Monday, 23 February 2015

Back to old school

In some ways, this blog and writer follow a conservative path; in some ways that is. There's an affinity with the old, 'straightforward' way of doing things, finding comfort in a relatively uncomplicated life.
Alfredo hard at it in Mauricio's Barber Shop on Calle 31 between Carreras 5 and 6, Bogotá D.C., Colombia.
'Careful now, there aren't too many of those left.' (Photo: Pieter Hupkes.)
In this regard, for example, it's only recently I bit the bullet and bought a mediocre smart phone. This was, and more or less has been, strictly (the odd, failed Tinder use aside) for business reasons. At times I wish I didn't have it. OK, it has led to an increase in efficiency in some aspects, yet it has also made it more difficult to 'switch off'; a matter of upping the technology discipline there I guess.  

This low-key, unflashy lifestyle also expresses itself in the places I like to socialise in, as well as keeping up with new trends and general interest things, especially in relation to cinema/TV and, you might even say fashion.

Now while this conservative or what could be considered, very loosely, secular-ascetic way of living generally conjures up images of dullness and boredom, that's not always the case.

On the contrary, old school can be very much cool. For one, there's the old school music (here I'm referring to 80s and 90s dance/pop classics – legendary stuff). You've the The Godfather movie trilogy (well the first two at least), which you'll still do well to better in a host of ways.

There's also the timeless, traditional three-piece suit – always a winner.

And then you have the going-out-of-fashion barber, somebody I had the pleasure to reacquaint myself with here in Bogotá recently. No room for fancy Dan, hip, metrosexual (if not something else) stylists here. No, we're talking proper old school. An experienced hand, replete with all the time-hallowed tools of the trade – and the odd electric razor thrown in for good measure.

The Godfather: Old school and hard to beat.
'A three on the back & sides.' 'That, I cannot do.' (Photo from Facebook.)
Plus, in line with that experience, barber knows best. So used to the in-and-out in minutes, 'number three on the back and sides, trim on top' job that I habitually get, I erroneously regurgitated this line to my new found barber, Alfredo (the very able and affable assistant to the equally affable Mauricio). 
He proceeded, with grace, to completely ignore me and do what he does best; cut men's hair with an exceptional dedication and attention to detail. I sat in his rusting barber's chair for close to an hour as he seemed to practically examine and trim each hair on my head individually (decreasing in numbers as they are).

It was quite the relaxing, almost magical experience, well removed from the usual rapid-fire approach you get in most hairdressers and 'new-age' stylists. And all done for the very modest price of $5,000 COP, or less than two euro if you like.

I guess I better enjoy it while it lasts; guys like Alfredo are hard to find these days. Well there's that as well as the fact that trips to get my hair cut may no longer be required in the near future; I've hit the other side of thirty now.

It wouldn't be going against some of my conservative characteristics to use a bit of Regaine to stem that tide, would it?

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Keeping your potential enemies close

It’s nice to feel part of a community. Indeed, for the most part we’re social beings, thus to associate with a group is usually good for the body and soul. The majority of us are born into communities, some of which are more tightly knit than others. But regardless of the strength of the bonds we generally come to feel more at home in one place over another.

Calle 31, looking up (eastward) from Carrera 5, Bogotá D.C., Colombia.
Bogotá's Calle 31, looking up from Carrera 5: You might want to consider an alternative route.
When you move outside of that 'comfort zone', there is always the risk you'll become some sort of a lost sheep. This is what faces expats across the globe. It's one of the reasons why similar 'tribes', miles from their original home, tend to find each other: 'Birds of a feather' and all that.

From a personal perspective in Bogotá, the few close Westerners I rate as true friends apart, I've found that sense of community, as written about before, in certain working-class barrios.

Yet as much as I feel 'at home' there, my slowly improving Spanish apart, every now and again something happens to remind me that this isn't small-town, west-of-Ireland country.

So a few weeks back, while enjoying some 'beer garden' Sunday drinks outside one of my favourite tienda bars La Perseverancia, a not-too-shabby looking jeep passed by. Nothing out of the ordinary in that, of course.

Slightly more unusual, however, – or at least it was something I’d been largely shielded from over the last while – was the sight of four men sprinting after it. Now this wasn’t a bunch of lads out for some healthy, innocent Sunday afternoon exercise. No, these were, well, 'men at work'. Their gig, if you haven't guessed by now, was to, um, 'acquire' the vehicle by force.

