Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day Trip to Curiti

Iglese de San Joaquin was started in 1640 in Curiti, Santander in Colombia.
The church, as seen further up the street in
Curiti; this is the older section of village.
An inexpensive day trip (less than $25 USD) can be made to Curiti in Santander, part of the Andino region of Colombia. A relatively clean village of about 3500 people, Curiti was established in 1640 when the first phase of construction of the church of San Joaquin began.

The best way to get there is to go to the municipal terminal (not the big one) and catch the little bus (bussetta) under the Curiti sign. It will cost about 2100 (COP) each way and take about 20 minutes, depending on traffic. You head out toward Bucaramanga and just after a large gas station on the right, the road dips down and you head off into the hills. Just as you arrive, you cross over a small bridge for a little river which has lately been much larger with all the rain. Because the bussettas are the lifeblood for the campesinos getting to and from the market in San Gil, you can expect to be traveling with a variety of ages and materials, especially if you make the trip on a Sunday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday as those are key market days.

Interior view toward nave of San Joaquin church in Curiti.
Stained glass windows of San Joaquin church in Curiti.
View looking toward entrance and first phase of the
construction of San Joaquin church in Curiti.
Detailed view of entrance of San Joaquin church in Curiti.
Exterior view of entrance to San Joaquin.
Like most of the Colombian villages, the church sits on the eastern portion of the plaza square, and it is often the highest point of the plaza as well.

This church clearly shows its early construction and while there were no plaques to tell of the history, there was a tourist information booth staffed by two local young ladies who had a book they had taken notes in with lots of answers. They were able to tell me that the church construction began in 1640 and was built in three phases. It is well maintained overall and the stained glass windows are beautiful but would benefit from being cleaned.

This street is where you will find the 'full-chicken BBQ'
across from the market buildings.
What is different about Curiti is that while there are a few rammed earth homes, obviously in the older section of the pueblo closest to the plaza, most of the construction in the last half century has been in cement blocks and those houses have windows with glass in them. The elevation is lower than that of Barichara, and I would suspect that a fair number of people live in Curiti but work in San Gil as there are apparent signs of new construction at the edges of the village. Also, the exterior colors used to paint the homes are quite bright and lively, very different from the colonial styles in other places and more like the seaside towns further north. But you will still see the narrow streets and cobblestones paving them as in other small towns in this region.

This is one of the last chickens on the spit; we had already
eaten and they were winding down for the day.
My son and I decided to have lunch in the marketplace with the locals and that consisted of a whole chicken roasted on a spit which is liberally seasoned with a tasty sauce served in a basket already sectioned up over cold boiled white potatoes and steamed yucca. You are given a choice of beverages along with a set of plastic gloves and if you insist, you can get a plastic fork and knife, but the locals don't use them. You pick up the pieces of chicken in your hands and eat the cold potato the same way, but it is delicious! All the ingredients are fresh, the beverage was cool (we opted for gaseosa/sodas) and we had a table in the back where we could watch all the comings and goings of the market crowd. In fact, there were bags of potatoes right behind us and people were picking them up and leaving with them after their lunch.

We walked around the village after lunch, but since many places were closed because of it being Sunday or until after 2 p.m., it was rather quiet. There are two rather large hotels on the plaza, and a huge hostel just at the entrance of the village, so if one wanted to come and stay here, that should not be a problem. It is the sort of place one might choose as a retreat as there does not seem to be a lot of distracting energy and noise here.

One artisan shop showing a sample of the
kind of fique work they can do - a lovely
scenic wall hanging!
Known for their fabrication of all things in fique, from the plant of the same name, you can find colorful mats, bags, hats, rugs, and even a source of fique threads to make your own. Curiti's theme is "Tierra de Tejedores," or "Land of the Weavers."

This little girl was trying on a hat and to her
right and behind her you can see some of
the kinds of materials created here.
I bought a multicolored 2X4 rug to have by my bed for about $4 USD. Curiti is also known for the fresh water and small cascading waterfalls creating wonderful places to swim along the small river, the same one that eventually flows into the main swimming pool in the Parque Gallineral in San Gil.

