Any Given Tuesday
He’s telling me about Haight Ashbury. The Dead – that was their place. That be their ‘hood. Golden Gate Park too – they played there, he says – first show? I can’t recall what he said, but I think so.
He’s pointing out sections of San Francisco from his top floor apartment window. He has windows in three directions, on five walls. He pays four times what I pay in rent in Victoria, B.C. Four times. Average price for a one bedroom is $3,200 USD a month? I’m undercutting-it’s obscene. All I’ll say on that.
He heads to the office for a day of meetings. He’s probably had three hours of sleep. No substances, but a rendezvous between old friends that had not yet rendezvous-ed altogether in the over-a-decade-long friendship. Makes things interesting, it does. It lends to lots of laughter, but not much sleep.
I go for a really short run, trying to run up to the viewpoint we checked out last night. Feel a bit asthmatic. Don’t want to get lost. And oddly really feel like walking – and then hitting the Haight-Ashbury strip.
I walk north to Haight and don’t get half a block past Ashbury heading west and I get a friendly marriage proposal. I smiled courteously and keep walking, as you do. Trinkets, incense, gadgets, tie-dyed apparel, cards and more – the shops remind me of the second-hand stores in Vancouver’s Gastown in the early 90s. I pass a pub with a Guinness sign – I am tempted, but have a mission to get J a belated birthday gift and possibly find some lunch.
Down on the left, toward Golden Gate Park, is this tremendous, warehouse-and-like-from-the-movies epic music store: Amoeba Music – vinyl, CDs, box sets, books, music nerds (I say this with the utmost respect – I am a music lover, professional musician and nerd).
I buy a CD and a book for J, only to find out later that his laptop, newer than mine, doesn’t have a CD slot (How old is your laptop? He half-facetiously mocks. Truth be told, late 2013. Not old!), so I eventually download the CD to my laptop and then email him the tracks. The music’s solid, eerbody’s happy.
Oh, the familiar skunky aroma of ganja increases and thickens the further east and closer to Golden Gate Park I go. Proposals light and matrimonial quickly morph into dark and drug-laden.
In the block between Amoeba and the park, I am shadily offered weed twice (Why you got to be all shady? It’s like the weed peddlars in Thamel, Kathmandu circa 2000 –It’s weed, man. It’s okay. Do your thang. Maybe clean yesself up a bit, yeah? You’re lookin’ more like a small-town brown sugar addict at the train station at dawn, but okay. Aight. There is much I don’t know. We cool.).
And people are trippin’ zombie-like (It’s not Victoria, Sandy. You have to be careful. It’s like Grateful Dead and hippies but on meth, J later advises me). And in the park, wiggy people are amassed in small groupings around a shopping cart or blankets, tents. Hungry and thirsty, I lose my will to wander through the park and head north to the next block and back up east, parallel to Haight on a street with a colourful mural trifecta: maroon, white, orange and yellow tiles creating happy cartoon kids and encouraging messages about collaboration, peace, joy, and the like. Another right turn and I am back at Haight, Guinness sign in view. Like a moth to the flame, I head into the pub.
Bar’s empty, it’s maybe 2 p.m. I sit at the close end of the bar and notice Modest Mouse is playing in the background. The young, brown-bearded barkeep greets me, gets me a Guinness and switches the music on his phone to Neil Young then to Talking Heads.
Talking Heads?! I strike up a conversation about the band, saying my favourite song of theirs is This Must Be The Place. That’s the one he wanted but he doesn’t have, he says. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s the only song of theirs I do have. I pass him my phone and our song fills and lifts the room with sonic joy.
This Must Be The Place
This is the music needed right now. I picture J drunk on Burger King last night, just givin’ ‘er and so into the music on the drive back from Tahoe. I don’t know what happened to him but he was good on grease, high on helluva-tune: Transglobal something (Underground), they were called. Pomegranate was the song he looked for, Woodward Avenue was almost it, and S—-x— (total cliffhanger – I need J to read this and remind me what song it was) was the one we liked best. It sure is something to share a deep love of music and the same music with good people.
