Monday, March 30, 2009

Comandante! A Beautiful, Beautiful Cartagena

We were staring intently at Pedro (Peter) as he offered up his favorite restaurants in and around Cartagena, our mouths salivating, guts grumbling; he was giving suggestions that ran the gamut -- from comida corriente ($3-$4 for a three-course meal), to street fare (a pittance), to high-end grub that neither Ms. Grice nor Ms. Sandwich has any business scarfing down -- at roughly $8/person.

A young man came a-knocking at the old Casa Castel. The bone-thin daughter of the owners scurried to the front door and opened up a small, square peep-hole window with bars to stare the solicitor in the eye before letting him in (the bars being a measure to keep out all the Banditos, we later mused). As the boy entered, ready to do some work on the small indoor pool, a man in a military costume walked up and piggy-backed his way in.

I thought something was terribly wrong -- he was burly, walking briskly, and had a severe, pock-marked face belonging to a character in a gangster film, or perhaps a film about Colombian guerrillas and their torture chambers where they keep little ladies from the U.S. for ransom they don't have. I spun my head around to stare old Margs in the eye, talking at her in my loudest silent voice.

She shouted back at me via a cold, icy stare -- her trademark -- that said, "We've inadvertently walked into a coke den, stay calm. We're about to be walked out, shackled, to this paramilitary man's car, headed to the Colombian countryside. You know what that means." Later, I learned that I misinterpreted her death stare, finding that she'd meant, "We've inadvertently walked into a brothel, one of the ones we keep reading about: have you ever heard of el 'Sex Trade'?"


But no! The man who'd sidled inside was el Comandante Arnando del Alfonso*, and he was meant to help us make our way to our apartment in El Cabrero (un barrio de Cartagena).

"Eres Mar-greet?" he asked, staring my bud square in the eyes.

Margs, mouth agape and heart pounding -- both because she might be en route to the Countryside, and because she was being diverted from Pedro's restaurant suggestions -- "Me? Oh YES! Yes, soy Maaaargaret. Are you ... are you ..." she blubbered.

"Soy Arnando -- Comandante Alfonso. Dee apartament, si?" he shot back, his shoulder blades pinched so tightly together that I subconsciously stood a little straighter.

"Ah, si si ... si, the apartment!" we both stammered.

"Bueno. Vamanos!"

Margs shot me a nervous look and said we'd go run up and grab our things, we'd be down in a minute.

When we got down 1.2 minutes later, old Alf was already waiting by the car with the trunk open -- we placed our bags in and prepared to be grilled; Sr. Alfonso was a friend of a family friend's niece's husband's little-league coach's step sister's nephew's old acquaintance (or some such thing) who was giving us a crazy deal on an apartment we'd never seen before.

Alfonso did us right. It's been about 11 days now, and the stories I have, the people we've befriended, the pictures, the tales, the videos, the published writing we've secured ... and there's so many more days to come! I'm listening to a couple Latin Jazz CDs from our favorite old friend - a man who has made it his mission to make sure that me and old Sands are so well-taken care of that it makes me think I never want to leave this place.

But more on that later.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Better Videos to Come

There were so many better videos pre-new memory card (which we had to find through an amazing feat of navigating through Cartagena's Old City), and there will be many more to come. We loved this place, though. Little old men and me and Margs.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Slice of Grice Hiatus: Colombian Beginnings, and Scarface Dreams

A small, unassuming man stood front and center a crowd of Cartagenan men as we lugged our bags past customs into the moist Colombian air; he carried a sign: "Bienvenidos MR. MORGAN GRICE!"

His name was Juan, and as he heaved our bags to his black BMW, despite our protestations, he chuckled, abashed at his endearing poster faux pas. I'm a lady, sir, beneath the grime and filth and navy-blue cap you see before you!

Once inside the car, Juan was zooming down the road, honking his horn each time he passed a fellow driver. As we stared outside the window, shocked at the stream of camo-wearing men holding automatic rifles, we began to divulge our embarrassing faux pas.

"Umm, necesitamos, err ... necesitamos," began Margaret Sands*, my travel companion, glancing at me nervously, "necesitamos un ... banco?"

"Una ... maquina para el dinero??" I blurted out.

Neither of us had brought a single dollar -- well, I had $1, which would almost cover the cab, and old Margs had some change and maybe some old lint shoved in her pockets. We hadn't been too prudent in our days-worth of traveling. Opting to eat in Houston Intercontinental's finest Pappadeaux restaurant for our last "fatty, American meal," we forewent an ATM. Panamanian balboas took a backseat to a chance to sit and sip on a Panamanian beer.

Poor Juan had no idea what we crazy American girls were saying. We kept bumbling as he looked at us curiously in his rearview mirror.

"Ummm, I mean, well ... no tienen, no ... no tenemos ... dolares?? Necesitamos ... get? How do you say get again???" one would stammer.

Panicking and preparing for Poor Juan to leave us by the side of the road, the other would take a stab, "Dinero?!?!? Dolares?!? Pesos!!"

What were we asking him?? Did he have money? Did he take dollars? What are pesos???? It was confusing for all involved.

