Friday, April 29, 2011
6:00am Easter Sunday morning. I wake in my run down hostal with no electricity. There is a combination of European choral signing blaring through the loud speakers of the church - rejoicing the resurrection of Jesus Christ. About half a kilometer away from the church a very loud and mysterious speaker belts out contemporary Bolivian Lake Titicacan music. Both competing songs are at such a volume that going back to bed after it’s first play is not an option. I guess depending on who you ask, these voices celebrating and ringing in the streets could either seem like a battle between cultures or possibly an attempt to harmonize beauty between two drastically different peoples. I doubt either are the answer. What rings true is that for anyone that has heard any kind of music more then once – these two sounds are definitely clashing. The extreme irony and mood of these two tracks playing together is incredibly beautiful, haunting and appropriate for the film I am trying to write this week. As the churches mass continues and proceeds to blare its word through the loud speakers the Bolivian music, about ten blocks away, does not let down and continues to compete. After the church's second song the priest attempts to talk to his congregation. Where he is standing the message is being heard. In my bed, as I type this, the Lake Titicacan sounds are definitely a slight notch above the priest's banter. As the church switches gernes into folk the only vocals coming from mass are the priest's harmonies, praising the words of God. Accompanied by an acoustic guitar, the musician slowly strums some very familiar major and minor chords. As the priest gets louder in his cries the Bolivian songs now sit in the back of the mix but still present as ever.
The clashing of cultures in the context of its harsh history – this is Bolivia. The many layers of ironies and confusion is exactly what gives this country its national identify. The visual and audible unresolved strief between two things attempting so intently to stay alive. The people of Copacabana walk the streets as if nothing is wrong and maybe there isn’t. From a foreigner's perspective, sonically, it seems that these two elements are unable to reach a peaceful resolution. For hundreds of years at some level these varying cultures have tried to assimilate but quite naturally couldn’t. Creating an almost polarizing stench in the air, even in the town where it is home to one of Latin Americans most popular pilgrimage, there is no home for harmony in these parts - only confusion. In that confusion Boliva secures its home but what only feels and sounds like confusion to one, I quite contently realize this morning during the blaring of this chaos that I will never fully understand Bolivia. Giving in to that confusion that I have struggled for years to try and understand, I now find tranquility in a culture that I feel will always escape me.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Tonight I stood beside the hooded priests that could easily be mistaken for members of Ku Klux Klan but I guessed just like the swastika, a darker force made a symbol of purity evil. Possible they are the same cloaks worn to symbolize death before a be-heading or hanging is committed. I'm still confused by them.
As I walked through the small town where thousands of people littered the streets in praise of their lord Jesus of Nazarath I merely observed and documented. Each step taken I couldn’t help but respect the many miles people traveled just to come and see this pres proscenium at the Virgin of Copacabana’s church.
When I first found out what the Jesuit and Franciscan priests did once they settled near these waters I had to visit this site. In order to convert indigenous Bolivians and Peruvians to their church, because of their initial absolute refusal was to not Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Saviour, the church had to come up with another plan in order to convert. It is for that very same reason why most churches all over Latin America were build ontop of indigenious religious temples. The other very stragetic approach was they took some of their most prodominent religious figures like Jesus’s mother the Virgin Mary and appropirated them. Instead of calling her Mary they combined the indigenous people's most treasured feminine god, the Pachamama (Mother Nature) with the Virgin Mary and thus you have La Virgin de Copcabana. A little bit darker and more physically resembling their own, the people of the region instantly had a connection to Christianity and Catholicism. Same can be said with the Virgin of Guadalupe, which resides in Mexico and most Central American countries.
It would be easy to say that I haven’t really done that much work with my film Pachamama during this Semana Santa in Copacabana. What I’m realizing is that fiction writing for myself comes with time and experience. Amercing myself into something that I will probably never know or understand exactly but by each encounter I grow closer to it. My trip to Bolivia has been full of seeds that I’ve planted in many places. There at least six films that I’ve discovered through my time here that I want to make in the future, almost all documentaries. During this visit it has been the brief encounters with both Bolivians and foreigners that have been the birth of many ideas and even more so the progression of the this very large film – Pachamama. Some of the connections I’ve made have lasted seconds, in the market eating lunch, walking around the plaza or at the children’s gambling tables just on cusp of the main plaza in Copacabana.
