Monday, May 12, 2008
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
At the very end of our trip to Ethiopia, Andre and I took the bus out to the "ancient walled city" Harar, and spent about a week in the "fourth holiest city of Islam". Don't let the title throw you off though, Harar is one of the funnest places I've ever been to. All through our trip people had been telling us, "you have got to go to Harar, it is unlike any other place ", and they always said it just like that, "unlike any other place". The people of Harar have a reputation as the most outspoken and forward people in Ethiopia. The city, aside from the 82 mosques and 102 shrines, is known for being the world capitol of the chat trade. The finest chat, not to mention coffee and cattle, wait a minute, those are three C words, is said to grow in the area surrounding Harar, and the chat markets are active around the clock. From Harar chat is exported around the world, and the chewing of chat is the very basis of society in the region. Most tourists find chewing chat loathesome, it has a bitter flavor, and you have to sit around and chew it for hours in order to achieve a state called "merquana".Andre and I however found chat pefectly agreeable, and there was nothing we would rather do than hang out all day in the shade with the locals chewing, and talking. While you chew it is customary to drink sweet tea, or coca cola, and chew peanuts as well, oh, and water, you have to drink a bunch of water. The best part about chat is that its great for concentration, and since you find yourself sitting around getting friendly with the locals anyway, you might as well get some drawings done. Most people are more than happy to have their portrait drawn, and often enough you end up drawing the whole group of people youre with. Also, if you've never heard any before, Ethiopian music is great, and you hear it all the time, and since all I really bring with me on my trips is a sketchbook and a dictionary anyway, I found I spent most of my time really enjoying myself.Thanks to Andre I have all these shots of me in action, in Harar, Arba Minch, and Omorate in the south. Getting back to Harar, I'm evidently not the only foreigner who has found the place artistically accomodating, and while there we got to meet Carlos, a Spanish artist originally from Barcelona who has been living in Harar for years. Carlos is married to a Harari woman, and speaks fluently in both Amharic and Harari, likewise his wife speaks fluent Spanish, and they were both very friendly people. I showed Carlos some of the drawings I had been working on, and he took me on a tour of his studio on the second floor of his house overlooking the courtyard. Coincidentally, we had both done a watercolor of the same street from the same vantage point, and it was fun to compare our paintings.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Ok, so Ethiopia IS actually in Africa, but what I mean by the title is that every part of every place is different from every other part of that place, and every other place as well, and so you have to look at every place you are looking at as different, and not the same, so Ethiopia and Africa are not actually the same place. Thats right, and I know we've all heard this before, but were all different, and when it comes to places we know almost nothing about, those differences can be a whole lot bigger than you thought, or at least I thought, because I always thought of myself as fairly thoughtful, but the thought never crossed my mind that I didn’t actually know anything about Africa, let alone Ethiopia. Sure we all know one or two things about one or two of the 50 odd countries in Africa, and at least we can all agree that its Dangerous, we all know that much for certain, and we know there are elephants there as well, which is too bad that its so dangerous, because we all like elephants and it would be nice to be able to go see them right? Wrong, well not about the elephants, its true we do all like elephants, but most of everything else, even if it is right about some places is not right for all places, for example, not all places in Africa are covered in elephants, so actually its wrong for most places, which gives us a positive wrong value, and a negative correct value, the sum of which equals we don't know what the hell were talking about, and more research is necessary. Luckily, I'm just the guy to go get the data, mostly by ignorantly putting myself into dangerous positions, and measuring the outcome in terms of "harm incurred". What I am obliquely referring to here is my uncanny ability to get any and all types of major stomach problems while traveling mostly due to the fact that I spend a lot of my time while traveling actually actively seeking out unusual things to eat, smoke, chew, drink, or otherwise ingest. What I’m driving at here is that if I can manage to survive traveling someplace in spite of being constantly debilitated, dehydrated, and delirious with diarrhea, then someone who, say, orders the spaghetti, as opposed to, say, the raw minced camel fat, probably stands a pretty good chance of making it out alive. The bigger point in all of this is that the most dangerous thing you are likely to encounter in a supposedly dangerous place is probably something like a fruit salad, not "Terrorists" (camel fat, incidentally, is delicious).
Getting back to Ethiopia, it really is a unique place, and definitely worth visiting. It's surprising actually, that Ethiopia isn't better known in the west, unfortunately most of the associations people make with the place are negative ones. For a country of over 80 million people, one of the most culturally diverse, historically powerful empires in Africa, the place is practically ignored. In Camilla Gibbs novel "sweetness in the belly" one of her characters, an Ethiopian refugee living in London, observes that his countries relative obscurity is due to the fact that, "there is nothing left there for the world to exploit". Thanks to almost 30 years of communist totalitarianism this is partly true, we can only hope that the world doesn’t start to exploit their culture, Ethiopia really could be left with nothing.
