Wednesday, October 29, 2008

BELIZE : 25 Oct to 4 Nov 2008

We spent 4 days in Miami, 3 of them door-knocking galleries which had all recently moved to an area where we were constantly warned to be careful and to be gone by 6pm. We walked around for the first 2 days, observing the odd groups of black and Hispanic home-boys and the occasional black car with tinted windows cruising the streets, then hired a scooter which made things easier but I was always happily surprised to find it still there when we got back to it. The last day we visited the art deco area along the beachfront, colourful and buzzing. The galleries were open and welcoming and most looked at our books on the spot, but as usual, haven't replied to follow-up emails. They're all biting their nails to see whether the up-coming Miami and Basel Art fairs will be the usual success or succomb to the chaotic economy.
We are now "recovering"in the tiny state of Belize City and on arrival in Belize city from Miami, we caught a boat straight to Caye Caulker, a small island to the north.
At Caye Caulker we swam a little, did a half day snorkel tour to the barrier reef and otherwise not much at all. The snorkeling was fun, as we saw lots of sting rays, which the guide threw around like beachballs, felt oily to touch, and were not threatening, as well as lots of colourful fish and delicate coral formations. They say that hammock-swinging is an art form here, but boredom follows quickly. There were a few rasta types hanging around, the odd whiff of marijuana and sometimes the sound of reggae in the distance, but otherwise nothing to do. It was here that the sand flies and bed bugs attacked.
One week later we are scratching furiously at the hundreds of bites all over our bodies! After 4 days we travelled to Placencia in the south of Belize, where it was twice as expensive because of the hype surrounding the tourist development there, but again not much to do or see. We've been lucky to be out of the tourist season, with both Caye Caulker and Placencia very laid back and quiet.
All in all, Belize is disappointing, as the local mix of cultures (a British ex-colony with blacks, mestizos, Spanish, Indians, and even a population of Mnenomites/Amish like Dutch original settlers) etc) is being bought out and flooded by rich Americans who build resorts for the tourists who come to fish, dive and wind surf. There's not much evidence of any kind of culture at all (apart from the Garifunas who've developed 'punto rock', which is just a very fast version of reggae with lots of drumming) - especially as they get American TV here. We stayed in a hut owned by Stan, a very friendly, big black ex-footballer from LA who's been here a few years and says the locals are just plain lazy and expect things to be given to them - in other words they have only themselves to blame.
After 3 nights we spent a day on buses getting to San Ignacio in the west, at the border of Guatemala, which we hope will provide a little more interest, and at least will get us away from the sandflies, which have eaten us alive. Tomorrow we take a tour across the border into Guatamala to see the Mayan ruins at Tikal, apparently on a par with Machu Pichu but less expensive to get into and less touristy. We'll be buying the most poisonous mozzie spray we can find because there might not be sandflies over there but we 've been guarantied plenty of mosquitoes!
In two days time, we''ll be glad to get to LA where we can immerse ourselves in gallery hunting again. We will arrive at the historical eveningof 4th November 2008, when the result of the elections will be known. Everyone we've met here and in Miami are expecting Obama to win, and an awful lot also expect him to be assassinated. Not a pleasant scenario!

I leave you for now with a quote from the lonely Planet guide which is really a true analysis of the atmosphere of Caye Caulker, if not of the whole of Belize. Some of my best pics will hopefully follow soon!
"Belizeans have elevated "taking it easy" to an form (where else will you be told that checkout time is "Whatever times you like"?). Shopkeepers will close early if they feel they've made enough money for the day, and hammock swinging is pretty much a national past time..."

Saturday, October 18, 2008


The last couple of weeks have been the most interesting, stimulating, exhausting and enjoyable so far. From the touristic but quaint small adobe village of San Pedro de Atacama, we travelled by 4-wheel drive with a guide named Giyo, his wife (cook) and their month old baby in the front seat, a young Swiss couple and two German girls through the Atacama Desert to Uyumi, where we then caught a bus to La Paz, the highest capital city in the world. The border was a tiny outpost in the desert, and the desert included the largest salt plains in the world as well as some of the highest lakes in the world, and a couple of semi-active volcanoes. This was a bone-jarring 3 day trip, at altitudes of 3600 to 4500 metres, which gave me a 2-day headache to teach me I'm inclined to altitude sickness, and left us all completely ingrained with dust, despite a hotel stay on the second night which allowed us hot showers. The first night was spent at a delapidated outpost with no heating and 4 blankets were not enough to keep out the cold.

The salt plains were so big that you could see the horizon without any interference in all directions, a huge white flat area that was once a large sea, now almost completely salt, and the few odd buildings and even small villages we came across were made from salt rock. These weird places live off the export of the salt, or else men work in copper mines, and many wear overalls and balaclavas to keep out the dust and the sun. We saw sulphur and hot water springs, llamas, vicunas and a kind of ancient rabbit living in outcrops of rock, strange rock formations named after Dali, a petrified tree, and a large rock formation called the Island of Fish.

