Sunday, January 28, 2007

Diane Arbus - Alive in Hollywood?

OK… so no one wants to hear more ‘war on terrorism’ political diatribes, fine. Me neither. So I decided to break up my Saturday afternoon day-off and get out of the computer chair and off the couch… recovering, I call it – from the crash - still can't believe that we're OK. I make my way down to the local Cinemark Puerto Madero alone to see what Hollywood has sent us this month... there's some new called ‘Babel’ with Brad Pitt and Gael García Bunel (something like that.) Someone said I might like it and since I have no idea what its about, always better that way, might was well check it out - a wild card.

Arriving ten minutes early I grab my ticket and try to pay with a one hundred peso bill, always an issue, anywhere. She gives the standard, “nada mas chico?” line. No, I lie… I had a twenty but needed the change. So then she talks me into a soda and peanut M&M’s, right there at the ticket counter, far from the concession stands - fine. I redeem my soda coupon at the snack bar downstairs on the way to the actual entrance and then talk myself into a medium pochoclo – popcorn – salted or sugared. Salted of course, never get ‘sugared’ again! “Do you have butter?” No she says but don’t worry, there’s lots of oil on it. OK.

I get in to the theatre a a bit early but there’s already a fair amount of people, mostly grandparents with their very young grandchildren, mostly to the rear of the theatre. I grab a seat away from all them towards the front and my experience is already ruined by the presence of so many noisy children, even before the credits. I look to the cinema and a good film as a complete escape, from the entire outside world.

After a ton of previews and Coca-Cola ads, and more previews... the movie finally starts. No wait… another preview, JESUS! This one if for ‘A night at the Museum’ with what’s his face… Ben Stiller. But it’s a long preview, with credits and finally I realize that somehow I’ve entered the wrong theatre. Damn! I think briefly about giving some whacked-out mortgage-paying Hollywood blockbuster a chance, mindless entertainment perhaps. But no way… I’m gonna hate it and I came to see this other film that I know nothing else, but I like the title at least.

Finally I make my move to get up and walk the walk of shame to the back of the theatre, careful not to miss a step and biff it there in front of all now watching me, illuminated by the rays coming from the projector, my soda basically empty as is basically the case with the popcorn… and the M&M’s, all during the previews! After some discussion and apologies on both sides about the closeness and confusion with door number 4 vs. 5 which is right next to it but with a hidden sign, sort of I am redeemed. I thought both doors were for theatre 4, for sure. I get a voucher to return, anytime before Feb. 10. This whole movie afternoon was a rare, spontaneous fluke event for me – just up and going to the cinema in the middle of a Saturday afternoon – SOLO - to some random moview I know nothing about but am curious to see. I almost never to I go to the movies alone… but enough, that’s what happened.

There was a poster for some film in the hallway with Robert Downey Jr. and what’s her face… Nicole the red-head - Kidman and it looked like they were getting steamy. At the bottom of the poster it said something about Diane Arbus. (1) Gotta check that one out for sure, regardless.

Also one of the trailers I caught while waiting for the wrong film was for Robert Altman’s last film called, in Spanish “A night of magical radio,” or something like that. I think its called ‘End of the Show’ in English or maybe even just “Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keeler.” I heard from a couple of close die-hard Altman fans that they refuse to go see it. Come on… its his LAST film!!

1 - Arbus was a very important American photographer that for a long time I could never really even begin look at her photos - too intense - too personal. Finally I began to be less afraid of what she had seen and photographed, before she ended her career early by suicide in something like 1972. Time for another trip to El Hospital Borda and their world famous Radio Colifata, the only thing I've ever seen that comes close to displaying the humanity and horror of serious 'institutionalization - third world style - of something similar to what she had photographed.

