Thursday, November 19, 2009
This blog is for first time since 2002, not about some place... Perhaps, because the last one about South America, I got feedback on: how I finished in NZ?... and the main reason is because the Sea... so this blog is about the sea and me, so you warned and can stop reading now if too busy or don’t really care.
I don’t really know why the sea in particular has such a strong influence in my life. Looking back, I’m a ex rower, ex search and rescue swimmer, ex lifeguard, ex fisherman, presently fisheries biologist, open water swimmer, diver and surfer...
In fact, I grew up far from the ocean. I did however cross the Atlantic in 45 days on board a cruising ship from Germany all the way to Argentina when I was 6 years old. The boat was called the Bremen (ex Pasteur). I like to think that trip marked my life.
I don’t know if I have real memories from the trip or later recollections from watching super 8 films that my dad did at the time. My mum says that used to spend the whole day looking at the horizon and hassling the crew wit questions and to take me to all part of the vessel and usually I was able to make my own way to the bridge as I became a sort of a favorite passenger of the officers there.
Reality in Corrientes and Parana (where I lived after that trip) was marked by a big river: the Parana (I really mean big... is 3km at its narrowest)
Everyone in my family play tennis... my mum was one of the first generations of females pros out of Argentina and she has owned since then a big tennis complex, my brother a former pro as well cracked the top 100 but was plagued by consecutive back surgeries (a family trademark) and went into coaching since them. My dad after retiring from his job of a regional director of Argentina’s National Institute of Agronomical Research supplements his meager pension with tennis classes (at 70!).
I never owned a racket and may have played 10 games in all my life.
The water was always close to my house, but far from the family... So there I went... (I kind of grow up by reaction, more than by action) I rowed and swim competitively all trough my military high school... and the rest of my time was spend fantasizing about the sea, the south pacific and far away places... surely feed by a mixture of french influences Jules Verne, Jacques Cousteau and so on...
After the war (Falklands/Malvinas) with the collapse of the military government things looked brighter, so with my diploma under my arm I decided to move to Mar del Plata, become a fisherman and study Marine Biology... which that was like deciding to be a glaciologist or a astronaut for some one with my background.
Once there, I was drawn to the Club Nautico Mar del Plata (CNMP) and the National Institute of Fisheries Research (INIDEP). Both places became the center points of my social and economical life.
I got good at sailing sailing by crewing in regattas every time I had an opportunity and worked for the club running a small shipyard, as a children’s sailing coach and a lifeguard; and for the fisheries institute as a crew member on the research vessels, a fisheries observer and later a research technician and then a scientist.
I had diving as an optional paper in Uni, and I got my qualification there. But didn’t dived much until later on in life when I migrated... surfing was quite limited at the time in Argentina and while some of my friend where into it... I could not afford a board, but I fixed and re-glassed a fair share of them.
My main other thing beside sailing was swimming (to be a lifeguard in Argentina is a 2 year course, and you become legally responsible for the people under your section of the beach- a bit like a policeman... so you need to be VERY fit)
Anyway, by some reason I was kind of obsessed with the South Pacific... I had a big map of the Pacific Ocean (by the National Geographic) that I treasured and was always in my walls... I even had marked all the places I wanted to go...
But yeah... my fantasy was a great escape from a very insecure personality... my share size and appearance wasn’t very “acceptable” in post military dictature society... I never felt that I fitted in any group, so my place was with the outcasts (were I fitted only partially). The sailing club was a quite conservative place, but oddly enough I was quite useful and children really liked me as a coach, so I was sort of “accepted” as long as didn’t try to go to the parties)... Enough to say that we never were allowed into the places were the “nice people” used to go...
At that stage, I as well was going at art-school on night shift... I wasn’t after a degree... as I only was doing all the practical papers and not the theory ones. In any case... in those 3 years was were I felt for first time “accepted” and “liked” as I was. Particularly by woman... I started at the time (26!) my first real relationships...
Very close to getting my degree (in Argentina you go directly into masters level with a thesis) I got involved into a really sad, technical and boring dispute with a “superior” in the fisheries institute and my contract was cancelled... (of the 120 that we started Uni, only 2 of us were working -for money- there as what we studied).