The bus waits at the main plaza and then makes one loop around town, honking to alert potential passengers, and then stops one last time at the park before heading back to San Gil. It seems to leave and arrive about every half hour. We left just in time as it was beginning to drizzle and by the time we reached San Gil it was a full-on downpour. But it was a peaceful and inexpensive journey for the day.
One last look at the oldest section of the church from
the inside looking out at the park plaza.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Festival Internacional de Cine De Barichara

Coro Polyphonica de Barichara presented at FICBA's first
annual event in Barichara, Colombia.
Perhaps you didn't hear much about this international film festival this year, but that was possibly because it was the first year, and perhaps because it didn't get much 'international' coverage, but the Festival Internacional de Cine de Barichara (FICBA) holds promise for the future. (The only 'official' link I could find - even before the event - was this one on Facebook and they never posted the schedule there. In fact, I am not sure anything was ever posted, even afterwards. Strange.)

At any rate, it was announced on the last night that plans for the second annual FICBA will be supported by local and regional entities and it will take place again in late June or early July of 2012, and some major young, international directors are promising to attend. This year there were 4 categories: Animation, Experimental, Documentaries and Fiction with 9 international 'samples' plus 5 architectural 'samples.' Running for four days and nights, there were lots and lots of young artistic faces in the village, and the awards all went to young Colombian competitors.

I was not in the mood that weekend for sitting in a folding chair for two hours over and over again, so I only went to one presentation and was sadly shocked at the subject matter. "Violeta Y Mil Colores," was filmed in New York, directed by Harold Trompettero, (in Spanish with English subtitles) and classified as a documentary. It is about a young woman who is wanting to commit suicide because she is so disillusioned with her life. I left before the ending. There were other movies that friends of mine attended and raved about and I wish now I had seen something more hopeful.

There is no movie theatre in this region, so everything was well-attended by all ages from here and from San Gil and Bucaramanga. For the younger crowd, after a day of forums, instructional presentations and informational seminars followed by movies in three locations from 6-10 p.m., there was a disco bar that functioned from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. I was pretty glad I was living in the hills away from all this!!

On Sunday evening, just before the award ceremony, our Coro Polyfonico de Barichara (the group has a Facebook page) sang two songs for the SRO crowd. We did a rondel, "Dona Nobis Pacem" by Mozart, and "Padre Nuestra," a Spanish version of the prayer, "Our Father," which were well received. But some days afterwards, several people asked me why we were singing such semi-catholic songs. I said, "It's what we were most practiced in..." I expect that with a full year to practice, we'll have a wider repertoire to offer if we are invited to present again next year.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"The More Things Change...

Ultimo, once a 'loaner cat,' is now a permanent installation,
here he hangs out on the grape vine supports.
... the more they stay the same." Or in the French version which I learned a long time ago from my grandmother, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." (This French proverb is credited to the French novelist Alphonse Karr (1808-90). Or do they? In this last week I have said my goodbyes, on my spirit level, to a dear friend / director / musical talent. I'm also saying TTFN (Ta Ta For Now) to a local special friend / artist / doctor who heads to England for several months and I am about to say "So Long" to my son who has been visiting here.

A view of the northern portion of the Andes, looking to
the south toward Bogota along the canyon of the Rio Suarez.
Each of these individuals has brought something special to my life and while Dr. Levy's departure is rather permanent, we don't know when people head off and out of our lives whether or not our paths will cross again - or where. So while I can accept the changes, I don't really see how what remains will be the same.

The connection with Dr. Isabel has been rich through music, ceramics and painting, cats and proper English teas with conversations in two languages about a wide variety of subjects. Through her I have met some fascinating people, acquired a cat (Pasqual), lost that dear cat, acquired another cat (Sombra) as well as the companion cat. Ultimo, and had wonderful emotional support while dealing with some nearly catastrophic news. It won't be quite the same with her being so far away. I shall miss very much those get-togethers and for now will have to intend her journey is safe, fulfilling, and brings her all that she is seeking through her travels.

My son celebrated his 30th birthday here in Barichara.
It is not always easy for adult children to spend any time with their parents, and the generation gap often creates strife and discord. Having a chance to watch my son in a totally new environmental experience and see his progress in learning to live in a new culture, with a new language, pretty much on his own has been gratifying with minimal intrusion on either of our lives. While visiting here, he was hired by the Colombian equivalent of a retiree's educational program to teach English to adult Baricharians and although the group was small and he wasn't offered very much to do the class, he sat down and worked out a short, but systematically effective, class program for non-readers to learn a few key phrases in English and to develop some conversational skills with tourists. I am proud of his contribution to the local community's objective to prepare for increased tourism of English-speakers and it appears this visit has given him a boost in self-esteem and new directions for his life.

