Living in Central America (in my case Honduras and Guatemala) is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Lesser Side of Tourism

It’s high season in Copán Ruinas and although the number of tourists isn’t nearly as high as a few years back, everybody is happy to be doing some business after months of misery. Yes, we’re all happy to see the streets crowded again, the restaurants full and hotels bursting out of the seams with college kids on excursion. Everybody somehow depends on tourism in this town, directly or indirectly, so we’re glad, but that doesn’t mean that high season doesn’t bring along its nuisances too.

My number 1 irritation this year is people skyping in public places. I think there should be a set on international rules for the use of skyping, with fierce fines and punishment for abuse, because really, it’s getting completely out of hand…

Cell phones were bad enough. In Copán Ruinas, the fad started pretty late, because for the longest time we had no cell phone towers here, so only a happy few carried the thing around, for when they were travelling “abroad” (=outside Copán or the Grand City of San Pedro Sula). When we finally got connected, you couldn’t have a decent meeting with more people than just yourself, since everybody always had the phone glued to their ears. I suspect it was much more a “hey, look at me, I’m cool – I have a cell phone” thing than an actual need to communicate. I even have my suspicions that people specifically requested calls during their meetings, just to show off. But now that everybody has a cell phone (or two), even the poorest campesino, the novelty has worn of and people no longer shout in their phone while in a restaurant, meeting or bank. Or maybe it’s just that phones are barely used for talking these days, but for chatting, gaming, posting, tweeting, taking pictures or baking pizza.

Skyping though, is a whole different story. If you want to spend your whole vacation on your IPad, fine, I have no problem with that, although I don’t always understand what’s there to post on Facebook if you spend so many hours on your tablet instead of actually experimenting the place you’re at. If you really need to share every tortilla, every taxi ride and each and every souvenir you buy directly with the loved ones at home, fine. But please do so by chat, whatsapp, tweets, facetime, messenger or texting, not by skyping in the middle of a reatsaurant!!!!

Yesterday afternoon I went for a quiet beer to the restaurant across the street only to find the place invaded by a whole army of teenagers on a mission. Actually, there were just six of them, but they occupied three tables and one was pacing around with an iPhone, so the restaurant felt like it was completely overtaken. Each and one of them were skyping. Some by themselves, others in pairs, and they were all yelling on top of their voices to be heard. At least most of them had earplugs in, but being able to listen to only half of the conversation doesn’t make things much better.
“No, I said we’re in Honduras… Yes, HONDURAS!”
“Hi dad! Look! I’m in a restaurant!”
“Is aunt Jane back yet?”
“Yes, it’s pretty hot here too!”
“So, after grocery shopping, what did you do? … The hairdresser? Ah, cool…”
Worse is when they pick up their iPhone/tablet/iPad or other device and start walking around showing off the place.
“Yes, I’m in this restaurant. Look, isn’t it cool!”
Yes, you’re in a restaurant, you idiot, a place where people come to eat and relax. Not to be shown off to your uncle’s neighbours’ grandfather! And I don’t appreciate to have your tiny camera lens directed at me, so I give you the finger. So you have actually something to talk about: the place is really cool, but the people are so rude!!!

So please people, can we do the same thing we do with cell phones nowadays? Have you noticed that when in company or in a restaurant and people receive a call, they actually get up and go outside to answer? Can’t we do something similar with skyping? Please??? What about the privacy of your hotel room? The reception area? The bathroom maybe? The top of a mountain???
Anywhere but public places where you’re surrounded by people not interested in your private conversations???


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Wonderwalls

 I think I’m in love…

Sleepless nights and an accelerated heartbeat in anticipation… My senses are sharpened, colours brighter then ever, right in my face, sense of smell heightened… The enormous dimensions of it all, the physical effort, touch, texture under my fingertips…

Yes, I’m deeply, head over heels in love with mural painting…

Not that there’s anything wrong with painting in my studio. Or on my living room floor in front of the TV, where I usually end up. But nothing compares to paint a big, fat mural. The sheer dimensions, the transformation, the outdoors…

I’ll never forget the first mural I ever painted. It was 1998 or so and there was a guy in town called Mitch, just hanging around, painting stuff here and there in exchange for a beer or a meal. Not everybody enjoyed his art. The three gigantic devilish masks he painted on the wall that surrounds the soccer field where covered up in a matter of hours. A better assignment was to paint a scene in a bar owned by friends of mine, Macanudo. And since I was a painter too, he asked me to help.
My stupid answer was to say no, that I couldn’t, that I’d never painted a mural before. Mitch just laughed and said that that was his first thought too when someone asked him to do his first mural, but that you just have to do it. An advice that I took and that stuck with me. (I was glad I had the chance to tell him so, years later, when I ran into him in Antigua Guatemala).
So we painted a bunch of sympathetic drunks in simple black lines on a yellow wall, surrounding a main figure. Seen from behind the bar, it looked like they were actually sitting at it. Alas, this mural didn’t last long either. For some reason, people thought it offensive because it represented Jesus and his 12 disciples. It didn’t, and except for the number of guys, I didn’t see the connection, but it was painted over anyway.

From there on I started painted more on walls. I didn’t even consider it mural painting, just a little thing here and there. Commercial ones too, and I’m not exactly proud to admit that I’ve covered whole facades with the Pollo Rey logo. But it was good exercise and paid the rent.

I began to take mural painting seriously when I was invited in 2004 to participate in Art for All, a mural and sculpture project in Tegucigalpa, organized by Peter Claesson, then the coordinator of the UN Volunteer Program. It was a great experience, just the fact that I stayed in a fancy hotel for two weeks with forty fellow artists from all over the world, but I also learned a lot, from painting my own mural as much as from watching others. 

The Mural I painted for Art for All 2010, Seville, Spain
During my time as director of the Cultural Association Arte Acción Copán Ruinas, I painted many murals with kids. Sometimes we let the children develop the theme and scene, other times I prepared the sketch and let the kids fill it in. The results were always overwhelming and it gives the kids an enormous sense of pride and achievement.

It’s not easy to explain what’s so great about mural painting. I think part is the challenge of having to deal with a surface that can not be bent, moved or manipulated. There’s the outdoor factor, having to endure blazing sun, wind or rain. The physical effort too, because mural painting is hard work! And of course the exchange with the community, the ever present audience, the comments of kids and neighbours. It’s great to transform a drab wall of a school or clinic into something that the community feels proud of, sometimes even gives them identity.

For the last few years, I’ve been trying to make a living out of mural painting. Not easy, since there’s not much money laying around for art in this part of the world, but every once in a while, I manage to find a sponsor who’s willing to pay me to paint a school or community centre. Other times I paint for free, as long as paint and transportation is provided for. My biggest dream right now is to paint the whole wall around the soccer field. All 120 meters of it!

Thing is, I just can’t stop painting murals. It’s an addiction…

So far, it has been 18 days since my last mural. My fingers are itching… Designs are already made… I’m suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms… Gotta paint one soon…