It went on for many minutes, our collective frustration with each other and ourselves mounting.

"Ahhhh, ustedes necesitan dinero?" he said finally, sweetly and slowly, never prepared to abandon us -- not Poor Juan -- as he rubbed his fingers together in the universal sign for money.

And so our travels began.

Heroic Juan whisked us to our travel destination, a Castle -- Casa Castel, actually -- an amazing bed & breakfast where we were served mango juice with fresh strawberries upon arriving by Pedro (or, Peter, as he Anglicizes it).

The place, it was amazing. With a pool in the living room, the roof had a huge cutout in it that had us wondering how rain doesn't just pour out into the rest of the beautiful abode -- perhaps it never rains in Cartagena, we pondered simultaneously. Our room was bigger than our apartments, the family/staff so helpful that we clutched our things a bit tighter, as no one's this nice back home, and they had cable and Wi-Fi, allowing us to feed our addictions. It was paradise.

We only stayed for one night (this past Thursday), before being picked up by a pock-mark faced Colombian military man who took us to the nicest apartment old Margs and I have ever called our own (for a month).

But more on that later.

This is on the roof of the Castle where we were served our jamon y queso omelettes con fruta y cafe y jugo ... by a lovely lady, as we listened to a Colombian child's birthday party nearby.

The in-house living room pool that Sands desperately wanted to wade into ... if only it weren't an in-house living room pool, where we'd expose our skins to the unsuspecting staff members who might be scarred.

More roof-top breakfast palace.

Ahh, and of course, since we started planning this trip, idyllic visions of Scarface have danced in my head ...

*Name has been changed to protect the weak.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Interviews and The Last House on the Left: `To Avoid Fainting, Keep Repeating: It's Only a Movie ... Only a Movie...'

I had a job interview this afternoon, during which a nice L.A. executive sat with me for over an hour, talking about the film and TV industry, chuckling, bonding over both being from the South, over our shared love of USA's "Burn Notice."

I prefaced that last admission with, "Oohhh, this is a really embarrassing one, but I've recently gotten into Burn Notice ... and I love it." He replied with, "Oh. My. God," rolled his eyeballs around, clucked his tongue and said, "LOVE Burn Notice." We talked about our take on the show's target demographic, the future of cable television.

Score, Grice!

He talked of how his TV tastes were that of a 15-year old girl's.

Oh, me too! "The Hills," "The City," "Real World" -- I still read MTV blogs and watch the Aftershows ... online! There I was, over the hill, and wearing penny loafers, yet he was impressed I was still so on top of the cheapest, sh!ttiest TV out there -- and savvy with the online supplements. I was impressing myself.

Then the conversation turned back to movies.

"So, what would you say is your favorite type of movie, what genre?" he asked, his smile still lingering at the sweet young lady that sat before him.

"Revenge films. I LOVE revenge films ... not necessarily just revenge films -- but really dark, disturbing movies tend to be my favorites," I blurted out, praying that what would come out of my mouth next wouldn't be the MOST twisted movies I like; but I could feel them lodged, unbudging in the forefront of my brain.

"Oh?" a little curious chuckle, and then "Ummm, ok ... well, so like what?"

I think I lost time at that moment, like Ed Norton's character in "Primal Fear."

I rattled off some really, really vile movies (my favorite awful/awesome films and summaries of their plots since he hadn't seen most) even described which brutal scenes were appropriate and which weren't. I tried to slow myself down, to respond to the confused -- scared? -- look on his face ... I tried to throw in some more mainstream ones, but I'd been on such a roll that my momentum was too high to stop!

As I rolled into each "Oh, you know what was another great one!?" I tried to step on the brakes, to no avail.

When we got up to shake hands at the end of the interview, I noticed a slight hesitation and a glance at my paws as he searched for the traces of blood.

Sigh. If I were to get the job, I think I'd have to take it -- if only out of respect for his bravery.

It all got me to thinking about "The Last House on the Left," which comes out on Friday. It's a remake of the 1972 film written and directed by Wes Craven (he produces the 2009 version). When Brother G was here in L.A., he mentioned that he didn't know how in the world they were going to top the brutality and obscenity of the original. Having watched both trailers, it looks like the 1972 one is hands down more crazy.

Some key plot points from the 1972 version's Wiki page:
"After the concert which ends late at night, Mari and Phyllis stroll the streets, seeking someone who might sell marijuana. They run into Junior, who leads them back to an apartment, where they are immediately trapped by the criminals. Phyllis, who resists, is punched in the stomach and raped. Meanwhile, Mari's unsuspecting parents prepare a surprise party for her...

In the woods, the girls are untied and subjected to torment and sadistic mistreatment by the gang. Phyllis is told by Krug that if she doesn't do whatever they tell her to that Mari will get cut. Krug then orders Phyllis to urinate in her own pants." (!!!!!)

See ya there on Friday!!!!! (When I'll be back to New York finally ... 3 weeks away, and I'm suh-oh homesick.)

1972 "The Last House on the Left"

2009 "The Last House on the Left"

Monday, March 9, 2009