aside: fullscreen photos

Just a quick blogging note: I needed to put a sidebar in, as too much information was being left out when I used to have full-screen photos. But I have finally figured out how to set things, now, so that if you leave the homepage and visit an individual post, by clicking on the post’s title, the sidebar menu disappears and you can, once again, view photos that take up the width of the screen. This is not an issue with iPads or phones, I realise, it is just a thing with laptops and desktop monitors.

Is this important? Not really. Aesthetics. It just looks better, I think, when the photo is large and wide-format.

That’s all. Tweaking things, while I still have a good internet connection.


By the way, the good ship “Kehaar” departs from Kingston, Jamaica, tomorrow early. We’ve been here a week, only stopped because we were low on food and water, and I didn’t take many photos (the few I took were accidentally deleted when my crappy little Quo tablet formatted the SD card without even asking me! Aargh.)

It will be 3-6 days from here to Colombia…next you hear from me, we will hopefully be in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.

Streetsofcartagena” by Cbrough – personal computer. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Hasta luego, mis panas!


This is not an exclusively Venezuelan word…but it gets used a million times a day by everybody, here.

Chévere (CHE-vreh), used as an adjective, can describe a person who is extremely well-liked, cool, nice, fun, good, clever, and so forth.

It also describes things, places, events, situations that are great, fun, entertaining, agreeable, excellent. Una pelicula chévere…(an excellent movie), “el destino más Chévere del Caribe…”(“The coolest place in the Caribbean…” -from an advertising campaign by Venezuela’s Ministry of Tourism).

Whittled down to a word or two, it is used in expressions like “¡Que chévere!” (Awesome!), the statement “Chévere.” (Cool.) or the question “¿Comó estas, Natalia…chévere?

Of course I am…having a fantastic time, painting these fun little canvases of Venezuelan slang words, as a kind of side-project while I am waiting for gourds to dry…

We will be sailing away this week, after four fantastic months in Venezuela. As always, I hate to leave, now that I know the place reasonably well, have made friends, finally feel relaxed and at-ease, established a ‘home routine’ (not much more than reading a lot and painting), going about on my own. We have so much to thank Venezuela for. Despite the troubles and the difficulties, it is a gorgeous country, and the people really are super pana. We also made huge inroads in learning the Spanish language while we were here, and I will never really be able to speak the language without remembering these past four beautiful months.

But there’s also so much to look forward to: Jamaica, Cuba (woo hoo!), Colombia, Haiti, Guatemala, Panama…Chévere!

Hasta luego, mis panas!

super pana

super pana
A Spanish-English dictionary will tell you that pana (PA-nah) is corduroy or velveteen.

Not very cool…and, again, no help in the streets of Venezuela, where pana can be used as an adjective to describe people who are nice, cool, amiable, congenial.
En Venezuela, la gente es super pana.
The gregarious lady taxi driver, Paola, who yesterday made a crazy U-turn on the highway so that I could try a cocada (coconut smoothie) from the best stall in the area, was very cool, very pana.
super pana
It can also be used as a noun, and refers to your best friend, your bosom buddy, your homeboy/girl.
The friends I usually hang out with? Mi panas.

No Hay Culebra

No Hay Culebra
Along with learning proper Spanish, picking up some of the local slang words is unavoidable. These words get used so much in everyday speech—and because a huge part of my language education is comprised of striking up conversations with anyone who seems friendly and inclined to talk to me—that I have had to learn them, simply to understand what is being said.

Literally, no hay culebra means “No snake” or, “There is no snake”, and a dictionary can’t help you here, it is only likely to confuse you.

It is used, for example, at the market…when some vendor tries to overcharge me for something. It never fails to get them to lower the price to something more usual (not necessarily a bargain, but at least the price for locals, and not the extortionist rates levied on foreigners).
No Hay Culebra

An expression known mainly to Caraqueños (from Caracas), it almost always gets a delighted laugh when I use it, because it is so slangy. A lot of Venezolanos, from other parts of the country, are unfamiliar with it.

‘Russian’ gourd

Russian gourd

When I started painting my third gourd, Kris commented that it resembled the painted wooden spoons and other kitchen utensils from some province in Russia.
Russian gourdTo heighten that effect, I took some inspiration from Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin when I painted the faux woven red and gold band around the rim of the gourd.
Russian gourdBut then I was told I had ‘ruined’ the traditional Russian colour scheme (black, red, gold and green) by adding purple, orange, metallic copper, slate blue, and white. Hee. Couldn’t help myself.

painting gourds

painted gourds

         After Francesco Clemente’s Indian Miniature #16

The sun-face looms over me, gigantic-hot, smelling
of iron. Its rays striated,
rasp-red and muscled as the tongues
of iguanas. They are trying to lick away
my name. But I
am not afraid. I hold in my hands
(where did I get them)
enormous blue scissors that are
just the color of sky. I bring
the blades together, like
a song. The rays fall around me
curling a bit, like dried carrot peel. A far sound
in the air—fire
or rain? And when I’ve cut
all the way to the center of the sun
I see
flowers, flowers, flowers.
Cutting the Sun by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I was in the Puerto La Cruz marketplace last week, wandering the labyrinth of crowded alleyways between busy stalls—skirting the glacial section of raw meat and poultry, hurrying past the small hills of briny fish and molluscs, stepping carefully over the wet patches of ground, sleeping dogs, and raw garbage—until I came to the relatively quieter section of herbalists and natural medicine vendors: dried tubers, colored powders in bottles, snake oils, bunches of fresh herbs, unguents to attract love, money, or bring ruin to your enemies, sachets of dried leaves, bundles of unidentified twigs for making special smoke. One or two of the women shoppers—dressed, from head to toe, in the pure white clothing of Santería initiates, with white turbans, bead necklaces, and large hoop earrings—were quietly negotiating over small, wizened knobs of dried rhizome. Shade cloths stretched over the paths between the stalls, shutting out the fierce sunlight and the noise of the city, giving that area the cool, dappled peace of a forest.

painted gourdsI found a lady selling nothing but gourd bowls (tapales or tapares), from tiny coffee-cup-sized bowls, to massive, pumpkin-sized things. I bought a dozen, roughly medium-sized, gourds for $2. A couple were elongated, and the rest were more round.
painted gourdsInspired by the painted terracotta plates of Lucretia Chavez, an artist whose work I saw and admired in Merida (but whom I never managed to meet in person), I thought I might try my own ideas out on these unusual, spherical canvases.
painted gourdsI gave the painting surface a light sanding (especially the exterior of the bowls, which are a bit glossy) and a coat of binder medium, to seal the absorbent surfaces and help the paint adhere. Then I drew a design using a fine Posca pen, and filled it in with acrylic paints and a #00 paintbrush.

painted gourdsKris made one, too…just dashed it off, without any preliminary drawing! I’m jealous of the variety of fish shapes and characters he can draw, without having to look at any pictures of fish. You can tell he’s worked on fishing trawlers and looked at lots of different fish, before!
painted gourds

They’re pleasant to work with, these hollowed-out gourds. The couple I’ve painted, so far, have opened me up to experimenting with all sorts of different objects as canvases for acrylic paints. I bought a couple of little terracotta dishes, shortly after the gourds, to see what I can make of those. (Although I think I prefer things like gourds…easier to store, lighter to carry and handle, less likely to crack or break).
painted gourds

As soon as I let go of the idea of a flat, smooth canvas, it seems that everything cries out to be used as a painting surface. Will see what else I can find, to cover with paint and doodles!