After following the deceased ceramic Jesus in his casket around Copacabana for almost two hours I came across a group of mostly children hovered around a table. In a very short while I became almost obsessed with this completely trivial game of chance where loosing is inevitable. The screams and giggles that I have shared with these kids from all over the area has been my favorite past time here in Bolivia thus far. There are probably just as many people in church praying and lighting candles for Semana Santa as there are casual church goers interacting with a glass of beer and playing these very simple and wonderful carnival games. No matter how many times I win - I know that in the end I will loose it all. It is only at these tables where deep smiles and comradery are felt amongst the players. Each turn I don't even flinch at the insult when they call me gringo. "Let the gringo split the deck - he's got good luck. Vamos gringo!" For the first time on my trip everyone at the table is betting on their favourite cartoon character, superhero or what figure they believe the deck will land on next. The cards turn in a almost Tarot approach and people scream and shot waiting for the one they wagered on to come up. I am right there with them and when the “diablo” turns up and everyone throws their hands in the air screaming "come on!" The round is over. The dealer then proceeds to take everyone’s money in one false swoop.
The most entertaining part of the game is the dealer. Always belting out dumb little jokes while you make your wager. “Get your dirty little fingers out of the way.” “Who’s betting on Supergay?” which was Superman. "Supergay is the winner! Are you Supergay?" If you wanted your money you obviously had to say yes - which was always followed by a burst of laugher from all the kids. The joke never got old. At times some of the older kids would say “Shit!” and very quickly the dealer would calmly say as he's taking bets “No shit here, just a game." With his dirty truckers hat soaking in the sweat of his upper brow he would retort in an upper class Spanish accent "Please be civil we’re trying to play a game here.” All of this banter while the bets slip and slide all over the table - the Bishop of the church rejoices through the loudspeakers the word of God. Nothing can pull me away from these tables with my short-term friends laughing and smiling - loving every single second of it. Good Friday indeed.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
This morning I woke up early to ride 21km to downtown La Paz's Plaza Murillo to celebrate "Dia de la Madre Tierra." The rest of the world celebrates the same day on Friday - Earth Day. The many ironies that exist in Bolivia gives birth things like having the day of the Pachamama on the same day that Jesus Christ was crucified - Good Friday. It was a relatively anti-climatic event with President Evo Morales not present. There were some speeches which I was able to record but wasn't moved or very motivated by most of the speakers. The federal indigenous movement in Bolivia is not like it was during Morales's first term. It's clear from the blockades and protests around the country that the public is loosing faith in their leader. Because of the recent protests there has been talk about a possible civil war between Morales supporters and grassroots organizations like miners, teachers and government unions. I hope that in these remaining three and half years of Morale's presidency that he can turn things around and give Bolivians the fire they once had during the 2005 elections. Bolivia as a country needs more guidance not just from its government but from its citizens.
Today's event seemed more of a formality then a celebration that was created by the administration.
The more moving speech was made by the
Minister of Culture.
Offering and prayers made to the Pachamama
During the national anthem. It sounded a lot like the Chilean one.
I would probably be shot dead if I was to say that on the streets.
Chile probably stole it from them - along with everything else.
Three generations - uniforms of war.
The entire day was filled with music.
It was clear that when the folkloric musicians
hit the stage their sound was made to be played
on the streets, not on the stage. These boys were
on the ground blowing and beating.
They sounded much better then the official
Sunday, April 17, 2011
And today, I still do.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
I start to tear up when thinking of leaving Potosi. Not because I will miss it but just because of what I´ve seen and what I am leaving. Hopefully, si dios quieras, our film will be financed and I will be back. The people at REAL DEAL TOURS have been my second family here and I feel very grateful to have known them.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Yesterday wasn’t very productive. I didn’t get any interviews, mostly because when I got up to the mines I couldn’t find my wing man Wilder the porter. The workers also looked busy and did not want my presence there. My busted lip was also burning like a ring of fire so I had to stay in the shade.
