Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Complicated Character

Gabriel García Márquez: 1927-2014
Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel Prize Winner, Colombia's most famous author, leftist icon and a writer whose work captured Colombian history and culture, died today at age 87.

I'll leave evaluating his fiction to others with better literary taste, except to say that I've enjoyed his autobiography and journalistic reporting more than his fiction, and his lesser-known works - particularly the historically-based ones - more than his master work, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

It's sad that Márquez, Colombia's only Nobel Prize winner and a pioneer of a style of fiction known as magical realism, died as the second-most-famous-Colombian, behind the monstrous Pablo Escobar. 

Márquez will be remembered as a great artist and great Colombian - both of which are true. But, unfortunately, he'll also be remembered as a kind of saint and patriot - which is less true.

Márquez was a leftist, and perhaps something of a leftist of convenience during his later decades. During its early years, when it was still politically palatable, Márquez associated himself with the M-19 guerrillas. Threats resulting from that relationship drove him out of the country, and Márquez lived for the last half century in Mexico City, even tho Colombia's political climate had improved enough to permit him to safely return home.

Márquez's leftist rhetoric and ideas earned him the friendship of Fidel Castro, whom Márquez visited repeatedly in Havana, where Márquez had a home. Márquez, who got his start in writing as a journalist, also created a foundation to teach journalism and a weekly newsmagazine, Cambio. Yet, I almost never heard anybody call Márquez on the contradiction between promoting free speech and befriending - and thus supporting - the hemisphere's last dictator and greatest repressor of free speech.

Márquez was sometimes criticized for not being more philanthropic. The comparison to singer Shakira, of Hips Don't Lie fame, is not flattering. Shakira's art may be more superficial than Márquez's, but with her Pies Descalzos children's foundation she's given a lot more to her country.

In 1972, after winning the Venezuelan Romulo Vallegos literary prize, Márquez gave the $100,000 award to a Venezuelan political party: the Movement Toward Socialism. Couldn't Marquez have found a worthy cause at home? his critics asked.

Where Márquez rested on his leftist laurels, his sometimes-friend, sometimes-enemy, fellow Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, remains politically active and opinionated (Vargas Llosa is also a decade younger).

Márquez was certainly a great artist. But whether his character made him a great man is a different matter, and the two shouldn't be confused.

Addendum: Maria Fernanda Cabal, recently elected to Congress with the conservative Centro Democratico Party, made waves by tweeting a photograph of Márquez and Fidel Castro with the phrase 'Soon they'll be together in hell.' A few hours later, she erased the tweet. She later tweeted that she didn't question Márquez's literary greatness, but did question his 'indifference toward Colombia.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fish Feeding Frenzy in Paloquemao

The venerable Paloquemao market's fish section is packed these days (while the neighboring meat section stands vacant). This is Holy Week, of course, and even if the number of Colombian Catholics is declining - and many of those Catholics are only nominally so - as these photos show, eating fish during Holy Week is still popular, if only for cultural reasons.

Bagre on the chopping block. The fish is endangered and may be absent in future years.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, April 14, 2014

Finally, a Bridge to Somewhere

Concrete beams and a construction crane to lift them across Calle 26, where they will connect Parque de la Independencia to the modern art museum.
After a multi-year legal battle between the city and neighborhood residents, work has finally restarted on the bridge over Calle 26, between Parque de la Independencia and the Museum of Modern Art.

Neighbors had sued to stop the project, objecting in particular to the way it invades the park. It was halted for years while the court battle played out. The neighbors are right about the project's poor design. But, now that it's been started, it seems like the best solution is to finish it once and for all. The long-suffering park used to be much larger, but sections were sliced off as the city built avenues on its western and southern sides.

The idea of expanding the park above the avenue came from famed architect Rogelio Salmona, who also designed the Torres del Parque behind the nearby bullfighting stadium. Ironically, many of those fighting the bridge project live in those towers.

The section of Calle 26 between Carrera 3 and Carrera 7 will be shut for three months while huge beams are lifted into place. The platform, which is to contain green space and areas for cultural activities, is supposed to be completed in early 2016.

Three neighborhood residents - part of the group which fought to stop the project - watch the construction.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Nemcatacoa 'reinvents the Landscape'

The Nemcatacoa Theatre performed in front of the Museo Nacional today. This Bogotá troupe, which does 'street and experimental theatre' is participating in the ongoing IberoAmerican Theatre Festival. The performers were 'reinventing landscapes,' they said.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Faith in the Swiss Restored!

This old clock, a landmark in Bogotá's Parque Nacional, was donated to the city by the Swiss community in 1938, and restored by the Swiss Embassy in 2008...but for as long as I could remember, the clock didn't work.

However, last week, Swiss-linked institutions repaired the old clock, restoring our faith in Swiss workmanship.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, April 11, 2014

Circus in the Streets

The theatre festival now going on in La Candelaria includes street theatre across the city. Today, this troupe performed in the National University's Plaza del Che. 

The group's costumes were inspired by the gods of the Muisca indigenous people. 

But what would Che Guevara have thot about all this running and tumbling under his gaze?

Jugglers walk down a La Candelaria street.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Petro II?

Gustavo Petro: Once and future mayor?
A high court's ruling that ex-Mayor Gustavo Petro may deserve reinstatement into office offers a scary prospect for Bogotá.

As mayor, Gustavo accomplished little - and almost nothing at all during his later months in office, as his battle to hang on to the mayoralty consumed him. In contrast, temporary mayor Rafael Pardo seems to be a man of action - at least in relation to the city's tangled transit.

If Petro is returned to office, pending another court decision, he'll only expend his energies struggling to keep his grip on that office. And, that will mean even more uncertainty and lack of long-term policies for this beleaguered city.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours