Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What is a Tiple?

You can be forgiven for not knowing... I didn't either until a couple of weeks ago. It is a particular kind of guitar which has an unusual configuration of strings, probably evolved from the Spanish guitars brought over by the conquistadors. You can read more about it here: Tiple

The instrument is about two-thirds the size of a standard guitar, unless it is something that has been created by some of the more enthusiastic tiple players, in which case the instrument might have been redesigned to accommodate electric formats. (See the concert photo below.)

The Tiple artist is usually a man, although there is a woman living in Barichara, now elderly, who was nationally recognized for her Tiple performances. One clue as to the kind of guitarist you are meeting is that it is not common, I was told, for a Tiple player to shake hands, especially with a man, because their hands must be exceptionally agile to play the notes as rapidly as they do and if a handshake is too harsh, it could mean a negative affect on a performance. The hands will feel soft, but muscular and the nails on the right hand are longer to provide the picking sound.

Here is a link to an Andes website - Folklore Los Andinos - where you can see pictures of the instruments, more details and hear some music.

Recently at the Casa de Cultura in Barichara a concert was held to hear Javier Enrique Gomez Noriega play a variety of Tiple songs. I readily admit I am no expert on guitar, much less on tiple. But seeing how much skill is required to play ALL 12 of the strings (and sometimes it evens seems as if they are all being played at once) you can appreciate what a real art form this musical effort is. What is also remarkable is that most Tiple players can play a musical line with both hands, first from the right hand and then repeated in a different octave with the right playing off the fret itself, making the strings of the guitar work through an incredibly wide range of notes.

You can see an example of tiple with Javier playing on the video link through YouTube below. I apologize in advance that the video is less than perfect. The lighting was terrible and I didn't have a front row seat. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zc_Zp3Grv_0

When Javier heard that I was writing a blog about tiple, he asked that I include his email address so that he can answer questions (tiplesolista@hotmail.com) and if you would like to talk to him in Spanish, he is willing to receive calls as well. I have his phone number, so you can send me a request and I will pass it on to you.

The man on the right is playing a more traditional Tiple guitar, but
the other two are playing electric guitars re-designed to play the Colombia
Tiple music with the edge of electric sound. The fellow on the left, Chepe Ariza,
 designed his own instrument and the sounds he created were
nothing short of astounding at the Posada de Campanerio, Barichara.
You can imagine from learning about tiple, attending a variety of concerts, going to art shows, meeting various artists, and my own creative activities why I am so entranced with Barichara. I don't know what the energy is here that draws artists into the vortex, but here we all are - laughing, dancing, singing, playing instruments, painting, weaving, making furniture, and chipping away at rocks to name just a few of the things going on...

There is one snippet of the group shown here playing during the 1er Festival de Musica Barichara at this site: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150153538245031&comments but it's not a great presentation, really. But you get a hint of what the music sounds like.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sights and Sounds of Colombia

During the Fiesta in October, the streets were crowded with people, dogs,
horses, motos, cars, trucks and music was coming from everywhere.
It has taken me awhile to track down this popular singer and the song I was hearing everywhere, even back when I first arrived in Colombia. During the 2010 Christmas season, this song was blaring from every radio, whether in a car, casa or attached to some camposino's mochilla (sack).

I actually got sick of hearing it last year, but when it was played again this year, it was like finding an old friend. And this year, because I am working on learning Spanish, I did a translation of the song called "Gracias."

Basically it's about a man who has fallen hopelessly in love and how he values the object of his affection. But one line jumped out at me. He sings, "After God and my mother, I live for you." I am sure that is why even the church supports this artist. Anyhow, putting aside various people's perspective on the Almighty, this lively song also features the typical Colombiana fast-paced rhythm with what sounds like a 'Tiple' guitarist accompanying the singer. I will go into that particular musical form in another post, but have a listen to this very popular song and the 'cantinero,' and see if your feet don't start moving all on their own.
The chorus (roughly translated) means:
thanks for making me correct so many errors
thanks for painting my life with beautiful colors
thanks for sowing in the soul new illusions
thanks for making me write more than thousand songs.

