Tag Archives: Medellín

Landscape with Beggars

24 Mar

pieter_bruegel_the_elder_-_the_cripples

 

Landscape with Beggars

Juan Manuel Roca

 

The good people wonder

Why a tattered rabble of beggars

Block their prospect of the lilies.

If they don’t receive their ration of manna,

It’s due to their savage custom

Of blighting the landscape and the view.

More ancient than their profession

The beggars emerge from ancient catacombs

Or from remote cathedrals that raise their domes

Between hospices and hospitals.

As they go by they wound and poison the landscape

And the people give way at their passing

As if they were parting a sea

Which they stain with taunts and devastation.

A procession of smells and a procession of dogs

Go past with the wretched hordes. Town mayors

Watch them with watery eyes

While spooning out soup as thick as lava.

The priests seek them out like food

From a kingdom in another world

And describe to them the quarries of hell,

Although they seem to have lived there forever.

They are of another race, another country,

The beggars are dark strangers

Who live on the invisible frontiers of language.

Between them and us a coin makes mock,

A dark commerce in scarcity

Beneath the trinket shop of a relative of God.

On festive days they stare at phantom ships:

They extend their bowls and rough beds to no one

And in the atriums they only pile up scraps of miracles.

There is something of the scarecrow about their trade

Something of falconry about the eyes,

In the way they look at the doves’ bread.

A drunk and downcast man told me at the exit to the bar:

They could send them off to war, to serve as barricades.

The beggars don’t know where to go

When we are ordered to confine the wounded shadows.

The tourist guides, so as not to worry travellers,

Inform them that the beggars are extras

For a film being shot on the streets.

Perhaps they have emerged from a bad dream, from a factory,

From a dockside, from a mine, from a squat.

From the bad dream they bring the surly gaze of those who flee,

From the factory they retain the complexion of a prisoner,

From the docks the vice of loading bales of nothing,

From the mine hard and aggressive eyes,

From the squat an echo carried from the land of Nobody.

Ridicule and Mockery, two faithful dogs, are their companions.

 

This translation by Richard Gwyn first appeared in Cyphers Magazine, Ireland, 2014.

Juan Manuel Roca (b. Medellín, Colombia, 1946) is one of the most widely read and respected figures in contemporary Colombian poetry. A successful journalist and social commentator, he has a long association with the world-famous poetry festival in the city of his birth, set up in defiance of the long years of war and civil strife in his country. He has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Spanish prize, Casa de Ameríca de Poesía Americana 2009, for his collection Biblia de Pobres, from which ‘Paisaje con mendigos’ is taken.

 

 

Paisaje con mendigos

 

Las buenas gentes se preguntan

Por qué los mendigos interponen,

Entre sus ojos y los nardos,

Su amasijo de harapos. Si no reciben

Su cuota de maná es por su feroz costumbre

De llagar el paisaje y la mirada.

Más antiguos que su oficio,

Los mendigos vienen de antiguas catacumbas

O de remotas catedrales que levantan sus cúpulas

Entre hospicios y hospitales.

Al cruzar hieren y enferman el paisaje

Y las gentes se abren a su paso

Como si partieran en dos un mar

Que tiñen de dicterios y quebrantos.

Un séquito de olor y un séquito de perros

Van tras las hordas miserables. Los alcaldes

Los miran con ojos acuosos

Mientras cucharean una sopa densa como lava.

Los sacerdotes los buscan como alimento

De un reino de otro mundo

Y les describen las canteras del infierno,

Aunque parezcan habitarlo desde siempre.

Son de otra raza, de otro país,

Los mendigos son oscuros forasteros

Que viven en las fronteras invisibles del lenguaje.

Entre ellos y nosotros una moneda nos escarnece,

Un oscuro comercio de penurias

Bajo la tienda de abalorios de un pariente de Dios.

Los días festivos escrutan buques fantasmas:

No encuentran a quien extender yacijas o escudillas

Y sólo amontan en los atrios migajas de milagro.

Algo de espantapájaros hay en su oficio,

Algo de cetrería en sus ojos,

En su manera de mirar el pan de las palomas.

Un hombre ebrio y compungido me dijo a la salida del bar:

Podrían mandarlos a la guerra, servir de barricadas.

Los mendigos no saben dónde ir

Cuando ordenan que acuartelemos las sombras malheridas

Los guías de turismo, para no inquietar a los viajeros,

Advierten que son actores de reparto

De una película que ruedan en las calles.

Quizá hayan salido de un mal sueño, de una factoría,

De un muelle, de una mina, de una casa usurpada.

Del mal sueño traen la mirada arisca de quien huye,

De la fábrica conservan un color de presidario,

Del muelle el vicio de cargar fardos de nada,

De la mina unos ojos duros y pugnaces,

De la casa usurpada en eco llegado de tierras de Nadie.

Escarnio y mofa, dos perros fieles, los acompañan.

 

 

 

 

Epic poetry and canine aficionados

21 Jul

Posting a few pictures as a last offering from my trip to Colombia:

The approach over Santo Domingo by cable car

The approach over Santo Domingo by cable car, with the city of Medellín beyond.

Wall grafitti

Wall grafitti, Santo Domingo

Bank note 'Mil Latinos sin oro'

Bank note ‘Mil Latinos sin oro’, Santo Domingo

Spanish Library, Santo Domingo

Spanish Library, Santo Domingo

The lettering on the banknote displayed in the wall graffiti suggests that a thousand poor die for each 1000 peso banknote in the idle republic – well, that is one interpretation – and it was displayed in Santo Domingo, once a zone of Medellín riven by incessant gang warfare. Now it is home to a stylish library, designed by the architect Giancarlo Mazzanti and built in 2006-7 with Spanish money (just in time, I guess: there won’t be any more of that coming for a while), which I visited with Jorge and Moya. The people in the library were very friendly and showed us the new theatre. There are lots of places for kids to play intelligent games and read books, but there weren’t actually many kids around, apart from a couple who tried tapping us for money in a playground on the way in.

