Sunday, 11 December 2016

World of Wine: A Board Game that Teaches you about Wine

My love for wine and board games is usually expressed by me drinking the first while attempting to win the second. Recently I found out about a wine themed board game called World of Wine Game and after a few emails "from" and "to" the game makers -Wine School of Excellence- were kind enough to send me a sample.

The basics

My first thought when it arrived was "this is bigger than I imagined" as I was expecting a box similar in size to Spyfall, Codenames or many other party games. The purple box with golden letters is about 27x27 and as my husband pointed out, it looks fancy.

The game's instructions couldn't be easier... You go around a board moving according to a dice roll. Once you arrive to a place, it's marked with one of eight different categories or, if you're lucky, with a "Pick Any Card" which will probably make life easier if you have a stronger area of knowledge.

There are the categories:

  • France
  • Italy
  • Spain & Portugal
  • Germany, Austria & Hungary
  • Australia, New Zealand & South Africa
  • The Americas
  • Fortified, Sparkling and Sweet Wines
  • General, Viticulture & Vinification

Game Play

This Trivial Pursuit-like mechanics come with an innovation: Depending on a player's level of wine knowledge, points can be given with three different levels of difficulty. The questions come with three possible answers, but if you play "pro" you don't get to listen to this part and have to answer correctly yourself. If you're "novice" or "getting there", you might get extra points if you answer straight away, but if you don't know the answer, you get to hear the three options and still get -less- points if you guess the right one.

As I took the game to a friend's house to test it, we found out this was key as it managed to offer a real challenge to wine geeks while giving newbies a chance to win the game and actually learn stuff about wine.

We noticed that the questions had varying levels of difficulty within the same category and that the game played in a very relaxed way. In fact, you can stop whenever you want so we agreed to play ten rounds. This is excellent if you are at a party and want to do something while waiting for other guests, or just to entertain yourselves for a while but don't want to commit to a super long board game.

Another thing, the dice roll and how far do you get in the board only had the function of have you landing in categories, as the points were giving for getting right answers and not for being the one further on the board at any given point. While no one minded, that'd be a bit of room for improvement, as the moving around was used more as a roulette to choose the category than as a way to mark progress.

The Quality of the Pieces

The board is thick and sturdy, and the colours are vibrant and the texture smooth. It feels like very good quality. The cards are neat as well, and even though the material is slightly thin, the paper is nice and the print work looks polished. The questions come with a "Nice to know" line at the bottom which is always interesting. We enjoyed reading this fun facts after every turn.

The only thing that wasn't up to the rest of it were the meeples -the little tokens- that represent each player on the map. Maybe it's just a personal preference, but they were plastic and hollow so it contrasted with the luxurious feeling of everything else. Wooden meeples or -maybe this is a logistic nightmare but I'm just putting it out there- meeples made of wine corks would have been so much nicer.

Overall Impression

The game will appeal more to people who want to learn about wine than to people that are used to playing more challenging board games. It's fun, easy to learn and you can play for as long as you want so it feels very casual and party-friendly.

You can appreciate it that the questions were made by someone that knows their wines -a certified wine educator actually- but they feel more like a game show than like study material, which is great.

If you and your friends enjoy gathering over a bottle of wine while playing something casually and talking, this will be a lovely thing to have, but if you enjoy sitting for hours to develop complex strategies and play with 3D-printed warrior shaped figures, maybe instead of World of Wine, you should check out World of Warcraft.

For more information or to buy it online visit

Want more wine board games? Check out my review of Viticulture.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Yes, We Won the Geographic Lottery but that Shouldn't Be the Only Thing to be Proud About for Venezuelans

Most people point to their own when asked to find the best country in the world. I don't think there is such thing, as every place has their strengths and weakness, but I often hear/read Venezuelans exalting ours as the top of the top (yes, despite the current crisis, as judging the country for what's been like during the last few years is like judging a person's health taking only into account that critical week they spent in intensive care after a car crash).
However, when asked why do they believe that, you'll hear them frequently mention the stunning Angel Falls, the beautiful white-sand clear-water beaches and the world's biggest oil reserves. All those things which just happened to be there before the country was even formed.
I decided to do an exercise and do a Google Image search on the "wonders" of several countries...

Here's France...

And Italy...

This is Ireland...

What's my point? Well... The last three screenshots of searches feature a mix of cultural, archaeological and historical "wonders", And it's not just something you'll find when searching European countries...

This is India...

And below, Japan...

Again, beautiful natural landscapes with iconic buildings that show their rich, interesting culture and history. 

But you don't need to go so far to find more examples...

Peru seems to have a favourite wonder...

And Brazil also has an iconic image, alternating with natural sites...

Mexico also has a mix of heritage and wilderness...

Now, a Google Image search of "Venezuela wonders"...

The green, the untamed rainforest, the waterfalls, the beaches, more beaches, more waterfalls... Beautiful isn't it? I am not denying how amazing all of those are, but it'd be nice to see a cultural or historical landmark, something human-made that is worthy of getting a nod on the first page of a Google Images search, modern or ancient.
It's not like there isn't any human achievement to be proud of, the work of painters, designersscientists and athletes born in Venezuela is top class, Hey! Simón Bolivar features as the 72nd most influential people of the MILLENIUM according to Biography by A&E Network.
So yes, be proud (and do your bit to protect) the green and the wavy, but also show some love to the work of talented people.
It's like when someone says they love a person, and it's thanks to their lovely face and beautiful body... what about their personality and their intelligence?
This is by no means a rant, just an invitation to value the work of people too. Next time you recommend stuff to a tourist, don't only talk about the natural wonders, send them to a museum too or to a historical site. Maybe if enough people did that, the Google Image search would be different.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

To Which Harry Potter House Would Wines Be Assigned by the Sorting Hat?