It turns out this young man is indeed quite a prolific songwriter. I welcome a more correct version from any linguist out there!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fuego! means "Fire!"

There has been no significant rain since the 24th of December. Everything is very dry and has the potential to really burn like crazy. Three days ago the wind was blowing at least 25 mph and gusting higher. I went with two art buddies to the cliff that marks the western end of the city of Barichara to draw/paint the mountains.
I really love this picture of my friend making a decision
about which direction to face to do a painting.
My other artist friend is getting settled near the edge of the
cliff. I could not get that close and be comfortable.
We worked on our various art projects until the sun set over the mountains and as we were headed back up to the roadway, I saw a fire and yelled in my best Spanish, "Fuego!"

I am not sure if my friends were unable to hear me, or if they were unable to understand my Spanish, or exactly what the problem was.  I tried yelling louder, but they kept giving me quizzical looks and mouthing what looked like "Que?" (What?) from further down the path.

The fire was only five minutes into the burn when I took
this shot. You can see by the way it is spreading that the
wind is very strong, pushing it along toward the trees.
Finally I just shouted as loud as I could, "FIRE!" and they came rushing up the path. By then the flames were jumping up into the trees and all the plastic bags were exploding with whatever was inside them. Now it was big enough that people along the roadway were stopping to ask questions and to try and offer some help. But there was no water source nearby and no other source to extinguish what was now growing into a huge fire.

Fortunately we had not parked my car near the trash as I have done in the past. Although it was clear it was a set fire, it is hard to say if whoever set it would have done so with a car nearby. Good thing I didn't have to find out! My friends were talking on their cells to various people who might assist, including the police. Other people had called the police as well. I decided to walk back and get the car as it was getting darker every minute and I would have to walk on a narrow dark road without much protection (guard rails, etc.).

There was little point for me to hang around anyhow because if anyone asked me a question, I would have been struggling to answer it in Spanish. (I am making progress, but my new word this week is 'caracol' which means 'snail.')

By the time I returned, the fire looked like this - only about 20 minutes had elapsed. One of Colombia's big issues is that people have cut down too many trees to build and to make fires to cook over. As a result, there are many many places where the land has literally fallen away from lack of tree cover. Having a fire anywhere obviously is terribly counter-productive.
Precious trees are being consumed by the fire at this point.
So there is a real need for education of the folks about managing the trash, not setting fires to burn it, using some of the food waste for compost, etc. And it seems the village could use a volunteer fire fighting force as well. I don't know how I can be an agent for change, but I continue to work on my language skills and perhaps something will come clear in time.

I chose to take the reflection of the colors of the setting sun on the clouds
behind me instead of the direct rays of the sun going down behind the
mountains. That was pretty too, but the colors were better here.
Before I sign off, I can at least show another beautiful Colombian sunset, taken before all the excitement of the fire. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

The dangers of a limited immune system

I recently received word that the relative with MM who had a successful STC had contracted the flu, in spite of having a flu shot. Then on top of that, the dreaded RSV, a virus which is truly dangerous for babies and those with 'baby-like' immune systems, has jumped on the patient as well.

Right now I am living in a country where people have no real awareness of illnesses and contamination of water by their actions. I see everyone sneezing into their hands and then walking off to shake hands with someone else and I am horrified! But on the other hand, (no pun intended) they don't use the antibacterial soaps and other typical products found in the U.S. to 'protect' themselves and there don't appear to be more flu or viral infections here (according to a medical doctor I know quite well) as a result.

