Earlier this month I traveled to Colombia with Counter Culture Coffee to film interviews and document the work of small-scale coffee farmers there. The last email I received before our departure read simply, “rain jackets!” I dug out my old rain slick from the closet and as I slipped my arms through to check the fit, the sleeves tore off. Whoops. Thankfully there’s an REI on the way to the airport.
One reason why coffee is a major part of the Colombian economy is the tropical climate, it can grow and be harvested year round. The new rain jacket certainly came in handy, off and on, all day long. One of the largest contributing factor to the taste of coffee is altitude; generally, as elevation increases the flavor profile of coffee becomes more pronounced and distinctive. Running North from Chile, the mighty Andes Mountains split into three different ranges in Colombia. Our contact joked that there’s always a mountain to cross if you want to go anywhere in the country, sometimes there’s even a road.
After arriving in Bogotá we flew South, to the small city of Popayan (Elevation 5,770 ft.). It took two tries to land our small plane there due to the heavy fog, but once we were on the ground we loaded up into a serious off-road rambler and headed to the first farm. There were eight of us in the beast of a vehicle. I was riding in the very back, with Jesus. Perhaps due to the twisting curves and questionable roads, many vehicles in Colombia carried a blessing written across the windows and / or an image of the man himself to help keep everything between the ditches.
Motorcycles are the vehicle of choice, in spite of the rainy climate. I witnessed a number of impressive poncho-over-the-bike approaches. It also seemed like muck-boots were the kind of Christmas gift that lets the campesino in your life know you really care about them. And what about the marxist guerrillas you might ask? Well, they always enjoy a good book. But seriously, in the past few years Colombia has increasingly become a more stable country. When I first heard about the project, I thought back to an chilling story about a nightly radio broadcast for families wishing to send messages to their kidnapped loved ones — a startling indication of just how many people were being held against their will during those dark years. In 2012 The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, announced they would no longer participate in kidnappings for ranson, though they have kept silent on the status of hundreds of civilians still reported as missing.
During the week-long journey everyone we came across was warm and welcoming, none more so than Gloria Tejada. Her home was quite beautiful. A wall of lush tropical plants buffeted the back patio and peeked out at you from inside the covered courtyard. We ate arepas and listened to the rain on her roof as she told us how her husband had recently passed on after a prolonged and painful illness. She manages a small-scale farm near her home to keep busy and her coffee is continually part of Counter Culture’s La Golondrina project, which sources only the best lots of each harvest from around the Cauca region.
The primary aim of this trip was to help Counter Culture produce a film for presentation at The Specialty Coffee Association of America Symposium in April. Nathan Brown, seen here censoring himself from the camera in an otherwise beautiful horse pasture, took off his Counter Culture Marketing hat and put on a pair of headphones to run audio in our field production crew, nicknamed Groupo Fantasmo (slight name variance from these incredibly talented folks). We worked closely conducting 12 separate interviews lead by Kim Elena Ionescu, Coffee Buyer & Sustainability Manager at CCC, on the topic of microlot coffee production and the impact on farmers in the region.
It was one small part of a larger survey commissioned Counter Culture and conducted by Virmax, a specialty coffee exporter in the region and our gracious hosts during the trip. You’ll have to wait until the Symposium for any more details; in the meantime watch a cut of Café Sense to fill your cup. All in all it was an incredible project to be a part of and I thank them for the opportunity to witness the other side of java production. Here’s a nice little moment that gives you an idea of what it’s like to be a kid growing up the montanyas of coffee country.
(there’s no audio, don’t worry)
It was getting late in La Plata. Teenagers circled the zocalo on their motorcycles with less and less frequency. Heavy security doors clacked as they roll-down over the entrance to a nearby panaderia. I was at the threshold of my hotel room, ready to pass out after another long day of travel when I noticed this silent flickering of colored light across the way. I could not see the crisp images on the screen, but it had my full attention.
As visual approximations go, this is fairly remote, but I thought it’d be fun to share anyway.