It was a big shock... but in many ways was wake-up call... I realize what my future would look like in a research institution that depends on political wills, were you spend half you time trying to do your job and the other time navigating political storms under a lot of jealousies and back stabbings, with shit salaries, and no options of moving up the scale without a strong “connection” in the ministry of whatever.
So, 2 weeks after graduations and after having sold everything I had (wasn’t much) and having broken the hearth of my girlfriend at the time (we were living together) I got in a boat that was going to the South Pacific... I spend almost 2 years doing of fishing and other jobs in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga until finally I made it to NZ, were I fell in love with the place and I stayed for good.
On those South Pacific days I got more into diving... 2 things blow my mind about it... the colors patterns of the tropical reefs and the “three dimensionality” of diving. You see on earth we move in 2 directions only... we move in a “plan”... but in the water divers move freely in 3 dimensions... is as close as flying as you get... but 2 things sort of put me off a bit... one is the almost religiosity about diving by which many divers you interact when diving live by... the logbook, the records, the list of fish ids... and so on... is like the kind of dive for the after bit more than the actual diving... I have no idea how many dives I have done (over 100?), my diving card is from 1984 and is in quite pathetic condition...when I dive I like to “fly” I turn around, look at bubbles going up, the diffraction of the sun, get very close the LSD type colored fishes for very long... and all that kind of annoy the purists... but I have an awesome time. The other is the amount of gear you need and the logistics involved... is quite full on business.
That is the reason I love open ocean swimming... is very “pure” in some ways... if you are running in the open for 5 km and stop moving... nothing happens. If you are swimming in the open ocean for 5km and stop moving... you die. Is a very cleansing experience for me... I think I have taken the most important decisions of my life while swimming of my life while swimming... migrating, buying a house, marring Vibeke, having kids, going to Rome, leaving Rome, just to name a few... I really love swimming.
Surfing...I couldn't put into words the 1st time I surfed (I was in NZ already and for 1st time I could afford to buy a board without feeling guilty about the money). But I read something a few weeks ago (Tim Winton's Breath - page 28), and understood what seized my soul that day.
"How strange it was to see fellow ocean roughed man, do something beautiful. Something pointless and elegant, as though nobody saw or cared". There is a lot of beauty in the Ocean, and a lot of roughness when you make a living out of it... Surfing allows me to do something beautiful and totally pointless just for the sake of it... I feel a better person after surfing. I like the idea of my children seeing their dad do something beautiful (even if I’m not so good) and pointless, like the idea of they seeing me coming out of the water with a big grin of happiness after –really- doing nothing, besides getting on top of a piece of foam and fiberglass down the face a wave.
Jike this guy here, Joel Tudor that make it look soooo easy.
I wish one day I could be out there with Felix and Kika... but they are not me... they may want to grow by reaction as well... so is up to them... not going to force them... (I did however bought a board for Felix).
I feel sheltered in the ocean... land always make me feel unsecure... too many variables, too many people with things to prove and agendas... At sea, I know what I’m capable and what I’m not, either in a boat, a board, or just my skin...
If I die at sea... it would be only fair... it would be under my rules and I would be ok with it in what ever way happens... If I died on land, well, is in my will already... I like to be cremated and thrown to the ocean... so every time some one I care for, looks at the sea... is like it comes to visit me to the place where I feel at home.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile are places common to my past. So heading back there is always a mixture of feelings... Going to Argentina for my mum’s post surgery and my dad’s 70s, between two working trips to Chile and Uruguay was cool.
Working in Latin America is a different experience as to working in SE Asia, Africa or the Pacific, as you are dealing with quite prepared and knowledgeable people that know what to do, but live submerged in very difficult institutions... is really “command and control”... the challenge are the institutional politics, power bunkers, positioning based on who you know more than how good you are, personal vendettas, etc... All things I know well enough... (key reasons why I emigrated!)
Chile is perhaps the more “efficient” in terms of the role of government, and they are the most transparent government in the region (for Latin American standards), and in general terms is the most advanced and organised of all. I enjoy working there.
The job was to help on the set up of a regulatory/functional system with the local fisheries authorities, that could allow the products of the artisanal hand line fishery be monitored to comply with international management and sanitary standards and therefore allow for their fish to access the international markets (and ergo more money)
Chileans have a unique accent and use of words among the Spanish speaking countries, so working with them is funny... I had a young team and we had a great time on and off the job...
