In 2001 Andres Pastrana, the President of Columbia, wrote a piece in the Los Angeles Times in which he decried the message that movies such as Clear and Present Danger, Proof of Life, and Blow gave of Colombia. He maintained that the situation in this South American country is not as simple as Hollywood presents it. In the movies the boy gets the girl, good triumphs over evil, and the cowboy rides off into the sunset. The drug wars that have torn Colombian society are real.
If the venerable Sunday Times of London says “Brazil is Buzzing”, who am I to argue. “More than beach bums why Rio and São Paulo could soon rival Milan and Paris”, its headline continues. We will never know just how in, how incredibly hot Rio is, as we opted instead to visit the cool Petrópolis, an alpine retreat that is much different in flavour than the beaches of Ipanema populated by dental-floss-sized swim wear.
As a small child, the only personal knowledge that I had with Argentina was visits to our church of furloughed missionaries who sang the exotic wonders of this distant land. Exotic and distant are the key words here. I heard about maté, gauchos and the pampas. It was all very exciting. I couldn’t envision a land where people lived ordinary lives.
Hanging on the studio wall above my computer is a pencil drawing by the late Terence Cuneo of child beggars in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. For many years, he followed in his father’s footsteps working for the London Illustrated News, producing drawings and paintings from lands distant and exotic for a readership living in the sceptred isle.
Bands suggest a sense of occasion. From the apparently sleepy group of musicians, performing on auto pilot in Costa Rica, who had been hired to entertain the bus traveller queuing for lunch, to the energetic Mariachi band, strolling while playing, in the Mexican silver mining town of Taxco, the music of bands, either stationary or mobile, lifts the spirit.
“Oh, artists always think that they see beauty when there is nothing there,” puffed my Aunt when she saw my painting of a trough in the corner of their farm field. She believed, as many do, that the subject is the concern of a painting rather than the visual poetry of that topic.
Senegal is the tragically impoverished country on the extreme west of Africa that was the exit point for many slaves on their way to America and the Caribbean. Just south of the Sahara desert, this land, a former French colony, bakes in temperatures in the 30’s Celsius range. Strong winds from the interior hurl sand and plastic debris everywhere. In a country where life is so harsh, there is no money for trivials like sanitation or garbage collection. There are, however, 350 miles of beautiful white sand beaches.
I am lured by the once brightly painted boats with their peeling paint that line the soft sands in Acapulco. The fishermen are applying C.P.R. to their wooden crafts which appear to suffer from terminal neglect. The Mexican crafts seem to blend with the murky colours of the smog-laden harbour, and the casual attention of their owners echos the lazy surf that gently massages the shore. These boats contrast in my memory to the incandescently-coloured, maniacally-maintained boats that I envied along the shoreline in Percé, Quebec.
Unfortunately, much of the old Dutch-style architecture is vanishing from the heart of this Caribbean capital, replaced with soulless glass and steel boxes. I am strongly opposed to the trend of placeless architecture. A sense of place, a context, or a reference to local history creates a particularness that keeps urbanscapes from all looking the same. I think Cleveland should look different than London or Marseille. In a quickly evolving society, distinctive architecture helps to ground us.
Bermuda, this crescent-shaped island which is really the top of a volcano, is home to an uncountable number of boats. People who live there are right-headed enough to get out on the water whenever possible. It is not unusual for a business appointment to be altered because one or the other of the intended participants is “out on his boat”.