Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Journey to Bolivia: part 4: La Paz; general impressions; self-criticism


My first impressions of la Paz were one of squalor and brokenness: good painting territory, therefore, especially given its hilliness.

 I wouldn`t recommend visiting it for any other reason, however: the churches are not as interesting as in Sucre or Potosi, the museums seem reluctant to open, the city is dirty and almost all the buildings in the centre need restoration, or at least significant maintenance work.


I am happy with this picture (below), in which i have (unconsciously) reproduced the elevated perspectives of Hiroshige. It`s fairly unusual for me to work by first delineating the pictorial components, then filling them in, a technique I usually find restrictive as it forces one to work in a series of irreversible stages.

La Paz, street with newspaper kiosk and card, oil on card, 13.5 x 16 cm

Roads, oil on card, 14 x 16 cm

Again (above), there are definite Germanic tendencies, not least in the Gothicising flattened spacial description.

I am very happy with this picture (below). I like the extremely bright colours that Latin Americans use on their very square shop fronts, as if bright colours offer clarity amid the general mayhem.

Shops, oil on card, 13.5 x 12.5 cm   SOLD

Fruit sellers, oil on card, 12 x 14 cm

And I am happy with this one too, in which I felt  able to enjoy the paints without worrying too much about verisimilitude:

Street stall, oil on card, 13.5 x 16 cm


Bolivia: general impressions

The trip was mostly exhausting. I thought it might be when I looked at my itinerary before leaving and I was right. The problem with getting to Bolivia from this part of Brazil is that flights from Brazil (even from Campo Grande to Santa Cruz) are extremely expensive. So, to save money, I flew to Campo Grande, then got a bus to the border city of Corumba then a taxi to the crossing, then past Passport control over to Quijarro then another taxi to the bus station then a bus to Santa Cruz.   So there were logistical factors that lent themselves to my tiredness.

 There was also the fact that most of the places where I stayed were high up in the Andes, and the air is very thin. I think this depleted my energies a bit. I never suffered altitude sickness like some I met, but I got a slight buzzing headache at times.

The third factor, is psychological. Bolivia is not a difficult place like Egypt, where you are mercilessly pestered by salespeople, and I never felt fear of crime as I do in Brazil at times. But it isn`t as friendly as all that. I am not saying that I didn`t meet pleasant people, but in general I had the feeling that Bolivians were circumspect, wanting to maintain a distance from foreigners. I speculate that this is related to centuries of foreign oppression, and that this oppression was especially felt by indigenous populations, and consequently that Bolivians suspicious of whites. My observations were confirmed by several other travelers.

 I also observed that in terms of other social niceties they are not especially charming and dealings with Bolivians were slow and rarely fun, with few of the courtesies, and the sense of delight in interaction, that is commonplace in Brazil, for instance. The Bolivians rarely seemed to take pleasure in serving in restaurants, where they were gloomy faced and inefficient. They did not ask where one came from or much enjoy making small talk. Taxi drivers were brusque and seemed reluctant to state their prices (though, to be fair, taxi drivers are a dependably deplorable example of human behavior almost everywhere). In bus stations they stand in public areas, often with their children  blocking ready access to shops or corridors. Salespeople from the bus companies stand and shout out their destinations in the public areas of the bus stations making a horrible racket, and obstructing everyone else.

Blocking public space is commonplace and Bolivians do something that I haven`t seen anywhere else: they will walk down a narrow pavement, sometimes in a rank of three people and not step aside or allow the person coming in the opposite direction space to pass, so that the on-comer has to step onto the road, or squeeze against a wall. My Japanese friend confirmed this observation and said that he had discussed it with a Bolivian friend, who had responded that this occurred because Bolivians were selfish. Certainly, they do not seem to have an reluctance to arrive at the cinema a good twenty minutes after the programme has begun.

Bolivians rarely speak English, even in hostels, museums hotels and obvious touristic points. At many museums you will be compelled to suffer a guide who will frogmarch you through the galleries and force you to endure their tedious spiel, robotically delivered in battered English.

Kitsch power ballads are popular, as is Andean pipe music. These are played as often as possible, and at great volume on buses, in restaurants, cafes and bars: unfortunately. Brass bands, performing oomph-ah music, and accompanied by cheerleaders or dancers in lampshade dresses roam the streets looking for victims: this is more fun.

I suspect violence is common in Bolivian society. I watched an excellent film called, Voices of El Alto http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3425182/. A tent had been set up in the Andean town and Bolivians of various ages, though most often adolescents, came to describe life experiences. I do not know to what extent the producer edited or encouraged the participants to speak particularly of such miseries, but the proportion who spoke about domestic violence, family exclusion, rape, poverty and misery, was very striking. There are large murals on some walls painted to campaign against domestic violence.

There are also murals featuring Evo Morales, and his magnificent achievements, and I got the feeling that Bolivians are rather patriotic. I wish they had better dental care.

Food is mediocre, featuring as many different carbohydrates as possible on the same plate: potato chips, spaghetti, rice, why not throw them all together! Coffee is sometimes very good, certainly compared to Brazil (though that is truly setting the bar low, for sure). But sometimes you receive Nescafe, often sweetened, or some imitation instead of real coffee.

Other travelers offer little respite. Nerdism has triumphed.  WIFI has effectively killed normal social interaction in a many places, so that in hotel receptions, cafes or bars, foreigners now, now spend their time huddled over their little screens exchanging inanities with distant  "friends" instead of engaging with those around them.

I emphasize that these observations are general, and that I experienced exceptions. It is necessarily a mistake to come to sure generalizations following just a month in a country.


Paintings from Bolivia: reflections, self criticism

I am a little dubious about some of the pictures I painted on this trip. But I am uncertain whether this is because of the pictures themselves, or rather simply how I feel about them. I suppose there are good, and bad as on any trip and the worst are probably not as bad as I imagine and the best not so superior. It takes time to gain the distance necessary to judge ones own work. It`s better to put them aside and see  in a month how I feel.

I attempted through the month to work more freely, to allow drawing errors, should the correction of those errors mar the freshness of brush-marks. I attempted to work as responsively as I could, without starting with too much of a clear final idea: sketching.


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