A few more links on Bolivia that you may find interesting to read. Some may be a little out of date now – I meant to be writing more this week but have been ill. I’ll keep adding to this as I find more over the next few days.

BOLIVIA:”Twenty Families Are Obstructing Governability” By Franz Chávez. Some background and analysis of possible solutions.

It is precisely this avalanche of votes, the greatest proportion won by a president since the restoration of democracy in 1982, that raises questions for sociology Professor Joaquín Saravia, who told IPS that “The government appears insecure, because it has overwhelming social and political support, but this has not translated into real control of the country, which is alarming,” he said.

The head of the governing Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) parliamentary group, César Navarro, said that democratic changes being promoted by the government are resisted by the elites, who are accustomed to lives of privilege and benefiting from the state.

Elite Backlash, by Nick Buxton. Commentary on Monday’s conflict, including a translation of an account from Bolivia.

What they nearly always fail to mention are any of the following facts:

– that the opposition is led by business elites and big landowners who have spent vast amounts of money, tactics of intimidation, and violence to push the message that regional autonomy will improve people’slives
– despite this fierce campaign and the almost complete absence of central government, the opposition’s popular support is still limited to the cities whilst the central government’s support grows ever more
– that the central government’s nationalisation more than doubled the revenues for the Eastern regions
– that the Right who fought the Constitutional Assembly for a year saying everything had to be approved by two-thirds suddenly don’t want any further popular votes now that two-thirds backed Evo in a referendum in July

Definitely worth reading, this is the reaction of the Center for Juridical Studies and Social Investigation, the organisation whose building and records were destroyed on Monday. “Violent Groups Take Over Human Rights Organization In Bolivia”.

The offices of CEJIS, along with its personnel, were attacked more than 15 time in the last five years. In the last months the institution suffered two attacks with molotov cocktails (in November 2007 and last August). In its 30 years of work, CEJIS has provided legal assistance to indigenous, landless and peasant organizations in the process of titling their lands and territories. It has been a permanent ally of the social movements in the legal codification of their rights in national legislation, and advised and accompanied the progress of social organizations in the Constituent Assembly. This work has implied a permanent risk on the personnel and offices of CEJIS, threatened by the sectors of power that have historically controlled the region of Eastern Bolivia, who now feel menaced by the advance of the rights of the most marginalized sectors of our society.

As always, for ongoing analysis check out Jim Shultz in Blog from Bolivia (in the links to the right). In particular he reported last night on one piece of good news and potential hope for a solution other than civil war:

Tarija’s Governor Heads to La Paz for Negotiations with Morales

The one good piece of news today is that Tarija Governor Mario Cossío announced that he was headed to La Paz this afternoon to open a negotiation on the current crisis with the Morales government. Radio Erbol also reported that Santa Cruz Governor Ruben Costas has endorsed the negotiation effort. “I am completely convinced that this is the last opportunity to begin a process of reconciliation and leave behind the process of confrontation,” Cossio told reporters.

His piece from yesterday (Friday 12th) is worth reading in its entirety.

The Gringo Tambo blog reports on “8 dead in Pando overnight”, giving a brief summary which links to an article in Spanish:

Again according to La Razón, eight people were killed in Pando in “armed clashes” between autonomistas and masistas. Venezuela is threatening to intervene. Brazil and Argentina have said that they will “not tolerate” a coup and that they fully support the Morales government. Meanwhile, Evo is mobilizing military and police troops. No word yet on what is happening today. From what I understand things in Santa Cruz are tense but calm, with members of the UJC still occupying buildings.

Following that, there is more historical background on these clashes from the political scientist blogger Miguel Centellas.

The sad thing here is that these are not military units, which should be the forces (along w/ the police) used to restore state authority. The consequence—assuming they actually do march on Santa Cruz & other opposition-controlled areas—will be a higher casualty count. For all their bravura, Ponchos Rojos (like the UCJ) lack military discipline & training. That means their clashes will be bloody, like the clash in Pando that left at least 8 dead & 80 injured.

Miguel’s summary post from this morning is also very useful, describing the Bolivian military’s reaction to Venezuela’s ‘offer’ to send their army into Bolivia to defend Morales at a time when the US ambassador has been forced to leave the country for interference in Bolivia’s affairs.

