Listen to a Londoner: Mariano Ortiz

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Mariano Ortiz

Mariano is a born and bred Londoner. With an emphasis on social integration in everything he does, he loves to engage people through teaching English language, giving salsa dance lessons and playing vallenato accordion. He also runs Latinos in London Ltd.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here?
MO: My parents left Colombia in the seventies. They went to Spain to study at university. As luck would have it, they only met when both were on holiday here in London. They fell in love, got married, then I popped up and the rest was history – our life was to be here in England. I have therefore been here all my life, since 1983, and now enjoy my days running Latinos in London Ltd, teaching English, teacing dance, teaching music, bringing artists in from Latin America for concerts and providing consultancy services to London Concert venues with acts that appeal to Spanish/Portuguese-speaking audiences in London.

LLO: Latinos in London has well over 4,000 members on Facebook. Tell us what it’s all about.
MO: Latinos in London branches off from Timeout London, for whom I did work experience when I finished my A-levels. It will become a fully functioning and interactive website this year. It basically provides English speakers across the world with an insight into Latin American and Iberian happenings in the UK without the biassed coverage most other bodies do because there is indeed no regulator or actively working critical body here. We seek to become that regulator and in addition bring about advancement in all aspects of community and politics but are well aware that the only way to hold the attention of as high a percentage of the public (especially a cross-section of generations) is by focussing on events and providing the service of a comprehensive events and curent affairs media body.

In addition to reporting news and current events both in the UK and abroad, we promote everything from book launches to film screenings via concerts, night clubs, conferences, lectures and many other events. Our site will launch once we have our critical agenda and critical team together because the most important thing we are looking to do is operate a critical and political branch to our project which should hopefully promote improvement and advancement of Latin American / Iberian communities in the UK. We are clearly not all illegal immigrants looking to scrounge off the UK welfare system, nor are we all Saints – thus a clear-speaking unbiassed media body is required by all to tell things as they should be.

Most other bodies are unable (and moreover unwilling) to do this based on:

1. The alliances they have with community groups, consulates, embassies and past or present advertising clients. Spanish language newspaper editors portray our 32 consulates and embassies in the UK as perfectly oiled machines of absolute efficiency when in truth most are far from this. Even more farsical is the tabloid style coverage these bodies give to news related to immigration, by which political candidates are judged to be pro-Latin based only on their backing of “possible future amnesties” – which indeed addresses the many of us in need of regularisation in the UK but portrays us as little more than a community in need of such things when a significant percentage of us would rather see politicians addressing issues concerning trade agreements.

2. The solely financial objectives they have and the limitations these entail: publicity clients, diplomatic bodies, service providers, restaurants and so on cannot be badmouthed or criticised as this will lead to bad business and the small “mafia” of regular advertisers in these newspapers have grown to become “family”.

We, as a community, need to remove ourselves from the ghetto mentality that reigns within too many of us here in the UK and allows things to remain sloppy and half-hearted. Latinos in London Ltd is 100% privately funded and has no restrictions or limitations. It additionally is the only platform producing daily and in English.

LLO: We’re looking for a great Latin American restaurant in London – best food and authentic Latin atmosphere. Recommendations?
MO: My opinion has changed over the years but at the moment I am against frequenting both typically Latin eateries and chain-stores of Macdonald’s style La Tascas, Nandos and Las Iguanas clown feederies. right now I am particularly interested in backing restaurants looking to push integration of that which is Latin American and that which is British/European in all aspects: menu, atmosphere, lighting, wine list, drinks, staff, service, etc.

In summary, my recommendations are Sabor run and owned by my dear friend Esnayder (also interviewed for Listen to a Londoner!) and Arepa & Co run by another visionary and lateral thinker, Gustavito.

LLO: Favourite unique London discovery?
MO: Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

LLO: Best place to go out dancing or hear some great live Latin American tunes in this city?
MO: My house! I organise a monthly “Vallenato House Party” where people are welcome to experience an authentic Colombian “parranda” (party with live music) with all the essences of typical food, atmosphere and imported drinks. Come along and be transported to any typical Colombian Northern coast house on a weekend evening. Details: www.Vallenato.co.uk

For added fun, check out Latin American harp and clarinet maestros Diego Laverde and Cheveto Requena at Angel and Green Park stations when you get the chance.

LLO:  Which area of London are you most familiar with and what’s your favourite thing about it?
MO: I am still deciding on that!

LLO: Can you tell us about some great resources for Latin Americans coming to London for the first time?
MO: Learning English? Well I have been working as an English teacher and education guidance mentor since 2006 and believe the best advice anyone could ever receive is personalised – so in short, my contact details are 0781 569 65 94 /contact@latinosinlondon.com

LLO: Tell us about a great memory of something that could only have happened in London.
MO: Celebrating Barcelona winning the UEFA champions league a few years ago against Arsenal in Trafalgar Square. Colombian Barcelona supporters, we were playing vallenato into the night. Argentine Barcelona supporters, they were playing Latin rock guitar, Cubans had salsa cow bells and claves  and who were we sorrounded by? Joyous Tottenham Hotspurs supporters cheering and dancing along.

LLO: If you were to leave London in the near future, what 5 things (people not included) would you miss the most about the city?
MO:
1 – The mentality: Most people here do not allow social class and appearances rule their lives.
2 – The culture: Every country of the world is represented in this city
3 – The food: Fancy eating anything from anywhere? look for it in London.
4 – Employment flexibility: Fancy changing careers from sales to dance entertainment and then back again? Only in London.
5 – Night clubs and entertainment venues open 7 nights a week: We don’t know how lucky we are to have these.

LLO: You’ve got a free day to explore a part of the city you’ve never been to. Where do you go and why?
MO: My head hurts now.  😦  I can’t possibly think straight and answer for this. Sorry 😦

Thanks Mariano!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

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Listen to a Londoner: Lisa Bolton

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

lisa
Lisa Bolton

Lisa is a northern lass from the French countryside who is integrating into London’s Colombian community. She’s trying to get used to overcrowding and living like battery hens whilst growing very fond of cultural diversity, chips and Primark!

LLO: How long have you been in London, where are you from originally and what brought you here?
LB: I’ve been in London for 2 and a half years. I was born in Salford, Manchester but have lived in nearly all my life in a forest in Normandy France which is where I call home. I came here for work and a new beginning. After finishing my studies and working in Spain for 2 and a half years there was little work in France so I made my decision one morning to come to London and find a new job!

LLO: Which area of London are you most familiar with and what’s the best thing about it?
LB: Having lived in various areas in London I really love Elephant and Castle and Brixton. As I said I grew up in a forest 2km outside a village of 467 people. I had a pretty sheltered life to say the least. I had heard so many horrible things about these 2 areas I was scared to death, but there is a really sense of community. Even though I have moved away from the area now I still enjoy going to Weight Watchers every week in Brixton and the Ritzy cinema is brill and there is a lot of different shops. And Elephant is the best place in London as there is so much going on, transport is excellent and you feel as if you are in another world. You can walk into central London in 30 minutes!!!

LLO:  Tell us about your favourite unique London discovery.
LB: Uhmm, quite hard. I think it depends on what you are into and unless you are in that scene you wouldn’t know about it. Thanks to my circle of friends which is made up of Colombians I suppose it would be the Vallenato sub-culture and the private parties, functions, festivals and carnivals.

I would also say that the Fitzrovia live radio performances are a great discovery and brilliant. They often perform at the Globe’s pub The Swan. I discovered this through my friend and ex-flatmate who is an actor.

But of course my most precious unique London discovery is my fiancé Carlos who I met here.

LLO:  Where are your top choices for a night of dancing?
LB: I LOVE dancing but mostly salsa. However, I REALLY like G-A-Y to let your hair down and for cheap drinks! People there are really friendly and will come up and dance with you.

I don’t really like the “Latin” places here. The music is not that great and the dancing is quite the same. I believe La Floridita is great and it has been recommended, but I’ve never been. There is one place in Brixton called “La Mazorca” which is a bit of a dive and there are a few dodgy characters BUT if you go in a group they play great music and have a great dance floor. Otherwise, I have always had the best dancing time at improvised parties in various little bars and open air festivals like “Carnival del Pueblo”.

LLO: Give us an unusual or quirky idea for a date in London.
LB: To be quite honest I have no idea, probably not been on enough dates to know. But I recently met up with a former flatmate who told me he had had a few dates since we had last seen each other and one guy took him to a taxidermist shop! Needless to say he didn’t go out with him again!

LLO: If I only had one night in London and wanted to head away from the tourist trail for food and drinks, where would you send me?
LB: Gosh, this is a hard question as it depends what type of food I fancied. I have my favourite Colombian restaurant, French restaurant and Indian restaurant! But I suppose if I weren’t here I would be living outside the country and therefore it would probably have to be a pub where I could have steak and ale pie and chips. It’s not off the beaten track but the Horneman over-looking the river on the south bank near London Bridge is easy access and the food is quite nice also, but most good pubs could probably do the same.

