Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Romancing the Stone with a Colombian in the room

I haven't written about Thanksgiving week yet, and now it seems so passe that I don't want to just write about how Thanksgiving week went, albeit it was anything but uneventful.

Plenty of things happened over Thanksgiving this year and they were all good things. For instance, my brother and his wife came out to Denver for a visit over the holiday and stayed Wednesday night through Tuesday morning... that's six days. What's so special about that? Well, for one thing this is the first time, in a very very long time that my brother has been able to come out for a period longer than three or four days. That is, of course, if you count the day when he actually has to board a plane and go back to whence he came from, ridiculously early in the morning. OK, so that's not so exciting now that I'm writing about it. I mean, if you really think about it it's not even two full days extra from the usual. But you know, it's like money-- if it's anywhere over $50, it sounds like a lot of money for you to do plenty of things with, but when you go out there and try to put that money to work it suddenly and very quickly dwindles down to mere peanuts before you even get a chance to spend it. It's psychological, obviously.

Another thing that made this Thanksgiving super special was the fact that it was my sister-in-law's first visit to Denver and stay at our humble abode. Still not very exciting to anyone but us... *damn*. BUT if you recall what I wrote at the beginning of this post, my intent isn't to write about Thanksgiving, but rather something that took place during the Thanksgiving holiday. Something that I've been mulling over in my head for a few days and now feel ready to write about.

One evening during my brother's stay we decided to watch a family favorite-- Romancing the Stone. If you're not familiar with this flick, it is total escapism and adventure that takes you from a romance novelist's apartment in New York City, to a treasure hunt in Colombia. Now, the significance of my brother and his wife's visit is the fact that my sister-in-law happens to be Colombian. Adding another first to her list, she viewed this piece of pure 80s entertainment.

I found out a long time ago that though this movie is set in Colombia, it was not shot there due to an influx of kidnappings right around the time the crew was supposed to go down there. Instead, they shot it in Mexico. OK, I thought. It may not be authentic Colombia, but it should be generally close. I have no idea what I mean by generally close, but I expected something to be accurate even though this is hardly a movie that required more than someone's fun imagination and creativity to produce.

Putting aside Michael Douglas's inability to pronounce Cartagena correctly throughout the movie by adding one of those squiggly Spanish accents to the "n", so that Cartagena (it's spelled just like it sounds, only the "g" is an "h") is Cartagenia. Or more precisely, Cartahaynia, pronounced with a deliberate twang. That's annoying and completely incompetent on the director's part, but I digress. No, I'm talking about the complete disregard for the distinct differences between Latin America and Central America... folks, they're totally different. They are two different continents with different landscapes, cultures, climates and Spanish dialects.

What bothered me the most after watching Romancing the Stone with a Colombian in the room was how much was ridiculously made up. The first thing that made my brother and his wife chuckle was a close up shot of a supposed Colombian license plate. I can't imagine replicating a country's license plate would be that difficult, even if there was no internet to make such information easily accesible. The second thing that made them burst into laughs were the gators just roaming about on pavement. The dialect spoken was Mexican and the people were Mexican. Not even the native dress of peasants or the police/military were accurate, according to my sister-in-law. "Not even close," she said. My favorite was the llama... there aren't any in Colombia, or Mexico for that matter. They really went out of their way to be wrong, I guess.

After saying all that, you're probably wondering why I'm making such a big deal about an 80s movie with a romance novelist as its main character. Well, it's mostly because I am doing research for a historical fiction story I hope to turn into a book one of these days. Fiction has always scared me more than non-fiction, because fiction is, well, fiction. You, the writer, make it up and it's all you. If you make a mistake, you really look stupid and people will roll their eyes. I know, because I roll my eyes all the time at fiction that pretends to know what my people-- Arabs and/or Muslims-- are like. I've also read and seen fiction that makes Denver look like this snow-covered place where people wear their coats all winter long over their Denver Broncos gear and go on about how cold it is with a cowboy's twangy accent. I grew up and have lived in Denver for 20 years, and I can tell you that that painting of Denver is pretty much bologne.

Finally, I am of the total belief that if you're going to go out on a limb and do something, you should do it right or don't do it at all, otherwise the Colombian in the room will laugh at you.

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