Last night I went over to my friends’ house, and saw TV for the first time in months. She had heard about blocados up in El Alto so was tuned to the news to work out if the rumours were true. But all we saw was reports on Santa Cruz. For the last few months I have been repeating what everyone in La Paz knows – things are calm and peaceful in the highlands because all the violence this year is in the South. But for the first time I actually saw what this looks like.

Each channel we switched to was showing the same thing. Crowds of young men dressed in shorts and t-shirts, some with surgical mask on their faces but many with nothing covering their wide grins, attaching buildings with sticks and stones. The sound of glass breaking and clouds of curling black smoke above, a tear gas canister being kicked down the street by a teenager who gives it one last aim at a small huddled group of riot police. The rocking camera follows the shouting young men into the building, into an office. It picks out groups pulling stacks of paper out of filing cabinets, yanking computer screens off desks, ripping even the chairs and the telephones out and carrying everything into the street. The beam of the camera rests on two young men, perhaps in their late teens but certainly no older than 21, as they lean over an opened computer on the desk, pulling out wires at random. Their backpacks bounce on their backs as they run out to join their friends, and somewhere in my head I wonder whether the bags show they came prepared or just straight from school. Behind them a boy of about 12 is riffling through a cabinet in someone’s desk.

Outside in the street again. Everything is set alight. Desks, screens, telephones and endless stacks of paper make up the bonfire. A shot of the outside of the building, and half its windows are broken. Out of them more paper flutters to the ground through the rising smoke. The crowd is cheering and shouting and suddenly the camera picks out another young man, but this one is in army fatigues. He is curled up on the floor with his hands around his head as a growing crowd takes it in turns to kick him till the blood runs. His uniform is torn, and as he is dragged to his feet and turns to the camera we see a blank expression of fear and utter confusion. His soft brown skin traced with blood stands out in the sea of white faces around him, but like them he is barely out of his teens. The camera cuts to three men marching through the streets, green and white flags held high and one with a gun slung over his shoulder. The crowds part to let them pass through, cheering them on as they hold their heads high and faces stern for the mass of television cameras.

The building being destroyed was a government building responsible for dealing with land reform. In the same day other government buildings were destroyed in the same manner, along with the offices of Entel (a telephone company), and Canal 7 (a television station). Soldiers in Bolivia are conscripts, but the rich can usually buy their way out so they are predominantly young, poor men from the countryside. The young men attacking the building are members of the Santa Cruz Youth Movement, the ‘Autonomy’ movement’s foot soldiers. The green and white flag is the flag of Santa Cruz, in contrast to the red, gold and green of Bolivia.

What other images did we see?

Older men with round white faces standing in the plaza talking fast and furious into the expectant microphones. Morales is a dictator he says. We are men and women standing up for our freedom. We will stay here in the plaza all night holding our peaceful vigil. Another reporter shouts out a question and he turns. We go back to the studio, and then cut to another plaza a long way away. Outside the presidential palace in La Paz another crowd is gathered. Trilby hats and darker faces – the men have come from the highlands to the city to tell Evo he needs to use a strong hand against the right-wingers in the South. At the bottom of the screen they are described as ‘indigenous vigilantes’. The camera pans to the large crowd standing on the steps of the Plaza Murillo, facing the palace and chanting “Strong Hand! Strong Hand!”

We cut back to images of youths in the streets of Santa Cruz. They are kicking a police motor cycle in the street, eventually setting it alight. Then we go to an interview with someone who says that the governor of Santa Cruz has been paying the police not to intervene. Another cut to lines of people queuing in El Alto to buy cooking gas. The department of Santa Cruz contains the gas supplies, and their blocados are finally taking affect. There is not enough gas in the cities for people to cook with. A minister appears who says that his aim is to have gas lines connected directly to people’s houses to avoid this problem in the future. He asks for patience for another year – after all, in the previous 25 years of government no-one even considered this idea. I make a mental note that we only filled our gas canister a week ago, but that the previous one had had a leak and run out far too fast. We need to be more careful. My friend sitting next to me suddenly notices the minister is wearing a Che tie.

I’m watching all this with my two good friends: Anna, who is a liberal and a passionate Obama supporter from the US, and her long time boyfriend, Eduardo, a Bolivian anarchist. Anna is furious. Why aren’t they doing anything? What is Evo doing? Why don’t they send the army down there to arrest those men? How can they get away with doing this so blatantly, so publicly? It’s all there on the camera!

