out in terms of technical excellence. His paintings were signed John Jairo. In his paintings the landscape dominated the few figures he showed; the denseness of the tropical forest practically swallowing up the scene. He conveys a sense of silence, remoteness, and oppression. I hope to see more of his work.

Recurring themes in the paintings

Anonymity and ambiguity: As untrained painters, the artists lack the skills to effectively differentiate the individuals in their paintings. This technical deficiency becomes a commentary on the anonymity of war. It is often difficult to distinguish which armed group is being represented: Is this the Army, the guerrillas, or the paramilitaries? Are they attacking or protecting? The methods and actions are often interchangeable, giving rise to the question, who are the good guys?

Closeness to the civilian population: In war the distinction between combatants and civilians is often not respected. The image most commonly portrayed in the paintings is that of the civilian population caught in the crossfire of war. Executions of civilians who are suspected of being collaborators are portrayed a number of times. One painting shows two kidnap victims bound in the forest; in the distance between the mountains, a nearby village may be seen. The distance between barbarity and civilization is very close.

The undercurrent of violence: In many of the paintings, the violence is not always apparent on first glance. It takes a while to shift through the details before noticing the figures moving between the trees, or the fact that in the lower corner all of the passengers have disembarked from the bus and are standing on the road while a couple of their fellow passengers are being executed.

Context information: A brief introduction to the armed conflict in Colombia

The guerrilla movement grew out of poverty and abandon, in a misguided attempt to vindicate rights by through armed violence. The rank of the guerrillas were populated with humble peasants who allowed themselves to be convinced that their movement would lead to more fairness and a better standard of living for all, as promised by the idealist, university-educated leaders who had embraced the socialist banner. You can't run a rebellion for free: revenues to support their war came from "taxing" the rich, extortion, kidnapping, and then they branched out into drug trafficking. They also waged a highly successful international campaign by claiming to represent the true voice of the people and alleging that the people were being forcibly repressed by the government. The Colombian public has expressed overwhelming repudiation for the guerrilla movements and their tactics.

The self-defense movement was the response by landowners who found themselves under siege by these guerrilla groups. Their private security forces grew in strength and number until these were operating on their own, as paramilitaries, and selling their security services to landowners and businessmen, making them "offers they could not refuse." As the de facto authority in their regions, they considered themselves to be above the law. They also found drug trafficking to be a lucrative way of funding themselves. As the paramilitary groups have demobilized, a percentage have continued to be involved in drug trafficking.

The Army: For many years the Military Forces were ineffective at fighting the guerrillas. They tacitly acquiesced to the self-defense groups, thus giving rise to the denomination paramilitaries. Under paid, ill-prepared, the ranks of the military were rife with corruption and human rights abuses. Most of the rank and file soldiers come from the obligatory military service requirement that young men must fulfill upon completing high school. In recent years the Colombian military has made enormous strides in terms of better preparation, better equipment, and better strategy. The military has managed to secure control in regions that had no government presence for many years, although in some areas this control is still not consolidated, and human rights violations continue to be a problem.

The common denominator of these three groups is that the foot soldiers in this war all come from the same campesino roots, joining the armed groups via threat of forced recruitment, lack of other opportunities in life, or military conscription, with a minority joining because of shared ideals. It is the humble who are the cannon fodder in war.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance

Watching So You Think You Can Dance, I am disturbed by the number of people who audition and who are seriously delusional about their own skills. They don't have technique, physique, or stamina. The most hapless cases are also overweight. I am embarrassed for them.

I consider myself a good dancer. Okay, I consider myself a very good dancer. As a kid, I took ballet classes and that provided me with a sense of body awareness. I know when my rib cage is centered over my hips. I have good extension. This has served me well in life. Later I switched to jazz and modern, which was good for loosening up. I learned Latin dance (salsa, merengue, cumbia, vallenato, etc.) in rumba classes at the gym. I love dancing and do it well, to the point that strangers will come up to me at the gym or dance clubs and compliment me on my dancing.

That being said, I've never learned partnering technique in salsa so I don't know the cueing to execute complex turn sequences. I've been learning tango, which is great. Tango, as well as being very sensual, can also be very elegant and dignified. You can be 70-years-old and dance tango without looking ridiculous.

Several years ago in Havana I went to the Casa de la Música, which is where well-heeled Cubans go out to dance. It was amazing to see how good the Cubans were. Colombians consider themselves to be good dancers, but the Cubans set the standard for salsa dancing. I am not talking about a professional floorshow, just everyday people who like to dance. I was hugely impressed

I love to dance but you won't be seeing me on So You Think You Can Dance any time soon.

Switching channels I caught a bit of Jennifer Hudson on VH1's Divas signing a duet with Stevie Wonder. She's very Ruebenesque and can really belt out a song with her great gospel-style voice. Afterwards was a reaction from a plump young woman who thanked Jennifer for being a good role model and for "allowing herself to accept herself as she was." Given the current rate of obesity in North America, I think that a whole lot of people should be less accepting of poor nutritional habits and obesity. Suggesting that obesity is acceptable does the nation a disservice. This does not mean that I think that Jennifer Hudson shouldn't be a public figure; she has earned her stature by training her voice. She has also earned her size by overeating. She is the result of her habits, both good and bad, and is not the helpless victim of her genes. People need to take responsibility for who and what they are.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The 13th Element

The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus by John Emsley

My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Cheap Sensationalism

The first hundred pages address the history of the alchemists and their attempts to make phosphorus, in a breathless recounting of professional jealousy and completing claims to have discovered…. Oh, sorry I dozed off for a moment there-- a method for its manufacture, mainly using vast quantities of human urine. Early medicinal claims have all been debunked. Well, that covers the first hundred pages.

It has some interesting anecdotes like the history of the Swedish match king, but these have no lasting bearing on the "story," and as I finished reading each anecdote, I couldn't help but thinking, so what?

The most interesting aspects of phosphorus were the ones that relate to daily life. For example the debate about the environmental damage allegedly caused by phosphorus in laundry detergent, and how subsequently it was discovered was that the culprits were the heavy metals, oils and insecticides that had killed the zooplankton that eat the algae blooms. I remember the hue and cry over phosphates, and then how the debate quietly faded away.

The book attempts to compelling but the closest it achieves is sensationalism, with graphic descriptions of the gruesome ailment phossy jaw, the horrors of the incendiary bombs that were dropped on Germany, tales of murder by phosphorus, and a look at how phosphorus might be implicated in what is known as spontaneous human combustion. All in all, The 13th Element left a bad taste ion my mouth… wait a minute, what is that taste? I've been poisoned! Arrrrgh…..

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Headlong Headlong by Michael Frayn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In many ways Headlong follows the model of the tragedy, in that the outcome is the inevitable result of a fatal mistake by the main character, philosopher Martin Clay. For those who prefer the definition of tragedy as hinging on a fatal character flaw, Clay is a gloriously flawed character. He is self-absorbed, dismissive, delusional, presumptuous, pedantic, duplicitous, deceitful, withholds information, jealous, and insecure. I won’t give away which of these flaws is his downfall.

The outcome may be tragic, but the journey itself is entirely wrought with tragicomic elements. Consistent with Frayn's best known work, the play Noises Off, there is considerable bouncing and banging about, with doors slamming, people running in and out, misunderstandings, blurting out the wrong thing, sex farce, pictures flying out of windows, dogs sticking their snouts into indiscrete places, ridiculous hiding in the woods, and a smattering of references to The Importance of Being Ernest.