Today was good. I woke up feeling charged determined to get some interviews. It really is shocking how many tragic stories populate these mines. Just as we made our second last stop before heading up to El Cerro Rico a teenage boy got on the bus and sat next to me. The minute he came on I knew he was a miner that I wanted to speak with. Quit and to himself, he seemed like he was in a lot of emotional pain. Knowing this I became incredibly nervous to approach him. Generally everytime I’m near the miners a level of fear and respect falls over me that I have a hard time controlling. My palms start to sweat and getting out the first few question is really challenging. I offered him some of my coca leaves and we began to chat.
Walberto is a quit speaking 17 year old miner. Four years ago when he had to start working in the mines because his father, also a miner, got sick with silicosis.Three years later he died. You could hear the pain in Walberto’s voice while he answered some simple questions in a mix of Quachua and Spanish. Elareon, his older brother, went to Argentina once his father got sick to send money home for to pay for his medical bills. His mother sells chicharones on the streets to put food on the table for Walberto’s four younger brother who’s age range from two to seven. I asked him if he ever wanted to go to Argentina to see his brother “no, why would I? It’s too hot there and they would be mean to me. Racist and call me names.” I then asked “is there anything else that you would to do with your life?” He very quietly replied “no. This is what I do.” I later asked Wilder the porter about him and he told me that he is mourning the death of his father. “He’s very quiet. Very sad. He and his older brother’s wages support his mother and four younger brother. He’s always sad.”
Near the end of the day I met Daniel aka Bolivar. All the miners call him Bolivar because he’s the activist of the bunch. The complete opposite of Walberto, Daniel talked so much I couldn’t even get a question in our interview. Rapidly and enthuastically telling me about how he left Argentina and came back to his home land to do something about the current political situation in Potosi. A musician in his third year inside El Cerro Rico he is currently financing his first album from his mining wages.
Just before I left for dinner I caught up with Wilder. I asked for his advice on how I could gain the trust of the miners if we were to film there. We brainstormed about cooking a dinner for everyone and their families. The more we spoke about the miner’s the more their kids kept popping up and what they’re lacking in their lives. I suggested that in the evenings during our month long shoot that we could take a couple of hours, maybe three or four days a week and teach them something. Possibly English, computer skills or music. The more we spoke the more I realized that I didn’t want to do the easy thing and just get the miners wasted to get their trust and thank them for filming. I started to realizing that giving something back to their community was just as important as making this documentary.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
I woke up this morning sweating with my lips burning – the night was as cold as ever. Sweating because I had a bad dream about making a film in Bolivia. Lips burning because my lower lip had finally burst from sun blisters in Uyuni that I never mentioned. The dream mostly surrounded this fictitious president who had scales of bones over the curvatures of his body like his forehead, eyebrows and the bridge of his nose. He was a former miner and said that he was not going to kill me but haunt me forever in my dreams if I miss lead anyone in the films I created. This brought even more anxiety to the film I was currently trying to finish where a huge fight stirred up on the set that I was leading. For some reason El Huaso hadn't concluded its filming. Finishing off some scenes in my old film-school’s studio, I had hired some students to volunteer to ease the stressful load. One of them was an old classmate from grade school named Tim Duncan. The entire Duncan family were fighters and if they thought you crossed any line with them, even if you didn’t know what that line was, they would come at you hard. After some blow up on set about paint, lights and getting some work done I lost it and I could see it in Tim Duncan’s eyes that I had crossed that line. Storming off that set all I could think about was that now in my dreams and in reality I would never be alone – both the scaly Bolivian president and Tim Duncan were after me. Scared out of my mind with a baseball bat in my hand, practicing my swing to a human head or limb, I walked the parks of Montreal hoping not to run into the ghost of Bolivia or anyone of the Duncans. As I reached a basketball court at Jean Mance park, where a group of women were having a tournament on the tennis courts - I felt safer. That still wasn’t enough for my fears of the Duncan family or what awaited me that night after I fell asleep. It was after that anxiety ridden realization that I woke up in a sweat. I couldn’t get back to sleep.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
This moring I woke up at the crack of dawn. It was so cold that I could see my breath. I felt better then the other day knowing that I wasn’t going into the mines. I made friends with the ex-miners who give tours into El Cerro Rico. They offered to give me a ride to the exterior of the mines and introduce me to some of the workers in exchange for internet lessons. They’re really good people and working hard to grow their business. My main objective was to interview people who have some insight on the conditions and stories that come from working in these mines. I was lucky enough to speak with the 33 year old bus driver who took us up there. He too worked in the mines for a year, and like me, swore to never go back. Semar is a really smart guy with a lot of insight on what is going on socially and politically in the region. He actually reminded me of an old schoolmate of mine – John Chisolm.