Friday, January 26, 2007

US on its way to attack Iran

Did I miss something? Is Iran harboring Bin Laden? Were they behind 9/11? Or has Bush already decided to attack, maybe for the same reasons as he's torn apart Iraq - "Our God is mightier than your God" - because they are predominately Muslims? Is this really over oil, terrorism, 'regional stablility', 'democracy,' or is it just more geo-politicking from the right-wing war-mongering neo-cons? Maybe the move to send a second group of American destroyer battleships into the region, while Iran reinforces its border is as the author mentions, to 'stage' another Gulf of Tonkin Incident?

Tough questions for a US President with his lowest approval rating ever - 28%. Its hard for most other people of the world to understand how HALF of the voting poplulation in America re-elected him in the first place, but not that hard when you look at history, espeically on the side of the Americans. Of course most folks know that his big daddy - Bush Senior - was head of the CIA throughout the 70's, helped Regan route out evil in places like Afghanistan and Central America throughout the 80's and now - the Middle East - first Bush Senior and now his wild gun-toting elder son, GW. The Bush family and GW, now the most successful political dynasty in American history, resemble nightmarishly similarities to JR on the popular TV show of the late 1970's Dallas (1) gone hay-wire (talk about political propaganda)!

And the saddest part is that the other half of the country that didn't vote for GW Bush is now elated by the fact that the democrats control the house and the senate. I say SO WHAT?! Hillary's probably behind the attack too... its bigger than one person in charge of the oval office: its our way of life - to preserve our way of life - no matter what the cost... ancient 20th centrury thinking.

WAKE UP PEOPLE OF AMERICA! Pretty soon we will not be able to travel ANYWHERE as people around the world, even here in Argentina, scoff at us Yanquis and our EVIL global-imperialistic ways, accusing of us of trying to take over the world, the new colonialists.

1 - Back in 1978, DALLAS was described quite simply - and as about as quietly as it began on the box - as a series 'of dramatic feuds in the land of the big rich.'

The Dallas team insist the show has nothing to do with capitalism, big oil, rich v. poor, the abuse of power or any social issues at all., (They may be right; there's very (little sign, for instance, of the large Vietnamese population of Dallas in the show). It's just about emotions, say the production team. And as everything in Texas is always said to be larger, 'bigger, huger, than life, so is Texas emotion.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reality Shifts and then - BAM!

One of many, many things about BsAs that ceases to amaze me is the uncontrolled intersections – mostly smaller streets in the neighborhoods, in-between the big Boulevards and Avenidas, subject to cars coming from both directions with NO STOP SIGNS or SIGNALS at all - drivers from both directions usually reducing their speed to a semi-slow and then, the obligatory glance, either right or left, depending on which way the perpendicular street is running, to double check that your not going to smack into an oncoming car, all over town – everywhere – especially when traversing the city at night - OJO! (1) No one really drives fast in this city, especially on the smaller neighborhood streets... but at night, with less traffic and more drunks, shit happens, never while I’m watching it seems, but it happens… you hear about it, read about it in the papers, watch it on that Cronica TV.

But its also about perspective… and sometimes lack there of. Auto accidents are up there as far as the number one cause of death, at least in the States, mostly drunk driving I think. But we’re in the back of a taxi, finally making our way home at the end of a semi-late night (for a weekday) and were cruising along traquilo with an older taxi driver along a major Avenida, Thomas and I in the back chatting away about nothing, ready for bed.

Suddenly as we pass through a major intersection, making a right hand turn, another car mystically appears in my left peripheral vision, on Thomas’s side of the car, hurdling towards us. The taxi driver mutters some quick curse, I think quickly that maybe he’s gonna hit us but not too bad, but not on my side of the car and then BANG! Everything about what ‘they’ say – car crash survivors perhaps - about car crashes is true and I’ve been through a few now myself; even have a scar on my lip from a minor one in college on a trip out to Vegas from San Diego. Time bends, slows to a grinding slow-motion film scene, almost a series of still photographs but moving, very slowly. But this was a CRASH – BAM, SMASH, SKID, HALT! In a split second it was over. Everyone OK? Miraculously, yes. HOLY SHIT!

