Sunday, 29 July 2012

Dining with death

'Wrong Way' outside the main door of Bogotá's infamous Pozzetto restaurant
Bright building with a dark past
Contrary to popular belief, every now and again we don't mind spending a little more than the norm of our hard earned Colombian pesos here. This is especially so if it seems worth it. That happened to be the case when the opportunity arose to dine in one of Bogotá’s most famous – well infamous really – restaurants. Quality Italian food in a fairly luxurious setting (for us anyway) with a dark history was just too good an offer to turn down. Plus, we couldn’t let our departing Irish friend, from the UK part of the island albeit (no offence intended Colin), feast on his own for ‘his last supper’ in Colombia.

Now using such phrases as we have in that last sentence is moving into quite unsettling territory considering the place we’re referring to – ‘Pozzetto’ restaurant to be precise. Why? Well, firstly we must say we were ignorant of its truly shocking past until we were invited to go there. For those of you in a similar position, here’s a brief account of one of the craziest days, and people, Bogotá has witnessed – and that’s saying something.

To start, a necessary background briefing on the man this all revolves around – Colombian native Campo Elías Delgado. A quick Google search will tell you that he, reputedly, served in Vietnam with the US army, after which he lived as a refugee in New York before returning to Bogotá, finding work there as an English teacher. His experiences in Vietnam were said to have made him antisocial and resentful, while he also blamed his mother for many of the problems he had in his life. His descent into what can only be described as utter madness reached its nadir on December 4th, 1986.

A mugshot of Campo Delgado, the man responsible for 30 deaths in one crazy day in Bogotá
Mass murderer - Campo Elías Delgado
His day of carnage started by stabbing to death one of his teenage students along with her mother in their apartment. From there he returned to the apartment he shared with his mother, arming himself for his next round of slaughter. That started by killing his mother with a single stab to the back of the neck. He then set her body alight, went out to the apartment complex corridor and alerted other residents to the fire. As his neighbours emerged he killed them one-by-one – one man with his knife, another five by gunshot.

Still blood thirsty – and seemingly hungry – Delgado headed to the aforementioned, exclusive Pozzetto restaurant. On arrival, he ordered spaghetti bolognese along with red wine and eight vodka tonics. He tucked into that for about an hour before beginning the final part of the slaying, opening fire on his fellow diners. While one woman managed to quickly call the police, Delgado still had time to slaughter 21 people before they arrived. His method was to coldly corner his victims, shoot them in the forehead, then move on to the next.

When the police eventually landed Delgado held them off for about a minute before finally being shot dead himself.

In total he ended the lives of 30 people that day, the majority of them at Pozzetto.
'Wrong Way' and friend inside the upmarket Pozzetto restaurant
Fine dining - the stylish interior of Pozzetto

As far as our experience at the same restaurant went, well needless to say, and thankfully, it was nothing like the above. Indeed it’s hard to imagine that such a slaughter could have happened in such salubrious surroundings. 

The only shots taken were those from our camera, the majority coming courtesy of our enthusiastic but far from clinical waiter. If only Delgado had had such a hopeless aim.
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*For those in Bogotá interested in checking out Pozzetto, it's located in the Chapinero district, Carrera 7 # 61-24.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Whose land is it anyway?

Independence Day celebrations are novel events for us here at ‘Wrong Way’. The fact that the ‘freedom’ of our own island from colonial rule has never been achieved to the majority of our past liberators’ wishes means ‘independence’ is an awkward subject for us Irish. 

So instead of a national day commemorating a political foundation, we celebrate our submission to Christianity – or what is commonly referred to as St Patrick’s Day. In the past year though we’ve been able to witness at first hand a couple of nations getting all patriotic and merry to mark their ‘birth’ as ‘free’ countries – Chile last September 18th and more recently Colombia on July 20th
Uniformed personnel engaged in military celebrations commemorating Colombia's independence
Independence Day celebrations in Bogotá, Colombia.

Both national days celebrate the defeat of the Spanish colonisers by, erm, the previous Spanish colonisers. The kids grow up so fast, don’t they? The initial Spanish conquest was so successful that the indigenous populations they encountered were quite literally blown away by their new masters. 

These natives – well, those who remained – were reduced to mere silent and powerless spectators as the ‘Old World’ invaders divvied up as their own what is Mother Nature’s earth. OK, there was some interbreeding between old natives and new settlers but for the indigenous that meant surrendering to the Spanish way of life – the opposite seldom occurred. Of course, this isn’t a unique story, the same happened in North America and indeed in many colonised lands.

