Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Bananas!

Beyond Bananaland
Old Banana Railway, Moín, Costa Rica

I’m troubled by the macro complaints of the Pope, the Dalai Lama, celebrities, and the countless other pontificators in their denunciation of world poverty. Wait—I know your first thought my be that I am somehow discounting their gripes; I am most certainly not! It took a research expedition to Central and South America recently to gain a little perspective on the matter. The trip was almost everything I expected. Almost. That is, until the perceived-from-a-distance view blew up in my face. Please allow me to explain…

SPOLIER ALERT?

I’m currently researching locations for two upcoming novels. On-the-ground info is sparse for certain Latin American locations, hence the voyage. A slow ship into the southern Caribbean. Why hurry? Might as well enjoy it.

I won’t go into the research details for obvious reasons, but I can share some of the locations. We were guided through the insane city streets of Cartagena, Colombia, through the Gatun locks of the Panama Canal, into the Panamanian countryside in throughout Captain Morgan’s plunders of Old Panama City. We also traversed the mountains, jungles and plantations of eastern Costa Rica, proximate to the town of Estrada. The word “dichotomy” repeatedly materialized in my thoughts. There is a constant contrast between rich and poor in each location. The middle class is missing. The poor are dirt poor, that is. It’s awful to witness so many people suffer.

Yes, suffer.

Banana boats leaving New Puerto Límon, Costa Rica
My stomach turned at the sight of so many banana-laden cargo ships headed to global ports. It’s an ignorant bliss thing, now ruined. Previously, I didn’t think twice of the pennies we pay for each pound of the fruit. Bananas are cheap. I realize now that they are inexpensive because the plantation managers—Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, etc.— who produce them on the backs of thousands of manual laborers who each receive maybe a couple hundred dollars each month.

Now this is the part Pope Francis et al have right. It’s a shame. Shouldn’t we pay more for those bananas, or would those greedy corporations just stick it in their coffers? We can’t be naïve in response. We know. Deep down, we know. It’s been this way since the beginning of mankind. Greed. Empires. Familial wealth and power. Dynasties. And yet, somehow, the United States of America, many European countries, Australia, and now other emerging economies, eked out a middle class through revolt and regulation. For certain, we still have dirt poor in our rich countries, but nothing on the scale of the labor regions—China, Latin America, Africa and much of the Middle-East.  It’s awful.

Límon, Costa Rica
So, yes, the Dalai Lama, Pope, etc. have a valid point. There is a reason for the poverty, certainly, and it’s oh so simple to spot and treat. Look at those shacks! Look, they have exposed or no plumbing! Look at the dirty clothes and bad teeth! Look at all the trash in the streets! Yes, it’s easy to spot. That is, until you notice that almost every one of those tiny, decrepit tin shacks has satellite dish from Claro on the roof. Eyes roll, and then that poor little kid chasing your railcar with his grungy puppy suddenly whips out a cell phone from his back pocket to snap a few parting shots.

Panama City, Panama - The other side of it.

What just happened?

That’s the problem; they’re poor and misguided. Basics necessities, values, and dignity have been supplanted by electronic pacifiers. Unreal. Vomitus. What is to be done about that?

Here are more photos. Tell me what you think!

Panama City, Panama - you can't quite cover it up with billboards
Cartagena, Colombia (a nicer part). Expensive gasoline means motorcycles everywhere.
A trucker's digs outside Estrada, Costa Rica

A common nest of power lines in Cartagena. Not the most outrageous observed example.
Reportedly a vacation farm shack off the coast above Moín, Costa Rica. Eco-tourists or city dwellers from San Jose needing space. We saw a few of these with either hammocks or cow garages underneath.
Departing Estrada, Costa Rica

Rusted bridge in Costa Rica (missed the river name) ...too rusted.

Oops! Almost conveniently forgot.: My itinerary included a scheduled stop by Ian Fleming’s former estate “Goldeneye” in Oracabessa, Jamaica. While I managed to get his north shore vantage—and what a location to spend your mornings in front of a Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter!—our hired transport was overly pessimistic enough to can the idea of photobombing Fleming’s seaside bunk. It’s a private resort now, owned by famed Island Records (Bob Marley, U2) founder Chris Blackwell. If you’re lucky enough to get an invite and the estate isn’t booked, fantastic. Otherwise, it’ll cost you a cool $4,500 per night to get inside.