Who didn't ask themselves in which Hogwarts house they'd be assigned by the old sorting hat that decided pretty much the next seven years of all the new students in Harry Potter's school?

Image via

In case you're wondering, here's a quiz you can take to figure out where you belong:

Which Hogwarts House Do You Belong In?

"Please don't send me to Slytherin"

Now, let's pretend wines were also assigned to different houses based on their traits... These are some famous wines, sorted into the four Hogwarts houses according to their characteristics [Thanks to harrypotter.wikia for summarising what the houses stand for so well]

Stands for bravery, heroism and chivalry. Its emblematic animal is the lion, its element is Fire and its colours are scarlet and gold.
Famous Gryffindors include: Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter.

These wines are bold and bright, full of flavour and made from noble grapes. Bordeaux wines -both reds and whites- will totally go to Gryffindor, as well as Argentinian Malbec and Californian Chardonnay.
Among the bubbles, this would be Champagne's house.

ONE TO TRY: Silver Palm Chardonnay - California - 13.5% ABV

Values hard work, patience, loyalty and family. Its emblematic animal is the badger, its element is Earth and its colours are yellow and black.
Famous Hufflepuffs include: Hengist of Woodcroft (founder of Hogsmeade), and Artemisia Lufkin (first female minister for magic).

These wines are crafty and usually come from family run vineyards, Albariño would be in this house for sure, and so would Chianti Riserva. Among New World wines, New Zealand wines would be sent here as well. Portuguese Port is also a Hufflepuff. Bubbles wise, Cremants are the chosen ones.

ONE TO TRY: Pirueta Albariño - Spain - 12.5% ABV

For this house it's all about intelligence, knowledge and wit. Its emblematic animal is an eagle, its element is Air and its colours are blue and bronze.
Famous Ravenclaws include: Luna Lovegood, and Garrick Ollivander.

The wines can be a bit quirky and a little bit light in body and/or flavour. They might be a bit missundertood by some, but those who get them know they are capable of great things. Beaujolais among the reds, and Rieslings within the whites. Most rosé wines would also end up here, probably sharing room with Prosecco.

ONE TO TRY: L'Ostal Cases Rose - France - 13% ABV

This house values ambition, cunning and resourcefulnes. Its emblematic animal is the serpent, its element is water and its colours are silver and green.
Famous Slytherins include: Merlin, Tom Riddle, and Dolores Umbridge.

Elegant and refined, Sancerre wines would be exemplary Slytherins and so would Torrontés and Sherry. Red wines would be mostly made from Pinot Noir, although Amarone would be a rare example of an Italian sent to this house. In the sparkling department, Cava would represent the house.

ONE TO TRY: Chanson Bourgogne Pinot Noir - France - 12.5% ABV

By the way, if you're in Ireland, all the wines are available at O'Briens Wines and all are under €20

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Ten Weird Things I've Been Asked Abroad After I Say I Live in Ireland

After discussing the random things that people tell me when I say I'm Venezuelan, I realised that it works both ways, so why not gather some of the comments, questions and "pearls of wisdom" that I've been given when people abroad learn that I'm living in Dublin.
I'll include those that I heard during the process of moving here over two years ago, when I told people the good news, and I realise that the Emerald Island is not as well known as I assumed and many looked at me like I just said I'd be flying to Neverland.
I won't name names, but be sure that at least one of those came from my loving parents.

1. What will you do if you don't speak Irish?: I'll speak English like pretty much everyone else.
2. Aren't you afraid of the IRA?: They look pretty scary in Peaky Blinders, but I fear most the un-organised Venezuelan crime.
3. Now that you're in Europe, you'll get to travel by train to so many places!: This one genuinely didn't know that Ireland is an Island (#Facepalm).
4. You better watch your drinking: You better watch your drinking everywhere.
5. The weather is horrible and it rains every day, you know that?: I've seen worst and you need the rain to have the green so I'll happily put up with that (it's not as bad as I though anyway, we do get some sunny hours through the year).
6. Do you know a lot of gay people?: I've no idea, I'm not going around asking to see their membership card.
7. They film Game of Thrones in Ireland!: Yes, miles away from my house. It's still awesome.
8. Is Ireland a part of the UK?: No. Northern Ireland is, and even though they're both part of the same island, they function as two separate states.
9. Is it true that you can't get the pill?: It's prescription only, which is weird, but it's widely available.
10. Do you eat potatoes every day? I increased my potato consumption in about 500% since I moved here, but I wouldn't go as far as to say I have them "every day".

Runners up: "Hey, I saw Ireland in that movie about a girl that wants to marry a guy", "I've heard Irish funerals are the best", "Do you like Guinness?", "Have you ran into Bono?", "Have you gone to Star Wars island?",

Ireland's "Mickey Mouse" is literally a Smiling Potato Man (photo via

Anyhow, I've said it before, Dublin has lots in common with one of the cities I grew up in, so adapting has been a pleasure and I'm happy to translate and to answer all of people's dumb questions, as long as they come from curiosity and not from the intention of annoying or sabotaging me.

