Well, it's been a while, as the Staind song goes. Been in the US, mostly, but back in Guatemala.
We are enjoying these days the cool weather, and the yearly Historic Center Festival, a week-long event full of arts and performances, traditional, contemporary, avant-garde, etc.
It can get somewhat kitschy, sort of the same way that Renaissance Festivals in the US get kitschy (I love me a good Renaissance Festival!), but it is fun and one gets to see and enjoy lots of interesting stuff. Not the place to be if you abhor crowds, however!
I have become a new devotee of rescuing and recycling furniture. In Guatemala, that is even easier and cheaper than in the US. I also like that this avoids the felling of more trees for furniture and allows more of one's creative juices to flow.
The above, for example, is a sofa which has been dated to be between 85 and 100 years old. It is painted an ugly brown color and gutted, as can be seen. So went online, did a short research on what the textiles of the era should be, and went to a local textile store which specializes in upholstery and imports material from around the world.
Luckily, found Italian silk-thread textiles on sale, so bought some and you can see above what it will look like with the sofa. I like that the print is lighter and more "circular" than the geometric original (though the fabric was my husband's choice, who is better at this stuff than moi).
Moreover, the upholsterer, Don William, who has his shop in the Historic Center, is going to scrape off the ugly coat of brown oil paint, and leave the original mahogany base, which is in pretty good condition. For all this he is charging me approximately US$150. The material cost me around US$25 (on sale). No way in the US I would be able to get this done under US$200!
You can see, above, how the cloth will look with mahogany, as it lays over a piece of mahogany. The reds in the cloth play off the reddish hues of the wood. I am looking forward to the finished product in--he says!--2 weeks. Knowing how things work here a month is more likely, but whatever. That is how they roll here, especially independent artisans, so nothing left to do but get used to it. Or rather, endure it as best you can.
Downtown Guatemala--the historic center--seems to have become the preferred place for the trendiest fashion photo shoot backdrops. The interesting thing is that this refers really only to the independent avant garde designers or else, to the pacas, the used clothes-surplus clothes shops of imported clothes that cater to the lower income to lower middle classes. These are called pacas (from the English packs, as in packs or bales of clothes), and are equivalent to going to the Salvation Army and/or flea market shops in the US.
They are, however, a fascinating socio-economic phenomenon and somebody should write a dissertation on them (and that won't be me!)
Photo ad for Turrón Moda, a fashion-art collective, with Historic Center backdrop (look them up on Facebook, they have the coolest stuff ever!)
What I like about the independent designer collectives and the pacas ads, is that they use models who actually look like real run-of-the-mill Latin Americans, rather than the higher end stores, which use the equivalent of Anglo/Caucasian-wannabe people, a physical look alien to most Latin Americans (despite the fact that there are, actually, more blond blue-eyed Latin Americans than people may believe in the US, just as there are more Asians than people in the US imagine there are).
pacas started as a way for the less wealthy segments of society to have access to imported goods, young people of the middle classes have started adopting the trend. I know several young students from the middle and upper middle classes who now make "forays" into the pacas and pride themselves on their finds: Donna Karan, Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren, often with the tags still on, and for pennies on the dollar.
Whereas the first pacas where set in somebody's garage, there are now huge Megapaca stores, the size of warehouses. I will go explore one of these days and tell you about it.
The ad above reads "Lets go shopping" but bastardizing the verb shopping as choping, the way that it is pronounced in Spanish. Talk about US cultural hegemony, huh?
The tradition-bound cultural "powers that be" in Guatemala have an obsession for La Guatemala de Antaño, the Guatemala of Yesteryear. So when they throw a festival, they tend to do a kitschy museum-type thing that is entertaining, of course, but does not really reflect today's realities and ends up being somewhat pathetic, truth be told.
The inauguration was attended by hundreds, and the University of San Carlos (USAC)--the 300+ year old state university--offered an interesting screening of rescued film footage of the Historic Center from beginning of the century onwards. So, in a historic sense, it was highly informative and entertaining.
It was also very clever that the silent film footage was livened up with live music played, consecutively, by the marimba orchestra and a choral group of the university and a by a military band. Higher education and the military duly represented! The musical entertainment was good quality and fun, though.