The bruise on my leg continues to swell as I write, and the knot on my noggin is still there, but no blood. I start to upload a new photo gallery while waiting for sleep to set in, with the adrenaline still pumping strongly through my tired veins. And I’m compelled to write this down - now - something about the randomness of the crash – any crash - and the lucky cards that all four of us directly involved were dealt – todo bien. Not with the cars, but with us, the survivors of a damn good CRASH!

Afterwards, our driver said we had a solid green as we turned to the right. The other driver apologized… and that was basically that. Thomas was angry and I was thankful, but wanted to leave. It’s never a good idea to hang around for the cops, not in Argentina at least, not under normal circumstances. I didn’t see the light, but felt as if indeed we had the ‘right of way’. But once an ‘accident’ happens – and its called ‘an accident’ for good reason - usually someone is at fault; if not in full, some percentage of parts of wrong-doing that the insurers or cops figure out later. But blame comes up short in moments of crises, of free flowing adrenaline, of who did what and why? Usually someone is hurt and will go to hospital, fewer times, everyone escapes without injury, like tonight. Someone screwed up, but at this point the why doesn’t matter so much - that’s the nature of accidents – there was an error. Even though most all accidents are avoidable – they still happen - people die all the time in cars.

But in the moment of crises, and now during this after-math moment of resolution, calm heads are needed, to end the freakish semi-nightmare that we’ve just barely escaped - not spectators that happened to ‘be right there’ at the moment of impact, but IN THE ACTUAL DAMN CRASH! - through a controlled intersection where we had the right of way. Maybe the elderly taxi driver with younger reflexes could have steered clear, not expecting the other car to keep coming at us with no signs of slowing what-so-ever, doesn’t matter – it happened, like life.

I left my number with the cab driver and said that we’d give a statement if necessary – but we were on our final mission – home - and instead of hanging around for the cops as they sun began to rise behind a blanket of light rain clouds, it was CHAU, were OUT!

Its been a bit of a strange start to 2007, but hey… I’m in Argentina, Latin America – Buenos Aires. That was the idea in the first place and yeah, sometimes there’s lomos de burros in the road (the humps on the back of some donkeys) – speed bumps. But… life goes on, with or without us. Them’s the facts and there’s no other way round it. We survive, or not.

(1) The first time I truly feared for my life here, fully comprehending the frightening game of ‘is there a car coming from the other direction, or not’ was crossing from Encarnacion, Paraguay back over to Posadas, Argentina, on the back of a moto-taxi – that’s a motorcycle taxi – thrilling and maybe a little dangerous in itself. Not racing but cruising through the empty night-time streets of town, always hitting the brakes pretty hard at most major intersections but never really slowing down much on the side streets, the ones with no traffic signals or stop signs. Fearlessly we cross town.

Even when there is the occasional stop sign, NO ONE observes it, not even the bus drivers. But its night, the streets are empty and the fear is overcome by some irrational, ‘I’m invincible’ type of illogical confidence. And then every once in a while, there’s an oncoming car, from the other direction. Now what? The rule is – the car to the right has the ‘right of way’ – which is true in most countries but I finally figured out why, here in Buenos Aires, by a fellow taxi driver.

When two (or more) cars approach and intersection, arriving at the same time, stopping at a controlled stop-sign intersection, it’s always the car to the right that has ‘the right of way’. Both cars acknowledge that they’ve arrived at the same time but the ‘someone’ eventually gives way to the car to the right. The idea behind this rule is this… if two cars are crossing and neither stop at the intersection, crossing at the same time, the car to the right is going to hit the car to its left on the passenger side, protecting the driver, perhaps.