We wait, along with the camera men and the crowds looking up at the lights in the windows of the presidential palace, hoping to catch Evo Morales’ speech in reaction. We wait, and nothing happens. We argue backwards and forwards about what he could do, but eventually Anna is frustrated and asks us to turn the television off. We go out to eat.

Over pizza we discuss the options. The governor of Santa Cruz is paying off the police, so Evo should send the army. If he sends the army then he will be accused of acting like Goni, the last president, who sent the army against the crowds of protesters trying to throw him out of office. People died, and Evo can’t be seen to be comparable. Anna thinks the international community should get involved – if the soldiers are from another country then he won’t face that accusation. Eduardo disagrees. He has to use the army. He is the state, and this is what the state does to enforce it’s will – it uses violence. But Evo is reluctant, because he wanted to do be different, or maybe because he knows he is in an impossible position. Could they dialogue?, Anna asks. They say that the last time Morales and Ruban Costas, the governor of Santa Cruz, met, Costas ripped up a cheque Morales was giving him in an official meeting and threw it in his face. He calls Morales a monkey. They say his personal land ownings are larger than the entire department of La Paz. How can you ‘dialogue’ with that kind of racism, that kind of entrenched interest in maintaining the status quo?

Anna is frustrated because to her it makes no sense that there can be no reaction. But for me, and I think for Eduardo, there is something more complicated going on. We all have reached a point of stalemate – Evo can’t react with force against the violence without replicating the reaction of Goni and being accused of being the same.

The images I saw on television were familiar. Riot porn. We on a particular part of the left have seen similar images before and have viewed them as resistance and rebellion. Indeed, in 2003 and 2005, when it was campesinos and miners marching through the streets of La Paz and overthrowing Goni, we cheered it as a great victory of the people over the oligarchs. I still believe it was, but the absolutely crucial problem now is that the oligarchs are using the identical tactics to achieve the opposite politics.

Where does this put us on the left, those of us who have supported Evo? I would never have though I would find myself in the position where I would be distressed by the burning of the government, sympathising with the riot police, and advocating sending in the army. This is a very weird position to find myself in.

The paradox of Bolivia, Eduardo argues, is that we have seen it as a revolution when it is not. I also am beginning to see it as this. Evo took power through the ballot box, and although he is indeed a different type of politician, he sought power through the existing system and became the state. The power of the state comes through the use of violence, and the legitimation of elections. While 68% of the country support Evo, there is still a minority, and if they don’t accept the rule of law then the state has no means to enforce it other than through violence. We believed in Evo as if he were something different, and by his reluctance to send in the army perhaps he is proving he, too, still sees himself as different. He still thinks he is not the state. But he is, and ultimately he will only be able to keep hold of his power by using the weapons of the state.

There is one last piece of pizza, and I let Eduardo and Anna split it. Anna thinks that they should let Santa Cruz burn. If they want to destroy their infrastructure, let them! The international community will not support them, and Bolivia relies on Brazil and Argentina to buy its gas. Isolated and without infrastructure, cut off from their customers, they will soon give in. Eduardo dismisses the idea. They would build new institutions. It would serve as an accusation that Evo was trying to starve the people. Evo wanted to be head of state and he is – now he must act like one and crush his opposition. This is not a revolution – whether on the left or the right, he still has to act like an overseeing power that imposes its will on the minority who don’t agree. Anna gets angry. Anarchism is not a viable solution, she says. You really think that is the answer?

And here is where Eduardo and I are stuck. We believe in anarchism, but support “realistic” alternatives in the belief that it is unlikely that we are going to be able to bring about the kind of world we would rather see. So we supported and still do support Evo. But now the opposition are using the same means of resistance to the imposition of state power that the left used 3 years ago, and we have a problem. Evo is the state – he sought and gained power through the existing systems of electoral politics backed up with the legitimate use of violence. The fact that he gained power through acts of violence that directly challenged the state’s monopoly on violence only complicates the matter further, in that now he is trying to be a state at a time when the legitimacy of the state remains in question.

The cracks are beginning to show. We have supported compromise in order to be realistic, but the compromise is not viable. We have looked to Bolivia as an alternative, as a place where radical and positive change can really come about through the ballot box. We have swallowed all our objections and criticisms to this form of politics in the hope that it would work. Now when that support involves us advocating sending in the army to crush the resistance, when the only way we can convince those who oppose us is through violence, it causes prickles of unease. That unease is only going to grow. Can we – must we – go back to believing another world is possible?

