Week #9


Let me indulge in our favourite national pastime since Im so far away from home and talk a little about the weather. I am of course aware that in the UK youll have been talking about little else recently since when I log onto Yahoo! the biggest news seems to be TOTAL WEATHER CHAOS DECADES MORE OF FREEZING CONDITIONS PREDICTED ALL SCHOOLS CLOSED AND SCOTLAND ALL BUT DISAPPEARED. Every day. However: indulge me.

Here in Bolivia its a slightly confusing scenario. It is summer you see, and the schools have closed for their long break. Its confusing enough when countries decide to have Christmas in the middle of summer. But then the truly confounding thing is that here it is also the start of the rainy season. Now in tropical countries I just about get it: hot, humid, rains every day, usually with a nice exciting thunder storm. But here in La Paz there is little to rhyme or reason. Were high up of course, as I may have mentioned once or twice, so naturally that cools things down somewhat. But then yesterday it was roasting hot all day. But today. Well, today I think I may have got a little glimpse of what spending the so-called summer here might entail.

I just had to ford a small stream to get into my flat two in fact, one on each side of the cobbled street. That was after perhaps two hours of the heaviest rain Ive seen since I arrived in South America. Now naturally Pacenas (that is residents of La Paz though a Pacena is also a bottle of the fine local brew), dont leave their houses of a December morning wearing shorts and flip flops, like some hapless foreigners I could mention. And this isnt the nice warm kind of rain Im talking about either. Its a variety of soaking grey that Londoners would find oddly familiar but not in any way comforting. Still, theres every chance it will be in the high twenties again tomorrow so I should probably move on before you start hurling imaginary snowballs at me.

I wanted to mention the rain because it may, sadly, have been the most exciting thing I saw this afternoon when I was the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. Housed in a fine old colonial building, from what I can tell this is a private institution belonging to a certain Mr German Plaza, who has used the space to display his own extemely dubious talent, as well as some much more interesting paintings from Bolivian artists of the last fifty years. Recognisably Western influenced techniques and styles, from Impressionism, Cubism and other Modernist schools, have been applied to distinctly Latin American themes such as stylised eagles, devils and birds of Inca origin, or the omnipresent cholitas indigenous Andean women in traditional dress with braided hair and wrapped in bright woven shawls. And Ch. Comrade Guevara did of course meet his demise in Bolivia, and in a country that continues to be one of the more politically rebellious his totem remains powerful, hence the many portraits that appear in this collection.

But I have to admit that the biggest smile (bittersweet I hasten to add), was brought about by reading the description next to some bizarre collection of broomsticks attributed to the owner, Senor Plaza. Obviously in reference to some private artworld dispute, the assiduously but not very well translated chit declared: Now I see that our country is culturally rich and this contribution could be just a little peace, even tough some people critice me because of the way that I take care of this place. None of which would be particularly noteworthy if it hadnt have been for the fact that there was a broken pane of glass in the ceiling and water was literally pouring through the hole and soaking his installation, along with large swathes of the ground floor.

None of which is actually at all funny, since there is clearly no money to repair the roof of the gallery, and no provision for a publicly funded contemporary art gallery here in Bolivias capital.

However culturally rich it certainly is and that includes a very strong seam of traditional Andrean music, clothing, dance, rituals and festivals which punctuate daily life, as well as a more globalised youth culture of rock and electronic music and street art and visual language. Last night I was in a sweaty room learning folklore dances in my indigenous neighbourhood of San Pedro. Tomorrow Im going to a night of live electronica and VJing in Zona Sur the middle class suburb in the south of the city. Plus theres fertile ground for the crossover. Last week I witnessed a wonderful example of this when I saw the musicians from Bolivian band Atajo playing a special carpark gig in support of the Bolivian premier of InalMama, a fascinating documentary about the coca leaf and its various and contraversial uses, for which the band have composed the brilliant original soundtrack, mixing grungy urban Latino garage rock with sublime folk vocals, pipes and accordion.

And next week Ill be reporting on all of this, to you of course but also to theEnglish-speaking readership of Bolivian Express, a magazine and cultural exchange programme run by a group of young Bolivians with family or educational links in Oxford, Serbia, Japan, and other parts of Latin America.Viva la fusin!

Mads Ryle

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