This we reached on the third morning of the trip, after getting up at 4am to catch the sunrise there. To demonstrate the enormity of the salt lake, Giyo drove for long stretches through the dark with the headlights off, across a huge plain of white nothingness to this island. We got there in time and climbed to the top, breathing very heavily as the altitude got to everyone. The island is covered in 1000-year old cactii and the fossils of shellfish, so it was amazing to consider that it really was an island in the middle of an ocean a few million years ago.

The further north we got in Chile, the more we saw women wearing traditional dress, which consists of layers of colourful skirts, creamy stockings, shirts and shawls, complete with long black platted hair and a small bowler hat which was often perched at jaunty angles on top of the head. The men wear dusty suits and fedora-like wide-brimmed hats, and they have dark brown leathery skin from a lot of time spent outside and a very obviously Indian heritage. They are tough nuggety people only about 1.6m on average in height, and quiet but very friendly. I think it's a tough life for them and doubt if it's a long one. We saw these people more and more as we moved north into Bolivia, and La Paz itself was an interesting mix of people wearing this dress with younger ones wearing jeans and sneakers. But everyone had a mobile.
As soon as we got to Uyumi, the first real town we came across in Bolivia, full of these people, and with a very pleasant open plaza, and decent food and even coffee, we liked Bolivia more than we'd liked Chile. We were even able to indulge in a good pizza as we waited for the bus that took us to La Paz. La Paz is a very large city based at 3600m in the bottom of a valley and climbing up all the steep sides of the valley for hundreds of metres, and it's a wonder the whole thing doesn't come sliding down, which shows it hardly rains there. It's a bustling, buzzing place, with markets everywhere every day, and on our first day there we caught a local minibus to the market in the hills at the top. This is the largest market I've ever seen, stretching up winding stairs and paths, and for miles along open spaces that were like unused building sites, and into streets that went on and on, somehow divided into sections of second-hand clothing, shoes and sneakers, car parts, electrical, plumbing and building materials, you name it, it was there. Also there were pickpockets and armed police, and despite all the warnings and our general alertness to the possibilities, Geoff was robbed. This involved a broken egg thrown at his neck on his left side, an aggressive old woman pushing up against him as he continued to walk, and some very light fingers. He wasn't totally aware of what was happening, but instinct made him keep his left arm down over his shoulder bag instead of lifting it to wipe off the egg, which would have exposed the bag. He wiped it off with his right hand, and as the women kept pushing him, he moved off quickly to the side as soon as he could. Seconds later he was confronted by 3 police, who told us that was an attack and couldn't believe he hadn't lost anything. It wasn't until a little later that Geoff realised his sunglasses had gone from his left jacket pocket, but he was somehow relieved as they were very scratched and now he had the perfect reason to buy a new pair, which he did straight away for $3.
Three days in La Paz were full of colour, good cheap food at markets near our hostel, and a buzz, which Chile didn't have. It's much cheaper because it's poorer, and culturally more stimulating. On the third night, we got on a bus to Copacabana, a small town on Lake Titicaca. This lake is so big it looks like a sea. We walked a lot there, visited a simulation of a floating village made from long grass reeds that people had lived in only 50 years ago, and ate trout in the markets. After 2 days there, we caught a bus back to La Paz and then caught a bus for another overnight trip back across the border into Chile and to the northern beachside town of Iquique, where I'm writing from. This is a really cute town, apparently pretty affluent by comparison with other Chilean towns because of the copper mines, with wide wooden footpaths through the centre of town, old wooden colonial buildings, and a beach with surf. Tomorrow evening we hop on yet another bus for a 24 hour trip back to Santiago, and fly out the next day for Miami, which should be a bit of a culture shock.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

CHILE : From Santiago to La Serena via Valparaiso

Flying back to Santiago from Punta Arenas after a night at the Hostel del Rey and an interesting conversation with a Chilean writer, we stayed another night with Ines (the lady friend of our spanish teacher in Sydney), spent the following morning visiting the commercial art galleries of a very swish suburb nearby, returned for another supermarket lunch, then caught the bus to Valparaiso.
Valparaiso is a hotch-potch of buildings and shacks climbing the hills behind a working harbour, every wall covered in the ubiquitous graffiti of Chile, the hillsides of the central cerros (hills) with very cute cafes and bars, hostels and little handicrafts shops. Apart from avoiding the market area which several people have warned us is dangerous, we walked around, caught an ascensor up one hill, drank coffee in a little cafe where the waiter told us about his trip to the Amazon with Greenpeace and bemoaned the Chilean character that wouldn't allow change in a country with a huge gap between rich and poor, caught a bus to the southern end of the town and ate seafood, drank pisco sours and red wine, and walked around the coast to beaches with run-down empty pools and change-rooms. This summary of our last week has just been written from our window-less bedroom where we've returned for a siesta (to digest the lunch time pisco sour and red wine) before going out tonite in search of some kind of vibrant nightlife which in Chile does not seem to start until quite late...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

