From February 20 thru the 27, I was involved in traveling to and from Medellin, Colombia, and there attending the Fractal 2012 conference, an event dedicated to studies in futurism, which has previously hosted such SF luminaries as Jim Kelly, John Kessel and Kij Johnson. This year's theme was "Programming Reality." The conference is the brainchild of Hernan Ortiz and Vivi Trujillo, who run it with the help of many talented local folks.
I could write an entire small book about my incredibly wonderful and stimulating time there, but figured I'd better do up at least a rudimentary report while events were still fresh in my memory. Not that's there's much likelihood of these fine memories ever fading.
I left my house in Providence at 2:30 PM on the 20th, and arrived in the Medellin Royal Hotel around 2 PM of the next day. (Colombia shares the same timezone as the East Coast USA, handily eliminating jetlag for me!) Needless to say, 24 hours of travel was arduous. (I cut the trip down to about 17 hours going home.) But I began to get excited as the view from the plane window revealed the exotic Andean terrain below.
I was met at the airport by Vane, Hernan and Vivi (left to right, here in a different setting).
The drive to the hotel took about 45 minutes, employing the expert skills of our driver, Juan, as essential a member of the conference as anyone. Juan (facing camera, below) would shepherd us skillfully everywhere during the week. He was a ninja of the roads!
The hotel was lovely and comfortable. Here's the view from my window.
The Medellin Royal even boasted its own staff dog, Achilles: a boon to those pining for the canine companions left behind.
Later that evening, after supper, we all went back to the airport to pick up the second out-of-country guest, Keiichi Matsuda, architect, videographer and designer. You can see Keiichi below at breakfast with Vivi and Hernan the next morning. Suffering from a nasty headcold for the first few days of the week, Keiichi manfully bore up with the aid of Sudafed, tissues and an enigmatic over-the-counter drug he found at the local mall.
Arising early on Wednesday, I took a walk around the immediate neighborhood, mainly along the boulevard known as El Poblado. I encountered salsa dancers at 8 AM. Admittedly, they were advertising an event, but still not a typical Northern Hemisphere sight.
Further boosting the Providence-Medellin connection was a Shepherd Fairey poster.
The rest of the day was agreeably lowkey, as preparations came together for the conference. The third visitor, Raquel Herrera, translator and literary expert, had arrived after a very long trip from her native Barcelona. We all went to lunch, though Vivi and Hernan got shortchanged, having to attend to a technical setup for the conference livestreaming. So we had as native hosts the charming Jorge and Catalina. (Raquel, Jorge, Catalina, left to right below)
Of course an excellent supper concluded the day. The food throughout the week was nonstop, plentiful and often exotic. Vivi and Hernan, along with their countrymen, believe that nothing makes for a more congenial time and facilitates conversation and laughter better than vast quantities of food and drink--including plenty of Club Colombia beer.
After breakfast, with our last-arrived guest, Jennifer Magnolfi, architect and designer, in tow, we went to a government ministry set at the edge of a busy plaza full of Botero sculptures.
There we were joined by two new temporary drivers and our cultural minders, Fabio and Jorge, for a ninety-minute trip to Santa Fe de Antioquia. (Hernan, Fabio and Jorge below, left to right)
After an exquisite lunch, we met with lower-grade schoolchildren and some university architecture students--the latter led by their professor, Gabriel, seen with Keiichi below--in a fruitful discussion of how new technologies might improve their classroom activities. The kids were bright, lively and bold, portending a fine future for themselves and their land. When they are not running Fractal, Vivi and Hernan work regularly with kids, getting them to adopt new learning skills through the use of story-telling, and their empathy with children was manifest.
And you finally get to see Jennifer, next to Raquel and me, below.
The trip back through the gorgeous mountain scenery, reaching the illuminated city in its nighted valley, was great.
Friday was the day of the conference, to be held in the Parque Arvi, a mountaintop nature preserve on the edge of Medellin. The trip there was mythic and epic, involving about four different modes of transport, most prominent of which was the aerial tramway. If you watch the videos below, you'll get some idea of the journey and the beauty of the park. My own shot from the cablecar features Federico (on the left), a local speaker at the con, and hacker par excellance, and Daniel (on the right), expert videographer and camera man, who also conducted fine interviews with us all.
The conference hall in the park was nestled high amidst the greenery like a Frank Lloyd Wright creation.
Inside, a crowd of nearly 200 heard all our presentations with excitement and intelligent interest, peppering us with pertinent questions in the long discussion period afterwards. I read my story composed for the occasion, "The Mood Room" (which will appear in F&SF as well), and gave a talk titled "An End to Resistentialism." Jennifer, Keiichi, Raquel and Federico were all just brilliant. This kind of dialogue about how to shape our upcoming years and decades, in Medellin and globally, seems to me to be an essential component of taking control of our future.
And of course there was lunch on the deck (Jennifer and Catalina, left to right). The pleasant climate of "the city of eternal spring" made for perfect open-air dining most nights.
Back in the city, a majestic dinner spiked with celebratory aguardiente, capped a perfect day.
Alas, Jennifer had to leave early the next morning for family reasons.
The next day we participated in another conference on the future of Medellin's transportation systems, sponsored by the government agency Ruta N and held at a local college, Hernan's alma mater. Keiichi is judging an associated contest for best video on the theme.
After this, we all journeyed to the village of San Antonio de Pereira, for sight-seeing and relaxation. The local artwork for sale was eye-popping. Keiichi lusted after the "Aliens" painting for his London flat.
We did not, however, anticipate one set of sights: the winners of the local "Ugliest Person Contest" parading through the square.
On the way back to the city, we stopped for arepas--a local corn-cake dish--at a roadside stand that featured these ovens. Perhaps the best, simplest food of the whole trip.
Keiichi had to depart for the airport early Sunday morning, before breakfast. Raquel followed soon after sharing that meal, leaving me alone wth Hernan and Vivi. Despite my protestations that they deserved a day of rest, Vivi and Hernan entertained me all day until my evening departure, including a perfect lunch of "sopa ajiaco."
But surely one of the most touching moments of the whole trip was a visit to the town of Marinilla and the home of artist Oscar Gonzalez, seen below, on left, with Juan.
Oscar's wonderful art ranges from the traditional to cyberpunk-influenced.
We walked through the streets to the bar of a pal named Jose, who kindly had me autograph his copy of MIRRORSHADES. Then, I had also to autograph the wall of his bar, in a new tradition. Challenged to write a whole story on the wall, I spontaneously recalled my six-word story from WIRED and added it: "Wife to transgenic mistress: 'You cow!'"
After a final great meal of arepas close to the airport, I had to part with everyone at last.
This week in Colombia was the trip of a lifetime, diminished only in that Deborah was unable to be there. It brought me joy, revelations, inspiration, hope for the future, and, most importantly, new friends.
Here's hoping Fractal continues for many a year!