I kept thinking as I was reading this book that it would have been a very different story if it had been written by Dan Brown. In their story telling Frayn and Brown share some similarities: a huge amount of historical documentation backs up their work, and both exhibit a willingness to create a scenario in which a plausible historical event that cannot be substantiated is allowed to take flight. In this case of Headlong, the main character Martin Clay believes he has found a missing painting by Bruegel that would complete a set of paintings of the seasons. As Clay searches for historical backing for his claim, we are introduced to the intrigues of the social and political context in which Bruegel painted. This, however, is where the similarity ends, because if this were a Dan Brown book it would hinge upon some sort of conspiracy theory involving lesser-known Church sects and it would have been a whole lot less funny.

What we do find out about is the Spanish Inquisition, portrayed in Bruegel's paintings through subtle references to all its bloody splendor. I came away from this book with considerable respect for Bruegel as an artist, considering the challenges that he had to surmount. Frayn has produced a ripping good yarn. It gets a little slow as we have to plod through Netherlandish history, but these details are necessary to the resolution of the mystery… as necessary as pink baler twine!

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

La vida es una bola de cristal

La vida es una bola de cristal
Life is a crystal ball

Last year I saw these balls in the window of
a candy store on Bank Street in Ottawa.
They kept calling to me until I went back and got one.

In my bedroom window.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Summer has always been the silly season. Even if I am still working, my normally planned and scheduled life just seems to get out of whack. This year seems even more distanced than ever. The boys always spend July with their father and August with me. Usually I wait out July on my own in the apartment, which I like because I enjoy having the time to myself. I read, I go out to the gym, I go out with friends, I spend time writing letters or updating my blog. I don't get lonely on my own.

This year I decided to do something different: rather than staying in the apartment, I decided to come up to Canada earlier. I do all of my work by Internet, the boys would be with Jose Miguel, and Rupert (the hamster) had met an untimely demise at the end of June, so there was no pressing need to remain in Bogota. I'd been in touch with friends in Canada, and Stevie Wonder was to perform at a free concert to kick off the Montreal Jazz festival on 30 June, so I booked my tickets to fly on 28 June.

Getting out of the Bogota airport was hell. Fortunately Lori had warned me that the airport had melted down into complete chaos, so I knew to be there a full three hours before the flight. Nothing was working right, from the lines at check-in, to the lines at immigration, to the lines for security. It was an absolute madhouse, with people panicking because they were missing their flights. With Lori's help, I had packed one of Jenny's mammoth bags with stuff of hers from the attic. The bag was over 50 lbs, so I had to shift some stuff from one bag to the other. The fee to check a second bag is supposed to be $25, but when I went to pay it, the bored guy at the Continental desk said, "That will be $100 dollars please." He claimed that $25 was the extra bag fee but only for flights to the U.S. and because I was bound for Canada it would be more expensive. I hesitated. Do I pay it? Do I fight with the pimply, bored clerk? I couldn't, in good conscience, just abandon Jenny's bag of old family photos, and other assorted stuff. I decided to fight it out option. I had checked the information online, I had checked with the travel agent, and with the airline representative before booking: the fee for a second bag is $25, and $100 is just ridiculous. I fussed. I fussed a lot. Finally the guy said that he'd issue a receipt for transport to NY, which was the first leg of the flight. If there were any problems with the amount that was paid, I'd have to make up the difference there. That works for me. As it turned out, there was no problem. The bags and I both arrived in Montreal without incident. To top it off, the airplane was stinky. I'd never been on a stinky plane before. Incontinental.
Montreal Jazz Fest

30 June: Arrived downtown in the afternoon in time to see Stevie Wonder's sound check, which was so much more than a sound check; it was a mini concert of its own. When we arrived, Stevie's stunt double was performing SW songs, with the accompaniment of the full band. The guy was actually quite good. Then Stevie Wonder himself turned up, greeted the crowd, sat down at his keyboard and played. He sang 4-5 songs. It was great! We were about 20 m from the stage (I think he saw me!). It was a good thing that we made the afternoon appearance, because when we came back in the evening, it was crazy. There were too many people. The jazz fest changed the layout of its open-air stages this year, and they hadn't yet worked out the crowd flow and control issues yet. We couldn't even get near one of the big screens where the show was being broadcast, to say nothing of the main stage itself. It was ugly. Finally, after being jostled by the crowds for a while, we decided to leave.

On Saturday, 4 July, I saw jazz vocalist Susie Arioli at the Teatre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts. She's just lovely!

Blues Festival in Tremblant
A ski resort town has sprung up at the base of Mount Tremblant in the Laurentians. I wouldn't say that the town has been Disneyfied, because the town previously did not exist. The ski resort is a condo village. It looks vaguely like Quebec City, colourful and filled with chic boutiques and restos. There is no local population. The real town of Tremblant is 14 km away. It might not be a "real" town, but we still had fun. We saw some great concerts.

Here are some pics that my friend Ken took:

Shawn Kellerman's wild blues guitar! This footage is from another concert, but he had the crowd howling for more at Tremblant.
With Penny and Barry


I meant to go downtown to see the Los Van Van concert with Jorge and Rosemary for the closing concert of the Montreal jazz festival, but I was finishing a major translation and didn't make it. A lot of the time that I have been here I have felt simply too exhausted to do anything. I've been working, and have had a couple of independent translation jobs, plus an extra assignment from the press agency, but not really more than I would be doing in Bogota. I've joined the YMCA, which I like. It is interesting for me to try a new style of classes for a while. I observe two things: The weight training classes are excellent here; much better and more demanding in Canada than in Bogota. In contrast, the aerobic classes have less complex choreographies and the instructors use the same choreographies week after week. I'd be bored silly after a while. This is fine for the summer though. I haven't got much reading done. Sharon brought me a big pile of books. I have started one of them called My Wedding Dress, which is a collection of short essays by women recalling the circumstances of their weddings. It is very varied, and quite good. I have also been watching the series Mad Men on DVD with Mum. I'd like to spend a bit more time on reading and organizing the little bits of writing that are accumulating all over the place (a couple of book reviews, more blog entries, etc.). But my energy is still a bit low, although getting some exercise every day helps enormously. Yesterday I vacuumed the house from top to bottom. It needed it. Later in the week I'll have a chance to do some more cleaning. Mum keeps her house very organized but her eyesight isn't that good anymore and she doesn't see how dirty it actually gets. Although I am working and in touch with family and friends, I have a feeling of unreality; that this isn't really my life.

This morning I woke up at around 5:30, which was just after sunrise. As I lay in bed I noticed that I hardly heard any birds… and still don't hear any for that matter. In Bogota the birds are riotous between 5:00 and 6:00, just before sunrise. Maybe I woke up too late to hear them here; maybe they are quieter breeds in Canada; maybe there aren't as many birds in Pointe Claire. Matt and William are off to the Amazon today with their father. They'll be there until Friday. Maybe that is also part of why I feel my life is so unreal lately. They will arrive here on the 31st, in 11 days.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Adrenaline, Endorphins, Serotonin

Recent anecdotes from my life

Around the age of 10 I was traumatized by the experience of going on the baby roller coaster at La Ronde. They normally send the kids around twice, but I was so upset that they let me off after the first round, much to the disdain of the other children, and the chagrin and embarrassment of my sister, 6. I had not been on another roller coaster since then, although I could deal with the flume.