Southern Chile is a pretty unique part of the world, sandwiched among the Andes and the Ocean is a place of unique beauty and rugged lifestyles. To be an artisanal fisherman there is hard core... rough and exposed weather and cold... really cold.
Working details are boring... so have a look on the pictures....
Argentina... well... my relationship is complex... Kind of like seeing and ex-girlfriend that is beautiful, sexy, talented, smart with a great sense of humour but completely non trustable, she’ll treason you for nothing... and is not because she does not like you... is just that that is the way she is... so you either deal with it... or you move on, and get together for catch up once in while...
But then... my whole family is there... and a huge chunk of my past... and even if two of my best friends from my life there, now live in NZ... I amputated a huge chunk of me when I left... and the “what if I stayed” is a constant presence....
Besides going there means living at either may dad’s or my mum’s... something that as boarding school boy I haven’t done since childhood, but then this was an special occasion... I had my children with me.
My kids haven’t had close family dealings... Vib and I are immigrants in NZ... and while we have a fantastic extended adopted family in NZ (I love the whanau concept)... as my boy Felix said: this people look like us!
My mum has been quite sick and my dad was to be 70, so we went and spend almost a month.
Vib took a Spanish course in Buenos Aires (here is her blog ) and I took the children up north to where my family lives. Then she came over and we went even further north (near Paraguay) to the place I grow up.
My dad married again and it has 2 children aged 13 and 11... they are cool kids and love my family a lot, Vib and I are contributing to their education... as my dad is not a wealthy man.
My brother has to 2 kids (5 and 2 years old), so my ones had 2 weeks of playing all day with cousins and 1/2 uncles... which did wonders for their Spanish.
I had the chance to catch up with friends, and even became the godfather of my friend Sari little boy.
Going to the area I grow up and the wetlands surrounding it (Esteros del Ibera) was quite something... as for first time my children got to see the place and environment that I lived when I was their age...
The wildlife in the wetlands is incredible and well preserved as it is a natural reserve since the 90s (My dad was one of the founders)...
Meeting friends I have not seen in more than 30 years and having dinner with the lady whom I learnt to read with... was very moving.
And then my dad’s 70... not that he really represents his age... (he doesn’t really gives shit about it... or much else in a matter of fact)... saying that is a right wing hippie that set up socialist cooperatives, is ultra qualified and dress like a gaucho... is just scratching the surface of his complexity...
In any case the party was whole day affaire, I got to see my cousins with their kids (after 18 years!) and so on... if interested here are some pictures...
Uruguay has a special charm for me... on the distance I see it now as the NZ of down there... small, original, proudly independent but next door to giants. I have written about it before
Fisheries wise, the situation is complex as the share a huge part of their resources with Argentina Under a common fisheries zone “Zona Comun de Pesca”.
A key issue in managing a fishery is a form of “ownership” of the resource so is clear “how much” can the players catch based on good scientific evaluation of the maximum available catch volumes by using economic and biological sustainability.
Argentina’s fisheries policies have been a mess for a long time, and Uruguay while having good intentions find itself in a “tragedy of commons” situations. If they take an strong management actions, then Argentina is just going to keep fishing what Uruguay don’t catch...
A very tricky situation.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Is hard not to like Fiji... I have been there many times, I know people and places... is quite a hub in Pacific Island terms, and combination of fijians, hindus and chinese makes the place quite unique... So unique that no many outside rules apply there....
Yes there is a military government now... is not the 1st one and is always about the same issues... corruption, racial divide, land ownership, etc.
As a background, the british brought Indian workers for the sugar plantations and they had an unusual status during colonial time... with independence they got citizenship but not equal right in various areas, one of them was land ownership... they prospered in the business and education... but in many ways they still among the poorest as well.
In 1909 near the peak of the inflow of indentured Indian laborers, the land ownership pattern was frozen and further sales prohibited. Today over 80% of the land is held by indigenous Fijians, under the collective ownership of the traditional Fijian clans. Indo-Fijians produce over 90% of the sugar crop but must lease the land they work from its ethnic Fijian owners instead of being able to buy it outright. The leases have been generally for 10 years, although they are usually renewed for two 10-year extensions. Many Indo-Fijians argue that these terms do not provide them with adequate security and have pressed for renewable 30-year leases, while many ethnic Fijians fear that an Indo-Fijian government would erode their control over the land.
