Monday, June 30, 2014

5 Things to Know About the Colombian Soccer Team, circa June 2014

This was the scene in Cali last night outside our local salsa bar. Though writing about sports does not normally fall anywhere near my parameters of interest, the English-language coverage of the Colombian soccer team has been rather appalling, so I thought I'd throw in my five cents.

Some things I find interesting about the current Colombian national soccer team:

1. The current coach, José Pékerman, is an Argentinean of Russian-Jewish descent, and is only occupying this position because the Colombian coach was removed due to domestic violence problems. (Pékerman is actually the second replacement coach: the first replacement, Leonel Álvarez, lasted only a couple of months.) You could take this as evidence of machismo in Colombia, or you could take this as evidence that machista attitudes are no longer being tolerated precisely because the dude was removed for domestic violence. Either way, the new coach has been a huge boon to the team; the general consensus is that Colombia wouldn't be where it is right now without him.

2. Colombia is playing without their star player, Falcao, who has been out injured. James Rodriguez has now usurped Falcao as the team idol as he has scored 5 goals in 4 matches (making him the highest scorer in the whole World Cup so far), and btw his name is pronounced HA-mez. For further pronunciation illustration and general goofiness, this video replaces the word "jamás" (never) with "James" in a silly tribute to yesterday's win.

2. The whole "choreographed goal celebration", or "varied dance routine(s) that have surely taken much coordination", as the NYTimes so inaccurately described it, is called salsa choke and was not invented by the Colombian national team. Every male or female who wants to have sex under the age of 35 in Colombia's Pacific region knows how to dance this and proceeds to do so at street parties and discotecas every single weekend. Mario Yepes and Pablo Armero are from Cali and Tumaco, respectively. They probably taught James the dance screwing around in the locker room. And yes, of course I have video evidence:

(and actually, if you read the comments some people are actually making fun of James for being tieso, or stiff)

And here is the Ecuadorian team dancing to salsa choke a couple of years ago. Other that the ridiculous eye candy this video provides, if you look around minute 6:30 you can see them teaching each other the basic dance, which is almost identical to the dance the Colombian national team is now famous for "choreographing." To be clear: I write this not as a critique of the Colombian national team, but rather as a criticism of the total lack of background research done by English-speaking media.

Here is the original song playing in the background-- the song is from Cali, as salsa choke is a uniquely Colombian genre, though the Ecuadorians have clearly taken to it quite nicely. New salsa choke (also called salsa urbana) comes out all the time, but this one has stuck around for the last couple of years.

4. The sale of alcohol was banned on game days in Bogotá after 9 people died in the capital due to being drunk and stupid after the first 2014 World Cup game. After the second 2014 World Cup game, the sale of alcohol was banned in Cali as well. Why people have such a hard time celebrating without killing themselves/each other I will never understand, but many of the players are now saying some version of "let's hope for a peaceful, violence-free celebration" in the post-game interviews.

5. Colombia has never gotten this far in the World Cup, and people are pretty over-the-moon about it. That said, they have had their fair share of soccer legends, including "El Pibe" Valderrama, Freddy Rincón and most insanely, Rene Higuita, see below:

And that's all she wrote. I guess we'll just have to wait until Friday to see what's next for the team, when they go up against Brazil.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

El Quindío

A weekend in el Eje Cafetero is always a pleasure. The environment is so relaxed and so very, very green, people are unreservedly friendly, and coffee and coffee-flavored sweets are sold at every turn. The conservative metal- and raspa-fueled Quindío culture may not be my thing, but it is a mighty fine place to lay low for a couple of days.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How I wash clothes in Cali

Now that we've moved apartments (into my favorite neighborhood ever), we no longer have access to a washer (the dryer in Cali is the sun). I was looking around for laundromats, and Felipe had resigned himself to shlepping our laundry over to his mom's apartment every week, when a neighbor suggested we do what he does: rent a washing machine.

Meaning what, exactly? You call a phone number, and a guy shows up at your door with a washer, installs the pipes and bits for you, and then comes back in 4 hours to pick it up. For 5,000 pesos (about $2.50)! How cool is that? We don't have to deal with machine maintenance, and there's no machine taking up precious space in our reasonably-sized but small apartment. I'd say something like "I can't believe they don't have this in other places", but honestly it's hard for me to imagine how it's worth it for the company. It must be, though, or they wouldn't do it...and I for one am not complaining.