Once I arrived at the mines I was presented to the President of a particular coop. As I followed the president through the exteriors of the mines I met Wilder. Wilder was a former miner and now in his 40s works in the exterior of the minds as a porter. He talk to me for about an hour and gave me insight on the tragic life of a miner. Didn’t hesitate to tell me about the thieves that come at night, break into the miner’s locker and steal their gear. It was especially heart breaking to hear about a porter friend of his who was recently got killed because he tried to stop a group of thieves stealing from the already poor miners. Pointing up towards the upper part of El Cerro he says to me “you see all those colorful cloths up there drying? That’s the former porter’s wife. She took over his job out of necessity to feed her fatherless children and is now in danger of the same thing happening to her.” The sun beamed on my back and neck burning my skin and all I could do was check my sound levels to make sure that I got a good recording. At the end of our talk Wilder emphasized the importance of people knowing these stories. The need for people to understand what these miners and their communities are going through and how they suffer just to put a roof over their families head and food on the table.
The least I could do was stay the extra twenty minutes and have him repeat this to me over and over again. Giving him the opportunity to have a voice.
Semar (Bus Driver)
Wilder (Miner’s Porter)
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Monday, April 11, 2011
It would have been nice to call today easy. Enjoyable. But it was none of those things. I feel like me going into the Potosi mines today, on my hands and knees trudging through the muddy minerals and toxins, was a pilgrimage. Every Latin American, like an Israeli or Jew’s visit to Auschwitz, should put their body and soul through the torment in experiencing El Cerro Rico. My nose is still burning from the fumes. My hands still sting from having to crawl on my belly through a one foot in diameter hole just to see a miner at work who doesn’t want to see me. “No me gustas las photos” he would say. Just the look on his face was enough for me not reach for my camera.
Six foot four.
Like my bathing sessions in La Paz, knees pushed up against my chest as I walked hundreds of meters, over 13,000 feet above sea level, shortness of breath and toxic fumes in the air which we had to call oxygen. I’m almost in tears thinking about what native Bolivians had to do centuries ago for the Iberian hard-on that was silver. At least 6 million, possibly over 7 million, African slaves and native Bolivians lived for no longer then two years, forced into these mines for what the Spanish desired most.
It was obvious by their jovial attitude that the other travelers that were with me in the depths of these mines didn’t really grasp the historical significant of where they were. I knew about the souls that were lost where I was struggling to walk but what I couldn’t understand was how they could physically go in theses depths everyday. The average two year life span probably had something to do with the fact that the hole they would travel into gave them only misery. No wages or hope for the future. At least the miners that hunt this swiss cheese like mountain today have a family and home. They have pride but still the misery of mining leaves most dead by 45 with a liver so ruined by the taste of 96 percent proof alcohol - it’s a surprise that the booze doesn’t kill them first. In pictures below you will see plastic bottles with blue and white labels. Those are the preferred drink of the miners. Numbs the pain and helps the time pass.
I am changed. I will never feel the same as I did before when hearing about anyone having to work in these conditions. I would first commit suicide before having to put myself and family through the misery I saw and experienced today. And for that, the miners of Bolivia are better men then I - will ever be.
El Cerro Rico.
A miracle. 52 and still mining.
He was the only one in the mines.
Everyone else was at a funeral for another
miner who died. He was 42.
Two and a half hours of this.
And this was the good part where I could take picture.
Our guide and the old blessed miner.
These are the many holes we crawled through.
96 percent proof.
The miner´s God - Tio.
Tio´s face is a llamas´s skull with
marbles for eyes. The sacrifice of the llama
is part of Bolivian native tradition.
A historian from Portugal at the Potosi mines said I looked just like this dude. I have no idea who he was but I dont see it.