The boys did not have school on 21-22 May. On the Friday we decided to go to a local amusement park. The park has two double loop-the-loop roller coasters. Never in my life had I ever been on one, but I screwed up my courage and decided to take the plunge. On the first coaster the loops are completely vertical, and because of the way it is laid out I found it hard to track where we were going with my eyes, and my head got bumped around quite a bit. On the second coaster Matt insisted that we sit in the very first car. I was hesitant but he jumped right in, so I joined him. On this coaster the loops were stretched out more and it was easier to see what was ahead. I found the second one better, although I had to keep repeating to myself "Just imaging that you are flying and that you enjoy this." Actually, I admit that it was kind of fun, and I'd do it again.

My preferred kind of adrenaline rush comes from sports. I used to rock climb. I would often go with friends to Rigaud. The intense concentration required of climbing is very zen. Your mind is so focused that it becomes quiet and nothing else exists but the moment. The exhilaration of reaching the top of a pitch is accompanied by a huge endorphin release, or as I like to think of them: "the endorphins and the seraphim," or alternately the "cherubim and the serotonin," as found in dark chocolate. I also loved downhill skiing, that feeling of only just barely being in control. Lately I have enjoyed a similar exhilarated feeling from tango class, or a complex dance routine in an aerobics class. I love to dance.

I have started taking tango classes again. I began dancing tango around seven years ago, then stopped for quite a while after the separation. This year I decided to take it up again. Tango is part technique, part attitude. I still had the basics in terms of technique, but I had lost confidence in my ability to follow a lead. The class that fit best in my schedule was a beginner's class. It has come back easily, so I started learning the men's part, as a mental and physical challenge. There is always a surfeit of women in dance classes, so I started leading the other women around the dance floor, and some of them even prefer to dance with me! Personally, I confess that I make a better woman than man, but the experience has been hugely enlightening in terms of understanding the man's role in tango. I have now signed up for the intermediate class in the next session, although I'm going to miss most of the class because of being away in June. I love the way I feel when I'm dancing. I admit that it took a while for me to get used to dancing in heels.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bibliotic 2009 - Contenido Local en Internet: Biblioredes Chile

Una de las conferencias más interesantes que asistí en Bibliotic, fue la presentación de Enzo Abagliatti, coordinador nacional de Biblioredes, la red de bibliotecas públicas de Chile: Tecnologías de Información y Comunicación en Bibliotecas de Chile

En contraste a las presentaciones que vi de bibliotecas que ofrecen servicios al público en Colombia, que se enfocaban principalmente en los aspectos técnicos y los procedimientos de las bibliotecas y alfabetismo digital, Abagliatti se dirigió al corazón del asunto, y aborda las preguntas: ¿Porqué ofrecemos estos servicios? ¿Cuál es nuestro papel en la comunidad?

Se dio cuenta que las bibliotecas perderían su relevancia al menos que respondan a las necesidades percibidas del público. En el desafío digital, la biblioteca pública se está jugando su pertinencia y su relevancia social.

BiblioRedes es un programa de la Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos, Dibam, que permite a las personas convertirse en agentes activos del desarrollo cultural y social de su localidad y superar las barreras de aislamiento, mediante el uso de las nuevas tecnologías de comunicación e información. Es concebir de la biblioteca como un lugar que emite información, en lugar de ser un depositario de información

Los desafíos para responder a este objetivo fueron aparentes de inmediata:
-30% de las bibliotecas en Chile están a cargo de una sola persona.
-82% de los usuarios de las bibliotecas públicas viven por debajo de la línea de pobreza.

Estos dos factores significaron que el personal de la biblioteca tuviera que adoptar la tecnología y estar plenamente comprometido con este nuevo concepto de servicio para ofrecer capacitación a los demás, de lo contrario la iniciativa no tendría éxito; y el gran número de usuarios por debajo de la línea de pobreza significa que la biblioteca es probablemente su única oportunidad para tener acceso a la tecnología

El programa de capacitación en informática e Internet entró en funcionamiento en el año 2003. Hoy en día, la tercera parte de las personas quienes han recibido capacitación en el uso de la tecnología y el Internet, recibieron esta capacitación en una biblioteca pública.

Los resultados hablan por sí mismo:
Una de las primeras aplicaciones para gozar del acogido público fue el chat: familias quienes se encontraban separadas por diferentes razones, aprovecharon el chat para comunicarse con sus seres queridos. Este responde directamente al objetivo de superar el aislamiento.

Desde el año 2003, y a la raíz de esta iniciativa, se han creado 20,000 nuevos páginas en Internet, de los cuales 7,000 tienen el propósito de difundir contenidos locales, convirtiéndose en fuente de información local. Abagliatti mostró algunos de las páginas que se han creado, como una que promueve bandas locales de rock chileno, y otra que ofrece enlaces a diferentes páginas para la historia local. Hice mi propio experimento para comprobar lo qué Abagliatti dijo: que una búsqueda en Google arroja a estas páginas locales dentro de los primeros resultados. Entonces si, por ejemplo, desea información sobre la banda local de rock Jirafa Ardiendo, el primer resultado le lleva a su página en Internet, con enlaces a Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Fickr y archivos Mp3. Estos cinco chicos han recorrido un largo camino desde algún garaje.

De repente, se está creando contenido local, con los conocimientos tecnológicos para poner este contenido a la disposición el público. Información que anteriormente no era disponibles, ahora está a la alcance del público.

La producción de contenidos es un proceso intelectual. Se necesita investigación y creatividad para producir contenidos de buena calidad, y cuando el contenido es de carácter eminentemente local, gran parte de la investigación debe realizarse en las fuentes locales, tales como la biblioteca. La biblioteca local de repente se volvió relevante de nuevo, y está desempeñando un papel fundamental en el cumplimiento de los objetivos de fomentar el desarrollo cultural y social y la superación de las barreras de aislamiento.

En términos de la superación de la brecha digital, con referencia al libro The Deepening Divide: Inequality in the Information Society, del profesor Jan A.G.M. van Dijk, Abagliatti cita el círculo virtuoso hacía la participación en sociedad:

1. La motivación es la primera calidad. El público necesita sentir que el servicio o la tecnología le sirve de alguna manera.
2. Acceso a la tecnología, en el sentido físico, el lugar del acceso y la velocidad de acceso.
3. Competencias, la alfabetización digital y de Internet; la capacidad de hacer uso de los recursos.
4. Uso estratégico de los recursos. En la medida que los recursos están utilizados estratégicamente, la calidad de vida comienza a mejorar. Con mejor calidad de vida, el usuario es más motivado para seguir haciendo uso del servicio.

Para complementar su presentación, Abagliatti comentó que con el auge del Internet, libros prácticos tienden a desaparecer, como dependen de información constantemente actualizada. Son los "libros inútiles" --la novela, la poesía-- que no pierden vigencia ... y el formato impreso sigue siendo el medio preferido para su uso. Se notó que al disparar el uso de Internet en las bibliotecas, las estadísticas sobre la circulación de libros también despegaron.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Yesterday the boys were mugged at knifepoint. Matt and William had gone over to the Virgilio Barco Library, which is very nearby. Matt has been doing architectural models in sketch-up and uploading them into Google Earth, and he wanted to do a model of the library, so he went to take measurements and photographs. Three kids (13,12, and 8), armed with knives, grabbed them and forced them to surrender the camera, the cellphone, and they took Matt's shoes (probably not because the shoes were worth much, but rather to keep him from chasing them down).