LLO: If you want to experience another culture in London, what’s your first choice and where do you head to find it?
LB: WOW, the choice is incredible as London in itself is a cultural mish-mash. The first time I went to Whitechapel, I thought I was in some Asian country. It was incredible. Elephant again springs to mind. Latin American and African cultures are predominant and you can get by just speaking Spanish!

LLO: Tell us about a London memory that could only have happened in London.
LB: I am an English teacher on Oxford Street and I have large, very culturally diverse groups of people who maybe have never left their country before. They have strong preconceptions about different nationalities, colours, cultures, sexual preferences and, of course, religion. As a Teacher it is very hard to approach such sensitive subjects especially concerning homophobia and the stigma which every Muslim/Arabic student is viewed with. Some Latin American students have never met a Muslim let alone a woman in traditional dress. But one day in a class in which I had Baptists, born again Christians, Catholics, Buddhists, Russian orthodox, Shintoists and Muslims (from Turkey, Russia and North African countries) the debate turned to religion which I allow as long as everybody respects each other’s beliefs. The students all found common ground within their different religions and traditions using English. They all got along so well and were respectful of each other. I know sounds corny, but I really warmed my heart that despite all the war and hatred in the world, people from  incredibly different walks of life found they were all the same.

LLO: Who is the most interesting Londoner you’ve met and why?
LB: Everyone in London has had an interesting life and a story to tell. But one of my students, Maria, had come from the slums of Lima, Peru, and had been to a school run by nuns and financed by fundraising from Europe. She had worked her way up to become an English teacher and came to England to better her skills.

Doing the job I do has been a real eye opener to see that intelligent, highly qualified people who are psychologists, engineers, lawyers, film directors etc… perform menial jobs due to their legal status and language skills in order to learn the language. It really angers me when you see office workers ignoring cleaners knowing that they are probably for more qualified than them. It cost nothing to smile or acknowledge someone.

LLO:  If you were to move away from London in the future, which five things would you miss the most?
LB:
1) Cultural diversity
2) The choice of different products and restaurants
3) The different events
4) Primark
5) Public transport especially the tube (despite all the strikes, hahhaha!)

Thanks Lisa!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Taste of Colombia in London

Still, by far the strangest Colombia food I’ve eaten is hormigas – the giant toasted bacon-popcorn-tasting ants, but I recently visited three different Colombian restaurants in London and tried different versions of plantains, yuca (cassava) and delicious, huge steaks as well as ox liver, ox tongue and some delicious fresh fruit drinks.

The first restaurant we went to was the loud and lively Latin Corner on Camden Road where I ate a massive steak plate called Sobrebarriga dorada. The tables surrounded a bar where they sell, among the usual choices, Colombia beer. The atmosphere was alive and a few people stood up to salsa near the tables.

La Bodeguita

Twice we went to La Bodeguita in the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, the area of London where the biggest Colombia population lives followed by Stockwell and Brixton. La Bodeguita had a quieter, more relaxed atmosphere than the Latin Corner – better for conversation – but still with Latin American music and it does turn into a party place later in the evening. Here I tried Carne Asada, another steak dish as well as well as the ox tongue – Lengua a la criolla – which was suprisingly tasty. To drink, I had guanabana juice/smoothie. Yum!

For a friend’s birthday, we had dinner at Leños & Carbón on Rockingham Street, also in Elephant & Castle. A bit of a different atmosphere with a mix English and Latin music. I ate ox liver here and had an excellent fresh lulo juice – which is a sweet tropical fruit that somewhat resembles a kiwi in certain ways, I am told. Lulo juice is amazing, and it’s unfortunate you can’t find the fruit to buy in the markets like you can with some other oddities that Colombians enjoy like mamon.

In all three restaurants, the waiters were incredibly friendly and talkative, joking and laughing with us. The prices were very reasonable. The food and drinks were delicious at all three of them as well.

I’m sure there are some other good Colombian choices hiding in London. I also stopped in Brixton Market the other day to buy buñuelos from a vendor who was also selling cheesy arepas.

If you can recommend any other places in London to find delicious Colombian food, leave a comment.

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The Latin Corner
La Bodegiuta

Leños & Carbón

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Editor’s note – For anyone interested in Colombia, check out my blog from when I lived in a village called Mogotes in the Santander region of Colombia for six months in 2011 – http://www.littlecolombiaobservationist.com (A Colombia version of LLO!) Also, you can see my Flickr photos from my Colombia experience here