He kind of looks like my father. Apparently he was from Genova and so is my family... I wonder if my great great uncle WAS a European freedom fighter.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Friday, April 8, 2011
The high altitude makes you breathe. It makes you focus on your breath more out of necessity. Allows you not to take the air that passes through your lungs for granted. Makes you grateful for having a body that works. A body that is young and full of energy. Gives you strength to share strength. Puts you in a place where if you walk too fast you may just fall over. Taking each step with something good in your heart.
I look at my beautiful lady before I fall asleep and my mouth waters. Being a part this long - this far away - is too much for anyone. Almost in the opposite ends of the world I have a hard time understanding how it is so easy to communicate so quickly so far away.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
This morning at the market for breakfast I had a bowl of llama ozobuco soup with large pieces of corn. For the first time in a while I felt normal. When I arrived the Bolivians looked at me like "what you the hell are you doing here?" I was the only tourist in the entire market. Tourist A don't wake up at 7:30am to eat breakfast unless they have to and B tourists do not go to the Uyuni market to eat food. That bowl of goodness was so essential. Saved the marrow for last and had it on a spoon with a few pieces of corn.
On my way from La Paz to Oruro I met a young man who helped me take up the entire ride with good conversation. He gave insight on Evo Morales's current state and people's perception of him and I told him about the Lithium deposits in Uyuni. He told me about his uncles in France and how much he wants to join them some day. I told him stories about my father when he first arrived in Canada and how hard he had to work for his family. He replied "Isn't that what we all do. Isn't that what we all try to do, everyday?" "Yes." I said quickly "We're all working towards the same thing." He then started to tell me about how much he doesn't like the new priest at his church and how he prefers the English priests then to Bolivian. "The sermons are just more beautiful coming from an Englishman." I asked without trying to offend. "Why is it so different." He quickly says "It's richer, more authentic. His message comes from aboard. Something different, Something we can learn from."
I said nothing - appreciating and respecting his complete honesty. We sat there for the next hour in each other's comfort and silence.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The train for the most part was decent. I thought that riding in the cheaper seats, something horrible for a tall man to do, may get me the same interaction that I got on the bus ride from La Paz to Oruro. But there was no such thing. Half of the cart was full of either smelly hippies with nasty beaver tail dread locks or plane-jane tourists who seemed sweet. I couldn’t detect from their horrible Spanish where the smelly hippies were from exactly but their dog pack attitude made me dismiss them all together two hours into the trip. I was stupid enough to suggest a seat exchange with an older Bolivian man so that one of the smelly hippies could sit with his friends. What I got in return was a very boring old round man who lacked a certain sincerity. His leg and wing span on his small oval body made me clutch the edge of window and only arm rest. Near the end of the trip while he slept I had to get a little physical and work my way into my side of the seat. This morning I wake up in Uyuni with a loud lo-fi radio sounds coming from some of the rooms. The maid likes to play the tunes real high. I have also discovered by my 5:30am wake up call that there is a marching band or military base very very very close by. I’m sure thats its because of these alarming wake up calls that I may make my stay in Uyuni shorter then I thought. The amount of Lithium in the salt flats doesn’t seem to be general knowledge. I’m finding it discouraging that I, a foreigner, am educating them on its potential. Maybe I haven’t spoken to the right person. Yesterday on the train the man that sat next to me asked randomly if Japan was close to Canada. I tried to explain the distance and by the time he understood where exactly Japan was, we were ten minutes into our geography lesson. I didn’t mind explaining this to him – it just seemed that after he found out the distance, he couldn’t have cared less what I was saying to him. People who talk for the sake of talking to pass the time is frustrating. Behind me there was a lovely Bolivian family of four who's daughter enjoyed screaming at the top of her lungs. Surprisingly enough it didn’t bother me a bit – I just smiled and thought about how much I want to have babies. Today I am going to try and get some meetings with the municipality of Uyuni to see what the future holds for this small potential mining town. Tomorrow I plan on visiting the salt flats on a one day tour to see its visual potential for a possible documentary on the Lithium reserves. My gut tells me that the story I want to tell is in Potosi and that’s my next stop. My feeling is that Uyuni and its Lithium potential is something that still needs time to ferment and develop. But I will still conduct my research and get to the bottom of where the local and federal government stands on mining 70% of the worlds Lithium reserves.