By now you have no doubt heard that Evo won, and won spectacularly. If you haven’t, then take a quick trip over to the Blog from Bolivia for the news. I keep looking at the figures, but its still hasn’t quiet sunk in for me… I mean, this election has shown that he really does have an unprecedented level of support. 65% is… incredible.

To put that in perspective, Labour won at the last election in the UK with 35.3% of the popular vote. Even in the department where Evo has the least support, Santa Cruz, he got more than Labour won with: 38%.

I’m usually a cynical bastard when it comes to elections, verging on support of the eat-your-ballot campaign. As far as I’m concerned anyone who makes it far enough to get their name on a ballot paper has to have abandoned everything that would have made them a decent human, just to get (or to want to get) that far, long ago. But I don’t think I’m just being romantic when I say that this situation feels different, and that Evo is a different type of politician. Sure, he’s obviously still a politician, but for the first time it seems like there really is a choice between two substantially different entities.

Its slightly eerie in La Paz today. I noticed it immediately I woke up. Usually I get woken by the sound on traffic outside, even though I live on the 16th floor. But this morning I was woken at 7:30 by a military style band blasting out a rousing little number, then promptly stopping and leaving behind a deathly silence. Lying in bed listening to the rather disconcerting sound of nothing whatsoever, I eventually got curious enough to drag myself to the window. Outside the streets were deserted – barely a single car and hardly a person on the streets as far as I could see (and from the 16th floor I can generally see pretty far).

Its been like that all day. The only vehicles out are taxis with official looking notices on their windscreens, and they mostly seem to be ferrying officials and journalists between the municipal buildings and the newspaper offices.

I took a walk down town in the afternoon to see what was going on, if anything. Its oddly quiet in the city without any traffic. Nearly all the shops and cafés are closed – the single fast food joint open, Dumbo’s, was packed, while the Starbucks-esque Alexander’s Cafe was still only serving its loyal crowd of American ex-pats sucking on over-priced lattes. The usual Sunday cultural events on the Prado were cancelled, but there was something of the holiday feel in the air as families and couples strolled up and down the street. The parks and plazas were packed with children playing and lovers cooing. Even in Plaza Murillo, where the governmental palace is, there were still the usual crowds of tourists snapping pictures and small children feeding/stomping on pigeons under the doting eyes of their parents.

The peaceful holiday mood clashed somewhat with the high police presence in the city, particularly around places where people are voting. That strange and exotic feeling of being able to meander through the middle of what ought to be a hectic thoroughfare was broken every now and then by a convoy of police on bright red motorbikes racing their way through. Given that (once they have voted of course) no-one has anything better to do today than wander the streets, I guess its not surprising that I came across at least one big fight in the street. Outside a church on the Prado a middle-aged woman in a pink sun hat and holding an ice cream in her hand was berating a group of embarrassed looking young men. As they traded insults a crowd began to form, occasionally heckling or joining in. Two giggling women who looked like mother and grown-up daughter got into the mood by sitting down on the church steps and shouting slogans for either side, much to the amusement of the onlookers. But others were far more serious, not least the women who seemed to have started it. A young man in a MAS jacket seemed to be the prime target of the women’s rage. He got eventually dragged away by his friends to the hooting jeers of the crowd, but by this point enough people had joined in for the argument to continue a good while longer. There was something a little surreal about seeing the peaceful Sunday strollers meandering up the Prado get to the church and suddenly launch themselves into a political street brawl. A few police eventually came by and pulled aside a man still holding the hand of his young son while shouting red faced at the old woman with her ice cream.

By the time I got home an hour or so ago the crowds of reporters outside the municipal building where they are counting the votes had thinned a bit. This morning they had been camped out on mass on the pavement (or, to be more accurate, queuing round the block for the hot-dog stand opposite the municipal building with one eye on the food and one eye on the big gates in case anything happened). What’s going on inside that building will determine whether things remain this quiet over the next few days, weeks and months.

I’m interested in the debate going on about Katy Perry, the new trying-to-be-Lily-Allen popsicle. Her first two singles are both accused of being anti-gay. The first was called “UR so Gay” and is all about an ex who was too metrosexual for his own good, while the second is called “I Kissed a Girl” and, well, its about her kissing a girl. The musical value of the songs aside, she’s pissed a lot of people off. But the daughter of two Christian Pastors and the latest product of Capitol Records seems herself to be blithely ignorant of the offence she has caused.