A google will give tons of deeper and surely more accurate analysis of the situation than this one...
On the ground... you would not notice much... a taxi driver (my political barometers anywhere) told me something like that:
"Government has become so irrelevant to ours lives that we don't care anymore... they are up there always arguing about the same... I'm down here working to eat... we all just wait and see... when news come in the radio, I change station, I put music at least there u know what they are singing about"
Other voices you hear say: “is funny they tell you that no one religion is “more” right than another one... but then they gospel on one form of democracy as if it the only solution. I didn't hear so much uproar with Pakistan... they had a military dictator for ages... but Americans needed them... we are not so important”
Fijians are Melanesians in their ancestry, but very integrated in the Polynesian “world” due to the tradelines. While Polynesians were traditionally a class systems (Tonga still has a king, Samoa has a parliament but selected among nobility lines, etc) with a warrior upper class, Melanesians had a more egalitarian social units with vest political power in groups of elders. Within some of these groups are "Big Men," renowned for their political, economic, and warrior attributes, and you get to be a “big man” pretty much on your own stand, without necessary having to belong to a powerful clan... as consequence this “status” is not hereditary. (If interested on this issues read “worlds apart” - a history of the pacific Islands by I.C. Campbell)
In many ways is no wonder why the military has such a important role in Fijian society... a warrior in the family is a huge source of pride... I have been in small villages having Kava (a traditional root drink of ceremonial and social importance among polynesia and fiji) and you see pictures of Fijian soldiers fighting away (mostly Iraq) either as part of regular armies or as private security (mercenaries), they provide the village and their church with income and "honour"...
Furthermore, Fiji’s main export is “services”, basically in security... and they are gutsy... very blessed with amazing natural bodies, speed and cunning ways in combat... as any that has played rugby against then can witness...
So, at least to me is no surprise that military government will still have and always will have influence in Fijian politics until a governance system is achieved that represents not only political issues but as well the weird racial situation and the traditional structure of the society.
In times of crisis, some people tend to welcome military interventions (in reality I believe that no military coup is completely uninvited by at least some part of the civil population), I guess the idea of people living under a code (military code?) has some sort of honor and law, when things around it are lawless...
The fisheries dept of Fiji for example, was by far the most inefficient and corrupt of all I knew... they lived in a world apart. Its disappearance would had no influence in the fisheries stake holders besides less corruption... 75% of its personnel was suspended by the military... that cleaned the corruption... but left the sector without knowledge and management
When change in government happens, in Spanish they say: “new broom cleans well” (escoba nueva barre bien)... but then in english I find it very interesting that the difference in between “use” of power, and “abuse” is only 2 letters... and that has been always the problem with military governments...
So basically... yes there is a rule of law that should be followed... but the older i get, the less I judge... legal does no always means good...there is only one group of people that will decide if Bainimarama’s rule was good or not, and that is the fijians (all included) themselves.
otherwise... is a beautiful, dynamic, multicultural and fantastic place. Ah! And I did my 1st triathlon in 11 years! Oldest guy in the field, did not finish last, and I was invited to the wedding of the winner...
some images from one of the villages
my friend Bob Gillet, his son Mark and a boat that i'm planning to build one day
one river we kayaked on the weekend
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
I’m sure that justifying the rational behind quitting a well paid job diplomatic job for life with all sorts of perks, that allowed me to do all the research I wanted, while living in Rome, arguably one of the most beautiful and important cities in history would be quite difficult... even for me, that i just did that....
Where to start?
I have looked up with admiration at the FAO logo, since I was trained by a programme from the Fisheries Department as an 18 years old fisherman.
That training gave me good knowledge, but most importantly, incentives.... it allowed me to start a path, which since then, has taken my life beyond any expectation I ever had.
Being chosen for a job here, to replace one of those who trained me so many years ago, was like closing a dream circle... I don’t know if FAO changes the world, but definitively changes people’s lives, it did it twice for me.
Rome is just unique... drowned in history and fantastic food, great weather and inner city parks and treasures... she is very charming in its own way... but she asks a price out of you... if you are happy to pay it.... then she is all yours forever.