Are you in Ireland? Do your friends back home ask you random weird stuff about your new home? Or are you Irish abroad and your new friends keep guessing weird stuff about your home town?

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Ten Weird Things I've Been Asked Abroad After I Say I'm Venezuelan

I've recently discussed the types of Venezuelans you'll meet abroad, and due to the fact that I've been lucky enough to travel a little bit, I've been able to stumble upon all of them here and there.
But that is about how we see each other. Now, I've noticed that it's harder to realise how others see us, mainly because most people are polite enough not to tell it to your face when it's bad.
However, sometimes curiosity brings the cat to ask the oddest stuff and I've collected a few of the questions that people have asked just after I mention one of my nationalities (I've a multiple nationality disorder, the other two being Italian and Polish, but that's another story).

1. Did you hear about the [insert latest traumatising event]: Yes, it's all over my freaking Facebook timeline.
2. Do you guys really have the prettiest girls? (said usually by guys): Depend's who's judging. We also have mannequins shaped as women with heavy plastic surgery, as seen on The New York Times.
3. Would you teach me how to dance salsa?: I wish I could, but I've the salsa dancing abilities of a potato.
4. What the ____ it's going on over there?: A bit of it all, I actually wrote a piece about it so I can share it when someone really wants to know.
5. Why are you so white? (Asked many times in several countries): Because I'm part Elf, thank-you-very-much.
6. Did you see Caracas on that Homeland episode? (said by guy at a party): I don't watch that show but I'm assuming it was super-violent and chaotic (It was).
7. Oh... You're the ones with Hugo Chavez... He died, didn't he?: Yes. He's just where he belongs now.
8. Don't you guys have lots of oil?: We do. Your point being?
9. Did you read about the dude in Caracas that lived like a rock star for a month with 100 euros? (a friend at a pub): I did, and sorry to rain on your parade but I've the feeling that was staged.
10. Oh wow! You're so far from home!: Home is at a 25 minutes walk from Dublin City Centre now.

Finally, I'll leave you with a little comic, based on the "How People View Me After I Say I'm Russian". Here's "How People View Me After I Say I'm Venezuelan".
How People View Me After I Say I'm Venezuelan

Saturday, 9 April 2016

What happened to Venezuela? I will explain you as I would to a friend

Quite often, I find myself trying to answer some version of this question: "What the ____ happened in Venezuela?". For this, I will tell the story as I would tell it to a friend.
I will divide it in acts that you can easily skip (but if you really want to go down the rabbit hole, then read the whole thing). Also, I'll use the least possible amount of dates or stuff that you might easily forget.


Once upon a time, America (the continent, not the USA) was inhabited by three great civilizations: Incas (the ones from The Emperor's New Groove), Mayas (the ones that said the world would end in 2012) and Aztecs (the ones that were into chocolate and human sacrifice).
There were also loads of smaller and less organised tribes running around, and Venezuela was full of those. Hunting, gathering and fishing, these guys had no idea that on the other side of the world there was a man named Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón for Spanish speakers) who was crownfunding to find a cheaper and safer way to get to India.


It was 1492 and your man Columbus finally found land, but it wasn't India. He soon realised that but decided to call the inhabitants of this new tropical haven indians anyway. Some huts on the water reminded him of Venice, and then, he named the land Venezuela (little Venice if you want to be flattering with your translation).
The place was quickly colonized in the name of Spain. The locals became servants or withdrew to the deep wild (the ones that survived, that is), and the harder labour was made by slaves brought from Africa. All the cool jobs were reserved for the Spanish.
Somehow, the population got VERY diverse and in a couple of centuries there were 50 shades of people. Many of them wanted a go on the VIP seats.
The American War of Independence (now I mean the country) and the French Revolution inspired the lighter shades to get rid of their glass ceiling later on the XVIII Century.
A guy named Simón Bolívar led the process which took the first quarter of the XIX century. Then he went on to do the same in the rest of South America. In case you wonder, he died of TB (although nowadays propaganda makers are trying to come up with evidence that he was murdered).
On those days, there wasn't a "Venezuela" on its own, it was a mix of us, Colombia and Ecuador that was called "Gran Colombia" (please never call it "Columbia", thanks). The place was too large and no one had Internet or Smart Phones, so communications sucked and eventually it divided in the three aforementioned states (Colombians got to keep the name, no one complained).
Now, it was mid XIX century, the country was finally independent, and Venezuelans could follow their dreams or whatever. In 1854, slavery was abolished (three decades after everyone else was "free" but still in need to run profitable plantations) just in time for a long and bloody CIVIL WAR. I've heard from some history experts that this has been one of the most shameful ways to abolish slavery, not my opinion, theirs (but I agree).
Known as the FEDERAL WAR (1859-1863), it was to blame for about 100,000 deaths in a rural country with just above one million people at the time.
After it, a series of short term presidencies (including one that lasted two months) paved the way for a long term relationship with the fanciest dictator the country ever had: Antonio Guzmán Blanco.


