Monday, February 23, 2009

Spanish Film Stars

Last night Penelope Cruz was the first Spanish actress to win an Oscar, although she was nominated in 2007 for best actress in Pedro Almodóvar’s film, Volver. Almodóvar, an Oscar winning director, is also from Spain. Cruz won best supporting actress for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Her co-star in this film, Javier Bardem, was the first actor from Spain to win an Oscar (last year).

The 81st Academy Awards reflect a recent move in Hollywood toward recognizing international films and collobarating with filmmakers globally. This is because many of the best movies in the world now come from outside Hollywood. It is also a matter of survival. Prior to its more global focus, Oscar honors were becoming increasingly irrelevant, seen as Hollywood talking to itself while the world’s best filmmakers and performers focused on other awards, leaving the Academy Awards behind.

Spanish Comments at the Oscars

In keeping with its new international theme, one of Penelope’s Oscar presenters and this year’s best actress both hail from Europe. Awards went to German, French, Japanese and Indian film projects. The show’s host was Australian. We heard many languages and accents at the 81st Oscars. Penelope Cruz gave part of her acceptance speech in Spanish after saying, "this is a moment of unity for the world because art, in any form, will always be our universal language".

She added "Todos los que desde España ahora estén compartiendo este momento conmigo y sientan que esto también es de ellos, se los dedico. Y a todos los actores de mi país. Muchisimas gracias.” Penelope's remarks translate to “All the people of Spain now share this moment with me and feel that this is theirs also, so I dedicate it to them. To all of the actors of my country, thanks a lot.”

Cruz stated earlier, “I cannot talk about great female characters without thanking my friend Pedro Almodóvar for having made me part of so many of his adventures. Almodóvar praised Cruz afterwards, by noting her history of "jumping head first and without a parachute, and taking on very risky roles. I cried with joy when I heard her name after the classic line, and the Oscar goes to…”

New Latin American Films

This year Cruz stars in the Almodóvar film Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces), opening next month. It is a tale of dangerous love.

Penelope also has a role in Manolete, a biography of bullfighter Manuel Laureano Rodríguez Sánchez. She plays the famous bullfighter’s lover. Manolete is also set to open next month.

Che is in theatres now – an epic film about the Argentine doctor, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who helped Castro launch his Cuban revolution. “Che” is played by Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro, who won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in Traffic (speaking Spanish). His new film is 4.5 hours long and can be seen as two films, The Argentine and The Guerilla. For a primer, watch The Motorcycle Diaries.

There are hundreds of Spanish language films to enjoy, and they can help people learn Spanish. One of the best is Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside), a film about what makes life worth living, starring Javier Bardem. For dozens of excellent movie options from Latin America, visit Vistawide's Spanish Language Film Index.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Baja Sur has Todos Santos at its Heart

Baja California Sur has the lowest population density of any state in Mexico with one-half million residents. The history of tourism in Baja Sur dates back to 1948, when wealthy American actors like John Wayne and Bing Crosby built the first resort on the Sea of Cortez, south of La Paz. Other luxury resorts followed until the highway from San Diego was finished in 1973, opening the door for automobile tourists. Today there is something for everyone in Baja Sur, especially fresh fish, fruits and vegetables.

Large scale farming on this arid peninsula dates back to the 1950’s when cotton was the main crop. One of the oldest export farms in Baja Sur is in San Juan de los Planes. This valley, “Valle de los Planes” is home to an asparagus farm in San Juan de Los Planes, near the first resort. It was founded by Guido Natali of Italy, who came to the area in 1958 to train local farmers for the Agricola San Vicente company. Near Valle de los Planes are the beaches of El Sargento and La Ventana where wind surfers and kite surfers enjoy the waves and strong winds. There are also estuaries with perfect beaches and warm, shallow water for swimming with small children.

Across the peninsula on the Pacific Ocean you can swim with the whales at Lopez Mateos. Whales can be seen breaching the waters just off both coasts. In the center of the Baja peninsula, the Sierra la Laguna mountain range forms a Biosphere Reserve which feeds surrounding agricultural valleys and tourism developments with fresh water. This Biosphere is the largest protected area in Mexico and one of the largest in Latin America. Its mountains are forested with pine and oak woods, with oases of palms. Its villages present excellent opportunities for hiking and birding, or just escaping the desert heat.

On the southern tip of the peninsula you’ll find Los Cabos, where Sammy Hagar built his Cabo Wabo nightclub and restaurant. Decades later, celebrities still flock to Baja. The main tourist areas are Los Cabos and La Paz. Between the two lies the charming artist colony of Todos Santos, on the Pacific Ocean. This is the best place to stay to be ‘in the center of it all’ while enjoying the “onda” (vibe) of authentic Mexico. This halfway point in one hour from either of the two main tourist areas. Todos Santos is home to orchards and organic farms in the shadow of the Sierra la Laguna Biosphere. These add pastoral views to this unique coastal village, like the one pictured above.

Todos Santos is home to 6000 artists, expats, and locals. The rich and varied agricultural communities between Todos Santos and La Paz produce citrus, mangos, chile peppers, herbs, corn, chick-pea, melons, tomato, papaya and asparagus – to name the most visible crops. Still, the peninsula is most famous as a surfing and deep sea fishing paradise. Everyone here enjoys fresh fish, fruits and vegetables daily.
Posted from Cafelix, Todos Santos, Baja Sur

Friday, February 6, 2009

Organic in Mexico

Worldwide, 77 million acres of land are certified organic. In Italy and many northern European countries, organic land represents roughly one-quarter of total farm land. (Source: IFOAM) Helga Willer of FiBL presented the latest figures on organic farming worldwide at the BioFach Congress 2009 in Germany.

In Latin America, Uruguay has the highest percentage of organic farm land – much of it in urban areas. Even their wool is certified organic. But Uruguay is not close enough to the USA to maintain a low carbon footprint for agricultural exports. Organic consumers are very interested in regionally produced foods.

My partners and I are visiting organic farmers in Mexico to discuss organizing a program to lift awareness among U.S. retailers regarding “Organic in Mexico”. Many organic exporters are close to large population centers in the USA. Climate, soil, and affordable farm labor are factors favorable to organic farmers south of the border. Virtually all of Mexico’s certified organics are exported.

In many areas of northern Mexico, certification is a fast track process because inspectors find zero residual fertilizer and insecticide levels in the soil. The reason is simple - farmers haven’t the money to spend on chemicals for their crops.

In 2000 Mexico placed 16th in the world and fifth in Latin America for organic land under production. Unfortunately, Argentina’s 3 million hectares certified organic includes unmanaged range land, so the statistic is misleading. “The value of organic production in 2000 was $150 million from Mexico, five times greater than Argentina’s, which puts Mexico second only to Brazil in total value of organic production in Latin America”, according to agriculture researcher Don Lotter from Davis, California.

Mexico’s domestic demand is still small; however, the value of organic production in Mexico is expanding at twice the rate of the USA’s. Coffee is Mexico’s largest organic crop. For organic coffee from Mexico, fresh roasted the day you order it, visit - Seth Appell has been importing organic coffee for decades. Buying organic coffee from Latin America helps small rural growers more than most foods you can buy. "Over 50,000 small farmers, with an average holding of 2 hectares produce over two-thirds of organic production value in Mexico. Since it is far beyond the abilities of a producer of that size to seek individual certification, certification is done by farmer groups and cooperatives", states Lotter.

We’ll be following in Mr. Lotter’s footsteps as we meet with growers this week. We highly recommend Don’s field notes from 2004 focused on Del Cabo Cooperative, a 300-family project from Baja's organic gardens.