Category Archives: SOUTH AMERICA

The Other Most Beautiful Place On The Planet


News Editor

A lot of people have called Kashmir the most beautiful place in the world, and nowadays it has other names, too. Here’s a sobering tale. Film director/producer Rahul Dholakia arrives in the capital, Srinagar, with a sizeable production team and a lot of equipment, expecting to spend a month and a half on location shooting his newest work, Lamhaa. Three different varieties of government agencies tell him the country is in turmoil, and martial law could snap its jaws at any moment, with the population at the mercy of a strict curfew and a fire-at-will policy. For crowd control, he’s given some government protection, and hires some security, too.

So, he’s got 60 actors and crew at the vegetable market outside the city, and at first, some of the locals are hospitable. The film company goes to work. Word spreads, and about a thousand local men come out to watch. (In these parts, women don’t gawk at public spectacles, especially if foreigners are involved.) The crowd multiplies tenfold, and the director is taken hostage and brought before the local council, which tells the police, who are supposedly protecting the visitors, to get lost. Here’s part of Dholakia’s later account:

We had survived this almost six-hour ordeal, brushing death and mentally screwed. If this was day one, I dread to imagine how the rest of the shoot was going to be. A line in my film best summarizes our first day – “Welcome to Kashmir, the most dangerous place in the world”.

And that’s all we’re gonna say, except that it has something to do with local political squabbles, and also with international problems such as hating India, where Rahul Dholakia was born. He gained extensive production experience in his home country, then moved to the U.S. to earn a Masters degree from the New York Institute of Technology, and now lives in California, India, and wherever he happens to be making a movie. In India’s 2006 National Film Awards, his Parzania won in two categories.

This “most beautiful place” thing is, of course, strictly a matter of taste. But that doesn’t stop anybody from nominating their favorites. There are people who swear Patagonia is the most beautiful, and they make a good case. Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux both liked it so much they wrote books about it separately and together. Francis Ford Coppola recent filmed part of Tetro there. It’s a region, not a country, being part of two countries, Argentina and Chile. It’s the home of the Andean condor, the biggest bird there is, and has two very noteworthy mountains, Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, and a glacier called Upsala.

In the Argentine portion of Patagonia, we learn from, there’s an area called Bajada del Diablo or Devil’s Slope, which at some time in the past was pockmarked by a rain of meteorites that left at least 100 craters. Some of those little hummers are 50 meters deep and 500 meters across. Bajada del Diablo is in fact the second biggest crater field in the world. The biggest is in Siberia, and it kind of makes you wonder why meteor showers would go out of their way to fall on two such bare, unpopulated places.

Ever notice how many of the very most interesting travel writers are the folks who are primarily in a place for some other reason? Example: Paul Theroux started writing about Africa because he was there with the Peace Corps. Kevin Dolgin travels for business, and writes because he has something to say. One kind of travel narrative is what comes out when you’re somewhere for another reason, and writing en passant, as it were. Another kind results from going somewhere just for the purpose of writing about it. Possibly, writers of science fiction (or speculative fiction, which many of its practitioners prefer to say) should be considered travel writers. If the ability to convey a sense of place is the criterion, maybe it shouldn’t matter if the place is imaginary. What do you think?

photo courtesy of madpai, used under this Creative Commons license

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in Fact and Film

catedralBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Marina Sarruf, special envoy to the Brazil-Arab News Agency, reports on an upcoming work about the Arab presence in Rio de Janeiro. Apparently the history of Arabs in Brazil is a neglected area of study. Sarruf tells us:

Paulo Hilu Pinto, an anthropologist and professor at Fluminense Federal University, has already started collecting files, images and stories for elaboration of the book, to be part of a series of publications by Light Institute, under the Rio de Janeiro energy company.

Rio! Is there any other place-name so evocative, that can pack so much into three letters? There may be a thousand cities in the world named Rio This, That or The Other, but there is only one Rio, and everybody knows it: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There’s Carnival, of course. And filmmakers love the place. If you search for the city name in IMDb’s location database, well over 500 results come back, including movies and TV shows. The new feature film Beneath the Cristo was conceived there, inspired by Romeo Risica’s novel, as director Mario M. Milano told the press. Relaxing at an outdoor café, he was overtaken by a need to write down so many ideas for the film, he used up a whole container of paper napkins and didn’t vacate his seat until the proprietor decreed it was closing time. Milano also discovered a new leading lady, in a crowd of extras, at the beach.

The beaches of Rio are, of course, legendary. So are the hundreds of slums full of armed thugs. There is even a sociological phenomenon known as “slum tourism.” The city wants to host the Olympics in 2016. It’s the home base of gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, as we see from Julie Garisto’s report in the St. Petersburg Times. A pair of performance artists have lived for weeks suspended from the wall of an art gallery. In fact, they’re scheduled to be there until August 20.

It was in Rio that a famous footballer called Fat Ronaldo got into a compromising position of some kind last year with a transvestite or three. He also abandoned his team for a different club, and disapproving fans were going to meet him at the Rio airport on August 9 dressed up as transvestites — which would kind of make them transvestites, too. I mean, wouldn’t it? Anyway, it’s a very complicated story and the airport protest may not have happened anyway.

Although Kevin believes Corsica is the most beautiful place on earth, he also says, “In my book, Rio may well be the most beautiful major city.” Well, it is his book, isn’t it! And part of it is about Rio, and one of those statues he’s so crazy about, and a lot of people with

…their arms stretched out so that their friends, lovers or spouses can squat a few
feet in front of them and take pictures of them superimposed on the 30-meter statue of Jesus behind them. All together, they kind of look like the final scene in The Life of Brian.

The person who wrote that piece on The Life of Brian at the other end of that link, by the way, is Alex von Tunzelmann, who is a historian and the author of Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire. As a specialist, she “watches classics of big screen history and prises fact from fiction.”

