‘I love it here in Medellín,’ said an American woman in her 50s.
‘It feels safe. The people are nice. The weather is great. And the prices are low.’
This was the same report we got from other Americans we met in the city. (We weren’t there long enough to have much of an opinion of our own; we’re on our way to London now.)
‘I just wanted to get some money out of the US,’ she continued.
‘The way things are going, I feel like I need a bolt hole somewhere. I don’t really have that much money, but I’m investing a quarter of it down here.
‘You can just look at this place and see that it is on the way up. When I’m in the US it always feels to me that it is on the way down.’
An unusual ‘experiencia’
Medellín was once home to the infamous Medellín Cartel and its kingpin, Pablo Escobar. And at the end of the 1980s, it was reputed to be the most violent city in the world.
But since Pablo Escobar’s death, the place has changed dramatically…
Today, Medellín feels like an up-and-coming place. Last night, for example, we went out to one of the trendiest restaurants we’ve ever seen.
‘This is a molecular menu,’ the waiter tried to explain, in shaky English. ‘You get 15 experiencias.’
It was already late at night…for a gringo.
‘I can guess what an experiencia is. But what’s a molecular menu?’ We asked a companion.
‘It’s when they break down the food and recompose it in novel ways. You might get something that looks like a steak, for example, but it might be made of onions and beets and flavoured with jasmine.’
Thus warned, we braced for an experiencia.
The first came in the form of a little amuse-bouche, which we weren’t able to identify (neither the component parts nor the desired simulation).
But the next was more daring.
‘Put your hands together,’ the waiter told us. As though begging for alms, we cupped our hands, into which he ladled warm, semi-pureed berries. Then, he poured a cream sauce, also warm, on top of them.
‘You should rub your hands together before eating them,’ the waiter encouraged.
We did so, as best we could, making a greasy mess in our hands. Then, we had no choice but to lick the goo off. It was tasty. But nevermore will we doubt the technological improvement wrought by the simple spoon.
Bowls were placed before us. Warm water washed over our sticky hands. And we were ready for the next course.
We ate with curiosity but not much satisfaction…one course after another. A small flood of Argentine Malbec helped get the work done.
Finally, the last course was announced: a dessert of nougat.
‘But wait,’ hinted the attending pitcher, ‘lest you think you’re going to get a clean hit on this, we’re going to throw you a curve.’
The nougat had been super-frozen, as if packed in dry ice. As soon as it was put on the tongue, it stuck and burned.
‘You’ve got to move it around,’ came the instruction.
And so passed a delightful evening of culinary discovery.
The point is these experiencias are unknown in our hometown of Baltimore. We have no cuisine so hip, so mondain, or so avant-garde.
This was not Mi Ranchito in Pig Town!
A cosy agreement
Out the window of the airport in Medellín is a big sign for DynCorp. The name sounded familiar, so we looked it up.
As we suspected, DynCorp is a military contractor based in Northern Virginia.
If Wikipedia is correct, it has been involved in a number of profitable projects — earning most of its money from the US Government by providing, among other things, CIA computer systems and anti-terrorist military support.
Here in Colombia, the US military — backed by DynCorp — was used to suppress the drug trade.
‘Well, it was much more complicated than that,’ explains a local informant.
‘They were never going to stop the drug business. It would have been crazy to think that. Big, powerful, well-connected families dominated the business. It’s a huge business. And it’s very profitable.
‘The families involved were never very worried about the government. It was usually in on the deal. But they worried a lot about each other. That was why there was so much violence — wars between the drug families. It’s a competitive industry.
‘What seems to have happened…and nobody knows for sure…is that the government made a deal with one of the families. It would use the US military…and companies like DynCorp…to wipe out the competition. And the remaining monopolists agreed to stop killing people.’
It seems to have worked….
We are still getting complaints about what many see as an unfair attack on old people.
‘It wasn’t our fault,’ is the general refrain.
Of course, they’re right. Collective guilt has no place in these pages. Nor are you to blame for the global credit expansion just because you once voted for Richard Milhous Nixon…or because the government forced you to pay into the Social Security system.
A young person though, more sure of himself than we are, might ask:
‘Look…after World War II, US troops forced German civilians living near concentration camps to enter the camps to see with their own eyes what their countrymen had done…and to help bury the dead with their own hands.
‘Shouldn’t old people today at least be forced to look at the world the feds created…and accept responsibility for it?’
We woke up with another way to look at it…or at least a better way to explain the point we were trying to make. But between sunup and sundown, the idea seems to have evaporated.
Stay tuned… Regards,
For the Markets and Money, Australia