February 27, 2013

Update on Art History Class

You may remember I'm taking an art history class at the local university. There are a few updates I can give you now that we're more than a third of the way in.
  • The class is half-full of art history nerds. You can especially tell who is an art history nerd and who is a art history amateur (myself included) when we sit in a cafe after going to a museum. The art history nerds (which I write with much affection) will talk the teacher's ear off about some abstract painting; an art conference coming to town; or problems that are affecting the Ecuadorian art field in general. Really heavy stuff. The rest of us will chat about the new airport in town, the weather, our next vacation, or a new movie. As you can imagine, I'm getting pretty good at Ecuadorian small talk.
  • I'm now understanding 80% of what is said, maybe 75% on the day that starts at 9 am. I'm not a morning person when it comes to Spanish - I've found that my Spanish level decreases noticeably when I'm forced to communicate articulately at wee hours of the morning. So trying to identify what kind of art style a painting is before 10 am is not really happening. I sit back and soak it all in until my mind starts up for the day. Next week we have a 4-hour class and I think my head might just implode by the third hour. I've heard talk of pastries making an appearance though.
  • Camilo Egas is one of my new favorites. The other week, our teacher took us to the museum of Quito's most under-appreciated artist, Camilo Egas. Let me tell you - this guy painted it all. He painted impressionism, cubism, abstract expressionism, surrealism, Spanish modernism, and lots of indigenous art. I couldn't take photos, but you can check out his work here
  • I have an exam... tomorrow. I should be studying my butt off like all the good art history nerds, but I'm having a hard time concentrating on it tonight. We've got the most amazing cloud show happening outside our window right now. It's good blog-writing weather.
  • My next presentation is on Latino artists in New York in the 20th century. My teacher says she's got text (in English!) for me so I think she's taken pity on me. I've also noticed there are not that many Ecuadorian art history books out there. And the ones that are out there are difficult to read. My theory is that these art history experts know they're a select few who write about Ecuadorian art history so they feel inventing obscure words (that aren't in any dictionary and confuse even the native Spanish speakers, mind you) is their right. They exercise that right pretty much every sentence. The sentences in these art history texts are something else, too. I've never seen such long sentences in my life. I've actually started counting the longest sentences I've seen so far - the record is 8 lines (2 lines less than this bullet point).
  • I'll finish with some other painters for you to check out. Since our class is about Ecuadorian and Latin American painters, we've studied painters from all over. I've enjoyed Tarsila do Amaral from Brazil; Emilio Pettorutti from Argentina (futurism!); Pedro Figari from Uruguay; and Luis Martinez from Ecuador (I did a presentation on him - beautiful landscapes of Ecuador. I have to write a blog post just about him. After all, I did the research and my class probably only understood half of what I said anyway so other people should benefit from this knowledge). 
This is one of my favorites of Luis Martinez -
it's from a book called
"Luis A. Martinez" by Fernando Jurado Noboa.

February 20, 2013

Two Days in Medellin, Colombia

We just got back from a week in Colombia and our first stop was Medellin. If the city name sounds familiar, it might be because the infamous drug warlord, Pablo Escobar, ruled the city for many years. But he's gone now and the city is much better than it was during his time. To set the stage, we both read "News of a Kidnapping" by the well-known author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The book is based on a true story of several kidnappings of journalists in the 80's and 90's by Escobar's gang. It helped to picture what people went through during that time. Thankfully, the drug cartels are not what they were back then and Colombia is much safer now.

One slope of Medellin

The Medellin airport is actually 45 minutes outside of the city in a little mountain town called Rio Negro. To get into the city, you have to take a mini-bus and go over some hills and down into a valley. Apart from being so far away, it was nice to see a more rural part of the country because Medellin is 100% city. The city was warmer and a little more humid than Quito, but much of it was similar.

We decided to stay in the city center without much thought as to why. If I would do it again, we'd stay out in the El Poblado neighborhood, which was more hip and felt a lot safer. But no matter! Being in the downtown meant we were close to the park that housed more than 20 Fernando Botero sculptures and the Museum of Antioquia (the region Medellin is in). If you only have 24 hours in Medellin, these are two great sights to see.

Although it was raining when we got to the sculptures, we didn't let that deter us. The interesting thing about Botero is how he makes his subjects so large. According to him, he makes them that way because he wanted to express people's voluminousness and sensuality. I guess he meant we're all larger than life. ;-)

The museum itself had 3 stories full of Botero sculptures and paintings, as well as other Medellin and Colombian artists. A lot of the painters were from modern times so it was interesting to see their work.
Can you see the gun? This guitar was created to promote peace.
The next day we spent the day roaming around the El Poblado neighborhood I mentioned before. It had little shops, cafes and restaurants. There was even options for vegetarians - something that's not at all common in Ecuador. The area had a beautiful stream running through it with lots of lush gardens around, too. Our mountain-dried skin soaked up the moisture like sponges.

I'll write more about the later part of our trip in another couple blog posts - Medellin was okay, but Cartagena was the highlight of our trip. Just wait until you see the pictures!

February 6, 2013

Hot, Wet, and Wild

You guessed it, I'm talking about the rain forest.

The journey from Quito is long if you go overland. A few friends and I (Greg) just did the 7-hour bus ride from Quito to Coca. Then, we sped 3 hours down the Napo River to the Sani Lodge, deep in the jungle. The Sani are a tribe of natives that live along the river, but their way of life seems to be changing very rapidly.

cayman in the river
There was a constant flow of barges on the river carrying big trucks of all kinds that will be part of the oil extraction process. One of the main question I've heard about constantly since we moved to Ecuador is whether the country should expand oil drilling to untouched areas of the rain forest. You can find many interesting articles regarding the Yasuni ITT online (see National Geographic article).

Last year, Ecuador wanted other countries to give them money, around 4 billion dollars, in order to leave the oil in the ground and help reduce the contributions to climate change. Well, that time has come and gone. During our trip, we saw many journalists at the lodge who were in the area to interview locals regarding the current situation. There are many concerns surrounding this issue with some big ones including biodiversity loss, contamination of water resources, and operations in areas with tribes that do not welcome outside human contact.

I was lucky to see this amazing area before too many future changes occur. However, there was already a large influence from the "outside world" on the local tribes and their culture had obviously changed. Most of the natives wore blue jeans and some had cell phones. It probably helped that a giant cell phone tower was in the the middle of their village meeting area.

Still, I enjoyed the seeing many new birds, insects, animals, and plants. And just like you might see on a travel show about the jungle, I managed to eat one of those large grubs. The bugs in the jungle were not as bad as I had expected and I probably walked away with less than 100 mosquito and sunfly bites.

Parrots eating clay to help with digestion of their acidic foods