As infuriating as I find such a modus operandi, a little more personally disconcerting is the fact that the main protagonist of this group of thieves, Felipe, is an acquaintance. Indeed he usually goes out of his way to salute me whenever he sees me.

Unfortunately — for Felipe that is — this robbery attempt not only failed but he also got nabbed by the police who, accidentally and strangely enough, appeared on the scene instantly. What's seldom was wonderful for the jeep owners in this episode.

A little bit of physical abuse from the police and a night in a cell was the about the extent of my ‘friend’s’ booty from this raid. (For the record, the other three guys involved weren't caught.)

Typically, rather than disown one of their own for the attempted criminal act, he received a little bit of sympathy from some quarters; in fact the police seemed to get more abuse for their slightly heavy-handed arrest tactics.

It is, in a way, understandable that sympathy for such types is forthcoming. We're talking about an impoverished neighbourhood left pretty much to its own devices, largely neglected by officialdom. Survival is by any means.

A westward view of Calle 31, taken from Carrera 3, Bogotá D.C., Colombia.
The view from 'above': Looking down the same street as in the above photo.
Yes, as noted, I find the idea of robbing another, especially when force and violence is used as opposed to opportunism, repugnant.

Yet in a city with enormous inequality, that those on the bottom rung resort to these acts isn't surprising.

So while I disagree with what Felipe did, the truth is I've never found myself in such desperation to seriously consider doing it myself. The last thing he needs is a lecture from a northern European on his unacceptable behaviour.

The solace I take is that by socialising in barrios such as La Perse, I am helping their micro economies and perhaps in some small way lessening the need and desire to rob.

Plus, by maintaining acquaintances with the likes of Felipe, it might help me – might that is – from becoming a future victim (again).

Keeping potential enemies close at hand and in favour you might say.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Just DON'T want to dance the night away

That old adage, 'If you can't beat them, join them', is pretty much contrary to what this blog is all about. However, for some things, putting up resistance can be personally damaging, both in the short- and long-term.

Wrong Way takes to the floor to show off his dancing moves ...
To the victor (on the dance floor) go the spoils ...
You see in Colombia, as is the case throughout Latin America (Chile excepted somewhat), a night out with the locals invariably involves dancing; and normally a lot of it. Not only that, but we're talking dancing with style and rhythm, the chief types being salsa and valleneto, along with what might be seen as the less stylish yet more erotic champeta.

So this isn't your skill-less, jumping-around tomfoolery that you typically see in most Western world clubs and pubs. No, there's a pattern to this and not to know it leaves you at a distinct disadvantage.

Now as a recognised 'wooden' northern European there is, thankfully, a little bit of leeway from the ladies on the rare occasions I do, reluctantly as it is, take to the floor. Heck, there are usually even words of praise as I awkwardly shuffle about the place.

Wrong Way Corrigan in action ...
Well, when in Colombia ...
The reality, however, is that they are humouring me. That's very clear when they match up with somebody who actually knows what he's at; their true joy at not having to move around with a log is disenchantingly (from my perspective that is) palpable. (See video, below, for an example of the 'prize' for being able to dance 'properly'.)

Plus, having been based in Bogotá for over three years at this stage, the tolerance towards my lack of dancing nous is steadily decreasing. This is even more so the case considering I realised early on the advantages – in terms of picking up chicas anyway – of knowing at least the basic salsa steps. I should, so it goes, be able to move much better by now.

The reason why I can't or, more accurately, don't isn't puzzling. In fact, it's simple: I do not enjoy it. On the contrary, I pretty much detest it.

Yes, as noted, I've been 'forced' into it over the years, buoyed up with a little Dutch courage. But whenever I have engaged in it, the general feeling is I'd rather be shovelling thick concrete in a hot midday sun (um, in a figurative sense that is).

Before it's said I'm a complete statue, I do move to music. But the way I ‘feel’ it, Wrong Way style you might say. And as many Colombians have observed, I tend to move more in the shoulders than the hips, which certainly doesn’t complement the Latino style.


What’s more, dancing is not the focus of a night out for me; it’s a distraction if anything. I do it because I feel I must rather than having any real desire. I guess that’s why I generally avoid locations where dancing is an integral part of the place. (OK, this is hard to come by in Colombia, but some social settings, such as most of my preferred tienda bars, are a little lighter on the dancing front than others.)

Thus, as damaging as it may be in some ways, the partial resistance looks set to continue. In any case, I’ve always got my mock Irish dancing to impress the locals. ‘Hup ya boy ya!’