Antonio Guzmán Blanco
ruled the country three times (1870-1877, 1879-1884, 1886-1887). He was a well educated francophile that brought some actual progress and modernity to the land, but don't let his impeccable manners fool you, the guy was a dictator (think Django Unchained's Monsieur Candie meets The Hunger Games' President Snow). After almost two decades of playing tennis (Venezuela being the ball), he voluntarily exiled to Paris where he lived in luxury for the rest of his life.
After that, another round of forgettable wannabes took turns to see if they could open the jar (Venezuela being the jar). This loosened it up for a new dictator to come along and take all the pickles.
Juan Vicente Gómez, took over after a coup d'etat in 1908 and ruled directly or indirectly (through puppet presidents in between his three terms) until 1935. That is 27 years. Unlike his fancy predecessor, Gómez was what some would call a hillbilly (unsophisticated country person). A very hateful, authoritarian, bloodthirsty hillbilly.
Did I mentioned oil was discovered early on during his presidency? This is important because he conceded exploring and drilling permits to all his friends, who went on to pass them to foreign companies. In 1914, in the western city of Maracaibo, they discovered the first important oilfield and ten minutes later, we were all playing baseball and drinking Coca-Cola.
Oil became so important and profitable that there was no point in working the land any more, and quickly, coffee and cocoa -the two main sources of income until then- were replaced completely for the new toxic black liquid in town (the oil, not the Coca-Cola).
Country folks left their farms in large numbers looking for a better life in the big cities and people came from all over the world to get their piece of the cake. But life in the city wasn't kind to everyone and many families started settling in slums in the outskirts where they could be conveniently ignored for decades. We'll come to them later.
In 1935, when Gómez retired from dictatorship (because he died), we decided to give a go at this thing called democracy, and what better way to start it than with another coup d'etat? It happened in 1945 and the promise was that fair and free elections would be held soon. Three years later, that actually happened and everyone was very happy (I bet you didn't see that coming, did you?).
Also, World War Two was over and lots of European refugees moved to the country, bringing their expertise and culture to the mix. I will add here that they were received with open arms and welcomed sincerely from day one (but to be fair, they learnt the language and tried their best to adapt ASAP which clearly helps).
So, peace, lots of money coming in, people voting, electricity, TV, telephone lines, the poor in slums behind the mountain growing rapidly in numbers (but we'll worry about them later). The fruit was ripe for another dictator to take a bite.


In 1952, yet another coup d'etat left the country in the hands of a military junta lead by General Marcos Pérez Jiménez who soon proceeded to name General Marcos Pérez Jiménez as "provisional" President of Venezuela.
Like all Stockholm Syndrome victims, many Venezuelans remember him with fondness. How could you not? A guy that built the hospitals, paid the debts and actually invested more than he stole (and he stole A LOT). The same guy that tortured the students, the journalists and everyone that didn't want him as a Big Brother. Again, how could you not love him? You had to. A lot. Or else.

Guess what happened on January 23rd, 1958?
a) Marcos Pérez Jiménez said he was tired and retired to the French Alps to become a cheese maker.
b) Marcos Pérez Jiménez was visited by the three ghosts of Christmas and became a nice guy.
c) A Coup d'etat.

Surprisingly, the answer is "C". Although he did retire in Europe, and lived in Spain until dying from a heart attack in 2001.

At this point, the leaders of the biggest political parties at the time decided to gather and make an agreement to strengthen democracy, known as the Pacto de Punto Fijo. Representatives of AD (the white ones), COPEI (the green ones) and URD (the yellow ones) were the signatories. PVC (the red ones, because of its banner's colours but also because they were openly communists) were excluded.
This omission was as smart as that time when the Queen and the King forgot to invite Maleficent to their welcome-baby-princess party. But they'd have time to worry about the spinning wheel cursed with the socialists' resentment later.

So you didn't invite the commies to your party? They'll remember

Now it seemed like things were back on track.
Yes, there was corruption and stealing, but schools were being built, industry was booming and the middle class was able to go a few times a year to Miami for holidays and shopping. The white party ones and the green party ones were basically taking turns in the big chair, and a never ending supply of black gold coming from the ground paid for all the extravagance.
By the early eighties, there was a lot of money coming in, but the debt was so unbelievably large that on February the 18th of 1983 President Luis Herrera Campins declared a severe devaluation of the currency (Bolivar) in what is known as Viernes Negro (Black Friday, not related to the American shopping frenzy of the same name).
A drastic drop in oil prices, the country's only important export, tied together with a now unmanageable debt, brought an unprecedented economic crisis, which meant no more dinners in the States for the middle class, and no more dinners in general for the poor (but again, let's not care about them for now, after all, they're quiet and don't even have the habit of voting).
After years of denial, the President Carlos Andrés Pérez decided to introduce some very unpopular measures in 1989 and it finally hit the fan.
Named El Caracazo, a series of protests that lead to riots which turned into looting and then shootings, and ended up in a massacre (no official death toll but some say hundreds, some argue thousands), begun on February 27th 1989 and lasted for a week. It was eventually contained but the country was shaken and the stability gained in the Pacto de Punto Fijo questioned for the first time.
Suddenly, everyone noticed that there were lots of poor people, angry, ignored and fed up. And they've had children and grandchildren in the slums who were also sick of it.
Guess what happened in 1992? Oh yes, another Coup d'etat. But this one failed and Hugo Chávez (the name might ring a bell, does it?), one of the organizers and leaders of it, was found guilty of sedition and incarcerated.