FAO FI is a good old solid boat, she is the one and only of its kind, but as any boat, it needs some refitting, new engines... she spend to much fuel just to stay afloat, ergo she can’t put much into doing its job... she has a lot of very good crew, but as well some people that past their use by date....
And again, as in any boat... the ultimate responsibility lies in the skipper, for good or bad. The skipper should have done something long time ago.
FAO is sailing in rough waters and rocky bottom, and I really hope that the skipper (or anew one) can find his course to better grounds.
In any case FAO is a great employer, working there has perks that have disappeared in the rest of the world ages ago (just as one example: sugar rations!), plus good tax free salaries and the right to a minimal pension after only 5 years work.... In combination with Rome, is not hard to see why people stay there for ever...
Diving into that world is at first a culture shock, that varies in intensity depending of where you come from... but as every one tells you... you get used to it...
I absolutely see why some people would not change it for anything else, most cities of the world offer way less than FAO/Rome in any way you like to compare it, from security o weather... ergo attracting from african to scandinavians...
So why I quit after a year and a bit of work, after being chosen among over 100 candidates?
I guess is no other answer than because I’m Francisco.... A couple of things bugged me.
I’m a village boy, and having the option, I like my children to grow up in a small place too, walking down the beach after school, having lots of places to run around school for free, knowing that if they have a problem, 99% of the people that may get in touch with, will really try to help them...
Life in a big city is way different.... and even if you are in the position I was; good money, diplomatic status, medical coverage, influences, etc. Something in my guts was telling me it was not right for them.
Hopefully life does not prove me wrong, but i believe no money can’t buy the goodness of been in a beautiful and safe place when you are a kid. I had that opportunity and, what is even better, i have the chance to offer that even scarcer luxury today to my children.
Italy... even if by working at the UN you are in some sort of island absent from political realities, the place is quite fucked up... just read the newspapers in terms of economic performance, birth rate, migration policies, etc, etc... from the prime minister (particularly him) all the way down the chain... there is a massive contempt for the law and the basic rights from people... no one on the top really gives a shit about anyone or anything below them...
Mussolini said: governing italians is not impossible, is just useless. Some of the things that happen there... do not happen anywhere else in Europe, Saviano’s Gomorra best seller and movie are just an example...
Yeaah... well, may be charming for a while, but I grow up in a society like that... where your personal efforts alone don’t cut the cake, but rather “who” you know and the “connections” you have, where politicians and other powerful types live above the rules that apply to the rest of mortals... where exterior looks are way more important that what you really do.
And I really despised that, I grow up in rebellion to that. for example: I remember spending 4 years working as a scientist for Argentina's national fisheries institute with a cleaner’s contract (and salary) while less qualified people, got way higher post because they had a “uncle” in some ministry. I remember being constantly tag by whoever security idiot was in charge of any place, because my dreads... but overall the frustration of knowing that you could really don’t do anything against it...
And while we (Vib and I) will manage to fend off some of those influences on my children... I really don’t want them to grow up in a place like this if I have an option...
And I’ll repeat my already cliche argument about NZ... nowhere else a 29 years old guy with 300 USD as its life saving would be able to start a new life like I did... Never I was asked which political party I was, which private school I went, who “recommends” me... do you job, do it right and you get ahead... those are the values I want them to know still exist in some places.
So yeap... there it is... partly family... partly me...
Did I get positives away from FAO? Yes definitively, and I believe I wrote about them before
At professional level, I interacted with some real “popes” in very specific fields of fisheries, I worked with some VERY clever people and having those contacts would help me all my life.
At social level, well... I found my tribe.... transient, border-less, with twisted racial origins, doing for a living things that most of people don’t even think that someone does... I made instant friends... that I going to miss dearly.
But finally I think my biggest gain is at personal level... I got to work with the UN!
May not mean a lot for most people, but means a lot to me. I did not (neither anyone else around me) had big expectation about my life , and somehow I achieved what for many would not even be dare to dream. I got a VERY good recommendation from my bosses and a open door to come back.
But most importantly, it confirmed that you can achieve things under you own rules, if you are consistent and respectful. It somehow makes me change my opinion that sometimes, even if you never wear a tie, speak very diplomatically or do not have powerful “recommenders”, you still make it... and if just that is the outcome of my time at FAO, well... thank you and my respect forever.
by the way... below is a picture from the beach at home
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Not going to talk about xmas or new year... neither fish... (rather strange coming from me)... In any case it has been a while since the last posting, I have been mostly based on Roma, working from the office on some policy and forecasting issues from the fisheries point of view but in perspective to food availability in general, this is an expansion of my usual work and has been quite revealing..