So as I said, I got J a CD and a book that I will love, ha, but I hope he does. The subheadings slay me, they are so good! It’s a book about New Orleans. He’s been on and off for years with a gal who’s dad is there, I think he said. Louisiana anyway. References of Hurricane Katrina and shooting and countless other things have come up. But thank Amoeba – I didn’t know what to get him for a gift and after the first fail at Haight and Clayton (There was a super cool silver metal moving rotating random thingy I loved and they had the box for it in the store but not the thingy itself)…
A crew of at least a dozen suits walks in. It’s 2:30 p.m., maybe 2:45 p.m. A dark, shoulder-length, curly-haired dude walks in. Reminds me of a friend who owns a pub in Port Angeles. Very nice demeanor. He grabs plastic from the barkeep to cover his bike – it’s raining now. Heavily.
Turn It Up On a Tuesday
The bar is rockin’… So is the soundtrack. Right now it’s Fleetwood Mac.
Barkeep’s name is M. Dark-haired biking dude is a bakery guy called A. The suits are still loitering, laughing, cajoling, having a good time. A dozen randoms, one blue shirt and one older smoker chick sipping her vodka.
By 6 p.m., after bonding over music and barfly ways, M had served himself, A and I three shots of whiskey, a shot of tequila, and me a Guinness (my fave) on the house. Way beyond my metabolism’s capacities, I try to text J, who is off work and lives only a fifteen-minute walk away, and try to nearly no avail or response to get a cab. Communication breakdown with J, but I manage to grab a cab out front (the suits had been calling for them) and back to J’s and to bed for an hour before presenting him with his book and CD.
Perhaps a personal fail on knowing my limits – I don’t get drunk on my own when abroad, but I was in the great U.S. of A, after all, and but a mile from safety (J’s abode). I surfaced and survived unscathed, lesson learned and bearing gifts. Till next time, Haight Ashbury.
What could have happened if Massiel didn’t go to authorities? Where is the justice?
Originally posted on Caracas Chronicles:
Massiel Pacheco is a working class food vendor in Caracas’ Parque del Este. A few weeks ago, upon arriving to her food stall to begin her shift, she found a bag containing what seemed like homemade explosives.
After consulting with her co-workers, she decided to go to the authorities and alert them of what she had found. She ended up behind bars and charged with terrorism. She now languishes in Los Teques’ female prison awaiting trial, the only person charged with terrorism since the protest movement began.
El Nacional’s Laura Castillo wrote an extensive profile of the sad Massiel affair, including interviews with her relatives. The money quote:
Leaving the bag anywhere…
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Originally posted on Caracas Chronicles:
El Gabo, as he was known to everyone, had strong links to Venezuela. Born and raised in the Colombian coastal region that shares so much cultural affinity with our own country, García Márquez actually lived in Caracas for a while, and had many friends in our country. When he received his Nobel prize dressed in a liqui-liqui, the traditional dress of the northern plains of South America, somehow we all felt deeply proud. I was just a kid, and I remember it.
Although always a man of the deep, deep left, García Márquez was not really a chavista. He never connected with Chávez the way he did with, say, Fidel Castro. Still, his piece on Hugo Chávez, written during the early years of his presidency, warned us of the dual nature of…
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IN THE 12KM between Trincomali and Nilaveli, there are two police checkpoints, a World War II British veterans’ cemetery, a garbage dump that looks to be afire, many old bus stops – one bearing “Lovers Day” and “I Love You” graffiti – numerous brick shacks, and one expansive thatch-roofed shanty refugee camp. It is estimated over a million people are displaced after Sri Lanka’s civil war or “freedom struggle”. Tamils worry that many could see The Tigers (The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE), as terrorists and they fear a war on terrorism. Economics are behind the peace agreement: the promise of foreign investment put peace on the table.