North coast of Jamaica near Dunn's River Falls. What would Ian think of all the tourists?


 

Oh, Oscar
(in brief)


Much will be said about the 2016 Oscars. From its racial eruptions, political pontifications, and questionable snubs—without fail— this year’s Awards continued enough of the usual mix to do what it does best: keep everyone talking about them.

As for my take, again, I didn’t see all of the contenders. I am somewhat shocked, however, by the Academy’s snub of Sylvester Stallone. I did catch both of those films recently, and although Mark Rylance’s portrayal of his Russian spy was brilliantly acted, it was not quite as heartfelt as Rocky’s in Creed. 

My favorite moment had to be Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki’s acceptance of his third straight Oscar in Cinematography. Gravity, Birdman, and now The Revenant. In each film there was a moment—several, in fact—in which I’m asking, “How’d he devise that shot?” The man is a true innovator in the art. Brilliance.

Second favorite? All of those technical wins for Mad Max. It’s truly immersive cinema.

Third? Lady Gaga, who finds a way every time to simply crush it.

Fourth and lastly, Ex Machina for VFX. Loved that win. Think about it. A little $15M production just knocked off the mighty $200M Star Wars. That shouldn’t happen, but it did, and it shows that some inspired and inventive digital paint contains more potential than 1000 artists’ production line CGI. Not to short all those artists representing the other nominees. All were outstanding. 

(do I have to?)

As for the whole racial thing… We knew Chris Rock would make it a guilt roast. The Academy deserved it, although, I can’t help but flash back to the moment Jada Pinkett Smith launched her diatribe while advertisements were blanketing all of television for 50 Shades of Black. Timing is everything.

By the way, I wrote that while eating Girl Scout Tagalongs. Delicious. 


Your Vote Isn’t an Either/Or Fallacy 

“It’s always the path of least resistance.”

That’s how my mother typically responded to asinine politics, and highly successful <sarcasm implied> politicians have identified and practiced that philosophy for countless millennia.  Yet again Americans are faced with choosing from polar opposites without much middle ground between them—except perhaps for their professed love of country.  Is this what we’ve come to? You’re either with them or against them? Hilary or Trump?

Let me guess… Democrats likely possessed little love for Clinton in the first place. No divorce backbone, Whitewater, Benghazi, emails, the list goes on. She’s about as loved as Frank Underwood, and much less entertaining. But her party alternative wants bigger government and higher taxes to pay for it. Bad and worse.

Republicans? Seriously, where you fans of Donald Trump before the election or was he just another punchline? I continually hear rumors that he’s not the bluster bomb in private; he’s actually an intelligent softie. Why then does he need to act in the manner of a 3rd grade bully to gain attention? Is he what America craves? The media would have you believe it, but it’s doubtful. I think most of us have tuned out by now, frustrated with a lack of respectable, practical, moderate choices. What kid is saying they want to be Trump or Clinton when they grow up? Besides Kanye...

While I find either candidate bothersome, my personal observation with Trump’s workings happened during the real estate bust of 2007. Remember Trump Tower Tampa? He licensed his name to a local developer who then sold dozens of condos to be constructed along the Hillsborough River waterfront downtown. The market collapsed and Trump somehow legally maneuvered away from the deal with millions in his pocket. The tower never happened, and most if not all the buyers lost half their deposits. Millions gone in a puff of Trump smoke. Good ole-fashioned American Gordon Gekko capitalism or ethically-challenged plundering? All I know for absolutely certain is this: the NY cheesecake at his Manhattan tower is a disaster, and I can’t vote for a New Yorker who purveys underwhelming New York cheesecake.

We don't need a revolution; we need common sense.

Maybe one of these days folks will get tired of the political circus and realize there are other parties worth consideration. No vote is wasted if made with a clear conscience. To me, a vote for a lesser evil remains a vote for evil. You’ll own that vote, too. Choose…wisely. Who knows; maybe we'll have a worthy candidate before this is over.

(laugh now)

More soon!  /T
T. Nelson Taylor | Official Site | DusT | Bolita