I asked her the question "Do you think all the shots and soaps really do any good?" She said, "The Americans, and some peoples of other countries, are terribly preoccupied with staying well and as a result, I think, they do things which leave them more vulnerable to a host of ailments which if they lived more naturally would resolve themselves without any action."
This Colombian chicken is a free-range bird, which means
you have to go and look for her eggs, but the brilliant color
of the yolk and the delicious flavor are a testament to the
benefits of eating free-range eggs.
That may be so for a normal healthy immune system, but clearly this is not a great vacation spot for someone recovering from an STC... and while I have to add that for me, I've been the healthiest ever - perhaps it is eating fresher foods - fruits, vegetables and eggs that are sometimes still warm from the chickens - perhaps I am just blessed with a "muy fuerte" (very strong) immune system. In any event, I hope my readers will send up good thoughts for a quick recovery for my dear relative who is feeling pretty awful right now - and for the caregiver who is pretty tired from lack of sleep, anxiety and just, you know, care-giving.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I had a job - and a dog - for a week!

(Or did I have a dog and a job?) It all started because the original dog nanny, whom I shall call the Brunhilde of Barichara, decided she could not keep the dog at her house after all. This left the owner with few options and I received a call from my doctor friend asking if I could “take care of two small dogs for a week or so.”
Scott, the dog, lives in the little casita (you can see the roof
of it behind him
) on my rental property with his artist owner.
Well, I already have a dog living here. Scott, who belongs to an artist fellow, lives with his owner in the casita here on the property. Scott was here first. And he comes up every morning around 7 a.m. to check on me, get a few pats and then he leaves and shortly thereafter he heads off with his owner to the space where his owner works until lunchtime.
I discussed it with the artist and we agreed that if the small dogs of unknown sex could get along with Scott it might work. I called the doctor back and she said the local vet had my number and would be getting in contact with me. Really no time at all elapsed before the vet was calling me to say she was at the gate with the dog. As my readers know, my Spanish is not great and I thought I heard her say, “dog,” not “dogs,” but she hung up before I could ask her to repeat herself.
Imagine my surprise when something the size of a pony (Who was it on one of the blogs that was recently looking for one?) bounded through the gate and like Marmaduke planted two enormous - and dirty - paws on my chest. Since it appeared that Scott and this new creature, named Arena (means ‘sand’ in Spanish), were getting on, we agreed she should stay.
Arena is listening to some sound coming from outside and probably
getting ready to bark She is loud enough that you might be able to hear her!
And so began my first job in Colombia... as a dog nanny charged out at the going rate for Colombia day workers, $20,000 CP (Colombian Pesos) which is the equivalent of about $9-10 USD. My task was to feed this lovely Wiemeraner twice a day, clean up poops the size a small horse might leave and occasionally walk her.
It gradually came to light that Arena is rather mal-adjusted. She is exceptionally needy and anxious, so this means she must put her huge head in your lap several times a day, no matter what you might be doing, and often this is accompanied by drool which dampens the area like a cup of water being spilled on you. And she follows you everywhere... and I mean, EVERYWHERE. No matter where I went, she was there by my side, like a really annoying boyfriend who only wants to please you by anticipating your every whim or need and being there to provide it.
Unless we were going for a walk... then she was like quicksilver and disappeared over the top of the hill before I even knew she was going. Her other ill adaptation is that if another dog approaches, then she is quick to circle around me and make sure that the other dog does not get near enough for a pat - just like a jealous boyfriend who wants to be sure that no one else gets close to you.
Scott, who is an average Joe kind of dog, is well-adjusted and knows he is a dog. He tried to get Arena to play with him, and was put off by her jealousy and neediness. After several attempts he simply walked off to his own casita leaving her to drool on me.
Arena really does not think she should be a dog on the
floor! I think she believes she is a princess trapped in a
dog's body for an indefinite length of time.
I had to take a day away and ended up leaving her in Scott’s custodial care. I returned to find her lying exhausted on the sofa - NO! No! Bad Dog! - and while she skulked off aware of her misdemeanor, she did not act particularly sorry about what she had done. And judging from Scott’s happy dog smile, he had had a good day playing chase, nip and tuck, and other doggie games with her.
So the week has progressed, and Arena has been more dog-like and less anxious, learning to lie down someplace near me instead of on my feet or trying to drool on my sketch pad. She is still, however, basically jealous and demanding, a creature that is probably too old at 8 to do much changing. And her owner doesn’t see the problems because they only really show up when Arena is farmed out because the owner is away.
She is also smart, but like another Weimeraner I knew named “Jake,” she is inclined to be stubborn and when I won’t let her into the kitchen while I am cooking, she sulks and growls on her mat within view of me. At night she groans and complains in a rather deep voice about how she should really be on the bed and I guess she thinks I should be on the floor on her mat.
It has been an interesting week and pretty well reaffirmed for me that I am not ready to take on any kind of permanent dog partner. Partly because I am not fully settled in with my pensioner visa yet and have to do too much traveling back to the U.S. until that is settled, and partly because I don’t really know what kind of dog companion I would like, except that large dogs are definitely O-U-T. If I have to clean up the effluence of a four-legged creature that leaves huge dumps, I might as well have a horse... or a pony.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

