20 July 1998
For the first time that I can remember, possibly the first time ever, the Colombian news, both local and international, is full of the word "peace" rather than the words "drugs", "kidnapping" and "massacre". Between the historic meeting in Mainz, Germany, where the ELN (the oldest and most radical guerrilla group) have been making very conciliatory noises and basically agreed to abandon their favourite tactics of kidnapping and blowing up oil pipelines, to the impromptu and clandestine meeting between President-Elect Pastrana and the leaders of the FARC (the largest and most ubiquitous guerrilla group), I have never seen the press so upbeat about the country’s prospects. Of course, like Ireland, Palestine and most of the other intractable disputes in this world, talks are one thing, accords are another, and the reality of the situation often bears no resemblance to either.
While Julie was over in Caracas on a business trip recently (as she has been increasingly of late, between staff problems and Venezuela's recent downgrade in its credit rating), Elena and I took the opportunity to make our first return visit there in almost a year. While it was nice to see the people from the office and those of our friends who had not yet moved on, the trip confirmed my suspicions that I really did not miss the place at all. Possibly the only elements I missed to any extent were the outdoor cafés and the coffee itself (paradoxically the only thing for which Colombia has a better reputation). Having said that we spent a very pleasant day on the beach, and managed to catch the annual Calgary Stampede party at the Canadian Embassy, and we took the opportunity of bringing Elena uptodate with her vaccinations (which she thought, quite rightly, was very underhand).
Elena revelled in the attentions of all those people who she almost certainly did not remember, and behaved impeccably. It is such a weight off our minds, especially when travelling, not to have to worry about where she will disgrace herself with her toilet habits - she is now quite house-trained, consistent and reliable.
Our trip coincided with the World Cup Final, and for a country who have no idea about football they certainly take it (or rather the excuse for a party which it represents) very seriously. The game was not a classic, and Brazil, the favourites and team of choice of 90% of the Venezuelans, purely by merit of being Latinos as far as I could see, were demolished b underdogs France. But that did not dampen the Venezuelans’ enthusiasm for the celebrations in the slightest, and they were out there honking their horns all night regardless, with no apparent consciousness of the perversity of a non-footballing nation celebrating the embarrassing loss of a neighbouring country’s team.
Unfortunately, she has also taken to doing what I imagine she thinks is swearing when things do not go her way, her favourites at the moment being "You are a dammer!" or "a go-er!" or "a doner!", at which we try not to smile in case it encourages her. The words do not really mean much but from her delivery and her voice one is in no doubt of their meanings. These imprecations are almost always directed as me, mainly because I am apparently the only person who tells her off about anything. From time to time, she complains to her mother that she does not want Daddy in the house any more, and that she does not love me, if ever I have the audacity to attempt to impose even the slightest discipline.
Part of the problem is probably boredom during the school holidays, although she often refuses my offers to take her swimming, and she unceremoniously vetoed ballet classes after just two trial attendances (but then at least I do not now have to explain that I am taking my daughter to ballet classes, which always struck me as sounding incredibly corny and stereotypical).