Friday, July 11, 2008

Reserve my table 

One of my pleasures in life is a TV that pretty much is my own. This is because of sports; I watch them pretty constantly, and when there's nothing good on there's Law and Order (or, in the summer, Burn Notice, the second season opening of which last night was a little less than hoped for.) That's pretty much all I watch. But many of us in the department are foodies, and both #1 Son and my sister are chefs (I use the term liberally with respect to #1, but a father must have his pride.) So food shows are viewed as well. I don't like the contest shows except for Iron Chef (not ICAmerica, which is a poor substitute.) But I confess a supreme love for Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, a combo travel-cooking show that blends my two favorite things -- travel to strange places, eat good food wherever.

He blogs from time to time, and today added a new place to the list of places I want to travel: Colombia.
In a world where the bad guys seem to win with a relentless regularity, and where even the presumed good guys appear, usually, to be their own worst enemies, it's really gratifying to see things get so dramatically better somewhere--especially a place where at one time, it really and truly looked hopeless. It is inspiring, when you've gotten used to the notion that some problems probably won't ever be fixed in your lifetime, to see some of the very worst kind of seemingly insurmountable problems so quickly and effectively improve. When you see a real change in the conditions and in the human hearts of a place where just a few short years ago, one neighbor couldn't walk twenty yards over without risking death from another, where drug cartels recruited their murderous young footsoldiers by the hundreds, where even the police feared to tread--it makes one hopeful again--about the whole world.

Colombia. Vacation Wonderland? Yes. Absolutely. ...

What you might not know about Colombia is that it's beautiful. That the food is really good--with the same kind of fantastic mix of African, European and indigenous influences that makes Brazilian cuisine so interesting and vibrant. That they actually like Americans down there.

It was against this backdrop of bubbly goodwill, that I watched Ingrid Betancourt and her fellow hostages freed from captivity a couple of weeks ago--in what appears to be yet another in a series of spectacular and effective strikes against the FARC, a particularly unlovely bunch of hardcore commie/narco-terrorist kidnapper/"guerillas" who've been getting knocked back on their heels in recent years.

On one hand, the government seems to be killing and capturing bad guys with skill and vigor. On the other hand, the local government in Medellin (for instance) has been improving transportation and social services for the working poor--and throwing an incredible FORTY percent of total budget at education. It looks and feels like a working combination.
My passport has no stamps from any Latin American country; Spanish is the one Romance language I have no experience with, and it seems lots of other people travel there; I like places off the beaten path like, say, Mongolia. But most of those places are where, as Tony says, "the presumed good guys appear, usually, to be their own worst enemies." What did it take for Colombia to get so good so fast? Perhaps some of it is Plan Colombia, the controversial strategy between the US and successive Colombian governments to eradicate coca fields. But more of it has been, undoubtedly, the hope of Colombians to participate in a stable trade arrangement with the US and others in FTA. That country's turnaround would be further strengthened by support from the next administration. One candidate traveled to Colombia this month, the other has no such plans. Where the candidates stand on free trade is important not only to the United States, but to its neighbors. And that might make them like us in more places than Colombia.

Labels: , ,