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.