>At least its not a 9 to 5…

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Two weeks into life in the city of eternal spring and I really am loving this place more every day. I chilled in my lovely home tonight, moon bathing on the patio and just taking time. I watched the first episode of Portlandia on YouTube while cuddling with Tornillo-kitty who is attacking my typing hands right now. I’m listening to the newest LCD Soundsystem album, getting stoked to go see them in concert in Bogota next month. Life seems to take on normalcy no matter how much you shake it up. I’m enjoying settling into a routine without losing the awe of the moment and of this place.

I wanted to give a quick update on what I’m actually doing here on a daily basis. I work a legit 8-4 shift Monday through Friday for Colombia Reports, writing articles about Colombia in English for anyone who cares about the moving and shaking of this turbulent country but doesn’t speak Spanish. The ‘newsroom’ is the living room of my apartment. I’ve only been late to work once.
When I begin the day it’s usually just me and a researcher (a Colombian who scores over local media to flesh out what stories we want to write about). The two other reporters (an American and a British guy) and a couple people working on advertising come in by 9 and then we map out a plan to get the top stories done on time.
We try to have a new ‘front page’ which consists of the four biggest stories of the day by 8 am, 12 pm and 5 pm. My editor, Adriaan, does the morning stories and then he passes the baton after 8. I get coffee and get going on the first article. The researcher gives me a story (i.e. FARC hostages get released or Shakira breaks up with her boyfriend) and a source for it – usually a Colombian newspaper article. I then research the story, looking for additional sources to get more context and check the facts of the original article I’m drawing from.
For the most part there is NO other news in English about the goings on in this country. That means lots of translating. I’ve learned to trust myself over online translators and I’m coming to love playing around with both languages so the essence is the same, even if the words aren’t.
Then I write the story in English, add some links and a photo and pass it on to my editor who will then ‘publish’ it. I get through about six stories a day.
And I’m loving it. I love learning about this country, I love learning Spanish and about words and about the different topics I am researching. I think my lil gemini self likes this whole journalism gig ’cause I am constantly changing my focus, learning about something new. I love the people I work with, the fast pace of a newsroom, arguing about grammar. I love that on my lunch break I can walk outside and I’m in the heart of this crazy living organism that is Medellin.

These small joys make me happy in a new way on a daily basis. I got to trek out to the mountains outside this weekend when I was invited to a birthday party at someone’s country home. I’ve been exploring different neighborhoods, trying on the night life for size, discovering new restaurants, making new friends and smelling flowers the likes of which I’ve never…
It fits. Or I’m being molded. Either way it feels good.
THIS link goes to every story I’ve ever written for Colombia Reports.

>Where am I?

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I just got back from a lovely Sunday evening performance in the park… a dowdy drag queen, beloved by her people, puts on a raunchy spectacle every week in the Plaza Bolivar just a few blocks from my place. The unlikely celebrity performed surrounded by a ring of fans including families, gay couples, and pot-smoking teenagers. The comedian told bawdy jokes and ranted on in political satire; this week her target was the church. All this in the shadow of the Catedral Metropolitana (the building which boasts more bricks than any other in the world), in a country where more than 95% of the population adheres to Christianity. This seemingly contradicting situation is typical as I endeavor to better understand the city I live in.


El centro, the downtown area where I live, is a cluster of sky scrapers in the middle of the expanse of Medellin. During the day it is this thumping thriving organism composed of colorful people in constant motion; selling, yelling, bustling and hustling. At night it largely clears out as most of the paisas working in the city live in the outlying wealthy suburbs, or in the poorer neighborhoods that climb up the mountains that border the city on the east and west. It’s dirty and gritty and rife with poverty and desolates. My tour of the neighborhood included what streets to avoid after dark, where the prostitutes are, where the tranny prostitutes are, where people sell and buy drugs, where thieves lurk etc.

photo credit: Andres Alarcon

With that being a grim reality, there is also a shiny side to that dirty peso. Medellin boasts the only Metro system in Colombia, and probably the cheapest one I’ve ever been on (under 75c for a ride) which shadows the river and connects the city north to south. A few blocks from my apartment is the metro stop of Parque Berrio which hosts several large bronze statues by beloved Colombian artist Fernando Botero. The Museo de Antioquia, situated across from Parque Berrio displays a collection of contemporary Colombian art including many by Medellin-native Botero, which I enjoyed free of charge as a holiday treat from the governement. Another holiday treat put on by the city is the majestic festival of lights which lasts until January. Along the river the festival is a sort of combination between a light show and a carnival. I enjoyed micheladas (iced beer with lime, rock salt and hot chile sauce) and fried potatoes on a stick while watching the trippy laser light show on a impressive fountain, set to the music of Shakira.


Take the metro north and you will find yourself in the upper-class neighborhood of El Poblado, with fancy restaurants clustered around plazas, boutiques lining shaded streets and trendy bars and nightclubs thumping the night away. I went there at night to meet up with a couple Canadian girls I had met and ended up taking on the night with a raucous crew of Colombians and Brazilians. The Colombians proudly led us to a fancy shopping mall, which housed a club inside. Complete with velvet ropes, the bouncer informed us it was full, that you had to have a reservation, until someone called someone inside who came outside and eventually we were ushered into a large, dark, thumping discoteca. Fog machines, lasers, big screen TVs, bottle service and a typically South American mix of American Top 40, reaggaton and salsa. Not exactly my ideal venue but I’m not going to lie, I was stoked when Jay Z’s ”New York” came on and danced ’til 4 in the morning.
Take the metro south and you can get off and use your same metro ticket to ride a gondola (called a metrocable) up staggering heights into the barrios that perch above the city, like the favelas of Rio. Historically the poorest neighborhoods in Medellin, the metrocable was constructed in 2004 to help connect the isolated communities to the city center. The metrocable is part of a larger plan implemented by the government to bring opportunity to the lower classes after the wake of destruction caused by the drug wars of the late ’90. Since drug lord Pablo Escobar’s death in 1993, the crime rate has dropped dramatically and Medellin has sought to reinvent itself through a building boom of parks, housing, schools, libraries and new public transportation.


An impressive reminder of this effort is the Biblioteca Espana, a looming set of three black buildings that stand in stark contrast to the dilapidated stack of homes made of stucco or brick that make up the historically poor and dangerous barrio of Santo Domingo, high above the center of Medellin. Constructed in 2005, the library and community center is more than just a much needed public facility in a densely populated area, it is a point of pride for the impoverished neighborhood and a symbol of change for the entire city.
Access to the city center, the Biblioteca Espana, and influx of tourists that arrive on the metrocable for the breathtaking views of the city and the Aburra valley, have helped transform the barrio into a thriving community. I spent my Sunday afternoon there, watching children playing, women gossiping, old men playing chess, and young couples flirting. I leafed through books at the library, ate arepas (a typical colombian fried cornmeal patty) and sipped coca cola out of a glass bottle while taking in the expanse of the city I now call home.

>Unyielding Desire

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“…encourage women to dress up in their everyday lives…”

Now that’s a motto I can get behind.
I was introduced to the work of Alexandra Grecco through my friend Laura, whose sister knows the 26 year old designer.

She pays tribute to luxurious ladies of the past… channeling silent film stars of the ’20’s, burlesque dancers and pin-up girls of the ’50’s. The shapes and materials flatter the female physique and the attention to detail and sweet accentuations are enough to make any girl feel like a star.

Check out her website HERE and be sure not to miss her video which draws from her ballet roots (and in my opinion pays tribute to Feist) to further show off her exquisite designs.
I especially love the delicately feminine underthings and flattering onesies that epitomize the balance of function and whimsy of her designs.

Alexandra Grecco’s BLOG is as aesthetically pleasing as her sumptuous line, drawing inspiration from her travels and natural beauty.

Check out her line at The Magic Hour, an independent boutique in Portland, OR on 2730 E Burnside Street. (The only place in the US outside of NY that carries her designs!)
The shop has a pretty nifty fashion blog of their own: Magic Hour
Here’s to beauty, sensuality, form and function and the discovery of inspiration to dress up everyday for the sake of loving the look you live in!
BESOS

>”A Ribbon Around a Bomb…"

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So describes Frida Kahlo… the passionate and pained Mexican painter whose works of art bring to light the tragedy and beauty of her life.


I stumbled across the above image online recently. I believe it is an advertisement for a wedding dress but I was immediately inspired by the color, the bold style, the sensuality of rosebuds tucked into her hair.

I have spent the past few weeks revisiting her work and her fascinating life. (I highly reccomment the movie Frida in which Salma Hayek expertly portrays the artist.) She was a woman struck by the gamut of blows and benevolence that life deals out… Frida fought polio at the age of six, was in a bus accident as a teenager that made her incapable of having children, fell in lifelong love with notorious philanderer muralist Diego River, smoked too much, drank too much, told bawdy joked, carried on affairs with men and women… and by all accounts lived life on her own accord.

Her art largely depicts this double edged sword of pleasure and pain as she saw it within herself.

While her art is often self portraits, she has a way of capturing not only the female, but the human experience. The bounty and beauty that exists in this life, yet the solitude and pain we often can feel trapped within.

These images have been delighting my eyes and pulling at my senses and some deep-rooted emotions.

May they continue to inspire and provoke.

“I love you more than my own skin” ~ Frida Kahlo

>First Impressions

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January 4th found me packing up my life once again… heading south to the land I’ve lusted after since we parted… hasta Colombia.


24 hours in transit and I’m lost in a head cold and pressurized cabins and then finally, we touch down in Medellín and the fog in my head clears like the plane descending from the clouds. Here I am, arrived to what will be my new home for the next three months.
Medellín, the city of eternal spring (aptly named for its near perfect weather all year long) greets me with a cool breeze on a warm night while a taxi driver whisks me from the airport to the centro, where I’l be living in the center of the downtown area.
Now, Medellín is Colombia’s second largest city with about 3 million inhabitants in the greater metropolitan area. While it doesn’t have the rich cultural appeal of the capitol city of Bogota or the romantic beauty of Cartegena on the Caribbean coast, there is something special about Medellín which I haven’t quite put my finger on. Probably the friendliness of the paisas (locals of Medellín) or the ideal weather… but I’ll get back to you on what exactly it is that makes this city tick.

Medellín is set the Abbura valley, divided by a river running north to south. Coming from the airport, as the taxi crested a mountain and we descended into the valley, I was awed by the splendor of millions of lights stretching across the valley and creeping up the mountains on either side. During the holidays, from early December to mid January, Medellín is transformed into the city of lights. The entire city, from roadways to store displays to apartment windows and parks, all are alit with Christmas lights. A glorious welcome to light up 2011.

The apartment I am living in is this spacious five bedroom apartment in a building whose penthouse used to be owned by infamous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. A doorman greets you upon entering and the building opens up to a large fountained courtyard populated by statues and large leafy plants where the noise and bustle of the city are immediately quieted. The apartment, located on the third floor, also serves as the headquarters for the online newspaper I will be working for: colombiareports.com
colombiareports.com is Colombia’s leading english news source, with about 200,000 readers monthly and about 7,000 per day. When I was in Colombia last year that figure was 6,000 so it seems it is gaining steady momentum in the three years of its existence. It is the brainchild of Adriaan Alsema, who is my editor and landlord and who immediately made me feel at home.
The apartment boasts five bedrooms, a massive living room which serves as the newsroom, a kitchen, two bathrooms, a balcony and a large courtyard with blooming flowers, creeping vines and cozy places to sit and chill. My bedroom is large enough, with a painted tableau of historic Venice covering one wall. I have been provided with a wardrobe, a massive desk, a bedside table and a thin mattress on the ground. I unpacked my few belongings into the room to claim it as my own.
About five minutes before I arrived, I was preceded by a tiny tail-less kitten by the name of Tornillo, which means ”screw”. He is a manx kitty, which is this special breed from the Isle of Man that have only a short, stubby tail, extra long hind legs which gives him the appearance of a rabbit and superb hunting skills. I immediately felt a kindred spirit with this new kitty and took his presence as a sign of good luck.
The apartment is usually bustling and full of people working or hanging out. Colombians, Dutch and Canadians speaking Spanish and English interchangeably and easily. So far I have not felt lonely due to the constant presence of others and yet can recede to my comfortable bedroom for quiet if I need it.
Work will start up on Monday, although I still haven’t a clear idea of what that will be like, so until then I’m getting grounded and writing exceptionally detailed blog posts. Stay tuned…