CHILE : From Puerto Montt to Ushuaia

Continuing the saga, we endured about 60 hours of bus travel in just a few days, 12 from Santiago to Puerto Montt, around 33 on to Punta Arenas, and a further 12 to Ushuaia. Not really an endurance test as the buses are pretty comfortable 'semi-cama', ( i.e : reclining seats) coffee and snacks served and stupid movies shown in case the scenery gets boring or you can't sleep during the night. The towns got progressively more upmarket as we got further south, and just over the border into Argentina was a small town with a very swish patisserie selling pastries and chocolate to drool over. Not having changed money on the trip down, we had to wait until the return bus trip from Ushuaia to Punto Arenas to partake in the pastries, though a kind young guy gave us a couple of pieces of chocolate when we tried to pay with Chilean pesos the first time.

Punta Arenas was a pleasant enough town, with a great bar called Santinos where we went twice for the happy hour pisco sours and plates of papas fritas (french fries) and a delicious selection of mariscos (seafood) floating in parmesan cheese. On our return trip it also offered us a bomberos celebration (firemen are really important here as so many of the buildings are of wood), an equestrian competition and a military exhibition

including a variety of tanks, gun displays, soldiers in camouflage uniform and parachute drops into trees and cars, which we came upon after a visit to the cemetary. Cemetaries in Chile are almost like small towns in themselves, with small buildings housing families, whole walls housing glass fronted boxes with photos, little figurines, flowers and messages, and at the other end are tiny colourful plots devoted to children. This one also had huge topiaried trees throughout, quite surreal. The names on tombstones and crosses range from the Irish to the English, German and Yugoslav, some French and assorted others besides the Spanish, reflecting the varied history of migration to Chile over the last 200 years.

We passed through snow-capped mountains and around large lakes in both the northern and southern part of this journey, while in between were endless expanses of pampas, occasionally relieved by low hills, small oil drills and dusty run-down farmhouses. In Ushuaia we stayed in a backpackers hostel called the Patagonia Pais, sharing a room with two Spanish women from Madrid, people friendly, kitchen available to organise our supermarket food, and conversation with a couple of young French puppeteers who somehow survive performing at lots of festivals - puppetry is popular in Chile.

We took a boat ride around the local waters, seeing sea lions and cormorants, and walking on a small island full of shell middens from the Ona tribe that once lived there. But even the all-you-can-eat-for-36-Argentinian pesos (Aud $12) meal of too much meat, fish and desert didn't make up for the general lack of cooking skills and varied tastes that is common everywhere we've been so far - plenty of fruit, vegetable and meat available, but little use of herbs and spices.
So now I can tick one more dreams off my personal list: I have been to el fine del mundo ( as they call patagonia in Chile), the end of the world (or at least this past of the world) and was only 3000kms from south pole!It was no way near as wild as I imagined and in fact Ushuaia reminds me a bit of ...Megeve, the swish ski resort in the French Alps. The weather was glorious and not even cold. My hug boots - which are always travelling with me now - did not even get an outing from the backpack!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

CHILE : From Santiago to Puerto Montt

After arriving safely in Santiago on 15 September, (the same day we left as we crossesd the time line), we spent two nights in a cheap hostel in the centre of the city, wandered around, quickly discovered that the food, as we expected, is lousy - they have absolutely no sense of eating healthily - and you can´t get a decent coffee. But people are friendly, despite the numerous warnings to "watch out for thieves and it´s dangerous sometimes". It feels like a third world country desparately trying to be first world but failing. The buildings in some areas are quaint colonial but very run down, people dress drabbly as if they don´t want to be noticed, and I think the legacy of Pinochet has been a hard one to shake off. A house of torture was just around the corner from our hotel. Then we finally made contact with the friend of our Spanish teacher and spent 2 nights at her home. She is a very nice widow who was a French and Spanish teacher in Australia and has come back to live here after the death of her husband. After 8 years back in Chile she seems to still be in cultural shock.....
The good things we discovered include a very nice local alcoholic drink called Pisco sour and another supposedly also non alcoholic but doubtfully so - Chicha -which is a drink of grapes which have almost reached the point of fermentation. This we found at a "fonda", or dance fiesta huge feed-up on Independence day (18th September) at a large park in the middle of the city.
On Friday night ( 19 Sept) we headed south via a 12 hour bus ride - good semireclining seats in a Pullman Bus -for the colder climes of Puerto Montt, but don´t expect any improvement in the food.
Yesterday for lunch, we just had a local dish of which one plate was enough for two - loaded with mussels, chicken, sausage and meat, potatoes, bread and a bowl of fishie broth - not bad, at an area by the water at a kind of fjord. While taking in the view of the snow covered volcanoe at the end of the fjord, we saw a seal swimming 20 metres away from the shore.