One of these days I will write about our new neighborhood, which is not an obvious choice for Cali, but as far as I'm concerned it's just about perfect. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Unrefined and of Low Social Category

Old cookbooks are the best. Not only do they tell you how to make head cheese in a completely non-hipster manner, they also provide useful socio-cultural commentary such as the following:

"El color amarillo es tenido por muchas personas como un elemento culinario un tanto vulgar; quizá por el hecho de que nuestras gentes de baja categoría social han abusado siempre de él en sus caldos y estofados. Pero su uso discreto es indispensable, especialmente en cremas, salsas y sopas, para hacerlas más apetitosas."

"Turmeric is considered by many to be a slightly vulgar culinary element, perhaps due to the fact that many of our people of low social category have always abused its use in their broths and stews. But its discreet use is indispensable, especially in soup and sauces, to make them more appetizing. "

"Los cominos: este aliño es por lo general de mal gusto y poco refinado, pero hay ciertos platos típicos en los cuales no es solamente admisible, sino necesario. El mondongo, los tamales, las morcillas, los chorizos, las empanadas comunes, y aun el caldo con pollo hecho al estilo primitivo, parece que quedan incompletos si no se les pone una pinzada de camino. En todo caso, si se usan, deber ser con gran discreción."

"Cumin: the use of this seasoning is generally in bad taste and unrefined, but there are certain classic dishes where its use is not only admissible but indeed necessary. Tripe soup, tamales, blood sausage, empanadas and even chicken soup done primitive-style seem to turn out incomplete unless a pinch of cumin is added. In any case, if you use cumin, you must use it with great discretion."

It's interesting that what's considered traditional and what's considered refined seem to be very much in conflict according to this lady. I for one adore cumin. On the other hand, she does appear to have a far more generous spirit than many of her generation, as evidenced by the following, rather sad comment:

"Pocas señoras tienen la galantería de ofrecer a sus amigas la receta de un plato, que a juzgar por los elogios que les merece, desean aprender a fabricar...Pero hay todavía algo peor. Y es que algunas, cuando se resuelven a ofrecerla, lo hacen con medidas inexactas, cometiendo con esto una verdadera estafa. Por qué nos atraerá tanto la exclusividad, aun en tan pequeños detalles?"

"Few women possess the gallantry to offer their friends the recipe for a dish that they, judging from the glowing praise offered, would like to learn to make...But there is something even worse. And that is that some, when offering up the recipe, give it with imprecise measurements, wishing to defraud their friends. Why are we so attracted to exclusivity, even in minor things?"

Well said, Señora Navarro, well said. Now please excuse me while I go off to degollar (cut the head off) a one-year-old piglet to make lechon relleno.

La cartilla del hogar, Sofia Ospina de Navarro. Colombia. 1972.

Monday, March 3, 2014

El Teatro Salamandra

I spent both Friday and Saturday night in one of Cali's classic artsy spots -- El Teatro Salamandra. They were celebrating their 20th anniversary, with an art exhibition and Latin jazz (Felipe and friends were playing) on the evening's menu. I love this side of Cali-- the eccentric characters and bright colors, and the embrace of the city's artistic heritage alongside newer cultural projects.

I also love the neighborhood-- El Teatro Salamandra is located in San Fernando Viejo, one of Cali's oldest and most traditional areas. San Fernando Viejo is filled with beautiful old multi-story houses and rustling trees, and I can personally attest to the the 1,000 COP (~.50 cents) arepas con queso being top-notch.

I do hope is that El Teatro Salamandra and San Fernando Viejo will be around, classy and funky and fun, 20 years from now. They just don't make fridges like that anymore...

El Teatro Salamandra del Barco Ebrio
Carrera 36 #4A-31
Barrio San Fernando Viejo
Cali, Colombia

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Love-Hate Guide to Bogotá

Bogotá is like many capital/large cities in South America (see: Buenos Aires, São Paulo): born and bred natives think it's the best place in the world, whereas everyone else in the country tends to think it's pretty much the worst.

Or at least they say it's the worst: non-bogotanos love talking shit about Bogotá, about the terrible weather, about how unfriendly the people are (unfriendly for Colombia, that is), about the insufferable bogotano accent (uy chino), about the stratospheric prices and the congested traffic and, above all else, about how bogotanos think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread and how they can't dance. at all. 

And then they all move to Bogotá, because that's where the jobs are. 

Or, at a minimum, they end up going to Bogotá fairly frequently because Colombia continues to be a very centralized country and they need an international visa or their companies are based in Bogotá or because there is a Red Hot Chili Peppers/Paul McCartney/Beyonce concert that they can't bear to miss.

Last week, I found myself in Bogotá because that is where the Foreign Relations Ministry is, and I, of course, am a foreigner. Let's not pretend that fun things happen at the Foreign Relations Ministry; I won't say that anything I did last Friday was even remotely pleasant; for all intents and purposes I have erased it from my memory.  