Now move forward to 1994. The people were disappointed, getting poorer by the day and faith in the usual tennis players was gone. Then along comes this old school politician named Rafael Caldera (and by old school I mean the guy was born in 1916, he actually was alive during Juan Vicente Gómez's dictatorship and World War I) and he appealed to the underdog, the people sick of the corrupt parties (like the one that had supported his first presidency a few decades ago, but he didn't mention that of course). He was the first President to win an election with the support of a small independent party and one of his most remembered decisions was to set Hugo Chávez free, and provide an official pardon for his conspiracy.
That way, Chávez was now able to form another independent political party, the heir of the red one that once got ignored when the powerful white, green and yellow divided the treasure. Gathering massive support from all the resentful and until then ignored poor people and a lot of jaded middle class that truly longed for change, he won by a large majority in 1998.
If this was a fairy tale, that would have been the moment in which the princess finally touched the spinning wheel, after years of a latent curse waiting to be unleashed. Only that instead of falling asleep, the princess went completely insane.


I could get lazy here and just copy-paste a summary of Animal Farm, but if you've gotten this far, you deserve better (or if you skipped all the other chapters and are in for the current stuff as well).
It was 1999 and everyone was partying like it was 1999. A new Constitution was approved and oil prices were looking well.
The country's poor, who had never had anything, suddenly had this guy speaking to them, telling them that being poor was OK, and that the State would help them. Suddenly there were literacy campaigns and emergency health services in the heart of the slums. Trucks with fresh food would go and sell them stuff at subsidized prices. It was wonderful, and the infinite money from the oil was financing everything.
Oh wait... now he's not only giving stuff for free to the poor, now he's building hospitals in other countries. Did you hear that we'll give oil to Cuba in exchange of sugar instead of money? Such a nice guy, right?
Well, business owners and tax payers would rather the money to be invested in progress (and of course, to profit in the process, can you blame them?), not just given away. Also, he approved a bunch of leftist laws that put pressure in the private sector.
So, in 2002, opposition leaders organised a general strike with the objective to push him to change legislation or demand his resignation. There were protests, shootings and deaths. PDVSA, the country's company in charge of all things oil, was part of the strike.
This is a company with thousands of staff, bringing billions into the country. So you can imagine Chávez's face when they were rebelling. The strike turned into an attempted coup d'etat but it eventually failed.
Time for retaliation: first PDVSA's directive board got fired (these were people with 30+ years experience in the oil industry), then the middle management, then normal staff. A total of about 18,000 highly skilled workers lost their jobs. The top seats were replaced with government sympathizers who didn't really know who to run a company. The rest, with whatever they could find.
The say that the most profitable business is a well run oil company, the second best is a poorly run oil company. So money kept flowing. But for some odd reason, international companies began to wonder if this was a stable place to invest in. Private investors too, and soon, loads of people began taking their cash out, and in a very short time, the country experienced a massive capital outflow.
To counteract this, in 2003, a currency exchange control was established. They named it CADIVI.
Under it, it became illegal for a person or company to exchange Bolivars into Dollars or any other foreign currency without the government's authorization. This, they said, would stop the financial bleeding and keep the money home.
So, in a country where practically the only thing produced is oil, those who got permission to exchange currency were the only ones able to import basic goods, The official exchange rate was one, but soon a black market started growing, in which the value of dollars was several times the one officially recognised.
This motivated thousands of people to apply for currency exchange approval (the easiest process was if you applied for personal cash to travel abroad). Once the exchange was approved, many would get their dollars and instead of using them for what they said they would, they sold them in the black market (remember, not everyone got their exchange application approved, but everyone needed to exchange, so cash passed hands under the table, at a very high margin for some lucky ones).
So, a savvy corrupt person could do this several times and multiply their capital without producing a thing. The ultimate fraud. And if they had the right contact, they could get away with growing fortunes overnight.
Lots of people became absurdly rich in a matter of months.
So, instead of keeping the money in the country, this made things worse.
But hey, it doesn't matter if the money goes down the drain, we have a magical cash fountain, don't we? Besides, the poor -a conveniently growing group that would be happy with very little and in return keep voting for the hand that feeds- were happy and didn't care about exchange rates and trips to Miami they never had anyway.
And just to make sure people don't protest so easily, let's play blind eye to muggers and robbers. No one will hold signs when the sun goes down if they are in fear.
It's 2006, Chavez got re-elected for a new presidential period (in fairness he still was wildly popular) and the media is becoming more and more annoying at denouncing the alleged rampant corruption. The solution? It's time for some good old-fashioned censorship laws. Hence, the RESORTE law was born and with it, radios and TV stations and newspapers got harassed and fined constantly. We have to protect the children from that dreadful sex and violence right? In fact, let's ban war-inspired toys.
What about banning guns? Nah, just toy guns, that will do. To make an example, in 2008 the biggest opposition TV channel was closed.
At this point the opposition moral was below zero and he basically was free to continue with his socialist project. He had the time, he had all the money in the world, he had the support...
But if you don't invest, eventually things will start to fall apart. Infrastructure was collapsing everywhere, universities funding being cut (especially in opposition friendly ones), urban guerrilla groups that were armed with the intention of intimidating and controlling surprisingly became rogue and overpowered the police. Add the global financial crisis to the mix and you'll enter a new decade as a complete mess.
At this point, around 2011, CADIVI, the exchange control had become an abomination and while creating barriers for people that were legitimately in need to leave the country (i.e. to study or for a medical procedure), it was an incubator for mafias.
The solution? To print new money, which as anyone with a minimum understanding of economics will know, lead to a super inflation spiral.
So now it's 2012, time for new elections. Thanks to a series of tweaks in the law, Chávez can run for president a third time. It would be for the 2013-2019 period. But should he? I mean he's not looking well. Some say he's very ill.
With only rumours coming and going, and strong defamation laws that would put in a very tricky place to those pointing out that the emperor was sick, Chávez's disease became the constant gossip, but no one was officially sure of what was going on.
Luckily for him, his close friends helped him rule the country, especially Diosdado Cabello and Nicolás Maduro, loyal by his side at every moment of his convalescence.
Then the truth came out. It was cancer. A very serious one.
The opposition encountered that fighting him was now even harder: the guy was giving his last breath for the country. His health became part of the campaign, basically voters were being pushed to fulfill his last wish, and the contender's lack of rapport with the masses only helped him. He won by a close call (55%) and died a few weeks later.
Then his loyal colleague Nicolás Maduro was trusted with conducting the country. Some say it was a good match as his main previous experience had been as a bus driver. An election was organised as soon as possible, while Chávez charisma still could cover him, and he won with 50,6% of the votes.
Overwhelming majority, he advertised.
Now, like him or not, Chávez had been able to keep the show running mixing charisma, intimidation and giving the right present to the right person at the right time. But it takes skill to be a democratically elected autocrat and Maduro was miles away from his predecessor.
It was 2013 and in a matter of months, the oil prices went to the dogs. That meant that the overly generous budget which was created on the principle of record-high oil prices now would have to be readjusted to a tenth or so.
How can you explain to the poor that their free fridges, laptops and more were now a thing of the past? How can you continue importing food when there are no more dollars left and no country would give you credit because everyone knows you can't pay? How can you put medicine in the hospitals if the little income you're making is reserved to keep the mafias that hold you into power happy?
Shortages that some like to compare to those in Soviet Russia became usual. Plane tickets a luxury so big that most people got trapped in the country, priced out of travelling. The rampant crime made escaping through the border a suicidal fantasy. And those that had a few savings bought the last plane tickets and left.
As if that wasn't enough, drought and lack of investment lead to the hydroelectric plants to under perform, and the solution to it was to order everyone to use less electricity. Water services are also suffering and it is not uncommon that residential areas have water supply cuts that lasts days, sometimes weeks.
As for the lack of food? Rationing.
Lack of medicine? Survival of the healthy, heartbreakingly.
And as everything collapses, the police is nowhere to be seen, so more and more people resort to crime, after all, there's no consequence.
But wait, your everyday folks get sick of it too, and decided that, if there is no justice, they'll take things in their own hands, so public lynching becomes more and more common. There have been reports of people stabbed and burned alive in plain daylight, on busy side-walks, even innocent people have accidentally received this treatment.

