Day 5 :: Patria Para Todos

A shorter than usual sampling.

Before finally attempting to sleep before another long, unsure day I said goodnight to my flatmates: the young Camila blushed in her broken, Argentinian English and said ‘it was a pleasure Mr. Parsa; be safe;’ Fish sarcastically uttered, ‘well, whatever Fish. Don’t die in Venezuela;’ and the older, soon-to-be resident of Panama shook my hand like an old-fashioned American and said ‘Mr. Khalili, you made my evening.’ A nice and varied farewell from the culture club that was my flat in Bogota.

I couldn’t help but wonder, for what existence do these estranged globetrotters seek? Over the course of conversation the American man of 67 told me that he told me more in one night than he had his own brother in the last twenty years. Never married and without children, he has chosen this life of quiet desperation – more to the point, the despair of place. As cynical as I may seem I thought very fondly of my new friends but realized I was nothing more than a few nights worth of lively conversation, and come tomorrow, another aimless traveler would fill my shoes.

Stepping outside of the linearity of the blog for a moment, a quick note to the few friends who’ve commented on my writing thus far: I am fully aware that my writing is often laden with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and general, structural flaws. Please excuse them, stop pointing them out, or go back to reading the NYTimes.com (or some other asinine architecture blog). 😀

I was woken by one of the lovely old caretakers who recalled I had an early flight and wanted to make sure I was up. She went off in Spanish about something for a good 10 minutes as I simply laid there trying to remember where it is that I was. Reality snapped quickly into focus and I hopped up and called a taxi. I ended up sharing the ride with a young PhD from LA, Abe (whom was staying in the complex but whom I hadn’t made the acquaintance). I very much looked forward to a ride of tranquil reflection over my time in Bogota, but instead was talked at for the whole 45 minute ride.

Six hours later I landed in Venezuela. As soon as I got off the plane the Caribbean heat cut through me like the insolent criticism of a loved one. This must be Caracas. I jumped through the usual hoops of departing an international terminal – after a while you don’t even need to know how to read, write or speak the language of the country you are in, you just know what documents to present to who and at what time. On the advice of several friends of friends I hired an armed driver as my convoy into the city. On the dot, Giorgio (a native of Sicily) met me at our prearranged spot and whisked me through the crowds of fraudulent taxistas and to our tinted GMC Envoy.

He spoke as little English as I did Spanish and for what blanks we needed to fill, we both turned to our French. He was a glorious bastard – verbose, informative, and I didn’t get the sense that he was going to rob me. The first thing you notice in Caracas are the miles of Barrios that sprawl across the mountain side – the brother of the Brazilian favela and site of immense social isolationism; Giorgio warned in Spanish, “if you go in, you don’t come out alive.”

Soon thereafter we arrived at my hotel, where I dropped everything off and went out. I picked a direction and just kept walking until I hit a dead-end, reoriented myself and did it again. I stopped to draw the Barrios in the distance, sitting on a fire hydrant on a youthful street, until I realized the number of gangly, pre-teens licking their chops (looking at my black and white classic American nike Hi’s) had increased proportional to how fast the sun was going down. I headed home and stopped at a 24 hour Areparia and got a carne mechada con queso de mano topped off with this neon orange hot sauce – definitely what I plan to eat at least twice a day until I leave to never return.

Caracas, and maybe it’s just where I was damned enough to stay, seems unusually run down. It’s public infrastructure seems to have withstood the test of time most likely on account of the climate, however, the architecture is suffering. The only good thing about Hugo Chavez and his Fifth Republic Movement is that he looks like Mies van der Rohe and his people have full universal health care. The graffiti on the streets are proof: “Libertad en el precio de la política.”

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