Happily, as of this time, Ethiopia has all the things which make for a great place to travel. It has unusual food, interesting sights, and friendly people, lots and lots of people. The country is roughly the same size as British Columbia, and it has 80 million people in it. I was marveling at the fact that a country which is a fraction the size of our own could have two and a half times as many people, when some German friends pointed out that Ethiopia is roughly twice the size of their own country, but has more or less the same population. However, Addis Ababa, the capitol, has only about 4 million people in it, the next most populous city, Dire Dawa, has only 400,ooo, the next after that far fewer again, so where do all those people live? In contrast to a place like the United States and Canada, the majority of the population live outside of cities. In fact, when you go anywhere by road, it almost feels like you are driving through a never ending village with varying degrees of density until eventually you find yourself in the next city. It has to be a pretty arid and inhospitable region for it not to have been settled in Ethiopia. Even in the Danakil Depression, in the north east of the country, the part of the Earth most resembling Hell, the Afar nomads scratch out a living in the salt flats amongst the volcanoes and sulphur lakes, supplementing their income by extorting money from tourists and scientists who come there not prepared to find anyone.
I was traveling with my good friend Andre, and toward the end of our stay we went out towards the far east of the country, near Somalia. We went to visit Harar, an ancient walled city, regarded as one of the holy cities of Islam. During the week we were there, we decided to get out of the city one day, and go visit the camel market in nearby Babile. We crammed into a crowded minibus and took the hour long drive down the winding gravel road to get there, stopping here and there to pick up beautiful market bound young Somali women who tormented the guys flirtatiously. We arrived in a dusty town circled by a rocky ridge barely visible through the brown haze. We walked down to the corral, where the nomads would be gathering their livestock to be brokered in the afternoon. We took shelter from the sun at the local café, Somali style, which consisted of some woven plastic mats spread out on the gravel next to some thorny bushes, with a shredded tarp roof suspended between twisted tree branches bleached and cracking in the sun. We happily joined a group of men already sitting chewing chat, an addiction I had picked up myself during the past month and a half, and the proprietor, a colorfully dressed and beautiful Somali woman bought us sugary weak tea. While we were killing time waiting for the camels to show up I took the opportunity to do a watercolor of one of the older guys we were sitting with which turned out to lead to all sorts of good humor, as upon completion, he first declared that he should receive payment for his services as a model, and secondly that he should be given the watercolor of his likeness as a gift for his hospitality. Naturally I refused on both counts, and the matter had to be settled by the group, who were already in fits of laughter not only because they found my likeness of their friend to be particularly amusing (it was a hot day, and chat in the morning shows in the eyes), but also because he had only consented to model on the condition that he would kill me if he was displeased with the outcome, and now he seemed to have mixed feelings on the matter. We had brought an interpreter with us from Harar who spoke Somali and English very well, and after some negotiating it was decided I would buy the man 5 birr of chat for his services, but retain the watercolor, and live. Our model, pressing the issue, insisted that we should send money later from Canada, which sent out guide into uncontrollable laughter when the man could provide only his first name and a nickname for an address. Fearing our guide should loose too much moisture through tears of laughter in such a forbidding environment, I decided It would only be prudent for us to pay for our tea and carry on. Besides it was only 9:30, and the temptation to start the daily chewing session was coming too early. By this time the corral was full of sharp looking cattle and camels. What I couldn’t understand and what still perplexes me now is how these people manage to get their livestock so fat. Never in my life have I seen bulls as massive as these, giant humps of fat over the shoulders, and huge thick haunches, no bone visible whatsoever, with skin so tight that if the animal was hollow it would make a terrific drumming sound, but nowhere, as far as the eye could see, was there ANYTHING that looked like it could be eaten. A total mystery to me.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Finally, now I'll never have to go to the liguor store or the gas station ever again. Of course I'll have to go buy propane and sugar and yeast and all kinds of other stuff, and then theres the 17 hour runs and so on, but maybe we could just automate the whole damn thing, and I could operate it remotely fronm my laptop. Wait a minute this is starting to sound like another project OMG WTF, why cant i just concentrate on painting...
Monday, January 14, 2008
click on the image to see a full size version, I'll have to explain why Rembrandts painting is better this way some other time, I have guests over.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
Welcome to the 2oo8th year in the gregorian calendar, international year of amphibian conservation. While I myself am not an amphibian, the above image (kindly provided by Kevin Lionais), shows how I am hungry. A state which hasn't changed much since last year. Speaking of being hungry last year, one of the last exciting things I did in 2oo7 (of the gregorian calendar), was eat my first real mexican food in Mexico. I also earned the distinction of being one of the first people ever to nearly freeze to death in Mexico (it was windy), which would have been ironic, considering the other perils people usually picture in association with the place. Going with the food theme, brings me to what I really wanted to blog about which is the Watts Towers in LA which I got to visit also near the end of 2oo7, but I was unable to tour because, my mother, whom accompanied me there, had forgotten her credit card the previous night at a restaurant, due, I believe to excessive alcohol consumption, which in turn was probably related to the stress of having to spend all day in a car on the freeway in LA with her son behind the wheel (by the time that my brother and I had parked the car and joined her at the table she had already plowed through two martinis) which indirectly led to us having to spend the following entire day in traffic also, as we had to drive all the way back across LA from Santa Monica to Long Beach in order to retrieve the missing credit card, meaning there was insufficient time left in the days schedule for me to tour the Watts towers. Incidentally the food was excellent, I had the Yellowfin tuna steak, just barely cooked on the outside, I cant remember the name of the place though. so the pictures are: Nogales, Sonora, Mexico / My mom in front of the Watts towers / A palm tree at 60 miles per hour / and a yellowfin tuna at regular speed in that order.