A bit more than a year at the UN, has given me a good inside view on this massive organization and exposed me to the "really big picture". I guess the main impact of this job on my life is to really see things of a “trully” global perspective... I’m have to deal with technical issues at community, regional and at maximum country level... but here the job is the world...
And while I can remember there always been “apocalyptic” type challenges that never totally eventuate (tribute to our environment resilience?), I see trough my work here some real challenges...
Without trying to provide a complete account of them, some of the most key challenges in the discussion table are:
The key (for me) is that world population is projected to grow from 6.5 billion in 2005 to nearly 9.2 billion by 2050... to feed a population of more than 9 billion free from hunger, global food production must nearly double by 2050... today’s figure of people living below 2 USD/day is 58% of the world population...
The entire population growth will take place in developing countries and it will occur wholly in urban areas, which will swell by 3.2 billion people as rural populations contract. That means that a shrinking rural work force will have to be much more productive and deliver more output from fewer resources.
Higher productivity requires more investment in agriculture, more machinery, more implements, tractors, water pumps, combine harvesters, etc., as well as more skilled and better-trained farmers and better functioning supply chains.
This means that fewer farmers will have to feed a more populous world with fewer resources and minimal access to credit under the present crisis.
One way would be for world agriculture to expand its land basis and use some of the nearly 4.2 billion hectares potentially available for rain-fed crop production (only 1.5 billion ha are currently in use). But that would not be possible without further environmental damage and increased greenhouse gas emission.
Another avenue would be to tap into yet-unused yield-enhancing resources, which could double productivity for many crops in many countries. However, such potential can only be realized if farmers have improved access to inputs, apply better fertilizers in more abundance, make use of better seeds, improve their farming and management skills and expand land under irrigation. These as well are measures that have serious socio-economical and environmental consequences.
In addition to rising resource scarcity, global agriculture will have to cope with the burden of climate change.
The IPCC has documented the likely impact of climate change on agriculture in great detail. If temperatures rise by more than 2C, global food production potential is expected to contract severely and yields of major crops may fall globally. The declines will be particularly pronounced in lower-latitude regions. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, for instance, yields could decline by 20-40%.
In addition, severe weather occurrences such as droughts and floods are likely to intensify and cause greater crop and livestock losses.
Rapidly rising energy prices have created an added challenge for global food supplies. Rising fossil energy prices mean that agriculture will become increasingly important as a supplier to the energy market.
Important here is to understand that the potential demand from the energy market is so large that it has the potential to change the world’s traditional agricultural market systems completely.
However, for me in the short term, even more critical is likely to be the impact of the financial crisis on the availability of credit, which is widely recognized as one of the major constraints to agriculture development in the developing countries, the rationing of which is likely to be more serious than any interest rate effects.
The combination of falling agricultural prices and reduced access to credit may have a knock off impact on agricultural production, with very serious implications for the global food security.
For instance, a cutback in grain plantings against the background of continuing low grain stocks, which have not been rebuilt since the high food price episode, would increase the risk of global food crisis if harvests turn out to be poor, especially if countries cannot access credit for food imports.
As a father, and perhaps just as basically a human... the future kind of scares me... these are not “predictions” of scare far fetched “greenes”... this are people I respect (albeit at different levels).
I guess this basically means that “we all” have a lot of issues to be dealt with ahead of us... but my usual optimism is quite dented... (all the hard data, figures and expansion on this issues can be found here
Perhaps related but not... I decided leave the UN in March 2009, basically for quality of life reasons... We haven’t gel with Italy... So no point to stay.... Luxury for me is not to be a UN diplomat and getting paid good money and live in a trendy roman suburb surrounded by 5 million people... Luxury for me is that Felix and Kika can walk to school and get to an empty beach at their will... Not even if I’m the secretary general of the UN I could do that here... in any case the common agreement i got with my bosses is that the working relation is not going to change, just the logistics of it (from employee to consultant, basically)
Friday, July 04, 2008
Back in your youth when you are lost and trying to find identity either internally or externally, different people find different things and those things change over time, either in their nature or intensity... some people find sport, god, some type of music... I don’t know I guess it's some sort of posture that separates you from some and unites you with others.