A Kogi Indian of Northern Colombia trekking through his territory in typical dress
The lesser-spotted Kogi Indians of Colombia.
Hence, we can only imagine that these ‘Independence’ Day celebrations are met with, at the very least, indifference among the indigenous. It must be like having a party in your own house that not only you do not want but the organisers didn’t even invite you or ask for your permission to hold it. And then you’re left to clean up the mess. 

For some of the old natives – particularly the tribal indigenous – the country and its borders that is Colombia or Venezuela or wherever doesn’t even exist. They live in a world – or at least try to – without man-made borders. (For a previous article related to this topic, see 'Phantom Freedom' at: http://bit.ly/SOQUl0.)

This whole indigenous versus Latino question is very topical in Colombia at the moment. In the country’s south-western department of Cauca, where both the indigenous populations and the outlawed Farc are at their strongest, the old natives have taken it upon themselves to defend what they see as theirs. 

They claim that the presence of the Colombian military in the area – to ‘pacify’ the region as far as the Government’s official line goes – only attracts more Farc attacks, which have been numerous in recent times. Their lack of confidence in the state’s security to adequately protect them is deeply rooted in history. 

Meanwhile, for many ‘Spanish Colombians’ living in the big cities, their belief is that the indigenous are in the pocket of the Farc – the removal of the army will only serve to strengthen the rebels, no more, no less. There could, certainly, be some truth to that. But it’s quite arrogantly dismissive of the indigenous’ own, unique concerns. 

An aerial view of Machu Picchu - the famed Inca site in Peru's Cusco region
Life before the Spaniards - the Incas Machu Picchu in Peru.
Of course any group of people that feel they are being mistreated are quick to point to the rights they believe they are entitled to. The indigenous in these parts have a strong case going back hundreds of years in this regard. But as we all should know, with rights come responsibilities. 

Too often different minorities are quick to demand the former, yet fail to face-up to the latter. For one, if you claim you don’t recognise a certain authority or state and thus will not be bound by its rules, it’s a little bit rich to be asking for benefits and assistance from said authority or state. In an Irish context, the IRA and Sinn Féin know all about that. Sometimes you just have to face up to the reality of a situation, no matter how disagreeable it may be for you.

As ever in such conflicts and as alluded to above, the lack of trust in the motives of the other side is at the heart of the problem here. The gun, however, has rarely provided a long-term, satisfactory, solution. These ‘Independence Day’ celebrations could be seen as proof of that.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Taking stock

Every now and again it can be prudent to take stock of your current situation. Reflect on what has happened and look ahead to what might be in store for you. We believe that second part isn’t as beneficial as the first as you never know with any certainty what life will throw at you next. That aside, we’ve been analysing the state of play for ‘Wrong Way’ and associates in the last few weeks.
'Wrong Way' et al backstage at 'Colombia Tiene Talento' after giving it all on-stage!
Who'd have thunk it? 'Wrong Way' on-stage in Colombia

We feel like it’s a good time to do so – the one-year mark has passed since we took the decision to leave a relatively steady yet limited job behind on the island of Ireland and take a semi-gamble to make what we’ve termed our ‘Second Coming’ to South America. So how has it been thus far? What, if anything, have we learned?

As opposed to the ‘First Coming’ to South America, which was solely travelling, this time around the aim was to see if we could source some work in order to ‘settle’ for a longer term. Considering we’re still in the continent almost 13 months later, a few necessary departures apart, that first aim has gone relatively well. Aside from our initial, far from humanitarian, slave-like voluntary media gig in Santiago de Chile, any paid employment we’ve engaged in here in Colombia to date – from the standard hostel work & teaching English to the more unusual TV extras work (see: http://bit.ly/NrbPc3) – has been largely enjoyable and, at times, even profitable.
'Wrong Way' teaching a few Latinos how not to win, Roscommon style
'In Ros Trust' - well at least in the classroom

If we were to pick a negative from the most profitable and reliable of those, the English teaching, it’s that our use of the Spanish language has decreased as our class hours have increased. But a lot of that is down to pure laziness on our part – we’ve plenty of time in-between classes to be using & (hopefully) improving our Spanish. It comes down to desire and need in the end.

Like any place you stay in for a while and as regular readers of this blog will know, you begin to see the warts nestled among, at first glance, the more obvious beauty. We’ve touched on many of these ‘ugly spots’ before, from public transport manners (see: http://bit.ly/N68gKL) and business dealings (see: http://bit.ly/LVpK8p) to relationship attitudes (see: http://bit.ly/NsJyB5) and friendships (see: http://bit.ly/LbcE9V) to name but a few. On that latter one, outside of some notable mostly expat (although thankfully not exclusively) exceptions, the ability to build trustworthy friendships is disappointing. Once bitten, twice shy and all that.