Driving down Sri Lanka’s east coast, war seems to be everywhere, touch everything. From Batticaloa, we drive past police training headquarters and more checkpoints, military sites, and automatic weapon-hauling troops running through obstacle courses and ground training. We continue south past bombed out houses and buildings wrought upon by war’s havoc, in between beautiful fields of fertile, arable land and rice paddies. We come across more army posts and armed troops piled into camouflaged trucks and jeeps or riding bicycles with AK47s slung over their shoulders. Every road lined for miles with coiled razor wire and barbed wire fencing. Some areas camouflaged the wire with palms, but camouflage is camouflage, not decoration nor beautification. Imagine everyday going to and from school or work, confined by barbed wire. Afternoon comes and many towns are closed for prayer. Women are garbed in white or black, and children are wearing mauve school uniforms. We are in a land of mosques, beards, beef pastries, and no alcohol. In Oddamavadi, we pass under a giant banner that reads: SADDAM HUSSEIN MUST WIN: SATANIC BUSH MUST PERISH. We are Western non-Muslims in a Muslim area of a non-Western country during a Western War on Terrorism.
We reach the small east coast fishing village of Arugam Bay. Here, corner stores display pictures of Osama Bin Laden and Mecca, and vocalized opinions are that of “Americans bad! Canadians good! Support Sri Lanka!” This often translates into: give me money. There are few tourists, mostly surfers and a few girls. They are not used to Westerners here, and as weeks go by and lingering stares and halted gaits to get and see us females up close up continue, I often feel uneasy.
4:30am I awake to the light switching on then quickly off. Someone is outside the hut. Half asleep, I glance left out the window. A dark face appears in the black night two feet away. “Hey!” I exclaim, and point at him. Not thinking clearly, I clap my hands twice – perhaps in hopes to scare the guy off – nudge my boyfriend next to me and sputter, “Aron! There is a guy at the window!” The guy vanishes, only to reappear in the other window, now gazing at us straight ahead. Aron sees him, gets up, standing 6’3”, he bellows something out – and he was gone.
In the morning, we tell Ranga, the owner, about the incident. Ranga is a kind man, a big man with a big beard and a big belly, always wearing a blue sarong. He is a Tamil in a town of Muslims. He does not interfere. He tells us it is one of two reasons or types of people: first, it could be someone older, a brown sugar addict, “like my neighbor, the guy that always walks around here selling hash, or showing up with surf boards, looking for anything for a quick steal to sell and get cash. He used to be a nice guy, he is my neighbor, but now he is not nice even to his family;” or second, a younger 13-15 year-old kid wanting “to see boobies. Some Muslim kids have never even seen the arms of their mother or sister.” We figure our Peeping Tom was the latter, and though unsettling, at home we do not leave our ground-level windows wide open at night. It is hot here, in this eastern Muslim village, and we are staying in a beach hut for $10 CDN a day, including breakfast, for both of us.
There is a ceasefire, yet the scads of armed forces and razor wire all down the east coast belie it. We hire a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the bank in Pottuvil. We pass more army barracks with officers armed, ready, watching through the wire. We are told traps are set up in the marshes, and tires are positioned as clues. The horizon consists of bombed out, deserted areas, old war zones that a few survivors have returned to and now somehow inhabit.
In the bank in Pottuvil, two uniformed men with guns stand watch. One in a green uniform goes outside for a moment, AK47 slung over his shoulder. The other one, younger, in a dark mauve uniform, follows suit, only he leaves his automatic weapon on the seat just inside the entrance to the bank. The unmanned weapon, not ten feet away from me, remains in the front entrance of the bank unattended, long enough for me to notice and point it out to my boyfriend, and long enough to have gotten up, grabbed it and held the bank up – before the uniform scurries back inside to grab his weapon. Perhaps he is still in training.
I ARRIVED IN COLOMBO at night. Wade told me he would sort out a ride from the airport. He showed up with three men in suits – a driver, a bodyguard, and a tall, lean, bearded man who was the grandson of an ex-Prime Minister. We got into a black suped-up SUV belonging to a casino owner who we joked and earnestly suspected was an arms dealer. “I’ll explain later,” Wade said, “This is not Nepal”.