The boys took off, and Matt did chase them, yelling as loud as he could. He attracted the attention of several by-passers, who caught the oldest boy. Matt caught the youngest one, who had the cellphone in his pocket. Matt got the cellphone and his shoes back, but the third boy escaped with the camera. An older man was holding onto the youngest boy, but the boy got away from him too.

The Police and Family Welfare Services were called and the one remaining boy, 13, was taken into protective custody. He apparently is a known offender. Matt and his father went with the Police to file the report, even though the Police were completely disinterested and rather felt it was a nuisance to have to deal with this kind of petty crime. They wanted to just let the boy go right then and there, but I had called my friend Estela who is a human rights consultant to the Police. She called the local family commissioner who is in charge of cases involving minors under 14. The Police were a bit put off when they were informed that the boy would have to be delivered into the commissioner's custody at the office downtown. The boy will be kept under the auspices of Family Welfare Services until his family has been contacted and his home situation has been assessed.

Matt and William were unhurt, but it was still an act of violence and it was upsetting for them. Afterwards we had a long talk about the have and have-nots, child rights and child offenders, and correctional and reformatory services, and the need to stay alert on the streets. It was quite the sociological experience. Our life doesn't normally have so much drama.

Virgilio Barco Library, the view from our living room window.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bibliotic 2009 - Putting Local Content on the Internet: Biblioredes Chile

One of the most interesting conferences I attended at Bibliotic 2009, was the presentation by Enzo Abagliatti, national coordinator of Biblioredes, the public library network of Chile.

In contrast to the presentations that I saw from libraries that offer services to the public in Colombia, which focused mainly on the technical and procedural aspects of libraries and Internet literacy, and Abagliatti goes to the heart of the matter and broaches the questions: Why do we offer these services? And what is our role in the community?

He realized that libraries would lose relevance unless they responded to the public's perceived needs. For libraries, the challenge of the digital age is nothing less than their social relevance and reason for being.

The objective of the BiblioRedes program is to enable people to become active agents for the cultural and social development of their communities, and to overcome the barriers of isolation, by means of the new communication and information technologies. It is the notion of the library as a place that produces and disseminates information, rather than being a depository for information.

The challenges to meeting this objective were immediately apparent:
30% of libraries in Chile are staffed and run by a single person.
82% of public library users live below the poverty line.

These two factors meant that library staff would have to embrace the technology and be fully committed to this new concept of service before being able to impart training to others, otherwise the initiative would fail; and the large number of users below the poverty line meant that the library was likely to be their only opportunity for having access to the technology.

The computer and Internet literacy program went into effect in 2003. Nowadays a full third of Chileans who have received Internet training, got that training at a local library.

The results speak for themselves:
One of the first applications to become a success, was that of chat: families who were separated for different reasons would use the service to communicate with loved ones. This responds directly to the objective of overcoming isolation.

Since 2003, around 20,000 Chilean websites have been created, 7,000 of which host local content. Abagliatti showed some of the sites that have been created, such as a website that promotes local Chilean rock bands, and another providing links to different sites on local history. I did my own experiment to verify what Abagliatti said, that when searching the local content on Google these sites do come up within the first hits. So that if you, say, want information on the local rock band Jirafa Ardiendo, the first hit takes you to their site, with links to Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Fickr, and Mp3 files available. Those five guys have come a long way from someone's garage.

Suddenly local content is being created, with the technological savvy to make it available to the public. Information that was once not accessible is suddenly available.

The production of content is an intellectual process. It takes research and creativity to produce good quality content, and when that content is eminently local, much of the research must be done at local sources such as the library. The local library suddenly became extremely relevant again, and is playing a pivotal role in meeting the objectives of fomenting cultural and social development and overcoming the barriers of isolation.

In terms of overcoming the digital divide, Abagliatti refers to the book The Deepening Divide: Inequality in the Information Society, by professor Jan A.G.M. van Dijk, and the "virtuous circles" that are inherent to active citizenship:

1. Motivation is the first quality. The public needs to feel that the service or the technology serves them in some way.
2. Access to technology, in the physical sense; location for access and access speed.
3. Skills, computer and Internet literacy, the ability to make use of the resources.
4. Strategic use of the resources. As the resources are used strategically, quality of life begins to improve. As quality of life improves, the user is further motivated to continue making use of the service.

To round off his presentation, Abagliatti commented that with the rise of the Internet, practical books will disappear, as factual information needs to be updated constantly. It is the "useless books" --novels, poetry-- that remain timeless… and the print format is still the preferred medium for their use. He noted that as Internet use in the libraries took off, circulation statistics also rose.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

How will I know when I am old?/¿Cómo sabrá cuando estoy vieja?

How will I know when I am old?

Oh, I will know when April's here
and I'm not playing in my garden;
when I'm not raking up debris
and edging perennial beds
or just holding some fragrant
composted soil in my hands;
when I'm not balancing along
the rocky paths to see what's new
and when I'm not filled with joy as
pink and blue pulmonaria
emerge through crumbling leaves;

when all this beauty I can see
and feel and smell around me
does not completely enchant me
then I will know that I am old.

From The Upside of Angst, poetry by Joan Carmichael, my mother.

¿Cómo sabrá cuando estoy vieja?

O, sabrá cuando llega el mes de Abril
y no estoy jugando en mi jardín;
cuando no estoy recogiendo recortes
y arreglando los bordes de las perennes
o sosteniendo algo del fragante
tierra compostada en mis manos;
cuando no ando a lo largo de
los senderos de rocas para ver qué hay de nuevo
y cuando no estoy llena de alegría al ver
la pulmonaria rosa y azul
emergiendo entre las hojas desmoronadas;

cuando toda esta belleza que veo
y siento y huelo a mi alrededor
no me encanta completamente
entonces sabrá que estoy vieja.

Toda de El lado positivo de la angustia, poesía por Joan Carmichael, mi mamá.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Engleby / The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Engleby: A Novel Engleby: A Novel by Sebastian Faulks

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Michael Engleby is a seductive character, highly intelligent, acerbic, an underdog who has struggled to get ahead in life. But he is not quite loveable. As a matter of fact he can be downright sinister. Sympathy for the abuse he suffered as a boy at boarding school, dissipates as he, in turn, becomes the abuser. Heavy drug and alcohol use, and the convenient literary device of memory lapses, let us know early on in the game that something is afoot. A memory lapse is the traditional Chekhovian rifle hanging on the wall in the first act. WE KNOW that something must have happened, even if his memory is blank.

Despite this obvious shortcoming as a reliable narrator, Engleby manages to be very convincing. One reason for this is the wealth of details he provides about the time period. His attention to detail is almost autistic, and he has a prodigious memory; a sort of idiot savant.