As my own path will keep me in Colombia for awhile longer, I shall adapt to the changes and down the road, perhaps I can better ascertain whether the author of that saying is really correct about things being the same.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Thanks for the Life of Dr. Alphonso Levy

Dr. Alphonso Levy, director of the St. James Episcopal
Church choir, put up with my antics as an alto in the
group for the years I was with them. I shall miss him.
It is hard to believe it when a community member who has made such a huge impression on so many lives passes away. Very early this morning 83 years of music were silenced with the death of Dr. Alphonso Levy in Lake City, Florida. I say 83 years because it must have been music to his mother's ears when he cried out, "I am here!"

This was a man of physically small stature, but he was huge in his impression through his musical talent.  Three years ago on his birthday the Lake City Community College personnel and members of both Lake City and Columbia County leaders celebrated his accomplishments with a Dr. Alphonso Levy Day.

He was 'on stage' for most of his life and as members of his choir at St. James Episcopal Church, we were often regaled during rehearsals with tales of his early peccadillos, machinations, and general playfulness with family, relatives, friends and associates. And he had many, many friends... I was blessed to meet him and join that special group, if only for a couple of years.

Until he was too ill to play publicly anymore, Dr. Levy often could be found performing on the weekends in restaurants around town, or at various events. When I moved to Lake City in 2005, I was given a birthday dinner at Tucker's Restaurant (sadly now closed) where Dr. Levy and Tony Buzzella also known as "Alphonso and Buzz" were at that time offering up their unique weekend repertoire of musical entertainment. On the website link you can hear some of the music they made together. I especially like listening to Alphonso's piano rendition of  "Amazing Grace" with Tony on the sax. What a team! Singing, kibitzing, working the crowd, the two of them were a delight and I was happily entertained to have them serenade me on my special day. I couldn't have known then how both of them would intertwine their musical energies into my life then, but now I have these fine memories.

I went to St. James Episcopal Church that weekend and - surprise! - there he was again, leading the choir in "Dona Nobis Pacem," by Mozart. (The link to this group singing is not our choir, but we were about the same size.) A peaceful man by his nature, Levy managed to keep his head through the struggles of church leaders and stay focused on the music, leading the choir to an esteemed position in the local diocese for our excellence in performance - all the credit goes to Dr. Levy who had a high standard we worked to maintain. (NOTE: I may have had a personal family link to this church as well since I was married to a relative whose mother's family included the name Snowden.)

As a choir we worked hard to produce the musical sound that Dr. Levy wanted from us on any given Sunday. He would sometimes come to rehearsal with a composition he had been working on (He loved writing music as much as playing it!) only to decide on Sunday's pre-church rehearsal that he wanted to make a few changes. But it was never all hard work and we enjoyed much laughter and camaraderie in those years with him. One of his favorites was "Deep River," chosen for Black History Month. I grew to love it as well and invite you to listen to this version by the Indiana Wesleyan University Chorale (2005-2006) in his memory.

Our church group was never as large as the Chorale, but he swelled the ranks of the singers when he did several productions of Handel's "Messiah" and pulled together church choirs from around Lake City to do annual fund raisers for a local food bank. My son remembers singing in our choir when he was living in Lake City and recalled that "Dr. Levy had a great appreciation for talent and how to incorporate or use that person to get the best out of them." As a participant in the annual "Messiah" one year, he also recalled how Dr. Levy would simply stand silently in front of the group waiting for everyone to stop talking and pay attention to the man with the little white stick, waiting to direct them. Tony Buzzella and other musician friends, like Harry Woest, joined us for these "Messiah" performances in the orchestra, so there was always this musical undercurrent between them that they all played off of - still working the crowd!

There are lots and lots of people who have known Dr. Levy far longer than I have, and have closer ties to him. But he will always be someone I remember with great fondness and appreciation for the lessons learned and the special friendship we shared, albeit brief. Well done, faithful servant, may the heavenly choir welcome you.