This fantastic interview with her and its subsequent discussion in The New Gay magazine is wonderful. As one of the commentators points out

“The interviewer just keeps asking, over and over, “Why are you such a homophobic cunt?”

The subject keeps responding, “The songs are personal, the themes are open to interpretation, I don’t have a government-mandated obligation to be politically correct.”

The songs each play on tropes of homophobia that are common in daily life but considered to be ‘harmless’. The first being the use of ‘gay’ as an insult akin to ‘stupid’ or ‘sucky’, the second being the idea that (pretty) straight girls kissing is hot as long as its aimed at turning on men. The first is one of my own personal rant buttons, and I have on several occasions got into huge blazing rows over it (most recently with my little sister – the one who also thinks that Muslims are evil). “But I don’t really mean gay as an insult, its just a word. It doesn’t mean gay like that“: the excuse of the fucking ignorant. The second idea that lesbians are hot seems to have a whole lot to do with porn. I always wondered why it was that lesbians were so popular in porn for men, given that you’d assume there would be nothing there for them. But I figured eventually that its probably because most straight men are so homophobic that they aren’t even comfortable seeing another guy naked in porn, so if you just eliminate the guy and put in two women it solves the problem. Which is of course reinforced by the fact that you would never see a butch lesbian, or in fact a lesbian, in ‘lesbian’ porn aimed at straight men. So Katy Perry’s funny little jokes reinforce the idea that lesbians only exist as male sex objects, and that men (gay or straight) who don’t fit in with established sex/gender roles should be punished for it. Catchy!

I was thinking about writing this post last night while in a gay bar in La Paz, and talking to my friend who took me there. My friend, Diana, was pretty uncomfortable but trying really hard not to show it. She had been nervous about whether she ought to mention the fact she was going to the bar, and had kind of ‘sounded me out’ on how I would react before inviting me. She is straight but was going because an old friend of hers who is gay was organising the event. Diana’s reaction was really interesting – although she was obviously very uncomfortable and probably quiet unhappy about her friend being, as she called it, ‘abnormal’, she was really trying hard to understand and to open her mind to the idea. She wanted to go to the bar to support her friend in an event she was organising, and I think in general to show her friend that she still supported her altogether. We had a good night out (till the curfew interrupted us) and made plans to see the Miss Gay Bolivia candidate through to the competition next weekend. Diana talked about how dangerous it is to be openly gay in Bolivia – at the gay pride event earlier in the year people attacked and sprayed gas on the people marching. We talked in the taxi home about the Katy Perry song “UR So Gay” and she was far more shocked than I had been.

In a way its a bit like the racist comments I was talking about before. Ed, for example, considers himself to be progressive and would probably describe Diana as homophobic because she is uncomfortable with the idea of her friend being gay. But Ed regularly makes the kind of locker room jokes with his male friends about being ‘so gay’, and I can only imagine the look of fear that would cross his face if we had offered to bring him along last night to the drag show in a gay bar. Diana lives in a country where being gay really is considered to be ‘abnormal’ so her opinion is understandable – I think its a bit much to assume that individual people can throw off their habitus overnight after one contact with the ‘liberal west’. In fact it’s this idea that we are more liberal in the west that makes us able to become comfortable with our own prejudice. What makes Diana more tolerant that Ed is that she is actively trying to change her opinion and broaden her mind, and that she understands that such ‘causal jokes’ are part of the day-to-day reinforcement of oppression that keep her friends underground and, at times, in fear of their lives.

So I was out earlier this evening at a support gig to raise money for the costumes for a drag queen contestant in Miss Gay Bolivia 2008, and discovered that there is a curfew in place tonight! We had just finished enjoying a rather fine belly dancing act from Miss Jubilación, when the bar owner came round to inform everyone they had to leave by 11. At that hour all bars, clubs and restaurants across the city had to be closed by law. What’s more, by midnight a city wide curfew would be in place, so no pedestrians, cars, buses – nothing! – allowed on the streets. The election is on Sunday, but it seems the government is taking no chances. Damn it, the populace will be sober when they vote, and sober for two days beforehand while they think about it!