The book is told entirely from Engleby's perspective, until we get to see some of the psychologist's notes at the end. It does come as a bit of a shock when we are confronted with the reality of an outsider's perspective. Someone was suggesting that this might make a good movie, but I would strongly disagree: the whole reason that the story works is because of its deliberately narrow perspective. We are viewing the world through a different reality... and that reality is pretty warped…but it is eerie the degree to which one can be sucked into it, to the point that it almost (almost!) sounds normal. Michael Engleby, a.k.a. Mike, Toilet, Groucho, Irish Mike, Mike (!), Prufrock, Michele Watts, or Michael Watson, is one sad, sick puppy. It is, however, a delightfully creepy little book.

View all my reviews.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Maggie O'Farrell revives the art of the gothic novel in this story about a woman who unexpectedly is given custody of her great-aunt who has spent the past sixty plus years in a psychiatric hospital. The story unfolds in unexpected twists and turns, narrated from different perspectives, finally revealing how 16 year-old Esme ended up being admitted to Cauldstone Hospital, and how this changed the course of her life, and that of her sister Kitty. The author addresses issues like social expectations, family relations, sibling love and rivalry, and the notion of what constitutes madness and how it is construed… or misconstrued. Perceptively and sensitively written, this was a book that I could not put down. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Villa de Leyva: Realmente bonita / Truly Lovely

For the English version, see the lower part of the page.

Hace años que no voy a Villa de Leyva. Fui este fin de semana con unas amigas. Fue una grata sorpresa encontrar que la ciudad es realmente bonita. Tuve miedo que iba encontrar al pueblo demasiado desarrollado, arreglado y maquillado. No tengo nada en contra de la conservación, pero no quise encontrar el pueblo disneyficado, como ha sucedido con lugares que son destinos de esquí, como Chamonix, Tremblant y St. Sauveur. Son pueblos que se han vuelto una parodia de sí mismo. Afortunadamente, este no es el caso en Villa de Leyva.

Siendo puente de primera de mayo, había gente, pero el pueblo tampoco estuvo inundado de turistas. A pesar de ser un destino popular de fin de semana, también tiene residentes permanentes. No es un centro vacacional. Me encanta la prohibición de carros (y motos y vehículos todo terreno) de la plaza mayor y sus alrededores. Llegamos a la plaza y no había música por ningún lado. Me encantó el silencio y la paz. Siempre había gente, pero fue decente. No es bulla, sino concurrencia.

De pronto tiene que ver con la calidad de los visitantes. Villa del Leyva se está convirtiendo en un destino para turismo gastronómico. Tiene muchos restaurantes de alta categoría, no es que fui a probar muchos. Pero disfruté el cappuccino y el croissant de almendras que comí en la Pastelería Francesa.

Fuimos al mercado y compramos tomates frescos (tomates chiquitos con buen sabor, no como los tomates desabridos de larga vida que se consiguen en Bogotá), albahaca, habichuelas, y manzanas, de los campesinos. En este momento estoy preparando una salsa con los tomates frescos y la albahaca para esta noche, para acompañar con los quesos que compré en Colfrance en Ubate. Voy a comprar un pan francés esta tarde. Qué delicia!

Lamento no haber comprado un ramo de pepas de pimienta roja en el mercado. Probé unas pepas. Me sorprendí que la pimienta fresca es un poco dulce. Si alguien se va para Villa de Leyva, voy a encargar un ramo de pimienta.

Villa de Leyva también fue un contraste con Ráquira. La impresión es que Ráquira existe exclusivamente para vender artesanías por mayor. El pueblo es colorido y pesado, con cazadores de gangas por todo lado. Hay artesanías para todos los gustos, desde obras exclusivas y únicas elaboradas a mano y con mucha atención al detalle y diseño, hasta producción masiva de decorados para el jardín de mal gusto (cerámica de Shrek luciendo camiseta de Millonarios). En general hay que reconocer que se consigue mucha artesanía de buena calidad y a buen precio, pero el ambiente no es agradable.

Entre las dos ciudades, no quepa duda: me quedo con Villa de Leyva. Queridos lectores, esperan los próximos fascículos sobre Sutatausa, Chiquinquirá, y Ráquira Silvestre.

Villa de Leyva: Truly Lovely

I hadn't been to Villa de Leyva in years. I went this weekend with some friends. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the town is still truly lovely. I was afraid that I would find the town too developed, fixed-up, and overdone. I have nothing against conservation, but I did not want to find it Disneyfied, as has happened with ski resort towns like Chamonix, Tremblant and St. Sauveur. These are towns that have become a parody of themselves. Fortunately, this is not the case in Villa de Leyva.

Being the first of May long weekend, there were quite a few visitors, but the town was not overrun with tourists. Despite being a popular weekend destination, the town still has permanent residents. It is not just a vacation resort. I love the fact that cars (as well as motorcycles and all terrain vehicles) have been banned from the main square and the surrounding streets. We arrived on the main square and there was no music blaring. It was lovely and peaceful. There were quite a few people, but it was decent. It was not raucous, but rather companionable.

Perhaps this has to do with the quality of the visitors. Villa del Leyva is becoming a destination for gastronomic tourism. It has many upscale restaurants, not that I tried many. But I enjoyed the cappuccino and almond croissant I had at the Patisserie Français.

We went to the produce market and bought fresh tomatoes (small tomatoes with great flavor, not like the tasteless long life tomatoes we get in Bogotá), basil, beans, and apples from the farmers. At this moment I am preparing a fresh tomatoes and basil sauce for tonight, to accompany the cheese that I bought at the Colfrance factory outlet in Ubaté. I'll pick up a French bread this afternoon. Delicious!

I regret not having bought a bouquet of fresh red peppercorns in the market. I tried a few of the fresh peppercorns. I was surprised that fresh pepper is a bit sweet. If someone is going to Villa de Leyva, I will ask them to buy me a bouquet of red peppercorns.

Villa de Leyva was a contrast to the town of Ráquira. My impression is that Ráquira only exists to sell wholesale handicrafts. The town is colorful, crowded, and busy, with bargain hunters all around. There are handicrafts to suit all tastes, from exclusive and unique works made by hand, with great attention to detail and design, to mass produced tasteless garden decorations (ceramic Shrek wearing a Millionarios soccer team jersey ). In general it must be said that there are a lot of good quality handicrafts, and good value, but the atmosphere is not great.

Between the two cities, let there be no doubt about it: I'll stick with Villa de Leyva. Dear readers, look forward to the upcoming installments on Sutatausa, Chiquinquirá and Ráquira Silvestre.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A busy week / Una semana concurrida

Para la versión en español, véase la parte inferior de la página.

This has been a very busy week, made busier by the fact that the week has been compressed into four days, since Friday 1 May is a statutory holiday here (Labor Day).

Monday I finally had the follow-up exam that became necessary because my sister went and spoke to a psychic (and I wasn't even the motive for seeing the psychic). I find it truly ironic that I have to make medical appointments based on some mumbo jumbo, but better safe than sorry. It never hurts to get the plumbing checked out. So we'll keep an eye on things at this end.

Tuesday I went to a funeral for the father of one of Matt's schoolmates. He had gotten sick and died very suddenly. This was a big shock. Luis Alejandro had been in Matt's class since kindergarten and his mother Cecilia is a charming and affable woman. I feel very badly for her. I found the funeral draining.

