Pink Colombia – suspended time

These days (being tired with things, end of the semester, lots of cumulated work to do, close deadlines) I seem to give up to emotional moments – I respond, when tired, when my mind mixes sheaf cohomology of ideals, generalized modular invariants, typesheaves, categories of AECs, Robinson properties… my own projects, mixed in my mind with the projects of my students in a logic class and in a discrete math class (each group its own project – from game theoretic (+ Mumford theory) image processing to second order logic applied to database theory, through many odd things – dependent logic, elliptic curves in crypto…) and organizing meetings and… , I respond emotionally to apparently simple things.

Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Urán on stage 20 at the Giro d'Italia. Their solidarity could be part of the Latinoamérica (Calle 13) video!
Nairo Quintana (Boyacá – Colombia), Rigoberto Urán (Antioquia – Colombia) today on stage 20 at the Giro d’Italia. Their solidarity today was a beautiful lesson for all Colombians.

The Colombians’ prowess in the Giro d’Italia has been one of them. Nairo Quintana is a giant, Rigoberto Urán too. They are at this point number 1 and 2 in the giro – there is still tomorrow’s stage – hopefully they will keep these positions until Trieste. Even if that does not happen, what they have done has brought a rare moment of release of tension – symbolic and fragile – but perhaps necessary at a moment like this.

Wherever I look around in Colombia these heady days, people seem concentrated in febrile activity (“I need to finish this project, I need to submit that paper, I need to talk to these people, I need to organize these lectures”). Everybody talks about impending tasks, lectures, deadlines, papers. Yet our mind is somewhere else. We concentrate on our work, desperately these days, and crazily welcome displays of otherness in our Quintanas and Uráns, displays of fraternity in competition, of beautiful efforts in gorgeous landscapes, wearing pink (of all colors! pink because this is the color of number 1 in Italy’s giro – Quintana as I write this, and possibly till the end – but extremely symbolic in other ways). Yet our mind is worried.

And we are tired of this tension, of this suspension. And we may get very emotional. An opinion columnist in one of the main printed magazines of the country says it clearly: this is not a vote, this is a feeling. León Valencia (columnist in Semana, former guerrilla member) tells us how last Thursday he could not overcome tears when he embraced (retired) general and member of the peace committee in Havana, Jorge Enrique Mora – he wanted to thank him for what he is doing for peace in Colombia, and that the honor of representing a country in search of reconciliation is not beneath the sacrifice of having represented it in a war. This description of emotion at a moment of great danger for the peace process in many ways reflects what many of us feel here.

The whole country feels like being on a plane whose engine may have stalled, we do not know for sure. We hold our breaths until June 15. Nobody can say for sure what will happen that day – which one of the two candidates will become the president. The current president was elected on the opposite platform, but his enormous work in bringing Colombia to this peace process, and the depth of difficulties faced since the process started – complex reasons underscoring these of course, but the brutally fierce opposition of the extreme right of the country – now materialized in the opposing candidate, and possibly (hopefully not) getting the presidency for the next four years have brought the process to a possible halt.

One should like to think that a process at this stage, and of this depth of consequences, should not depend on who is president of Colombia at a given moment. Yet reality has shown that the hatred, vengeful attitude and complete disregard for rules of any kind (even of the most basic) is what moves the opposing candidate. And a serious portion of the country follows them.

That is perhaps one of the reasons why seeing Quintana and Urán being number one and two in the giro, at the same time extremely competitive but also collaborative beyond their differences, has been watched with such hopefulness and such emotion in this country. Not only is it an incredible respite from tension around the country but also a reminder of how dedicated work, not too many words, serious face, strong work (but knowing when to release, not mere working, working, working as the stupidest of all Colombians living used to boast when he was president – rather, working cleverly, going up knowing when to accelerate, concentrated, and also knowing when to unwind and to look at the big picture) can sometimes bring those summits.

But pink is also the symbol of the winner in Italy’s giro: the number one runner wears a maglia rosa – a pink cycling outfit. In his hometown (Cómbita) in Boyacá people (men, women, old, young) decide to dye in pink their ruanas – their typical ponchos. The effect is a bit hilarious, and becomes a modest symbol of release in this tension.

Addenda: through youtube’s recommendations (something I never look at, usually), I fell into listening to a singer I didn’t know: Stromae. Belgian (the son of a Rwandan father and a Flemish mother – he grew up in a French-speaking neighborhood of Brussels), in his song Alors on danse his pronunciation of French, and the brutal contained energy made me think of early Brel – I later realized this is an extremely talented young singer/performer – who combines his Belgian closeness to Brel with many other worlds: hip-hop of course, but at times Western African rhythms (his song-homage to Cesária Évora, Ave Cesaria watch the beautiful tango dancing! – is completely different from his Alors on danse), serious French wordplay (oulipien at times, as in Moules Frites, where the wordplay has a completely innocent face [eating mussels and fries…] yet describes a guy who likes to have unprotected sex, and gets AIDS as a result, the whole sing sung in a way that could be heard many times without ever dreaming the point), strong parody (as in Carmen – where he sings on the universally known melody of Bizet’s Carmen – l’amour est comme l’oiseau de twitter…), Cuban-like sadness with Quand c’est, a song (of rage) to cancer, which in French almost sounds like “when is it/quand c’est”, or just a song about a boy looking for his (missing, as his own father who was killed in the Rwanda genocide) father in Papaoutai – Brel again in the rage and West Africa in the rhythms.

The playing part reaches a strange paroxysm in Formidable – a strange (and unsettling) impersonation of a drunk man in a street (of Brussels or Montreal, where he acted the song in the metro), talking to people the way completely drunk (bourré) people speak to people in the street. Apparently the first version was filmed in the Rond-point Louise in Brussels, with hidden camera, next to a tram stop – as he is famous, people saw him, took his pictures on their phones and twitted about “Stromae being completely drunk in the street” before the (official) release of the song. Of course, at this point, the whole thing could be a story, the whole strategy to release through twitter is most probably a stunt carried by his producers.

Yet there is some sadness in the piece – some possible truth and comment on this loneliness, by the (Belgian) son of a Rwandan victim and a Flemish mother – that (I think) permeates the video. I wonder where this will go – Stromae is very talented and versatile. I just hope he will hold on and will not allow himself to fall through the cracks and dangers.

Here is the Montreal version (the Brussels one has better sound, and is better produced – with the backdrop of Louise):

Versatility, flexibility, experimentation, à fleur de peau – those are some ingredients of Stromae’s talent. Consider Te quiero – ceci n’est pas un clip: