Now Open in NYC: Oscar Murillo’s “Mercantile Novel” at David Zwirner Gallery

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
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I learned about the new exhibit at David Zwirner Gallery via a somewhat unlikely source: the parenting blog, Mommy Poppins. Oscar Murillo’s installation, “A Mercantile Novel,” “isn’t that interesting for kids,” the blogger admits, but there’s free chocolate-covered marshmallows, made on-site as part of the exhibit. Mariel approved… heartily. So heartily, in fact, that she has gone to bed early with a stomachache after palming a few extra confections in addition to the packaged ones she got to go.

Mariel approves of this exhibit.
Mariel approves of this exhibit.

It’s true; the exhibit is somewhat underwhelming, mainly because the 13 workers who traveled outside Colombia for the first time to make the chocolates on-site as part of the exhibit are kept from interacting with visitors due to health code regulations. Even the process itself, which kind of seems like the big deal, is beyond gallery-goers’ direct line of vision. You can peek through a stack of boxes to get a glimpse, but personally, this seemed like the most interesting part of the project (not to mention a big part of it), and the rest of the show, such as it is, is somewhat underwhelming.

A peek at the production line... from afar.
A peek at the production line… from afar.

That being said, the concept, about which you can read here and here, is pretty interesting and raises some provocative questions about how social media is/can be used in contemporary art (too bad, though, that the staffer on hand didn’t know the gallery’s own instagram handle off the top of her head…. She had to look it up).

The exhibit runs through June 14.

Colombia’s Big Leap: Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement Marks One-Year Anniversary

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
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Buyers and sellers meet at PROEXPORT's Macrorrueda in Miami.
Buyers and sellers meet at PROEXPORT’s Macrorrueda in Miami.

On May 15, Colombia and the US celebrated a milestone that was largely overlooked by the American press: the one-year anniversary of the countries’ Free Trade Agreement. While NAFTA–the free trade agreement among the US, Canada, and Mexico, signed in 1994–practically became a household word, covered by American media incessantly and cited–often inaccurately–as the source of job, immigration, and crime woes, far fewer Americans are aware of the Colombia-US FTA.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez, Vice-President of the Export Division of Colombia's PROEXPORT.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez, Vice-President of the Export Division of Colombia’s PROEXPORT.
For a country that had virtually no presence in the US market, however, Colombian officials arrived at the one year anniversary of the free trade agreement in a celebratory mood. They had plenty of reason to be in good spirits; more than 700 Colombian companies that had never exported to the US before started doing so under the FTA, according to Juan Carlos Gonzalez, Vice-President of the export and foreign investment division of Colombia’s PROEXPORT, the government department charged with import/export, investment, and tourism initiatives.

During an interview I conducted with Gonzalez in Miami last month, he said that among Colombian exporters, 200 products that were never exported prior to the FTA are now being sold in the US market. Textiles, manufactured goods, and food and agricultural products are the three main categories of items being exported from Colombia to the US. The next time you’re in a hotel, check the towels: it’s likely they were made in Colombia.

The uptick in trade between the Colombia and the US may have gone unnoticed by the average American consumer, but it has not gone unnoticed among forecasters whose jobs depend upon predicting market trends. As the number and variety of goods being exported from Colombia to the US are increasing under the FTA, certain segments of American investors have suddenly developed the hots for Colombia. This is especially true for hoteliers, who are hanging out their shingle in Colombia as fast they can. Gonzalez said that every major American hotel chain has either built or committed to build properties in Colombia since the FTA went into effect, and with more than 200 direct flights to Colombia from the US and 40% of tourists originating in the US, both Gonzalez and hoteliers expect the investments to pay off.

Gonzalez and his colleagues at PROEXPORT continue to promote the FTA aggressively. At their recent PROEXPORT Macrorrueda, a highly-focused, speed-dating style trade show in Miami, the organization had matched 280 buyers and 295 sellers for two days of appointments that were expected to yield more than $120 million in closed sales. Luis German Restrepo, also of PROEXPORT, said that the organization’s 29 global offices will host more than 100 investment related events throughout the world in 2013. And while North America is clearly a key market, it’s by no means Colombia’s sole partner. Colombia’s neighbors in the Americas, as well as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and China are all increasingly important trade partners.

As Colombia and the US enter the second year of the FTA, it will be interesting to see if consumers notice Colombian goods in the US market and if their demand for those goods increases. It will also be interesting to watch how analysts spin the FTA and its impacts– if they decide to cover the agreement at all. For now, what seems to be a largely successful trade relationship remains underreported in the US.

Film Review: “The Two Escobars”

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Images: Courtesy of Jeff Zimbalist
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“[T]he film gripped me in this anxious way, almost like cocaine. My palms were sweaty. My heart beat fast. I was excited and depressed throughout.”

That’s how writer Mitch Anderson described what it was like for him to watch “The Two Escobars,” a documentary about the relationship between drugs and soccer in Colombia during the era of Pablo Escobar, cocaine’s kingpin, and Andres Escobar, the “gentleman of the field” and captain of Colombia’s national team.

Francisco and I had the opportunity to see “The Two Escobars” at the 2010 HBO New York International Latino Film Festival, but we’d missed the first 15 minutes; plus, this is the kind of documentary that’s worth viewing twice. Director Jeff Zimbalist was kind enough to send us a screener copy so we could watch it in full.

The protagonists of “The Two Escobars” are two of Colombia’s most famous figures of the late 20th century, both of whom are dead now. Zimbalist resolves the problems associated with making a film about two people who can no no longer be interviewed by combining in-depth interviews with the people who were closest to both of the Escobars with unprecedented archival footage that gives credence to what those interviewees are saying.

And what they’re saying–though they come from opposite backgrounds in most cases, as well as wildly divergent motives–is that the stories of drugs and soccer in Colombia that have been told to date are incomplete. The relationship between drugs and soccer, and the relationships among all of the people considered by the documentary, are far more complex than the dominant narratives have allowed us to believe.

For someone who shares our deep interest in Colombia, or for someone who is as compelled by overlooked stories as we are, or for someone who believes there is never a single narrative of an event, but many, “The Two Escobars” is likely to be exactly as Anderson described it: anxiety-provoking, playing on every emotion and challenging whatever conclusions you might have made about Colombia. And ultimately, the film fills in a gap in the historical record, contextualizing complicated chapters in Colombian history.

Mitch Anderson interviewed “The Two Escobars” director Jeff Zimbalist on Matador Change. Read the fascinating back story of the documentary here.
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“The Two Escobars” is currently being screened in the US and around the world. For a full list of upcoming showings, visit the film’s website. The DVD
DVD will be available for purchase in November 2010.

The Tripbase Best-Kept Travel Secrets Project

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Mexico & Colombia Photos: Francisco Collazo
Cuba Photo: Brayan Collazo
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Back in December, Lola Akinmade invited me to participate in the Tripbase Best-Kept Travel Secrets Project. Time got away from me and I never followed through.

Earlier this week, Katie Erica, the writer who started the project, invited me to participate- again- so this time, I won’t let her down!

The idea behind the project is to crowd-source an epic list of travel writers’ favorite places, preferably places that are “secret.”

Now you can argue whether sharing “secret” places is a good idea, as the excellent writer David Page did in the article “Travelers’ Omerta: Is There No Place We Should Keep Secret?” It’s a valid question and one that leads to important reflections.

But the places where I travel aren’t really secret. They’re pretty much in plain view for everyone to see and visit… they simply choose not to.

So here are my three “best-kept travel secrets” and my defense of why you should visit each of them:

Mexico City, Mexico

If I could have any job other than the one I have, it would be a full-time evangelist for Mexico City.

Seriously, this is THE most exciting city on the planet, and if you know me or read my writing regularly, you know I don’t use words like “most” or “must-see” frequently.

I will spend my life trying to write a more persuasive, poignant description of Mexico City than David Lida, but until then, I’ll simply cite him with gratitude for articulating my exact feelings about “el DF”:

“I had been utterly seduced by the constant sensations of contrast, surprise, even tumult.”

“[I]t has absorbed and swallowed all the centuries of its history, yet most of them are still in evidence in some regurgitated form on the streets.”

“Mexico City is constantly improvising a new invention of itself.”

I could go on and on, but do yourself a favor and read Lida’s book, First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, The Capital of the 21st Century. Start reading his blog. And then, put Mexico City on the top of your travel list.

And once you’re there, make sure you witness the daily flag ceremony in the Zocalo. Go to a lecture at Casa Lamm and then visit their restaurant for an overpriced but totally worth it martini (try carambola). And throw yourself into a visit to Mercado San Juan like it’s the most important thing you’ll do all year. Just don’t forget your camera.

CUBA

First, understand this: Cuba is not closed.

It’s very much open for tourism and business and even if you’re an American you can go there.

I explain how in “How to Travel to Cuba and Why You Should Do It Now.”

I guarantee that you’ll come back from Cuba a changed person, one who has begun to understand what a complex nation it is, one that exists outside of all the polarized rhetoric about it. And if you don’t, well, I’ll take you out for dinner and we can talk about it.

What should you do while you’re there? I’ve written about some favorite Havana attractions for TravelMuse and favorite nightlife spots for Matador.

3. Mompox, Colombia

You’ve got to be determined to get to Mompox. You have to cross a river in a sketchy boat, then take a motorbike or sturdy vehicle to this UNESCO World Heritage site.

But if you do, it will be worth the effort, especially if you plan a visit of a week or longer.

Colombia’s legendary river, the Magdalena, runs right through the town, which is rumored to be the inspiration for novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s imaginary town of Macondo. There’s not a raucous nightlife here, or dozens of museums, but there are lots and lots of stories.

If you visit, book a bed at Matador contributor Richard McColl’s La Casa Amarilla, which Francisco and I tended for a month in 2008.

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What are your favorite travel “secrets”? Share them–or not!–in the comments.
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And be sure to check out the blogs of these writers, who I’m “tagging” to participate in the Tripbase project:

Hal Amen: WayWorded
Donna Arioldi: Prepare for Crosscheck
Megan Hill: See.Write.Live.
Reeti Roy: Clickety Click Click
Michelle Schusterman: MusicTravelWrite