I will say this, though: Bogotá is too cold for me, and I have some serious hate for the heavy metal culture that currently predominates, but after the bureaucratic trials and tribulations were over, we had a really nice weekend.  

We ate ajiaco at a place that proclaimed to have "The Best Ajiaco in the World," and very well might. We walked around the colonial Candelaria neighborhood and went into the (free) Botero museum. We went to the central market and ate ginormous fruit salads overflowing with shredded cheese and sweetened condensed milk (ugh, so good), and then we went to this amazing seafood restaurant/market that is so popular that traffic was stopped outside as people pulled into its parking lot. We spent a drizzly afternoon in Usaquén over coffee and cake. It was nice. 

Throw in the fact that many, many of our friends from Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro are currently living in Bogotá, and by Sunday night, Felipe, Sr. I Hate Bogotá, was letting it slip that maybe it wouldn't be so bad to live in Bogotá for a year or so. 

Or maybe it would be, but it can be quite a nice place to visit. 

Antigua SantaFe
Calle 11, No. 6-20
Candelaria, Bogotá

Coctel del Mar
Calle 69, No. 17-60, 2º piso

Museo Botero
Call 11, No. 4-11
Candelaria, Bogotá

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Condoricosas: Someone's Comic Fantasy...Just Not Mine

I enjoy moteles probably more than the next girl-- whereas some people might see sex motels as sleazy and to be avoided at all costs -- and I certainly did at one time-- I find the best ones to be rather entertaining, an interactive living museum of sorts. And after my experience at Kiss Me last year, it was only natural that the other (and original) motel by the same owner of Kiss Me, Condoricosas, deserved a visit.

I should probably preface the following by saying that before going to this motel, I was not aware that it was based on a comic strip character. I just thought, Condors, this should be interesting! Which is not to say that I wouldn't have gone had I known, but it sort of made it all worse after the fact. But ok, let's get it out of the way: Condorito is a Chilean comic strip, and a rather conservative, machista one at that. Super hot.

You enter Condoricosas to life-sized statues of animals and, of course, Condorito in various incarnations. There is clearly a tendency to overdecorate, making the shared ownership between Kiss Me and Condoricosas apparent, but Condoricosas lacks the over the top mental-patient-illustrating-the-history-of-the-world nuttiness that Kiss Me revels in and just seems a bit (no laughing) trashy and run down.

Condoricosas is, of course, a motel temático, or more accurately a double motel temático as the rooms are not only "international travel" themed but also incorporate Condorito into the themes. We were given a French conquest-themed room, which translated into murals of Condorito in French soldier garb, elaborate Fleur de Lys decorations, and a large mirror directly above the French-king-in-a-Disney-cartoon bed.

As far as standard motel requirements -- cheap, clean, private, and with free condoms (I don't know if this is a legal requirement but all motels in Cali seem to provide them. A+++, guys) -- Condoricosas does just fine. At the end of the day (or on their lunch breaks, as it were), most people go to these places to have sex and are, I would imagine, fairly unconcerned with the decorative sense and humor quotient of the facilities. I suppose one of my main complaints with Condoricosas is that I found the dual comic book character/international destination themes confusing, or just unappealing. Yes, I am a discerning customer. And for that reason I must tell you, if you're looking for entertainment value (and I always am), Kiss Me reigns supreme.

Should you happen to harbor an unrealized Condorito fantasy, or just want to check Condoricosas out for the hell of it:

Residencias Condoricosas
Carrera 8 No. 24-24
Cali, Colombia

Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Year's Edition: La Finca

Everybody left town for the family finca to celebrate New Years', and we were no different. Can you blame us? Citrus trees lining the driveway, guanabanas thumping off their trees, ripe and too heavy to hold on any longer, hummingbirds flitting in and out of the flowers hanging next to the hammocks...did somebody say Cali? My whole body ached after the week-long salsa-a-thon a.k.a. the Feria, and did I mention the hammocks?

This particularly beautiful finca, located in el Eje Cafetero (the Coffee Region), is owned by Lucy and Roberto, two retired university professors who are old friends of Felipe's family. Run down and lifeless when they bought it 20 years ago, they have slowly filled it with greenery and antiques. Ancient sewing machines, corn grinders, and even a coffee bean miller (Our neighbor lost his hand in one of these! -Roberto) line the walls. We eat arepas and fried eggs for breakfast and sancocho cooked over a wood fire for lunch; all in all pretty idyllic, and not a bad way to bring in the new year, not a bad way at all.

Happy 2014 to all! Especially to those freezing their culitos off in the Northern Hemisphere (not to mention those roasting in 110ºF weather in the Southern one)! Sometimes you just got to get some equator in your life.