Drivers around the world can be safe if they always give way to the right, and if something goes wrong, it better than getting pounded on the left side, like we did tonight. Its actually pretty amazing that nothing ‘really happened’ minus the few minor aches and pains that will no doubt accompany tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

El Salvador - Terror Never Dies

When most people think of Central America, they perhaps think of tropical Costa Rica - to attend a friends wedding maybe, a language school in Guatemala, scuba diving in Belize. Happening across a friend's blog recently who is in El Salvador right now, writing and blogging... and learning, I was taken back to that beautiful but war-torn country. I was there too, in El Salvador, where she is now, out in Morazán, first in November of 1989 briefly, and then back in February of 1991, when it was more than just a memory, it was still happening - the war, the terror, the horror - it was intensifying just before the cease fire that took place in 1992.

I met Rufina Amaya Marquez, mentioned in journalist Mark Danner's article called 'The Truth of El Mazote', (1) in the Colomoncagua refugee camp on the Honduran/Salvadoran border in 1989. Steve Levy and I interviewed her, listened to her story, the same story she told over and over, always in tears. We were making a documentary on the refugees existence in exile, almost ten years had passed, forced out of their own country by war and repeated bombings from the US backed Salvadoran military, now living in well-run, organized refugee camps in Honduras. I was twenty two years old then.

But Rufina's story is different than the rest of the survivors of the war. She was the sole survivor of the now-famous Masote Massacre, where almost one-thousand civilians were slaughtered; like those random stories you hear about from bizarre places around the world - like Cambodia, Rawanda, Darfur - but this one at the hands of the elite Atlacatl battalion of the Salvadoran military, trained and hardened killers - supported and trained by the United States of America, in our own back yard. They annihilated her entire village while she hid in a ditch and watched the slaughter, the innocent men, women and children being riddled with bullets, chopped at with machetes - her entire family killed right before her very own eyes.

Now the town sounds like a make-shift monument to the massacre. There is also a museum dedicated to the struggles of the FMLN in Perquin, Morazán where we also visited back in 1991, accompanied by the guerrillas themselves when it was just another bombed out town in Morazán, under their control. El Salvador was a hard experience for me, one that significantly transformed my life, and continues to do so, even to this day - but not as hard as it was for the people living there, fighting on both sides of the conflict. And Carolyn's right about 'no tourists go to El Salvador', (2)their problems only grew with the end of the war.
(Photo Courtesy of the Perquín Municipal website)

But today, El Salvador - lit. The Saviour - marches onward. And for the rest of the world that ever votes, supports or even sympathizes with ANY tyrannical government, including our own, never forget about our brothers and sisters in El Salvador, including a stop-over next time you're in Central America.

(1) - a highly detailed moment by moment account on the facts of what 'really' happened leading up to and duringmassacacrel massacacre. Link also available on Carolyn's blog above.

(2) - very recent article on CNN.com about the guerrillas current fight for tourism.

Friday, January 19, 2007

I don't want to grow up

A song by Tom Waits

"When I’m lyin’ in my bed at night
I don’t wanna grow up
Nothing ever seems to turn out right
I don’t wanna grow up
How do you move in a world of fog that’s
always changing things
Makes me wish that I could be a dog
When I see the price that you pay
I don’t wanna grow up

I don’t ever want to be that way
I don’t wanna grow up
Seems that folks turn into things
that they never want
The only thing to live for is today…
I’m gonna put a hole in my T.V. set
I don’t wanna grow up
Open up the medicine chest
I don’t wanna grow up
I don’t wanna have to shout it out
I don’t want my hair to fall out
I don’t wanna be filled with doubt
I don’t wanna be a good boy scout
I don’t wanna have to learn to count
I don’t wanna have the biggest amount
I don’t wanna grow up
Well when I see my parents fight
I don’t wanna grow up
They all go out and drinkin all night
I don’t wanna grow up
I’d rather stay here in my room
Nothin’ out there but sad and gloom
I don’t wanna live in a big old tomb on Grand street
When I see the 5 oclock news
I don’t wanna grow up
Comb their hair and shine their shoes
I don’t wanna grow up
Stay around in my old hometown
I don’t wanna put no money down
I don’t wanna get a big old loan
Work them fingers to the bone
I don’t wanna float no broom
Fall in love, get married then boom
How the hell did it get here so soon
I don’t wanna grow up"

Written by Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennen, also sung by the Ramones and the Donna's (follow the Donna's link to read about Palo Alto, CA 'ramones-like' punk rock teenage chick band with photos I shot of them back in 1999. Also check out Gena Arnold's piece on the Ramones cover of the song or watch the video on You Tube). For full effect, I recommend that you click the You Tube link and then read along from the lyrics above.