Some people argue that a recently elected opposition-led parliament will bring some balance and at least contain the chaos and slowly help stabilise things. Some say that parliament is not enough, and in fact many will be quickly bought off. We'll have to wait and see.
Anyhow, as kids born in 1998 are now of voting age and have never known a country without Chávez or his "legacy", lots of them brainwashed since kinder-garden, many of their parents brainwashed since high school, it will be extremely unlikely that the knot will untie any time soon.
Many people have lost their will to produce, and even to work at all, as salaries are so miserable that, counted in the black market rate -still existent and going strong- puts almost everyone below the extreme poverty line (less than 1$ a day). However, if you ask for an official figure, they'll say it's the country with the highest salaries in South America (just don't mind the fact that everything is imported in dollars but people get paid in Bolivars).
But yes, there is always hope. Japan stood back up after two nuclear bombs, Ireland recovered after a devastating famine, many European countries rebuilt after two World Wars.
This is a mess we got ourselves into, and only ourselves will be able to solve it. If anything becomes clear to me after attempting to summarize my country's history is that:

  • Every time you try to rule excluding or ignoring a part of the population, they eventually show up and bite you.
  • Every time you take power by force, it ends up being taken from you the same way.
  • You can't rely in only one product with no added value and a price that changes without your control.
  • Glorifying autocrats is a bad habit that we drag from colonial times and only when we stop doing that, we might get a chance at a proper democrat.
  • Venezuelans have impressive patience, and are able to adapt to everything, which is not necessarily something that favours us.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

The little things that start to happen after two years of life in Ireland

Today, two years ago, Andy and I arrived to Ireland to start again. Making the desicion was actually easy since we both have been here before and loved it. But of course, making a place for yourself when you know no body and you feel overwhelmed with all the paperwork and things you need to do is not.

One of the first places we went to, of course, Phoenix Park

I went to watch Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago and it is spot on on many things, which Eilis, the main characters sums up in one brilliant speech (beware it's a light spoiler):

"You'll feel so homesick that you'll want to die, and there's nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won't kill you. And one day, the sun will come out you might not even notice straight away-it'll be that faint. And then you'll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past. Someone who's only yours.And you'll realize that this is where your life is".

A lovely movie I'd recommend to anyone

Maybe I'm talking about a movie to avoid getting too personal, but the fact is that after two years, there are little things that start to change, and it feels lovely. They might seem silly (yes, I made a list), but they make life so much better.