I should look so good when I'm this old...

This casa is large, but doesn't really qualify as huge, with
several sleeping quarters, a main room and a kitchen all
around the Spanish version of an atrium. But it is over
300 years old and beautifully renovated for new use.
If I look so well-preserved when I'm 300, I shall be quite happy indeed! A visit yesterday to this old, old casa that has been renovated by a fellow who is married with children shows the value of these older houses in the Santander region.

Inside you can see how the original owners designed the roof line to provide a catchment for water right into a very large carved-out stone trough at each corner of the roofline.

The patio, shown here, looks across at the northern end of the Andes and gives the viewers a nice breeze in the afternoon.

This is the wine "in production...."
The present owner is also a hobbyist wine-maker and is growing a grape called "Isabella" with great success here in the Barichara area. He has been doing this for about eight years here, I gathered from our tour. We sampled some of the 'juice' which had not yet fermented to the fine wine stage yet and it had a nice fruity flavor with a hint of greater flavor to come.

I'm off today to a small village called Curiti to attend a fair and see some more of this area that I'm working on to call 'home.'

On a Clear Day...

In the 'county' of Santa Barbara, in the Department (state) of Santander,
about 8 kilometers from Barichara, you will find this old farm.
You can see forever... is how the song goes... and after the clouds lift here, it really applies. I'm keeping this short tonight as I want to focus (pardon the pun, BK) on the picture.These mountains are easily at least 50 to 80 miles away, looking just across at them.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year Challenges

Happy New Year to all... if there’s one thing I would personally like for the new year here in Colombia, it would be a fast modem coupled to a fast internet service. With all the people here in the pueblo, and all of them using cell phones day and night, the cell-based modems are struggling to give any kind of service at all.
In fact, I decided against even renting one for these past two weeks because it is such a fruitless effort to try and upload photos or even collect e-mails. But there is an Internet Cafe which now has WiFi, so that may ease some of the communication challenges, provided I want to go there with my laptop.
It’s been busy here since my last posting with lots of musical events, openings of small eateries and hotels, nice dinners with friends, art shows and fireworks... the latter going off almost every night from December 16th until last night. Some were more organized than others. There was one event that tried to raise some funds for the victims of the flooding to the north, but I don't know how that turned out.
A village between Santa Marta and Cartagena was already
flooded when I passed it in November, 2010. Many of
these impoverished people now have lost even the sticks
that propped up their roofs with the intense flooding.
So, I have another New Year’s wish... all roads north of Bucaramanga are presently cut off by the ‘derumbas’ (landslides and rock slides) along with massive flooding of the major rivers during the heavy rains from October to middle of December and many people in the delta region of the Rio Magdelena have lost homes, jobs, agricultural products, livestock and hope. It is hard for the Colombian government to manage this huge task of reconstructing and assisting their people and it doesn’t get the media play of places like Haiti. There is a South American Red Cross that is accepting donations for this situation, if you care to offer up some thing.

My living in the pueblo of Barichara is going well; my Spanish is improving, though slowly. It's still a challenge to go and buy something as simple as paint, paintbrushes and thinner at the hardware store. Still, it's worth it.