Note: Waited 30 minutes for the picture to upload - no dice. No pictures till Sunday when I get to Potosi.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
(This is the court that I shoot hoops on every morning in La Paz.)
On my way to Uyuni via Oruro today.
Early morning tourists litter the bus terminal. Oruro, Potosi, Sucre, Cochabamba, Las Yungas: all in different directions. As much as some of them bug me, its always comforting to see references I understand.
La Paz goes through all four seasons on a daily basis.
In the morning a very cold and foggy layer cusps the city with the possibility of it dropping into the minus celsius. Slowly at 10:00am Spring starts to take shape. You definitely feel like something is being born. By 1:00pm Summer brings its beaming rays of heat onto backs and shoulders of the Bolivians hustling through the streets - its time to take off your wool sweater. On the way home from a long day of internet connections and train station line ups the heat starts to subside. The sun starts to grow calmer and Fall begins to show its colours. By 8pm Autumn is in full swing, soothed by a nice cup of coca tea. Midnight strikes.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
This is the kitchen where we eat everyday. It’s hard to maintain eye contact with the people at the table when you’re feeling spacey and have this to look at. The entire view is such a collage of the region. You can see the largest mountain peak Illmani (6,000 meters) on the left side while out of frame on the far right side downtown La Paz lays in its proper bouquet of broken buildings. The US consulate is just blocks away at the bottom left of the frame. In the morning you can see groups of Cholitas making their way down to catch the mini buses to work.
Because of a recent landslide that crushed over 5,000 homes and this section of La Paz's water supply - there is no running water. Crouched down with two knees inches away from your face, a bar of soap and a cup/bowl of ice cold water to rinse yourself off is the method of choice. And because of that - I haven’t showered since I arrived. I’m in the same cloths that I wore while boarding the plane in Chile. I haven’t really taken any of it off because I sleep in most of them. The nights tend to be quite cold. My bed smells like wet dog but I’m grateful that I have a home to stay in with a familiar face – my uncle. He and his family just left for a recital at Sebastian's school to celebrate a Jewish holiday. My little step-cousin Sebastian goes to a Jewish school with almost no Jews in it but still celebrating all the holidays. Latin America is filled with these culturally or religiously specific schools like “The German School”, “The French School” or “The Jewish School.” My aunt told me that there about 120 Jews left in La Paz and most of them don’t practice or go to this school but because its owned by one of the few synagogues left in the city - the tradition continues. This household is all born-again Christian and so before our principal meals we hold hands and say grace. I’ve only really done this once or twice before. Every time I come across this pre-meal ritual I get nervous and very uncomfortable. With each prayer I start to become more accustom to it. I don’t really realize how culturally sensitive I am until I travel. By sensitive I don’t mean that I am always open to others but more of how it affects me, rarely in that mind altering way. There are so many vastly different denominations of Christianity here in Bolivia - I still have a hard time wrapping my head around that. I understand why but it still confuses my heart when people are so adamant about practicing a religion that once conquered them with such brutality. The more I come here the more I start to understand the comfort people receive believing in Jesus Christ but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Mostly because of the way it was delivered historically but also the very real truth of how people choose to survive. When I get in these semi-spirals of confusion I find that watching something familiar brings me back to myself. It may seem so silly but taking in an episode of Law and Order, Criminal Minds or John Stewart is my saving grace – so fucking comforting. It brings me back to a familiar and specific sensation that I understand while I try to figure out the unfamiliar rhythms and customs of a country I fear. That’s what probably brings back here, confronting that fear in depths of such much beauty. When I first traveled to Bolivia with an ex-girlfriend of mine she decided in the middle of our trip that she wanted to go and travel with a guy she seemed to fancy. Leaving me alone to understand all of this, I felt destroyed and immediately got on plane to Buenos Aires and visited my good friend Margarita. In her father’s home in Palermo Viejo, while licking my wounds, I felt stronger. More present in a country where it didn’t take much to match my own cultural references. Just those simple connections that I was able to make in a city that was closer to sea level - saved me.