  • When someone gives you an address, you now know in which area it is.
  • When you enter your corner shop, the staff recognizes you and maybe even make small chat.
  • When you listen to the radio, and a they play a song from a local artist, you recognize it and hum along,
  • When you walk home and bump into a neighbour, you make quick eye contact, say hi and go on.
  • When someone uses slang, you know what they mean.
  • You use slang sometimes (my favorites include "give out", "what's the story" and "deadly").
  • When you want to go out for food, you know a nice place.
  • When something breaks in the house, you know where to get it fixed.
  • You occasionally bump into a person you know in the street or the supermarket.
And one of my favourites: when a tourist approaches you and asks you where is something, you are able to help them because you know :D

Sometimes I still get lost and have no idea where the place I'm supposed to be is, or something is a big deal in the news and I've no idea why, or there is a celebrity nearby and everyone looses it but me. And while that makes Radiohead's "Creep" play softly in my mind as I walk with too many layers of chlothing for such a lovely, sunny, one-digit-temperature day, I suppose it's OK, and I believe it's part of the process.

Finally, I made a similar post one year ago, where I wrote my thoughts after the first 12 months. 
I hope to revisit this in a year, and for now, I'll keep learning, working and trying my best :p

Sunday, 24 January 2016

So, is Leonardo Di Caprio winning his Oscar for The Revenant? Here are some facts and my opinion

Now we are in those 5 or 6 weeks between the Oscar nominees are announced and the award ceremony. A time that not many people care about but that I'm really into. And this year, the buzz about the big day seems to be divided between the lack of diversity and Will Smith's boycott to the golden prize, and Leonardo di Caprio's Best Actor Nomination. And if you're in Ireland, Saoirse's Ronan Best Actress nomination for Brooklyn (along other Irish artists that are running for a statue of their own).

Now, this is not the first time Leo gets a nod: 2005 - The Aviator, 2007 - Blood Diamond (plus 2014 - Wolf of Wall Street production, and 1993 - What's Eating Gilbert Grape Best Suporting Actor); but since the last time he got it, he has become some sort of Internet meme, and as some would say, his win would "break the Internet".

I saw The Revenant, film for which he is nominated, and it's ringing many Oscar bells:

✔ Based in a true story, which apparently is crazier than the movie.
✔ A 156 minutes drama.
✔ Set somewhen in the recent past, during the last 200 years of American history, telling very stylishly portrayed all-American stories, just like previous winners Argo, 12 Years a Slave, The Artist, The Hurt Locker, No Country for Old Men... should I continue?.

However, there are also some signs that he might go home literally empty-handed:

✔ Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who made Birdman, the film that got him awards for Best Movie & Best Director last year, and managed to give Michael Keaton a nomination in Leo's same category, which at the end, he didn't win (despite giving an amazing performance) thank's to Eddie Redmayne (who played Stephen Hawking on The Theory of Everything). Which takes me to...

✔ Eddie Radmayne is nominated again, for his role as Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl...

✔ And this movie combines two Oscar magnets: Eddie Radmayne and a serious and dramatic context for a man to put on a dress on the big screen. Sounds weird? Let's remember that Jared Leto -until then known for being the lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars, with some low profile acting roles-  won an Oscar (Best Supporting Actor) for playing Rayon, a fictional trans woman.

✔ Besides that, The Revenant could fit in the category of Isolation Survival Drama [a movie that manages to upset agoraphobic and claustrophobic people at the same time: one person, alone in the immensity of the ocean/space/desert but at the same time, confined to a little space risking death if they make the wrong move], one that I talekd about in a post last year. This includes movies such as Gravity, Life of Pi and 127 Hours, which always get some nominations, but rarely nail the big performances.

But enough of discussing the movie itself... What about Leo's performance? 
I'd say it was great, and deserving of recognition, but the emotional range of it was too dominated by pain, sadness and anger, which makes sense because of the story, but doesn't really allow a very wide range of emotions. 
And speaking about displaying emotion in a Isolation Survival Drama, if we compare Leo's Hugh Glass in The Revenant to Matt Damon's Mark Watney in The Martian (also a Best Actor and Best Movie contender), you'll see what I'm talking about.
In The Martian, Mark is also hurt, hungry, isolated (in freaking Mars) and his team asumes he's dead and leaves him to die (showing much more remorse about it, but still). Yet, this guy shows frustration, but also a bit of madness, happiness about the little things, surprise and hope. In fact, I'd say Matt's flaw is the opposite to Leo's, his character seemed sometimes masochistically thrilled to be there and perhaps it was missing a bit of darkness.

And I have to say it, there is something about this character that feels worn out, almost like a remix of many other of his roles...

✔ A man from a vintage era...

✔ That seems to be in control...

✔ Until something goes wrong...

✔ And then he suffers...

And yes, not all his movies follow this exactly, and he doesn't die or goes mad in all of them. I won't tell you the ending of The Revenant, but it's not a spoiler to say that he goes through a lot after the bear from the trailer unstiches him like an old doll.