I had book club on Tuesday night. The book was Engleby by Sebastian Faulks, a delightfully creepy portrait of a mildly psychotic killer. Had to laugh at one friend's comment, "I am only about 1/4 way through Engleby, but for what it's worth, I'm enjoying it. In some strange way, part of my university experience was similar, though with a completely different cultural backdrop." So she identifies with the psychotic murderer… now there's a disturbing thought! Actually I suppose she meant that she recognized people who were similar; my question remains: Are they still at large? My own review of the book will have to wait until next week.

In terms of work I have done a series of translations for the ILO that examine how the ILO Convention (No. 169) concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries has been used in conjunction with the domestic legislation and constitutions of different Latin American countries to resolve indigenous land claims. The translations were all analyses of the use and suitability of the different legal instruments; very detailed and technical.

Now I have today and tomorrow to translate the Third Alternative Report by Civil Society to the Committee on Economic and Cultural Rights which will be presented to the UN Committee on Economic and Cultural Rights, part of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I have to translate over 8,000 words in two days, which is a lot, but this is a cakewalk compared to the other assignment.

Then I am free, free, free this weekend and I have good plans!

Una semana concurrida

Esta ha sido una semana de mucho trajín, hecha más concurrida por el hecho de que la semana está comprimida en cuatro días, porque el viernes 1 de mayo es festivo aquí (Día del Trabajo).

Lunes finalmente tuve el examen de seguimiento que se hizo necesario porque mi hermana consultó una bruja (y ni siquiera yo era el motivo de la consulta). Me parece realmente chistoso que tengo que hacer citas médicas en base a la magia, pero mejor prevenir que curar. Una revisión de la plomería nunca sobra. Así que voy estar pendiente de las cosas en este sentido.

El martes fui al funeral del padre de uno de los compañeros de colegio de Mateo. Se enfermó y murió muy de repente. Fue un gran golpe. Luis Alejandro estuvo en el curso de Mateo desde el kinder and su madre Cecilia es una mujer encantadora y afable. Me siento muy mal por ella. Sentí el funeral bastante agotador.

Tuve reunión de club de lectura por la noche. El libro fue Engleby por Sebastian Faulks, un retrato deliciosamente escalofriante de un asesino psicótico. Tuve que reírme del comentario de una amiga, "Yo sólo he terminado la cuarta parte del libro Engleby, pero por lo que vale, le estoy disfrutando. De cierta manera, parte de mi experiencia universitaria fue similar, aunque con referentes culturales completamente diferentes." Así que ella identifica con el asesino psicótico ... es una idea preocupante! En realidad, supongo que significa que reconoce a personas quienes fueron similares, pero mi pregunta sigue siendo: ¿Están todavía en libertad? Mi reseña del libro tendrá que esperar hasta la próxima semana.

En términos del trabajo, hice una serie de traducciones para la OIT que examina la forma como el Convenio No, 169 de la OIT sobre pueblos indígenas y tribales en países independientes se ha utilizado en combinación con la legislación nacional y las constituciones de los diferentes países de América Latina para resolver las reivindicaciones de tierras indígenas. Las traducciones fueron todos de análisis del uso y la idoneidad de los diferentes instrumentos jurídicos, muy detalladas y técnicas.
Ahora tengo hoy y mañana para traducir el Tercer Informe Alternativo de la Sociedad Civil al Comité de Derechos Económicos y Culturales que será presentado al Comité de Derechos Económicos y Culturales de la ONU, parte de la Oficina del Alto Comisionado para los Derechos Humanos. Tengo que traducir más de 8000 palabras en dos días, que es mucho, pero ésta es un paseo en comparación con las otras traducciones.

Y después estoy libre, libre, libre este fin de semana y tengo buenos planes!


I am increasingly worried about swine flu. / Estoy cada vez más preocupada por la influenza porcina.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Healing Power of Salt / El poder curativo de la sal

Para la versión en español, véase la parte inferior de la página.

My fleur de sel ran out the other day. I used the fleur de sel sparingly. It came from Guérande, on the coast of Brittany. Fleur de sel is the top layer of the purist salt, harvested from the local salt marshes. It is prized by cooks and connoisseurs. I used it only on salads, condimented simply with olive oil and salt.

But like all good things the package finally ran out. Local salt producer Refisal is producing a premium line of salt crystals. Refisal is mainly a rock salt producer but they also have a plant on the Atlantic coast, so maybe it is sea salt. I'll have to try their new line, but I am sure that it will not be the same.

My fleur de sel was more than just a condiment, it was a moment in my life. It was tears and comfort, and the healing power of salt.

Small wounds can be treated with sweet, some chocolate or ice cream will usually do the trick. Serious wounds need to be treated with salt. The body and the soul need to be renourished, replenished, and made whole again.

My friend Gaby gave me the comfort and the salt. Every time I used the salt it reminded me that there are people are I can turn to when I need a helping hand. Gaby helped me; a lot of people helped me through that rough time. They are my salt.

El poder curativo de la sal

Mi flor de sal se acabó el otro día. Utilicé la flor de sal con moderación. Venía de Guérande, en la costa de Bretaña. Flor de sal es la capa superior de la sal más pura, extraído de las marismas locales de aguas saladas. Es apreciada por los chefs y conocedores. La utilicé únicamente en las ensaladas, condimentadas sencillamente con aceite de oliva y sal.

Pero como toda cosa buena, el paquete finalmente se agotó. Productor local de sal Refisal está produciendo una línea nueva de cristales de sal gourmet. Refisal es principalmente un productor de sal de roca, pero también tiene una planta en la costa atlántica, por lo que quizá es sal marina. Tendré que probar la nueva línea, pero estoy segura de que no será la misma.

Mi flor de sal era más que un condimento, era un momento en mi vida. Era lágrimas y consuelo, y el poder curativo de la sal.

Pequeñas heridas se pueden tratar con dulce, basta con un poco de chocolate o helado. Heridas graves deben ser tratadas con sal. El cuerpo y el alma necesitan ser nutridos, repuestos, y devueltos a su integridad.

Mi amiga Gaby me dio consuelo y sal. Cada vez que utilizaba la sal me acordé que existen personas a quienes puedo recorrer cuando necesito una mano. Gaby me ayudó; muchas personas me ayudaron en ese momento difícil. Ellos son mi sal.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I love my work / Adoro mi trabajo

Para la versión en español, véase la parte inferior de la página.

I translate. I love my work.

My main, stable, job is a contract with a press agency. I do a running summary of the evening newscast. I'd probably watch the news anyway. I love being paid for something that I want to do. Plus I know that my work is taken into account by people who make decisions on international policy. I watch and listen attentively, and then transcribe.

As well I do freelance work. I've spent all of my working life in the NGO community, and so that is where most of my translation clients are: Human rights and international humanitarian law, child rights, gender perspective, community development, indigenous land rights, evaluations of government performance, security issues, demobilization, truth and justice, peace negotiations, corporate social responsibility. These are the fields with which I work. I am part of the process of giving a voice to things that need to be said and gradually effecting change.

I love translating. I love writing. I love being up-to-date on the latest news.

I didn't expect to become a translator. I have an undergraduate degree in English literature and a master's degree in library and information studies.