Wrong Way surfing some very 'wild' waves on Australia's Gold Coast
Not much left to play with (above) - time to spice things up like below?
As negative though as all the above and associated links may seem, it’s appropriate at this stage to state we still like it here, for now anyway. Heck if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. We can leave at any stage – well at least we think we can. Yes there are times when we might get frustrated with certain things or even feel a little bored – but we’ve experienced enough to know that these are emotions that can happen anywhere at anytime. Life after all is as exciting or as dull as you want to make it.
'Wrong Way' tandem sky-diving over New Zealand's Lake Taupo
                                                                                                                           

Possibly one of the best things that our second stint in South America – and Colombia specifically – has further reinforced for us is the adage not to take yourself or indeed life too seriously. We’re trying not to sweat the small stuff. OK, now and again, the famed ‘Wrong Way’ temper goes-off – a blow-out here and there is healthy, right? But on the whole we’re concentrating on remaining positive, working on the things we can control while trying not to worry about those we can’t. 

Weighing it all up, we have to be reasonably happy with the current state-of-play. Perhaps, though, we’ve just about rode-out this particular wave. The time might be fast approaching to catch another, wherever it may take us.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Marketing matters

We don’t do generalisations here. No really, we don’t. However if it so happens that we notice certain traits in some groups or nationalities or whatever the case may be we feel obliged to point them out. As far as we are concerned, when person after person from a particular ‘sect’ behave in the same manner, making assumptions about their character becomes more acceptable.

Throughout our professional career we’ve had to deal closely with marketing people – or women to be more specific. You can’t really avoid them when you’re working as a broadcaster as they normally have more of a say as to what gets aired then you do. We did however think, naively, that we wouldn’t encounter them working in the world of English teaching here in Colombia. Alas, no such luck. They just seem to follow us wherever we go.
Puppies sucking on their mother
An honest, hard-working female dog

So, what is it about them? Why do they get under-our-skin so much? Well firstly it must be said that on face-value they tend to be semi-attractive specimens. Initial encounters are usually positive – heck they come across as likeable, almost. But it’s not long before all that begins to change. Their personalities – or lack thereof – turn any superficial beauty well and truly on its head.  

For one, in both conversational and written English, they use a different language to us mere mortals. In an Irish context, even the healthiest of country accents is transformed into a posh, ‘D 4-ish’ (an ‘area’ of Dublin, but its cringe-worthy characteristics are not geographically confined) drawl. We have it on good authority that similar transformations occur in these ‘mor-keting’ types across the globe. Then you have their love of acronyms. It’s neurotic to say the least. OK, the use of an odd one here and there isn’t that bad but these guys feel a need to put everything into a shortened form. They then expect you to fully understand what they just said or wrote. You’re obviously ‘stupid roight’ if you don’t get it.

Nazi Propaganda supremo Joseph Goebbels in a typical pose
Nazi Marketing - Goebbels in his prime
Now we’re not sure when the word ‘bitch’ was first used to describe some women, but no doubt a marketing-type was the initial recipient of the snide remark. Not that it would faze them. They are masters of the verbal put-downs. Indeed playing them at the same game is a futile exercise – there will only be one winner.

All of the above of course fast tracks them to positions of power in their particular business/organisation in no time at all. If they’re not actually running the show then they’ll be the head honcho’s number one ‘go-to’ girl for all company matters – and perhaps some extra-curricular ‘activities’ to boot. They’ll do anything to have a bit of power ‘firmly within’ their grasp.

You must remember that all this is only evident when you’re working for the same company as them. That is when you’re not a potential client or of any worth as far as they’re concerned. Because if you happen to be of value to them then they’ll make you feel very special - very special indeed. Many have perfected their ‘art’ to such a degree that you may even think they’re human. Do not discount the power of years of marketing indoctrination. Joseph Goebbels in his prime wouldn’t do half as good a job.
Fr. Ted's Mrs. Doyle - 'Will you have a cup of tea father?'
'Tea for everyone'

Of course, as you know, we always like to find positives even from the direst of situations. In this context, difficult as it may be to find any, we’re glad to state we have one. On rare occasions – if you’re lucky – a number of our marketing ‘friends’ do make a fine cup of coffee. It’s a modicum of proof that they do hold on to some of the finer feminine characteristics – knowing what to do in the kitchen. Perhaps they’re a dab-hand at ironing too? OK, let’s not get too greedy.