So, is he winning an Oscar this year? I really think he will, but I wouldn't bet much money on it either.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Those weird times when international media makes comedy out of Venezuela/ns (not including the joke-like-but-actually-real news)

As I was having my morning coffee and checking my Facebook on this Sunday morning, I saw a friend sharing a post which translates to "Song I Venesuela is the hit of the season in Lithuania". The image of three men with cliche South American dictador outfits made it for me, and I needed to watch.
So this is how Lithuanian pop bands dress when they try to depict Venezuelans. Via
In case you feel like watching it, here's the full video with English subtitles:

And as I finished watching, I thought about a few other occasions in which Venezuela (and Venezuelans) has been made fun of by international comedy. And I don't mean when something so awful that is funny (when it's not happening to you) appears in the news (like that time everyone was teasing Venezuelans about the infamous toilet paper shortage), or when our country is used as an alternative setting to North Korea or some African desert for an action movie or video game where a violent and chaotic background is needed, 
I mean when things like that time when Justin Timberlake dressed as Elton John and dedicated a spoof of Lady Di's inspired song "Candle in the Wind" to the then recently deseaced Hugo Chavez.

This was for the opening speech of Saturday Night Life. For the record, when he says "everything in this song it's true", he's serious...

Speaking of Saturday Night Live, the show has a not-so-known semi-recurring Venezuelan character called Fericito, a Venezuelan comedian played by Fred Armisen (whose mother is Venezuelan so he knows what he's talking about). 
See the video where the guy was introduced to the show for the first time (sometime in the late nineties):

Fericito was a nightclub comedian and he had all the cliches of Venezuelan cheap Radio-Rochela-Style comedy, mixed with a Miamiesque-Variety-Show tackiness. The "catch line", the percussions, the stupid eyes and so on. The character was so succesful that for a while he had his own sketch called Showbiz Grande Explosion! (yes, with an exclamation mark, he's tacky like that).

But this isn't Fred Armisen's only time wearing the yellow-blue-and-red. He nailed the borderline dictador role with the infamous Parks and Recreation episode called Sister City (fifht of season two), where he plays Raul Alejandro Bastilla Pedro de Veloso de Morana (my guess this was to make fun of our tendency to have two long names followed by two long surnames, and use them all), the leader of a Venezuelan delegation sent to the town of Pawnee, because their city, Boraqua, is a Sister city to Leslie's midwest small town.

The American delegation is expecting a group of third world modest, poor, simpletons, but when they get a trio of cocky, authoritarian, loud, pen-stealer, big spender, romantic crazed, Miami loving, vain military representatives, hilarity ensues...

By the way, Fred gets an A+ for his Veneuzelan accent.

On a more local note, there was a Chilean commercial that went viral in Venezuela a few months ago because it made fun of Venezuelan president's comments about how a little bird spoke to him.
Watch and cry baby:

If you speak Spanish, you'll see that the accent is closer to a Cuban accent than to a natural Venezuelan one. I can assure you it wasn't an accident.

In a lighter and less political note, I'm gonna list a video called Signs you're Venezuelan by Venezuelan-American comedian Joanna Haufmann:

And then there is this video in College Humor of 2012's Miss Venezuela making an A-for-effort attempt to answer a final round question in Miss Universe in English. Is she nervous? Is she lost in translation? Is she crazy? we'll never know.

Do I find this stuff offensive? Not really... Actually I find it surprising when a foreign show or comedian makes fun of Venezuela, I'd say is a similar feeling to the one you get when you see your name on a can of Coke.

Do you find this offensive? Please, learn to take a joke.

If I ever find more examples, I'll update (if you have any and would like to share them, great!). And speaking about offensive jokes, just for the record, the only truly offensive ones are the ones made with hurtful intentions, even if they're the lightest and more family-friendly of them all.

So no, we're not all egocentric, salsa-dancing, guys with a thing for holding machine guns, but to be fair... imagine that a Venezuelan pop band decides to make a music video about Lithuania. Do you think it would be accurate, researched and free of cliches? Yeah right.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Some quick thoughts on the evolution of "The Force" through the three Star Wars "eras"

I already mentioned that The Force Awakens is one of the movies I liked the most last year. It's not odd that I've kept thinking about it, and one thing that has been in my mind is how differently The Force is presented in this one, compared to last decade's and last century's (and now that I put it like that, it seems like this is an ages long story... three generations and counting... wow).

In the first "era" of Star Wars (1977 to 1983), The Force is treated like this mystical energy field that connected all the living things in the galaxy. 

VERY new-agey. But perfect for a time when hippies were still roaming the Earth in large packs, and vague enough for anyone to make it their own and intepret it as they felt like it. Probably part of the reason that the concept became so loved and succesful.

Quoting Yoda (a very new-agey guy himself) from The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V): "For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us." 

In the second "era" of Star Wars (1999 to 2005), we saw all this metaphysical allure dissapear behind a "scientific" explanation. Now The Force wasn't just energy surrounding us and keeping the Galaxy alive, it was caused by these microscopic lifeforms living in the cells of creatures: the midi-chlorians.

Besides sounding like something you'll forget right after the 8th grade biology test, they were a fairly dissapointing attempt at shedding light where there was no darkness (as we say in Venezuela, "no aclares que oscurece", which means "don't explain 'cause you're making it all more confusing").

But let's give them some credit, it was the turn of the millenium and an explanation closer to hard science semmed like a better idea than something that was basically "because of magic".

And then we enter the third Star Wars Era (2015 and expected to be until 2019). So far, the best explanation of The Force in this new pack of films *now worries, no spoilers, as it's on the trailer* it's when Han Solo simply says "It's true... all of it". Now the Jedi, the Sith and The Force simply are, no explanation provided, they now happen to exist just as magic and fairies in any other Disney film.

So, which explanation do you prefer for The Force: the mystical energy field, the midi-chlorians or none?