The English degree was probably instrumental in making me a good writer. Plus I have my book club that I adore, so literary analysis is a skill I still use. The MLIS is kind of a joke. I always thought it was a pretty bogus degree in the first place, but necessary if you want to work as a reference librarian. I did that for a while, and I loved that too. I loved the challenge of being asked to help research random questions. Plus that degree is the reason I live here now, since I came here through a Canadian Government technical cooperation program (CUSO). Right now just having the degree is useful in the sense that it qualifies me to teach at the university level. If I were to teach anything it would be English literature. I have no desire to work in any sort of library here. Interestingly, I have done a few library translations over the past year: for the Virgilio Barco Library, the new Julio Mario Santodomingo Library and Cultural Center, and for the National Library. The clients were not aware that I am a librarian when they called me for the translation.

I love working independently and being free to make my own hours. I try to make time to get to the gym in the morning. It makes a difference in terms of my wellbeing. Monday I had my hair done and a mani/pedi. I was chatting with the brother-in-law of one of the women who works at the salon. He lives in New Jersey and was down here visiting. We were talking about work. He told me that he had loved his job in sales at Revlon, until the management changed, and overnight he went from loving his job to hating it. He said that he walked away from a six-figure salary. Now he is working in fuels and likes it. Good for him. Doing a job that you don't like must be a daily torture; better to walk away.

Traduzco. Me encanta mi trabajo.

Mi trabajo principal, estable, es un contrato con una agencia de prensa. Hago un resumen del noticiero de la noche. Probablemente miraría las noticias de todos modos. Me encanta que me pagan por algo que quiero hacer. Además sé que mi trabajo es tomado en cuenta por personas quienes toman decisiones de política internacional. Veo y escucho con atención y transcribo.

También trabajo como independiente. He pasado toda mi vida laboral en la comunidad de las ONGs, entonces esa es la procedencia de la mayor parte de mis clientes de traducción: Los derechos humanos y derecho internacional humanitario, los derechos del niño, perspectiva de género, desarrollo comunitario, los derechos sobre tierras indígenas, evaluaciones del desempeño del gobierno, la problemática de la seguridad, las desmovilizaciones, la verdad y la justicia, las negociaciones de paz, la responsabilidad social corporativa. Estos son los campos con los que trabajo. Soy parte del proceso de dar voz a las cosas que hay que decir, para poco a poco dar lugar al cambio.

Me encanta la traducción. Me encanta escribir. Me gusta estar al día sobre las últimas noticias.

No esperaba convertirme en traductora. Soy licenciada en literatura inglés y tengo una maestría en estudios de bibliotecas e información.

Los estudios en inglés probablemente me hizo buen escritor. Además tengo mi club de lectura que adoro, por lo que el análisis literario es una habilidad que todavía conservo. La maestría en bibliotecología no es un título serio. Yo siempre pensé que era algo chimba, pero necesaria si uno quiere trabajar como bibliotecóloga de referencia. Hice este trabajo por un tiempo, y me encantó también. Me encantó el desafío de ayudar en la investigación de preguntas aleatorias. Es más, este título es la razón por la cual ahora vivo aquí, porque llegué a través de un programa de cooperación técnica del gobierno canadiense (CUSO). Ahora siento que tener el título es útil en el sentido de que me califica para enseñar al nivel universitario. Si yo fuera a enseñar sería literatura inglés. No tengo ningún deseo de trabajar en bibliotecas aquí. Curiosamente, he hecho algunas traducciones para bibliotecas durante el último año: para la Biblioteca Virgilio Barco, la nueva Biblioteca y Centro Cultural Julio Mario Santodomingo, y la Biblioteca Nacional. Los clientes no sabían que yo soy bibliotecóloga cuando me llamaron para la traducción.

Me encanta trabajar independiente y estar libre de hacer mis propias horas. Trato de ir al gimnasio un rato por la mañana. Esta marca una diferencia en términos de mi bienestar. El lunes fui al peluquero para arreglarme el cabello y un manicure/pedicure. Estuve conversando con el cuñado de una de las mujeres quienes trabajan en la peluquería. Vive en Nueva Jersey y estuvo aquí de visita. Hablamos de trabajo. Me dijo que le encantaba su puesto de trabajo de ventas en Revlon, hasta que la administración cambió, y de la noche a la mañana se fue de adorar a odiar su trabajo. Dijo que abandonó un puesto que pagaba un salario de seis cifras. Ahora está trabajando con combustibles y le gusta. Me parece muy bien. Hacer un trabajo que uno no le gusta debe ser una tortura diaria; mejor irse.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God
By Zora Neale Hurston

Author Zora Neale Hurston was a renowned folklorist, as well as an author, and this background shows in her richly detailed novel that chronicles Janie Starks' life and her dissatisfaction with the role that she is expected to play as a black woman in society, from the time of her birth in approximately 1877. An eminently feminist novel, Janie wants the world to move her, and she is not content to conform to the role that her grandmother and her first two husbands would have her assume. Because of her beauty, particularly her long straight hair, she quickly achieves material comfort, but her spirit remains restless.

Her first two husbands fail to recognize her human qualities. It is not until she meets Tea Cake that she finds a man who appreciates her ostensibly as an equal. The book's portrayal of violence against women is not shocking for its graphic qualities, but rather for the fact that it is acknowledged and accepted that a man will beat his wife and that doing so is a token of his ownership. When Mrs. Turner lets it be known that she would like to see her brother paired up with Janie, Tea Cake beats Janie "tuh show dem Turners who is boss." We don't hear how Janie feels about the beating, but we are told that "It aroused a sort of envy in both men and women. The way he petted and pampered her as if those two or three face slaps had nearly killed her made the women see visions and the helpless way she hung on him made men dream dreams." We are also told that those "two or three face slaps made it possible for "uh person can see every place you hit her." He first two husbands are brutal and repressive, and their violence is not surprising. So it rankles to see that unjustified violence is also legitimized in the hands of Tea Cake, the "ideal man."

Set in different black communities in southern Florida, the dialect and pronunciation of the local black people is reproduced with great precision, making the text somewhat difficult to read for those who are not familiar with these speech patterns. This is not deficiency in the text but rather a caveat to the reader that the language and telling are challenging. I found that it was sometimes necessary to read the dialogue out loud in order to apprehend its meaning, which I note was a possibly intentional nod on the part of the author, to the black oral storytelling traditions.

Aside from the violence, there are a few other points in the story with which I could not reconcile myself: Janie apparently has no qualms with the fact that Tea Cake steals her $200, spends it having a party, and then informs her that he will win it back by gambling, because that's how he earns his living. The only point she objects to, is that he went off and had a good time without her.

Also disturbing is the lingering discomfort of having read the author's biographic information. Despite her ample education and her obvious feminist beliefs, author Hurston, died alone, impoverished, unloved, and unknown, and was buried in an unmarked grave. Unlike her heroine who journeyed to find her heart's desire and be true to herself, finding love, riches, and a sense of acceptance and community, Hurston's life belies everything that her heroine represents. This is not necessarily valid literary criticism: an author's own life is not the standard by which a piece of fiction should be judged. Fiction is, after all, made up. In this case it is written with the intention of being inspirational, rather than documentary. The concept of the fairy tale keeps running through my mind, in the style of the Grimm brothers, and Hurston uses many symbolic and iconographic elements in the telling of the story and her portrayal of the black community.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Urban Tourism/Turismo urbano

The boys had two weeks off school for Easter. The first week they were with José Miguel, the second week with me. We started our week's vacation with a trip to Guaduas, which made a nice change. The rest of the week was dedicated to urban tourism.