Germans have been here and the local architecture and that food says so. Today we caught a bus to a charming german colonised area by a lake and the whole setting was so much like the lake of Annecy except that from the shore we could see across the lake and in line 4 snow covered volcanoes : beautiful! We are now back in our cheap hotel where we have discovered we have signal for wifi plus cable TV. So I am catching up both with email and silly movies. I have stuck to my decision of drying up and aprt from one pisco sour on our second night in santiago we have not even try yet one glass of Chilean wine. Tomorow we are taking a trip all the way to Punta Arenas which is a 33 hours bus ride! Crazy maybe but much cheaper than flying and also we though a bette way to take in the scenary. As there is no road in the southern part of Chile, the bus will go through the Andes and continue via the other side which is Argentina. We are due in Punta Arenas late Tuesday afternoon. And then a day or two later (after we've recoverd from the long bus ride) following my phantasms to reach this end of the Earth, we will take an other bus to get to Ushuaia, facing Antarctica.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

PARIS (7/09 – 22/10/2007)

Arriving in Paris with a car filled to the max, we settled in our studio at the Cite Internationale des Arts facing the Seine and Notre Dame. Life is hard for artists in France, hey! Well in fact it can be, especially if you are Moroccan.
It is ironic to realise that we were attributed the studio dedicated to welcome Moroccan artists, having just spent a week in Morocco ourselves. However, the French government apparently makes it so difficult for Moroccan artists to obtain a visa to France that Moroccan artists rarely occupy this studio!!!
This year the main reason to be in Paris for Geoff and I was to exhibit our respective body of work. During our last promotional tour in Paris, in 2006, the galerie Marie Laure de l’Ecotais - at the enviable address of 49 rue de Seine (in the heart of Paris gallery district) - offered us both a solo show for the following year, i.e: 2007.
I had sent from Sydney by post all my paintings to be exhibited and so, all I had to do, was mount the show, which started on 21 Sept and finished on 21 October. It was my first exhibition in my France and if all goes well I will exhibit again in this gallery at the beginning of 2010.
Our time in Paris was spent with thousands of Scots, all supporters of their rugby team during the World Cup that was taking place in France then. Their HQ was also in the Marais, right behind the Cite so the atmosphere in the streets was never dull…
Otherwise I did very little tourism exploration as I had to complete 8 large digital paintings for the Hanoi show and they had to be dry prior to packing up to go to Hanoi on 24th October with me. So I was a very dedicated and hard working artist in the studio this year, only visiting two exhibitions: one on the work of famous French illustrator, Gavroche, and the work of a cartoonist very well know for his political drawings in the French satirical news paper “Le Canard Enchaine”.
All in all, these few weeks spent in Paris were very enjoyable because I was busy, i.e: not an idle tourist and because the weather was incredibly warm and sunny, a very unreal weather for that season, allowing us to picnic and sunbake on the Quais de Seine.

TOULON, AVIGNON, THIZY (25/08-7/09/2007)

The south of France is where I landed my first job, way back in 1982. Toulon was then par of my sales territory as a sales rep. and I have many very fond memories from this area. So it is always a pleasure to return to this part of the world each time I am in France. However this time around was a special time, as my friends from my business school, Veronique and Henri were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. So not only was this an opportunity to party but also to meet some of my fellow students and mates from way back 25 years ago! Some of us have changed a lot (mostly the boys) and most of the girls have aged gracefully. One thing has not changed though: we took conversation at eh same point we left it …25years ago. There was no talking about job/career, as we now all know that this is not that important in life. Life and what we make of it was the major topic of our conversation. With a rented car from Marseille I introduced Geoff to my favourite spots along the coast on our way to Avignon where my brother now owns and runs a very nice B & B (, on the island of La Barthelasse in the middle of the Rhone river, right across from Avignon. Highly recommended if ever you plan to stay in this area! I pursued the road to my family home village of Thizy to visit my parents and my grand father who will celebrate his 100 years birthday in November 2009. So this milestone of course set a date to our next return to France: November 2009, less than a year away!!!
It is always nice to spend time with family and friends - and even Edwige, my ex sister in law -
and at the same time very destabilizing to realise that I have seen and done so much in my life since my last visit, whilst here in Thizy, not much at all has changed and the people are still in their same spot doing the same things……
We took advantage of the space and access to tools and timber to build the stretchers Geoff and I were going to need for our respective exhibitions in Paris and headed off to Paris.