The staff, the decor, the cocktails and the food were all real at Hakanai, and real friggn’ good at that. But the restaurant itself was fake, insofar as it was never meant to last longer than three nights; the word itself means “ephemeral” in Japanese. It was a pop-up affair, the first of its kind for this region of the country. The endeavor was dreamed up by The Cookery and made possible by Billy & Kelli Cotter of the ever-popular Toast Paninoteca in Durham. Months of planning went into creating a finely crafted Japanese six-course meal for those lucky enough to nab a ticket. I don’t write food reviews though, so I’ll let the photos take it from here;
WOULD YOU LIKE SOME MORE?
I do know a little something about modern dance. Mostly due to the fact that the American Dance Festival, held annually in Durham, provides ample opportunity to engage with the artform. Of what I know, it’s clear that Mr. Bill T. Jones has been and continues to be a powerful voice in advancing the limits of political / social expression possible through dance.
He also cuts quite a striking figure standing still. I didn’t feel like I needed to give much direction to a man who has choreographed over 100 pieces. He did oblige the small cues I gave and made a joke about the process of “arresting the fantasy of your own outward appearance.” Do yourself a favor and watch the man dance to Al Green and take on Lincoln. If you’re in the mood for a great interview, read Chris Vitiello’s wonderful exchange in the INDY.
We’re often tasked with illustrating abstract ideas in a compelling way. This week’s pickle was a story about the failure of local blogs to sustain themselves in the long run. Usually we start off the same way, five people around a table pitching ideas, trying to distill the story down into a simple thought. Inevitably the conversation careens over one of two edges; 1) convoluted and/or way too literal 2) fabulous but entirely unfeasible for an alt-weekly. Sometimes we drive right off both cliffs with our hands in the air like Thelma and Louise.
This week’s breakthrough came with the utterance of the phrase “blogs burn out.” Bingo. If there’s one thing that captures a reader’s attention, it’s seeing something on fire. This might be playing to the lowest common denominator, but the competition for attention is fierce and a little fire is far better than a blonde in a bikini — which the Columbia Journalism Review decided to mock, poorly, and get itself into a bit of hot water earlier this month. Flames are something I can handle, like a painter and his brush. In fact I once co-chaired a pyrotechnical institute with my friend Alex Haglund back in college, but that’s another story.
Not surprisingly we quickly decided to mimic Apple’s product treatment, instantly recognizable to everyone the world over; simple, white, clean background and let the thing do the talking. We put out an all-call for non-functioning Apple laptops that yielded two white MacBooks. The clever and wise J.P. Trostle stripped out the batteries (no explosions please) and other removable components to keep down on the toxic emissions. Then we moved operations to my “wet lab,” otherwise known as the area out behind my shack in the backyard.
Thanks to Big Dan Wegerzyn, the best damn handyman around, we had ourselves an impromptu sun blocker and could focus on the task at hand. Wielding a blowtorch and a small amount of gasoline, we melted our way through the slightly obsolete technological wonders and made some captivating frames. If you happen to feel bummed that we destroyed two laptops that could of possibly been reconditioned and given to the less fortunate, head on over to the One Laptop per Child project and take part of something with a truly global reach without all the fuss.
The final step of the process was deciding on the Best Use of Flames and layout with the most punch. This ended up being a fairly lively discussion that resulted in the INDY logo being turned on it’s side for the first time in the paper’s history. It’s nice to know that we now have the option, which gives us a little more room to navigate as long as we’re shooting on rectangular (2×3) format cameras.
Since last November we’ve also been running two different covers, one for Raleigh / Cary and another for Durham / Chapel Hill (and Hillsborough). We’ve also started listing the city names of our coverage area out front, something that I’m not crazy about; siding with Apple that “less is better when it comes to your outward appearance.” Folks also know where they’re standing when they pick up the paper, plus you don’t want to exclude anyone either, sorry Garner. But I digress, I’ll post some photos from the other cover shoot with Bill T. Jones here soon. At the moment we’re all iced in, so it’s a good time to catch up and dust off this blog.