Tag Archives: south america

Reborn Stone in South America

I’m more than a casual fan of the Rolling Stones, and I’ve been known to throw down the cash to see the geriatric rockers shake their decades-old moneymakers on stage. So my interest was doubly piqued this morning when I heard from a friend that the Stones’ first manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, has become a rock ‘n’ roll guru again…only in South America this time!

Oldham guided the Stones during the British group’s formative years in the 60s. He is credited with contributing to many of their big hits, he was behind their first major record deal, and he inspired their bad boy style, which was directly opposed to the image of their British Invasion rivals the Beatles. He was also the originator of many of the cheeky headlines and catchphrases surrounding the band, such as the classic “Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?” (The answer to that question, by the way, is “no.”)

Following a typical rock ‘n’ roll storyline, Oldham got heavy into drugs during his Stones days and almost burned himself out completely. Though he reemerged in the music world a couple of times after his tenure with the band ended, he basically disappeared from public view. But he stayed busy. During that time, he made his way down to Colombia and occasionally helped mentor young musicians on that continent. And over the last few years, as this dilettante just learned, he’s been producing and recording again with great success. This time with Rock en Español acts. Perhaps his best known work is with the Argentine group Los Ratones Paranoicos (The Paranoid Mice), a band with a distinct Rolling Stones-like sound.

Besides the production and recording work in South America, he’s also been the host of Underground Garage on Sirius Satellite Radio since 2005, which can be heard here en Los Estados Unidos. (Where have I been?) In a recent interview he said that he wished his mother could see him now…because for the first time in his life, he actually works a steady job. I, for one, am certainly glad to see that the old boy is making the most of this stage in his life. Keep on rockin’, Andrew.

News in Slow Spanish

I’ve been taking some time recently to investigate a few Spanish resources I’ve had written down on the backs of napkins, bubblegum wrappers, and random scraps of paper. This morning I finally looked into the podcast News in Slow Spanish, and I transferred a couple of episodes onto my mp3 player and took a walk with them in the park. Boy, I’ve been missing out on something good.

The title of the program pretty much tells you what it is: world news read in relatively slow, well-enunciated Spanish. Each program lasts about 45 minutes and usually includes a couple of main stories, some chitchat between the hosts, a review of an essential point of grammar, and a discussion of at least one idiom in the language. The podcast is free, whether you listen to it directly on their website or download it from iTunes or a similar service. There are also a few pay elements on the site if you’re interested in some extras like quizzes, transcripts, bonus lessons, and access to their entire archives.

The program assumes a decent grasp of basic Spanish grammar, as well as a pretty good vocabulary. So it’s generally aimed at the intermediate learner. But there are some parts of each episode that would even be understandable to higher-level beginning students of the language—especially because the words are so clearly said and at such a moderate pace. The one drawback for some folks—especially those learning standard Latin American Spanish—is that the dialect spoken in the podcast is castellano, so expect to hear the vosotros form, a few unusual vocabulary words, and the Spanish “th.” But that’s no big deal, right? All of us Spanish learners should at least be familiar with the way the language is spoken in its mother country, no?

Red Hot Americas

I hope to goodness that you’re watching the World Cup this year because it’s mighty exciting. Especially for us folks in the Americas. With only two days left in the opening round of the tournament, teams from the American hemisphere collectively have 12 wins, 5 draws, and only 3 losses (2 of which came from the highly disappointing Honduran National Team—I expected so much more from los Catrachos!). Uruguay, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and the United States have already advanced to the next round. Paraguay and Chile should join them on Thursday and Friday. Only Honduras is likely to be left out of the Round of 16 party. Wait…you say you didn’t know the US had qualified for the next round of the tournament? Really? Watch this…

While I hope the Yanks go far, I’m not naive enough to think they’ll win the whole thing (actually, maybe I am at the moment, but I’ll come back to Earth in a few days after the euphoria of that Donovan goal wears off). Brazil is always the favorite at these things, but I think folks should keep a close eye on Argentina. They’ve been clicking as a team already, and they’ve got one of the most exciting playmakers in the world on their team…Lionel Messi. And if it’s not the US, we want a Spanish-speaking country to win, ¿no?

Personally, I’ve been watching soccer ever since I took my first trip to Europe fifteen years ago. But if the sport doesn’t float your boat normally, I would still suggest checking out a few games or keeping on top of the latest action in the World Cup. Talking fútbol with folks is almost always a great way to break the ice with locals when you’re traveling anywhere outside of the US or Canada. Unless you support the wrong club team…then it might actually get your legs broken.

El secreto de sus ojos : a film by Juan José Campanella

I guess it took winning an Oscar back in March to finally bring this movie to St. Louis in June! But it was worth the wait for sure.

The film begins with former federal justice agent Benjamín Espósito paying a visit to his former colleague Irene Menéndez-Hastings. Espósito has spent most of his life tortured by the events surrounding a brutal rape-murder case he covered with Menéndez and Espósito’s assistant Pablo Sandoval in the mid-70s. Espósito wants to clear the ghosts of his past by writing a novel about the case, and he needs Menéndez to give him the case file for his research.

At that point, the film dives back into the 1970s and most of the narrative takes place in a flashback, as we’re shown the events that lead up to Espósito taking the case, as well as his frustrated attempts to find justice for the husband of the murdered victim. Layered on top of this is an intense attraction between Espósito and Menéndez that has more than one obstacle in its way, some serious drinking problems on the part of Espósito’s assistant Sandoval (my favorite character in the film!), and the political climate of Argentina during the 1970s version of Peronism.

While he hasn’t made a perfect film, Campanella, who has worked on American TV shows such as Law & Order, has certainly given us a crime drama that kicks the butt of almost every US-made movie that came out last year. And there is some great cinematography—such as the following use of fútbol in the film.