At the time, I found the water (swimming, rowing, sailing - not yet surfing) and Jamaican music...
Which per se had an evolution... from Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and the Wailers, to Augustus Pablo to Dub... and the evolution of Dub... but basically those images of a music made by a composite of superseding rhythms involved in a laid back philosophy and a lot of dope, coolie weed, ganja, pot, maglione or what ever you choose to call marihuana... but perhaps the whole package of troubled/beautiful island in the Caribbean with that soundtrack associated to it that managed to develop it own cultural identity and exported revolutionary coolness in a way that perhaps only Brazil has done...
And that liking of its music and its pot association has lasted until my present.
So being offered a mission in Jamaica warmed my soul and expanded my smile... even if I would have loved to be there 25 years earlier...
I could write about the day to day shit... but going to focus on a few moments of the trip because those are the ones that I will remember the most.
Slaving and surf
One thing that struck me from the 1st day was the bodies and athleticism of most people... their bodies are sculptural...
As soon as I arrived I went for a small trip down to the south-east... among rural poor towns and every 3rd person looked like an olympic athlete or a model....
I stayed in a small hotel looking out to the open ocean... the kid of the owner told me that he goes surfing down at the beach and had an old long board if I wanted... the conditions weren’t so good... but then I hadn't been on a board for a long time...
The track down to the beatiful beach followed at some stage an old (very old) fort type place... once in the water I got a better perspective on its size and fortifications.... quite a scary looking place... the kid told me that it used to be a slave distribution warehouse... they used to arrive there and from there were distributed over the island... so I just floated there... looking at it... not even able to imagine the fucking horror and suffering that those today tree tacked walls have witnessed... it was really chilling... and a sensation I cannot remove from me...
Then the Darwinist coin fell... only the fittest of all could have survived the trip under those conditions.... and then life would have been as bad in the sugar plantations... so perhaps the strongest (and most beautiful?) had survived and they are the base of today’s population... it is just terrible to think like that... but I just cannot stop wondering if there is a awful truth in that... they are truly beautiful and cool people.
Augustus Pablo Rockers International
Not gonna go a lot into details on the guy, see wikipedia for that, but he and his brother Garth, kept a mythical record shack store going on Orange Street in Kingston... I went there... I was overwhelmed by stack after stack of small 9 and 12 inch vinyl... I just stared at them... knowing that it would take me days of indecision and a lot of weed to buy even one... so I did not buy anything and just sat there talking to an old Rasta about fishing while listening to unknown music.
Even fisheries inspectors are cool in Jamaica
Kingston middle class are initially “kind of embarrassed” about the reggae/ganja subculture... there is more to Jamaica then just that... as well as that, they are cynical about the Jamaica that the Americans get to know in the all inclusive resorts of the north coast (Montego Bay and places like that), but they were kind of puzzled by my knowledge of Jamaican dub labels and producers as well as my collection of music from Studio One...
So one night after they had a few beers I found my self sitting in between some old inspectors and laughing my head off, while these guys tried in disbelieve to enlighten a guy from Belgium who insisted in being explained what the steps are to dance reggae! I learned how to dance samba, so there must be steps for reggae...
And the inspectors were like.... no man (in the coolest accent)... there are no steps... you just follow the groove... u knaw... rent a tile in da floor... close your eyes... and just groove...
Of course... he did not get it... but these guys where so funny and telling me: ya man... explain him... dat u knaw... finally they told him off and we stay discussing the fisherman song of “the Congos” and why they respect (respect is “BIG word” in Jamaica) the NZ cricket players.
Rae Town in Kingston
It is obvious that Kingston has seen better days... when you see that the hospital has barbed wired fences and looks more like a prison... you know things ain’t cool... the ghettos are dangerous places to be no doubt...
But there is one day a week when there are no incidents... at least on a few blocks...
Every night there is a free street party in some neighbourhood in Kingston... each has its particular scene... and the local gang bosses make sure that nothing happens on their own or each other parties... and one thing that you need to do in Kingston is to go to a sound system, to any of the classic street parties... is really safe and hassle free.