Below, a solitary canine fan awaits the start of our reading last Saturday morning in the hot and lazy town of Tarso, three hours’ drive from Medellín.

My fan

And finally, a photo of the amphitheatre where the main poetry readings took place later the same day. This shot is from the closing recital, where the packed auditorium was composed of over 2,000 listeners of all ages. They sat there in the heat (the readings began at 4 pm) while the poets lurched their way through the marihuana fumes emanating from the audience to read their pomes (sic). I don’t know why, but the applause became louder and louder as the six-hour performance wore on. I’m certain this response had little or no bearing on the quality of the poetry, but it filled my heart with warmth and genuine respect for the Colombian people. After all they’ve been through over the past thirty years, withstanding a poetry recital of such epic proportions surely demands astonishing powers of endurance. I salute them.

Medellín International Poetry Festival, closing night

Medellín International Poetry Festival, closing night

Of paradise and serpents

11 Jul

I don’t want to give the impression that a reading tour of the Antioquia region of Colombia is a picnic, as there are workshops to be given, schoolchildren to speak to about the arduous apprenticeship and perils to be overcome when embarking upon the writing life, interviews with zealous journalists to carry out; but yesterday’s visit to the colonial town of Santa Fe de Antioquia was a true pleasure. Apparently it is a popular tourist destination, but I didn’t see any. So what follows is a purely touristic and pictorial post, intended for family and friends, without any literary qualities at all.

I was accompanied on my reading by a Colombian poet, a Mexican poet, our Colombian presenter and my charming reader, Santiago Hoyos. The reading was attended by the good solid folk of Santa Fe, who particularly appreciated a poem of mine that makes mention of the Virgin Mary, and loudly applauded every poem that made mention of God (even when used ironically) by my Colombian collegaue, who goes by the splendid name of Robinson Quintero, pictured below, with arms and legs akimbo (there’s a word you don’t hear very often these days). I was touched that shortly after arrival we were presented with a fruit cocktail drink, made of watermelon, mango and pineapple, with a dollop of strawberry ice cream, the kind of thing that used to be called a knickerbockerglory. Mouthwatering. We were driven in a moto-taxi (a kind of lawnmower, with a bench for passengers) down to the Puente de Occidente, a famous bridge over the River Cauca, constructed by the engineer José María Villa (b. 1850), a local lad made good, who won a scholarship to New Jersey Institute of Technology and assisted in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. José María Villa never quite managed to oversee the entire building of the Puente de Occidente as he was (as the Spanish Wikipedia entry has it) ‘carried away by alcoholism’ and his German assistant saw the project through.

After our reading a delightful pair of chaps played Colombian folk songs for half an hour and then we all went off for dinner. The return trip late at night, in a very bumpy pickup truck was reminiscent of a passage from Kerouac, enlivened as some of the company were by an organically grown herbal product, and when the lights of Medellín appeared below us, after ascending from the valley of Santa Fe and then descending in hair-raising fashion from a pass in the high cordillera, it felt as though we had returned from another epoch, another world.

Over lunch today the Colombian poet Juan Manuel Roca asked me what my impressions had been of Santa Fe. I thought it was wonderful, I replied, a kind of paradise.  Colombia is a land of many paradises, he said, but also of many serpents.

Colombian Knickerbockerglory

Colombian Knickerbockerglory

Knickerbockerglory with owner

Knickerbockerglory with owner

Main square, Santa Fe de Antioquioa

Main square, Santa Fe de Antioquia

Puente de Occidente

Puente de Occidente

Robinson Quintero, poet

Robinson Quintero, poet

santa fe de antioquia

Houses at dusk, Santa Fe

Typical Colombian truck

Typical Colombian truck

two men with guitars

two men with guitars

off to dinner through the mean streets of Santa Fe

off to dinner through the mean streets of Santa Fe

 

 

 

 

 

Medellín, drugs and arse cake

8 Jul

Medellín, once the domain of drugs baron Pablo Escobar, where I am attending the International Poetry Festival, is also the city of Fernando Botero, the painter and sculptor of all things obese. Wandering through the city streets this morning, again accompanied by my Argentine bodyguard – allegedly a black belt in at least three deadly martial arts – I find myself constantly assaulted by images of fatness. To wit, a shop display with three fat models:

ava modelos

Then the work of Botero himself: a fat lady, a fat cat, and an image of myself, by now rather concerned about my own increasing girth, standing beneath a fat man’s penis.

ava boteroava fat cat

ava blanco and statue

And just in case that was not enough fatness for a morning’s stroll, we pass a pasteleria display window, with an arse cake in pride of place:

ava arse cake

It will be obvious by now that Botero was fascinated by certain shapes. He painted many canvases of pears, for example. Whether these came first, and the cult of the curve followed in local design, or whether he was simply inspired by his love of pears, I cannot say. But there are some fabulous avocados on sale from barrows all over the city. I bought a fat one for 60 pence from this gentleman, who is counting his money:

avocadoes

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog the longstanding association of Colombia with mind-altering substances of all varieties. There are street vendors who sell a paste made of coca leaves and marijuana which you are supposed to rub on your skin. Why? I have no idea, but will ask. The number of shops openly selling drugs (albeit of a legal variety) is quite staggering. The biggest chain is called DROGAS ECONOMIA, and their shop fronts display the sign: DROGAS SUPER BARATAS (super cheap drugs).

drogasAnd to summarise, here is a citizen whom I photographed during a long discussion he seemed to be having – at some volume – with his maker:

ava man speaking to god

Who needs poetry with all this going on?