I met Wade in Nepal at a basic rafting camp. The guy had left Canada with a backpack and $400, ended up working at, owning then selling a bar in Japan, and headed to Nepal with some money and a vision. In Nepal, with a Nepali partner and an Australian partner, they built Adventure Centre Asia (ACA) – a grassroots rafting, trekking and cycling tour company. Deluxe accommodation was a canvas tent, but most slept in nylon tents, usually on a riverbed. Wade had come a couple months earlier to set up ACA in Sri Lanka. Now here we were in Colombo, cruising around with middle-aged Sri Lankan bigwigs, heading to meet Nalin, Wade’s new friend, at his swanky Hilton Apartment. As we entered the elevator, a young pretty blonde Russian girl with a tennis racket joined us and selected the penthouse suite. Evidently, Russian girls are a well-known racquet in Colombo, and many cosmopolitan cities.
Nalin owned several clubs, including the late-hours Boom Club that was especially gracious in its Russian Madams. He just bought four hotels and was going to Moscow next week to buy four helicopters (M-17s) for the military. “I am Tamil,” he told us, and the UAE Embassy house was his, they rented it from him. He was ex-mafia and ex-military; with the ceasefire, he could not legally deal in arms.
This morning, Nalin took Wade to meet the Secretary of Defense, who is the decision-maker for the Minister of Defense, and the bearer of the needed signature to okay the balloon endeavor. ACA has plans to offer hot air balloon rides and he could not have met with the Secretary of Defense without Nalin. “You have to meet A,” Wade told me, “I will introduce you. Also B – I am meeting him tomorrow. Why not come along?” Amrik, the bearded hippy grandson of the ex-Prime Minister, is concerned about the environment and elephants. He introduced Wade to Nalin. These men were connected. They had money and time, and now that the military was less profitable, they were looking for new projects. Wade needed a new partner.
Wade and his Australian business partner, Peter, mandate that ACA have a third and local partner. Wade arrived to discover their third partner was all talk, with no money, no connections, not even a car. Nothing, that is, except enough talk to lure Wade here. Now here, he had to find a third partner, and was suddenly choosing between two large-scale options: Bored and rich ex-mafia, ex-military types seeking new enterprises; and Maharaja – Sri Lanka’s biggest company, a highly political, huge family-run corporation that owned several TV stations, radio stations and soft drinks (Pepsi). “What do you think I should do?” Wade asked me. On principal, he was anti-corporation, but we were talking about heavy-hitting criminals with guns and helicopters. Pair up with arms traders during an alleged armistice or family-operated Pepsi? In Nepal, the third partner was a nice man he knew Nepal, its rivers and rafting. But, like Wade said, “This is not Nepal.”
May 5, 2010
Ruin and rubble as far as the eye can see, and dust everywhere, and on everything. Three-story buildings are now slanted and collapsed in the middle, or now just big masses of levelled cement chunks. Garbage fills the ditches and borders the roads. Every road is torn up and uneven, huge heaps of rock, brick, garbage and glass along the sides. This is Port-au-Prince, eleven weeks after a 7.0 earthquake.
According to the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC), 220,000 people were killed, and 3.5 million, more than one third of Haïti’s population, were affected. According to Jo, a Dutch anesthetic nurse, “There are many dead still unfound. After the earthquake, the people were waiting for help. Help didn’t come, not soon, and people lined up the dead bodies along the roads.” When Jo arrived, three weeks after the earthquake, “There was a bad smell. They have cleaned up a lot.” To me, the ruin is beyond anything that I have seen. The DEC claims “there were 19 million cubic metres of rubble and debris” after the earthquake. I question if God smiles as he brings the walls down, or if God has much to do with it. But God is here, whether I believe in him or not, for people here believe.
In between the Disney clothing factory and the army camp, and sidling a soccer field and a Land Rover dealership, tent camps are scattered. UNICEF tents, USAID tents, blue Japanese aid tents – so many countries providing aid here now, and many United Nations (UN) trucks driving around, usually with five or six armed men in the back, and some with ULCC (UN Convention against Corruption/Lutte Contra la Corruption) signs.
Not only did the earthquake destroy city buildings, but also over 100,000 homes, and damaged 200,000 more (www.dec.ork.uk). Most people moved into canvas and nylon tents and many continue to sleep in tents, despite cement housing sometimes ten feet away. From a distant viewpoint looking down at the capital, you can see thousands of white and blue spots (tents) dotting the hillsides. There is a sense of safety in tents for many. Everyday, people pack everything up and go to their shack or tent at night. I imagine it takes time to regain confidence in once solid and protective structures after witnessing their demolition.
