Hollywood’s Latin American Fiesta

FLying Down to Rio (1933) and Down Argentine Way (1940) In the 1930s and 40s, the USA in general, and Hollywood in particular, went gaga for all things south of the border. In 1933, Roosevelt launched the ‘Good Neighbor’ policy, in which he sought to improve the image of the US among Latin American countries. Since it proved somewhat difficult to reassure Latin American governments of his non-interventionist direction, having suffered repeated, heavy-handed military interventions from the US in the past, Roosevelt’s Inter-American Office persuaded Hollywood’s major production companies to demonstrate this new-found love for everything Latin American through cinema. So, over the next decade or so, a flurry of films was produced, using the power of song, dance, and Betty Grable’s legs, to demonstrate friendship towards countries like Brazil and Argentina, and to show US audiences the positive side to Latin America. Looking at these films nowadays, it can be slightly cringe-inducing to see Carmen Miranda pop up as the token ‘Latina’, complete with fruit-basket headdress, because, Latin America is ‘exotic’ you know, or to listen to a Hollywood star mangling the Spanish language, because obviously, darling, we can’t have some unknown from Argentina taking on a leading role. It doesn’t seem to concern anyone exactly which bit of Latin America the film is about; hence Mexican Dolores Del Rio assumes a Brazilian role, while Brazilian Carmen Miranda is the showpiece of ‘Argentine’ culture. Still, there is a clear attempt to minimise the differences between Americans, US and Latin, at least within the upper echelons of society, and boy, are these film fun. Both Flying Down to Rio...

Review: Waste Land

Lucy Walker is an established director, with documentaries including Countdown to Zero already under her belt. This Brazilian project, Waste Land, has made waves around the world. It was nominated for an Oscar and has won several other awards, including the 2010 Sundance Audience Award for a world cinema documentary. Language: Portuguese, English Year of release: 2011 Running Time: 85 mins Director: Lucy Walker Starring: Vik Muniz Genre: Documentary Rating: 5 stars The Film Brazilian-born Vik Muniz is a successful artist in his adopted home of New York, who decides to return to his native country for a community art project. His initial idea is to use garbage in his art, so he seeks out the largest garbage dump in the world; the Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janeiro. He is not at all sure what sort of people he will find working there – he is prepared for drug addicts and questionable people living on the edges of society. However, when he meets the pickers, or catadores, he is surprised to find a well-organised syndicate of 2,500 workers, who make an honest living and carry themselves with dignity, even whilst picking through the rubbish to find recyclable materials. Six of the catadores are chosen to have their portraits turned into art, each one representing a famous work. They include Tiao, the leader of the Association and fan of Machiavelli, Zumbi, the “librarian”, who set up a community library from the discarded books he collects, and Irma, the resident cook who conjures up stews, salads and pasta dishes for the workers. The experience changes everything for the catadores involved,...

A Blogger Relay with Olympic Spirit

Olympic spirit: internationalism, sportsmanship and a competitive streak. Well, you’ll find all of that here, in a new blogging relay organised by Low Cost Holidays. There are five teams: Yellow, Blue, Green, Purple and RED. I’m captaining Team Red, if you couldn’t tell! The blogging relay requires each team captain to write a post of their three top travel memories, before passing the baton to someone else, trying to build the longest chain and a winning team. One blogger will even be eligible for a prize including an iPad 2 and a Nikkon D3100 Digital SLR Camera. Now, the other teams are already out of the starting blocks, but I have no doubt that, in true Olympic champion style, Team Red can power past them and perform several double twists and backflips along the way. (You need a bit of self-belief!) My head is spinning with travel memories, both distant and recent, so it is hard to pick just three; harder yet to put them into any kind of an order. But, like throwing a dart on a map and going wherever it lands (something that is still on my list of things to do) I will ruthlessly pluck three memories as they pop into my mind’s eye. 1st – A Bus in Bolivia Regular readers may expect this to be something to do with Machu Picchu, but actually, the best travel memory I have comes from a night spent on a bus in Bolivia. There was nothing particularly special about it; I was just travelling from Potosi to La Paz along some very scary roads. But I can...

The Iguassu Falls: Up Close and Personal

By the time I got to Iguassu (or Iguazu, or Iguaçu, depending on which side of the border you are), I was tired. I remember phoning home – my regular ‘Hi Mum, I’m in a new country’ call – and for the first time, I felt a little homesick. I had been travelling for a long time and suddenly, I was jaded by it. But I had just crossed the Argentina-Brazil border, getting to grips with the tropical weather after the winter of Buenos Aires. And I was  about to visit the Iguassu Falls. It was a moment I’d been anticipating from the very start of my trip, so I hoped it would revitalise me. It was an unpromising start – the weather was dull and grey and the tour guide was an hour late, having been sent to the wrong hotel. I didn’t even want a tour guide. I had booked the trip before I’d left Britain, still naive and worried about going it alone. But at this point in my trip, I would have been happier going independently. But when we got to the Falls, past the ticket office and souvenir shops and along the boardwalks, my grumpiness evaporated. There, past the towering palm trees, were the waterfalls. The falls seemed to go on forever and the rush of water filled every sense. As I neared the end of the platform, I had to pull up my hood and shelter my camera from the soaking spray. It made me giggly and giddy – my travel fatigue was washed away. From the rush of the first waterfalls, a...

25 Things I Wish I’d Known about South America

Now that I’ve finished my four-month adventure, I’ve had a few moments to reflect on some of the things I’ve learnt about travel in South America. If you’re planning to go, you might just want to bear some of these in mind – enjoy!       1. That ‘winter’ means everything from 30 degree heat and bone-dry weather to temperatures below zero, to fog and rain. 2. That overland border crossings can be the most mystical, fun or downright chaotic moments of the trip. 3. That you need to carry toilet roll and hand sanitizer at all times. 4.That heating and hot water, even where nights are frosty, are novelty items 5. That Peru is the most amazing, vast and diverse country, with people who are far too kind and experiences which are far too wonderful, meaning that you never want to leave. 6. That there are dangers, but if you are sensible and sensitive to the culture around you, it is much safer than the guidebooks would have you belive. 7. That in Chile they speak ‘chileno’ at rapid speeds and that in Argentina they change all ‘c’s and ‘ll’s to ch and j. 8. That many cultural events are free or very cheap and take place in the most beautiful theatres – this is the place to get great seats for the opera or ballet. 9. That in Peru, they really do eat guinea-pig – one day there will be four in the family’s garden, the next, just two will remain and two small, headless carcasses will be marinating in the kitchen. 10. That transport rarely...
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