Tom Waits is my favorite singer/songwriter to date... along with Manu Chau. And I love this song.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

"There’s Been An Accident..."

Shortly after waking up early on this particular Sunday morning – 9:30am – the phone rang – there’s been an accident, three people in the hospital in grave danger, fighting for their lives. We’ve been given your number as the emergency contact. What?! This is Sergeant Castillo, “what is your name?” Goyo. We’ve got three cell phones here, a Nokia, Samsung and Erickson… do you have a friend with one of these phones? Uh… can you speak just a little slower, my castellano isn’t perfect.

I had just gone though a similar experience, receiving a call from the states saying Ethan had fallen ill in the Andean town of Huancayo, Peru... ‘unconscious, not breathing and ‘blue as a Smurf,’’ the doctor told me over the phone that first day. Now I’m thinking, ‘what has he gotten himself into this time?’ I won't even go into the other night...

The guy on the phone - short and podgy I imagine - proceeds to explain the situation in a rather exasperated tone, spitting out what basic information he has in rapido, staccato, Castellano. We’ve got a male, 30 – 40 years of age… what kind of hair does your friend have, short long…? the Sergeant inquires. ‘Could it be a guy named Ethan,” I ask? I think he’s got a Samsung phone, he’s 35… real short hair?’ YES, that is the man we have here! He goes on and on but now I only half-believe what he is saying. How far from the hospital in Boca am I? Ten blocks.
Thinking all this very strange and bit too early for this particular Sunday morning… and who is this guy, really, and how does he have my phone number? And then I remember an email Tommy had sent me awhile back – OJO CON ESO! – it was titled, BEWARE OF THIS! It warned against some scam where people call up and say there’s been an accident and they need to get as much information as possible because this is the only emergency contact phone number they have and lives are at stake.

The guy continues on and on… now something about a car riddled full of bullets and how his friend was involved also - took two slugs in the stomach and is gonna die. “What is your name and rank again sir, if you don’t mind my asking? And which police division are you with?” Finally he stated that he was part of some sort of intermediary group, and then he asked me for money, or else they would shoot my friend Ethan.

Hmmm… Ethan’s always saying that’s what he really wants, a bullet in the head. But now I chalk the whole thing up as a scam indeed and immediately hang up. I call Ethan, waking him up and all is well… “And I wasn’t even drinking last night,” he adds, just to make sure I believe him.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Tijuana or Bust

Despite having smashed up my camera pretty good when it hit the ground the other night, slipping off my shoulder with a good WHACK onto the hard pavement, and having apparently lost my bank card, with three months of rent due next week, I will persevere. This is the second time this has happened in perhaps twenty years - photographers aren't perfect and gear does get stolen, lost and damaged pretty easliy. Last time, more than five years ago, I only broke the flash mount which could not be repaired and ended up buying a new flash. This time the flash mount broke in the same exact place but ALSO the 17 - 40mm wide angle zoom lens that I use about 80% of the time sheered clean in half. Damn! There's a chance the lens might be repairable but this changes up the current photo program a bit.

But in the interest of keeping with the photo theme part of this blog and in order to keep it interesting, I am pushing forward in 2007. The accompanying photos are a random selection from the growing archive, now going through pictures from November of last year when I semi-permanently moved to Buenos Aires.

Now that New Years and the holidays have come and gone its time to get back to work, which includes continuing progress on the hyperlinked website above, photos, writing, blogging, planning and staying focused. (More on the Tijuana reference later).