“I think they are more poor here, even more than in Zimbabwe,” Jo infers. Jo has put in time in both countries. Coeur De Haïti (CDH) is a Dutch-sponsored organization and Robert, the administrator, takes us for a drive. We pass the tent camps, army base and Disney factory again. We drive for nearly two hours, and along the road that passes through Cité Soleil. “It used to be too dangerous to go through here,” Robert says “but now not so much.” Whatever thin walls stood between Cité Soleil and the port’s oil drums before had crumbled in the earthquake. You can see the ocean afar, but every cement channel pointing to it is unmoving, crammed and overflowing with plastic empties. There is no recycling here; everything is garbage, and there are heaps strewn everywhere, for kilometres on end. Individual stalls sell everything from mangoes and bananas to jeans and plastic things, collecting dirt and dust from the thousands of trucks and SUVs that pass by. There are piles of dirt, brick, stone, and curled and twisted iron rods. And people everywhere, sitting on garbage and mud, selling fruit and clothes (locals regularly buy big bags of “used clothing from America” for $300 USD) from their mud pile perches and covered in flies.
Robert says that Cité Soleil, with aluminum sheds as shelter, was not really affected by the séisme. Almost all the hefty stonewalls surrounding the bigger, fancier houses up the hill have fallen in the earthquake. “Earthquake-proof walls,” laughs Robert. I sense perhaps an irony or poetic justice at work, for those with more to lose, seemingly indeed, lost more.
We continued on to Port-au-Prince. Many cathedrals have toppled, most government buildings, including the Ministry of Finance and Economy, are gone. “The Prime Minister is a good man,” Robert tells us, “he was not in his office at the time. There are some good people in the government. Other people died.” Robert had been in the post office the morning of the earthquake; now there is no post office. Near the bottom of the mountain, we past now-toppled and exposed illegal houses. “Things are not unfinished here,” remarks Jo, “they are continually being rebuilt, repaired. Things that were on the left of the main gate are now on the right, and so on.” It does seem as though people are carrying on – working, walking, talking, and sitting next to the road on crashed in roofs and busted up floors, with no walls or supports behind them to prevent a backward tumble down the hill. And so many people with cell phones in hand – cell phones are cheap here, around $12 US – that to boot, frequently match their owner’s shoes. We ascend slowly up the hill, and as we do, the air noticeably cools and houses turn into huge, palatial estates. The economic and geopolitical disparity is unavoidably visible.
At Coeur de Haïti, there is a school, a clinic and several housing units. There are 110 children under the age of twelve here and another eighty under thirty. Jo, an anesthetic nurse, often does the work of a doctor here at the clinic. There is a hospital not far away for emergencies, but people wait for hours there; for all non-emergencies, people come see Jo. Jo starts at 7am. We live upstairs from the clinic and wake at 5:30am to the sounds of laughter, chatter, roosters and babies. This is what time people line up for the clinic, as only the first forty people are given a numbered card and will be seen that day; one card is regularly used for 3-5 family members though.
In the clinic, manuals are almost all in English, everything is handwritten, there is no computer, and there is a surplus of supplies. Worms, abscesses and sexually transmitted diseases are most common. “It is dirty here,” Jo states, making infection and reinfection easy, and “People don’t tell everything,” which makes it harder to treat people. Jo relies on two interpreters – one is the pastor, George. I ask if there is not a conflict of interest for clients – having to disclose sexual activity and other private matters with their pastor. “I always ask,” Jo said, “but they all have sex here.” There appears to be an unquestioned belief in the white coat or white blonde’s authority; they call Jo “Blanc,” and at the least, everyone here trusts and loves her. She is compassionate and warm, skilled and knowledgeable, capable and fearless, and the most selfless person I know. “Now [after the earthquake], we are a focus,” George says to me. And truly, I was hard pressed to find books on Haïti at my local library except one book of photos and one guidebook. But “relief work is over now here;” Haïti is no longer in emergency status. Even Jo leaves in a few weeks.