By the way: What is the most beautiful major city?

photo courtesy of Catedrales e Iglesias , used under this Creative Commons license

Travel Writers Reveal Useful Phrases

News Editor

International Business Times brings us a very detailed and incredibly useful collection of “Vegetarian Travel Tips for South America.” It’s written by Lauren Quinn, a Californian-American who has dined in nearly 20 other countries, and really, this article should win some kind of award. Here’s a set of guidelines on how to avoid meat, and also fish and dairy, if that’s your wish. Information is shared with a lavish generosity, starting out with how to intelligently make a plan. Quinn says:

Vegetarian ventures into the carnivorous continent of South America are entirely doable…Those who’ve trudged the roads-and ridden the rickety buses-before you may have had to learn the hard way, but you don’t have to… Graciously not compromising your vegetarian values will mean being as explicit as possible. And saying please. With a smile.

Quinn alerts us about which items can’t be found in South America, regardless of whether we consider them dietary staples. She gets down to the nitty-gritty of how to communicate your needs. For instance, simply to request sin carne (no meat) is not enough. Whatever it is that you don’t eat, learn the word for it. (Presumably, this same advice would apply to travelers with food allergies. Don’t guess; find out as precisely as possible how to state your dietary limitations, because it might save your life.)

There is also advice from a vegetarian perspective on how to pick a group tour, and what the difference is between a naturale restaurant and a por quilo restaurant. It’s full of interesting facts, such as the widespread presence in Peru of eateries run by Hare Krishna devotees. It includes a country-by-country breakdown of the best vegetarian possibilities each South American nation has to offer, and a list of specific menu items that were designed for the meat-free diet. And did you know there’s an online resource called Happy Cow that lists restaurants of the vegetarian persuasion all over the world?

For an entirely different set of useful phrases, over at Bryn Mawr Classical Review, John Bulwer alerts us to two travel guides by Philip Matyszak: Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day and Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day. Each contains a little tongue-in-cheek glossary of conversation-starters. We don’t know whether the latter guide includes our favorite Latin phrase, Illegitimi non carborundum, or “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

vegetarian dinnerNow, when it comes to French, for some reason, the phrase that immediately springs to mind is, Voulez-vous couchez avec moi ce soir? (Would you like to go to bed with me tonight?) Because of the LaBelle song, remember? But I wouldn’t expect to find that one in The Third Tower Up From the Road. Indeed, consulting happily-married Kevin Dolgin’s “Useful Phrases” section, we found something very different. Unfortunately, his recommended phrase is not what you’d exactly call all-purpose. But it’s a great one and the story is so personal and unique, we won’t try to convey it here. You’ll just have to read the book. Here’s a hint, though. Our favorite travel writer has an interesting trait. He’ll be romping along, all funny and everything, then he’ll get serious on you, and you wind up with a lump in your throat.

By the way – Do you, dear reader, have a dietary-restricted travel tale to share?

Govinda’s restaurant photo courtesy of Os Rúpias , used under this Creative Commons license; Dinner photo courtesy of avlxyz, used under this Creative Commons license

Starring… La Boca, Buenos Aires

la boca 1

News Editor

J. Hoberman has written about a million articles for The Village Voice, and in a recent one, we are introduced to what Hoberman characterizes as a blatantly operatic genealogical melodrama. Yes, it’s directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who has gone indie, and can do whatever the hell he wants — shoot a movie partly in black and white, have part of the dialogue in Spanish with English subtitles… it’s an art film and it’s called Tetro. Hoberman provides an overview:

Bennie Tetrocini, an 18-year-old waiter on a luxury cruise ship, takes shore leave in Buenos Aires, looking for his long-lost older brother Angelo, whom he has idealized as a successful writer. Now calling himself Tetro—short for the family name but also Italian for “gloomy”—the exile is holed up in the atmospheric port slum La Boca and is not exactly thrilled to see his baby brother.

In The New York Observer, Andrew Sarris notes that the movie was made on location “in the most picturesque and art-drenched neighborhoods in Buenos Aires.” “Made in Argentina,” says veteran reporter Larry Rohter in The New York Times, “mostly in Buenos Aires in the bohemian neighborhood of La Boca, with other scenes shot in Patagonia. Both locales, the one brightly colorful and the other spectacularly imposing, are unfamiliar to most Americans…. ” In The Los Angeles Times, Betsy Sharkey, whose recent inheritance of the film critic desk caused controversy, tells us:

La Boca, the brothers and the tale itself are bathed in the thousand shades of gray that black-and-white filming, and thinking, make possible. Color, when it comes, is surreal, splashes that tint the past and sometimes the experimental theater world of Buenos Aires that “Tetro” inhabits.

La Boca is a kind of picturesque, artsy barrio whose inhabitants are very aware of living in a special place.

la boca 2

Mark Jenkins feels Buenos Aires was chosen by Coppola for being “the Western hemisphere’s most Italian city,” and Xan Brooks says the film luxuriates in the sights and sounds of the city. Lisa Rose says, “The film captures Buenos Aires in such an such an interesting way.” I think what they’re all trying to tell us is, watching Tetro might be close to the next best thing to going there.

And — you guessed it — there is a Kevin Dolgin connection. Our multi-faceted travel writer has edited the online magazine Zoetrope All-Story Extra, which is of course a wing of Coppola’s Zoetrope Virtual Studio. And full of the best kind of fiction, the kind of which Coppola says, “Nothing in the story happened, but everything is true.”

SOURCE: “Papa Coppola’s Tetro Returns, Successfully, to the Family Saga” 06/09/09
building photo courtesy of jvc, used under this Creative Commons license
wall photo courtesy of Erik Cleves Kristensen , used under this Creative Commons license