Interestingly obliterated from these historic perspectives were all traces of indigenous impact, even though the city was pretty much built on forced Mayan labor, and some of the monuments with forced prison labor (which, surprise-surprise, was also mostly non-white) (same as it is in the USA today).
I am not putting down the festival though, as from what I see in the program for this year, other Guatemalan cultures have been represented. There will be Garifuna and Mayan artists, as well as street artists and Hip Hop and so on, along the more traditional folk, opera and classical repertoires. These are, after all, meant to be feel good events for the people.
Models dressed as 19th Century characters (they looked more like quinceañeras than 19th Century people)
However--I guess I can't just let it go!--in the Guatemala of Yesteryear, Mayans and mestizos were the artisans, market-sellers, maids, bakers, and so on. You'd think, according to the representation last night, that they were invisible. Yet, I have seen historic photographs of the old city with Mayan people in them at other places. There was some film footage, in the USAC's presentation, of Mayans in the city, but more in the sense of "curiosities", i.e., Mayans weaving, playing music and dancing as spectacles at a fair. If I were among the Mayan in the audience ... I mean, how does this make people feel? You know?
Which is not to say I didn't enjoy the historic film footage screening. It was actually pretty cool and a great historic resource. I am just saying, cool as it may be, it is not highly representative and it gives a false impression of what the population really looked like in the old city at the time.
The "characters" dressed as 19th century (supposedly) figures, kept moving around the audience and freezing in "tableux vivant" poses. Many in the audience went nuts taking pictures of them. Pretty much like at a Renaissance Fair in the US, but the Ren Fairs actors are livelier and bawdier, and their costumes somewhat more historically accurate. Like I said, I like Ren Fairs. One of my guilty pleasures. What can I say, I can be shallow like that!
USAC choir, women dressed in 1940s' fashion (these fashions were more accurate and the hats were awesome)
Still, I will return to the Festival tonight and tomorrow night. Tonight is the big opening of the visual arts exhibits, and that is always big fun. Big music, big speeches, lots of free food and liquor, really cool art exhibits by contemporary artists, both new and established. I am looking forward to the origami presentation of my friend Gerardo Orizabal, a fellow art student.
Other than that, all seems to point to Otto Pérez Molina's being Guatemala's next president.
Pérez Molina is broadly considered to have been one of the military officials involved in genocide in the 1980s. Although he does not categorically deny having been involved in many Mayan civilians being killed, he does deny that this was genocide per se.
A matter of semantics, of course, but an important one. Genocide, as defined today by international courts and human rights, includes what was going on in the highlands at the time. The term genocide is correct. And if accused and tried for that, it would be equivalent to being guilty of war crimes. You can read some of that by clicking here.
Be it as it may, as president he would have complete immunity from being tried in court. Some friends in international aid tell me they fear that as president, he might limit access or even close down the Historic Police Archives. The archives has been the documentation source for the recent trials which have ended in the historic landmark sentencing of former soldiers for genocide.
As it is, one former Chief of State for a previous military dictatorship, an octogenarian, is under trial right now. Since up to now only foot soldiers--scapegoats, to an extent--have been tried, and never one of the former higher-ups, this is a first.
I have no doubt Perez Molina will end up being president, since for many hard-to-explain reasons, Guatemalans like slogans such as his, mano dura, "hard fist" and rigid, authoritarian figures. Mayans are at the bottom of the social totem pole here, and having been them the fodder for genocide, I guess it just doesn't seem to a majority of Guatemalans as a big reason why not to vote for Pérez Molina.
If you think Tea Partiers are an extreme fringe group and you believe that Fascist ideology is a thing of the past, clearly you haven't talked to a great many middle-class and upper-class Guatemalans! Those views are not considered fringe here. At all.
So, as that silly saying goes, it is what it is, and people have the governments they deserve. In other words, people are the makers of their own versions of hell. It will be interesting to see what happens here, but me, hey, I am already postdocs and/or jobs in other parts of the world! If the going gets bad, I am not staying here. That's for sure!
But for now, I start teaching at the university as of Monday. A 3-month undergrad class (below, view of the university where I teach in Guate). Haven't taught undergrads in quite a while. Didn't like it much before, so will see how that goes this semester. If I don't like it, believe me, you will be reading me kvetch about it!