(Btw, if you didn’t already know, Argentina demolished South Korea today in the World Cup. “El Pipita” put on a scoring clinic.)

Dogs and Politics: Bolívar, Nevado, and Chávez

Because of my experience with Angostura bitters I’ve been looking into other nooks and crannies of Simón Bolívar’s life. One of the more interesting parts of his legacy is the history of  his dog Nevado (Snowy). Like most things related to Bolívar, the story is connected to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Statue of Bolívar's two companions, Nevado and the Indian Tinjaca. Plaza Bolívar de Mucuchíes, Mérida, Venezuela.

Nevado was a Mucuchí. Mucuchíes are fluffy white Andean dogs that sometimes have a little splash of black, tan, or gray; and they’re pretty much localized to the Mérida region of Venezuela. The breed was started 400 years ago when Augustine missionaries first brought Pyrenean Mastiffs with them to the Andes. Apparently those friars were surprised to find a Andean dog of similar temperament and looks already there when they arrived, so they did the obvious—they breed the two together. (That’s the obvious thing to do, right?) The end result was the Mucuchíes, which are popularly known as a lovable breed of hard-working dogs. They are also the national dog of Venezuela and a kind of national symbol for the country.

Bolívar’s Mucuchí pup Nevado was given to him by the people of Mérida during the leader’s fight for the liberation of Venezuela from Spanish control. Legend has it that Nevado was a faithful companion to Bolívar and even ran alongside Bolívar’s horse when he went into battle. Ultimately the poor thing was killed during the Battle of Carabobo in 1821, which was a decisive win for Bolívar and a key victory leading to Venezuela’s independence. Many memorials exist today in Venezuela dedicated to Nevado and his roll in the liberation of the country, and the dog’s story is a rich part of Venezuelan history. But the Mucuchíes as a whole have seen better days. More and more the breed has been bred with larger dogs such as St. Bernards, making it harder and harder to find a purebred Mucuchí these days. Enter Hugo Chávez.

Recently Chávez gave government backing and funding to the Nevado Foundation (named after Bolívar’s dog of course), an organization that has been trying to bring the breed back from the brink of extinction. Chávez is crazy for all things Bolívar. He sees himself as the ideological son of the liberator. He changed the official title of the country to the “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” in 1999. And he even likes to give a copy of Bolívar’s sword as gift to distinguished guests, as he recently did for Russian Tzar Godfather President Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. So backing a group named after Bolívar’s dog was probably a no brainer for the South American leader.

While the Nevado Foundation, which operates a breeding kennel for the dogs just outside of Caracas, only has about a dozen pups at the moment, now with the backing of Chávez’ government, they have high hopes. According to Nevado Foundation President Walter de Mendoza…

We want [Mucuchíes] to be known all around the country as a breed and as its historical legacy. We would like to have Mucuchíes even outside Venezuela. One of the plans we have is to have at least a couple of them in each embassy around the world as a symbol of our country.

source: PRI

And I’ll be the first in line to pet one!

A revolutionary drink

I met some friends for drinks last night at the Royale in el sur de la ciudad de San Luis (South St. Louis City). The place is known for its unusual cocktails, and there was one that immediately caught my eye: the Soulard Sling. One of the ingredients in this drink is Angostura bitters, a liquor which has an interesting place in Latin American history.

Angostura was developed by a German doctor named Johann Siegert in the early 1820s while he was living in Venezuela. He had moved to that country to help famed South American liberator Simón Bolívar fight against the Spanish crown and establish his Gran Colombia state. Bolívar was a creole from an aristocratic family, and he discovered the power of racism and oppression during a visit to Spain in his young adulthood. During that trip, he was stripped of his goods and put in jail basically for being a creole with nice stuff. In that one act, Spain had created their own worst enemy. Bolívar would help liberate five different South American countries, and he is still celebrated today in South America as the key to independence on the continent.

During Bolívar’s revolutionary days, Johann Siegert served as his Surgeon General at a military hospital in the city of Angostura, Venezuela—hence the name of the bitters. (By the way, the city of Angostura is now known as Ciudad Bolívar.) He was trying to develop a medicinal potion to use with his patients when he came up with a recipe for aromatic bitters instead. Shortly thereafter, he began exporting the stuff. And by 1850, Angostura was popular enough that Siegert resigned his military post to dedicate his time solely to manufacturing and selling his creation. Its production is still overseen by the Siegert family today.

Dr. Johann Siegert

As for the Soulard Sling, like Bolívar’s passion for South American independence and liberty, it was strong stuff. But like his dream for a unified South America, the drink fell apart for me by the end. Too much bitters is not a good thing.

Crude : a film by Joe Berlinger

Crude was one of the most difficult films for me to watch ever. The movie follows the class action lawsuit filed against Chevron on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadorians living in the Amazon rainforest, and it is focused on the events surrounding the case in 2006 and 2007. However, the legal struggle still continues on today because, as the film portrays, getting the Ecuadorian government and legal system to do anything, particularly against a multinational company that has dumped millions into political coffers, is a monumental task at best. Meanwhile, families are suffering through cancer, polluted waterways, contaminated soil, and mucky filth.

The film centers on American lawyer Steve Donziger, who struggles with the cultural divide between American and Ecuadorian legal procedures, and Pablo Fajardo, an Ecuadorian lawyer who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2008 for his efforts against Chevron.

It’s not a popcorn movie, and for the sake of a clean conscience I wouldn’t suggest driving your car to the video store to pick it up—or at least I wouldn’t fill up at a Chevron station along the way. But it’s a film you should see.

(Director Joe Berlinger and Chevron’s Don Campbell on Al Jazeera International’s Riz Khan in 2009.)