Los niños tuvieron dos semanas de vacaciones para Semana Santa. La primera semana estaban con José Miguel y la segunda semana conmigo. Comenzamos nuestra semana de vacaciones con un viaje a Guaduas, a cambio que hizo bien. Dedicamos el resto de la semana a turismo urbano.

Monday 13 April
Bowling with the boys at Compensar. I went earlier in the morning and did some exercise, and the boys met me there later on their bikes. The bowling alley is very new and modern. A bit pricey though, in Colombian terms. I won the first game, Matt won the second.

Lunes 13 abril
Bolos con los niños en Compensar. Fui temprano por la mañana y hice un poco de ejercicio. Los niños vinieron más tarde en sus bicicletas y se encontraron conmigo. El área de bolos en Compensar es nuevo y moderno, aunque un poco costoso en términos colombianos. Yo gané el primer partido y Mateo ganó el segundo.

Tuesday 14 April
We went to the Gold Museum. It has been renovated and it is very well displayed and organized. There was only one small school group there and we were able to avoid them. There were very few visitors at the museum on Tuesday, and over half of them were foreigners. Entrance to the Gold Museum is very cheap: Around $1.25 each for Matt and I, and children under 12 get in free.

Made apple crisp in the afternoon and then headed off to book club for the discussion of The Book of Salt by Monique Truong. I enjoyed the book a lot, though I would have enjoyed more discussion and less expounding at book club.

Martes 14 abril
Fuimos al Museo del Oro. El Museo hizo renovaciones y quedó muy bien arreglado y organizado. Únicamente había un grupo pequeño de colegio, y fuimos capaces de evitarlos. Muy pocas personas en el museo este Martes, y más de la mitad fueron extranjeros. La entrada es muy económica: $2.700 pesos cada uno por Mateo y yo, y niños menores de 12 entran gratis.

Hicimos un postre de manzanas por la tarde para llevar a club de lectura. La lectura de la quincena fue The Book of Salt por Monique Truong. Me gustó bastante el libro, aunque hubiera preferido más debate y menos discurso en la reunión.

Wednesday 15 April
No activity scheduled today. I got a lot of work done. When we got back from our weekend in Guaduas, there was a note from a translation client, asking how I was getting along with the texts she had sent the previous week, and would I be done by Thursday. I did not receive the texts the previous week, and had no idea that she had sent them. So she sent another copy of the texts and we agreed on the following Monday as the due date. That means I have a lot of work that I was not expecting to have to do this week.

We tried to have a Risk game, but there were some temper problems and the game had to be called off because of stormy weather.

For dinner we made pannecook, round crusty bread stuffed with chicken and mushroom curry. Afterward we watched "Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf or Death."

Miércoles 15 abril
No programamos ninguna actividad hoy. Adelanté el trabajo. Cuando llegamos de Guaduas, encontré una nota de un cliente de traducción, preguntando cómo iba con los textos, y si estuviesen listos para el Jueves. No recibí ningún texto la semana anterior. Entonces me envió otra copia de los textos y acordamos la entrega de la traducción para el lunes. Significa que tengo mucho trabajo que no esperaba para esta semana.

Intentamos jugar Risk por la tarde, pero hubo unos inconvenientes de mal genio y tuvimos que suspender el juego por mal tiempo.

Para la comida hicimos pannecook, pan francés redondo, relleno de curry de pollo con champiñones. Después miramos "Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf or Death."

Thursday 16 April
Mundo Aventura amusement park. The park opens at 1300. We arrived and were immediately accosted by street vendors, wanting to sell us packages of potato chips because the park was offering a special deal: bring in 8 empty Super Ricas Potato chip packages get a free pass for the rides. I disentangled myself from the street vendors and asked a park worker, who confirmed the veracity of the offer. So we bought 16 packages of potato chips from the streets vendor. I emptied all of the potato chips into a plastic bag, and the boys both got their passes for the rides. It cost us half the normal entry price. I paid more than I would normally pay for potato chips at the grocery store, but what the heck, I was supporting the street vendor and his family, and still came out ahead. On a Thursday afternoon when most schools are in session, the park was nearly empty. The boys went on whatever rides they wanted, as many times as they wanted. I brought a book to read. Maybe it is the vertigo, but amusement parks don't sit well with me. We stayed until the late afternoon, when it started to rain.

Jueves 16 abril
Parque de diversiones Mundo Aventura. Llegamos y de inmediata fuimos abordados por vendedores ambulantes quienes buscaban vendernos paquetes de papas Super Ricas porque con ocho paquetes vacíos, el parque está obsequiando el pase para las atracciones. Me deshice de los vendedores y pregunté a una empleada del parque quien me confirmó la oferta. Entonces compramos 16 paquetes de papas del vendedor. Vacié los paquetes en una bolsa plástica, y reclamaos los dos pases para los niños. Pagué más de lo que las papas valen en el supermercado, pero el precio total fue la mitad del costo de dos pases dentro del parque, y hice un aporte a la economía solidaria. Siendo jueves por la tarde, el parque estuvo casi vacío. Los niños montaron en las atracciones cuantas veces quisieran. Por mi parte, traje un libro para leer. Tal vez este por el vértigo, pero no me siento mucho los parques de diversiones. Quedamos hasta el final de la tarde cuando comenzó a llover.

Friday 17 April
Today's plan: Cici aquaparc! I don't like swimming pools at the best of times, but at least this one is half price on Fridays so off we went. It is near our house. They have a wave pool and a bunch of slides. I am not a big fan of water. I enjoyed curling up on a lounge with my book. I note that the demographic for this place is the following: young families, adolescent couples, and gangs of adolescent boys. Matt and William enjoyed themselves. I did not get wet.

Viernes 17 abril
Programa del día: Cici aquaparc! No me gusta mucho las piscinas pero ésta está a mitad de precio los viernes y los niños querrían, entonces nos fuimos. Es cerca la casa. Tiene una piscina de olas y varios toboganes. Como no me gusta el agua, me quedé leyendo. Observé que la demográfica del sitio es la siguiente: familias jóvenes, parejas de jóvenes, y grupos de niños adolescentes. Mateo y William disfrutaron el día. No me mojé.

The boys are with JM this weekend, and I have my work cut out for me.

Los niños están con José Miguel este fin de semana, y tengo que darlo duro al trabajo.

Observaciones sobre las noticias de la semana:

El Cadáver de Raúl Reyes
A qué juegan con el cuerpo de Raúl Reyes? Porqué la familia no reaccionó hace un año? Si a mi no me el cuerpo de un ser querido, yo hubiera puesto un grito en el cielo. Qué diablos le interesa un oficial de la policía con el cadáver del difunto? Será que no es de Raúl Reyes? Será que las FARC tienen el cadáver, en una inversión del caso de Emmanuel, el niño quien les escapó.

Servicio de Salud para los Presos
La semana pasada me enterré que desde este momento los presos en los cárceles colombianos tendrán acceso al servicio medico. Cómo así? Hasta este momento no tenían servicio medico? No señores. El servicio medico solo se prestaban en circunstancias de urgencia, nada más. Ahora tendrán derecho a la consulta médica y controles preventivos. No es que tengo mucho simpatía por los presos, pero se me hace que es un derecho fundamental. Estoy atónita.