I asked my friend about the election – apparently its not mandatory to vote, but if you don’t it becomes very difficult to get anything done bureaucracy wise. I’m not sure exactly what the deal is, but as she explained it you get some form of ID card when you vote that you then have to show whenever you interact with things like banks or the government or employers. So to miss out on voting and not get the card means being screwed until the next election comes around.

At a rough guess, I’d say that its likely no bars at all and few shops are going to be open tomorrow, so I think I’ll get some beers in for the weekend. And while I’m at it I might stockpile on some food in case there are any blockades. There’s a chance that things in Bolivia could get ‘interesting’, so to speak, over the next few days. Thought to be honest no-one seems to know what’s going to happen. Everyone I ask throws their hands up in the air – the only thing certain is that its bound to be worse in the South where anti-Evo sentiment is vicious, rather than here in the highlands where he has most support. But I just found out what the big fancy government building right next to my apartment that they have been renovating for the last two months is: its the municipal building where they count the votes.

So that’s nice to know, it being so close and all.

As we left the bar to enjoy our last hour of freedom walking the streets, we were reminded by the bar owner that we had to walk in pairs only. No groups allowed on the streets for reasons of security – and a group counts as more than two. In a devious act of rebellion we celebrated our last hour of freedom by walking in a pack of six.

Today is Bolivian Independence day and its a big fiesta. In celebration, I’ve been thinking about all the things I love about La Paz. Here in no particular order is my top 5 reasons to love this city:

1) The traffic zebras. The first time I saw these guys I had no idea what they were doing. Dressed up in big zebra costumes (or occasionally as other furry four legged friends), they dance, juggle or strut about in front of the cars and buses at traffic lights. Sounds weird? It’s genius. La Paz like many cities used to have a problem with people not obeying traffic laws. Traffic police didn’t seem to be working, so someone came up with the idea of the traffic zebras. If a trigger happy taxi driver or over zealous bus driver tries to jump a red light, the traffic zebras pounce on mass and *mock* the driver into stopping. Its easy to shout abuse at a traffic cop and look tough, harder to argue with a teenager dressed as a zebra and save face, especially when everyone else starts to laugh at you too. It worked – no one runs down a zebra. They have expanded recently into other forms of traffic control, but with the same tactic – tough-guy drivers that want to break traffic rules may not fear the police, but they do fear a crowd of watching pedestrians and drivers laughing at them as they are clowned at by a zebra.

2) An honest war memorial. The memorial to the unknown solider in La Paz used, I think, to be the usual kind of marching, earnest young thing, off to die gloriously for his country. Now the memorial shows the solider dead on his face in the dirt.

3) Active street art. La Paz is covered in street art and commentary, from graffiti to murals and everything in-between. For some reason a lot of the graffiti all over the city is written in a beautiful copperplate handwriting. As someone once told me, graffiti is the sign of an active political life in a city. And La Paz certainly has that in abundance. Some of the graffiti stays around for years as a reminder of struggles past – I came across some anti-Goni slogans a few days ago. Others become the focus of protracted exchanges between different paint wielding commentators, and whole conversations come and go on the street for passers-by to see. There are also a large number of official murals, one of which has been in the process of being painted on the main street down town over the last few weeks.

4) Its possible to buy anything under the sun on the street. Walk long enough and you’ll eventually find a little old lady selling it. From the latest season of your favourite TV show to ironing boards, from dolls house furniture to military grade binoculars, school books to love potions – whatever you need someone will be able to sell it to you. And they will probably have all the above in the same stall.

5) The Prado on Sunday mornings. The Prado is the main street downtown, a long avenue that runs right through the centre of town. Every Sunday morning they shut down the busy traffic running in two directions and the street turns into a pedestrian cultural zone. Bandstands appear with classical, folk, and rock/pop music evenly spaced out so as not to disturb each other. Chairs are arranged for the fairly considerable audiences that arrive to listen. Whole sections are turned over to children’s activities – bouncy castles, go-cart racing, skipping competitions, puppet shows, drawing and puzzle areas, story telling and so on. Its all free, and whole families turn up to join in. Booths appear from various cultural organisations – the Hari Krishnas rub shoulders with the likes of the Bonsai society, Origami makers, and old Aymara men reading coca leaves. People wander up and down the length of the Prado all morning, watching and being watched, listening to the music, taking it easy. By mid-afternoon it all closes back down again for the week.

Of course there are many other things I could mention, but that’s just my selection for today.