How it works... A few blocks of a street are closed off. A DJ sets up a bank or two -- or three -- of giant loudspeakers. And the tunes roll. These days, sound system DJs mostly spin dancehall, heavy stripped-down beats with a rapper or a toaster chanting over the top.
But each Sunday in the neighborhood of Rae Town, you can go back in time.
Rae Town has been putting on this sound system for more than twenty years... it doesn't really get started until about one in the morning, the crowd grows slowly up to perhaps 1000 people.
Towers of speakers line the back of the sidewalk at key points, and people stand in front of the speakers but with their backs to them. This means there are two thick rows of people facing each other across the street, being blasted in the face and back by speakers playing music. Which in this case means everything from funk, to rocksteady and dub.
Teenagers to people in the 70s just dances or shuffle their feet on both sides of the street like heaving crowds at a parade.
There are no rules. People dress up or they dress down. Everyone is smoking and the rastas go around with the bags for sale and long sticks of buds at the equivalent of 1€.
Along the road is always someone with a cooler of Red Stripe beer, water and soft drinks.
Everyone is just having fun...
After my first half joint I’m in sensory overload.
Clothing styles are wide-ranging but definitely have not much upper limit on the flashy side, and some enormous dreadlock crowns.
A nice thing about the scene is the number of older people dancing –something I rarely see. I'm particularly taken with the older men with dreadlocks piled high and beards, standing and swinging, eyes shut, bending their knees and rocking out to the beat in a way I would love to do as good as he does.
The place is not flashy at all... open sewers, cables overhead and the homes are either covered with corrugated zinc sheeting, or surrounded by it.... but Rae Town is working class... not a slum.
And you do feel the community's solidarity... this is their party... and they are (and should be) dam proud of it.
I was by far the only white guy there... (a couple of girls with some semi locals cruised around)... and at any time anyone hassled me... the guys around me offered me fire for my joints... and I was dancing in my own heaven... a guy from St Lucia came and told me that he liked my dancing for a big white guy... with I appreciated and we had a beer and a chat...
Then the nicest thing happen... a local neighbour on his 50’s came and touched my arm and said something like... man... we turn this off in 20 minutes... so if you wanna get a taxi back home... this would be a good time...
I thank him... and went back to my uptown hotel with the biggest smile... feeling again blessed by life... feeling that I have been in one of the coolest events I would ever experience (under the way my brain works) and seen how far into good can we go... it was just music and people.... you don’t need more than that sometimes...
Some bad shit happens in Jamaica (like in the rest of the world), but some awesome stuff too... and Rae Town saved my youth fantasies and lighted my present.
Maximum Respect to the place
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
I always liked Montevideo
It has its own identity and character, with is even more remarkable considering that has a monster like Buenos Aires very close.
Perhaps to the non discerning eye, the culture on both sides of the “Rio de la Plata” is quite similar... which is true in a sense...
However Montevideo remains much more herself, with a mixture of provincial town, big city culture, massive port, bohemia, tango, Spanish colonial architecture, just awesome meat grills, and an enormous waterfront “rambla” that never finish...
People is quite informal and friendly, not up to them selves... while being professional and effective.
Uruguayan music is very good and alive; there must be at least 20 theatres and 50 venues where life music always takes place, which is amazing for a city of 1.5 million people...
A quite unique style out of there is the “murga” ... which is a form of popular musical theatre... that is performed by a group of a maximum of 17 people, usually men dressed up with very elaborated costumes and each group will prepare a musical play consisting of a suite of songs and recitado (heightened speech) lasting around 40-45 minutes. This suite will be performed on popular stages in the various neighbourhoods, known as tablados.
Content is based on a particular theme, chosen by the group, which serves to provide commentary on events in Uruguay or elsewhere over the preceding year. Consequently, murga lends itself well to being used as a form of popular resistance.
The names are fantastic... but don’t traduce very well... my favorite: “the mushrooms tanners”... (curtidores de hongos)
Besides that, Montevideo maintained a strong African population in its “Barrio Sur” and is very common to see people just taking the streets on a Sunday with the drums and having a go while some old mamas have a dance... just for the fun of it... truly cool.
In any case, I love Montevideo, and really would love to live there for a while... and I love what is written in their cote of arms...
“con libertad no ofendo ni temo” ... “with Freedom I do not offend nor I fear”
see more pictures here