Day 7 :: Learning from La Vega

UCV.

I recently checked the stats of my blog and found that there have been over a thousand hits already (about 255 yesterday alone); without the possibility of my very own mother hitting refresh 250 times, I’m perplexed that I have some sort of audience. Regardless, it’s good to know I am not writing into the ether.

Today has been a lazy day. I woke up with a terrible migraine but felt the need to go out instead of watching dubbed re-runs of Two and a Half Men on Venezuelan TV. I headed towards the Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas and walked the 2 sq. kilometer campus for several hours. Considered an architectural / urban planning masterpiece, the campus was designed by architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva and took the architect some 30 years of direct supervision to design everything – including the curation of the many art pieces peppered between the buildings. It is the only project of its caliber and size deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site and and icon for its execution in the high modernist style of the 50’s. It’s implementation of international works of art was astounding, with a cast such as: Hans Arp, Andre Bloc, Alexander Calder, Wifredo Lam, Henri Laurens, Fernard Leger, Baltasar Lobo, Antoine Pevsner, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Victor Vasarely, Armando Barrios, Mateo Manaure, and the list goes on. The most striking feature of the aesthetic of these buildings lay in their use of screens and layers. With the exception of the classroom/lab spaces, every public program seemed to be semi-outdoors and possessed an incredible quality of light.

Because school began here a few days ago the campus was crawling with students who were more excited to fondle each other on the green spaces, once again outside of the watchful eyes of their parents and so I was able to move freely in and out of every building I found. I walked by an outdoor cafeteria and didn’t recognize anything on the menu so I just ordered something and found a bench to have lunch. I still have no idea what was in the sandwich that I ate but I think there is a reason why it was only $2.

The public walkways were crowded with small stands selling everything from books to pirated software to movies and school supplies. As I perused the architecture books I came across an awesome book (referred to me by the UTT gang) named something along the lines of Construction for the Populace; this book was a manual written in the 80’s by an architect who wanted to give the everyday man the technical know how for constructing his own staircase, home, and even neighborhood. I believe it has been utilized mainly by those families who have slowly added to their self-declared plots of land in the Barrios (as finances permitted over the course of a life time). Unfortunately I didn’t have the money or room to bring it back with me.

After I found my way out of the campus I realized I wouldn’t be able to find a taxi, but I saw a tower near my hotel in the distance (if it weren’t for skyscrapers, I am not sure how I would ever be able to orient myself in these cities) and so I headed in that direction. Lucky for me, the shortest route home included a nerve-wracking dash across the 8 lane Autopista del Este; I lit a cigarette and challenged death (the drivers of Caracas) as I made my way across.

I came back to the hotel and was greeted with 27 emails that were ‘urgent’ and that unfortunately pulled me back to the realities of my American life. A few hours later I went out for dinner to another Areparia, this one clearly run by supporters of Chavez: the walls were splattered with that deep Revolutionary red and the young, unruly group of 20 something kids were intently watching Chavez give one of his motivated speeches (which seems to be every day here). On that note, in todays “El Nacional” (the socialist newspaper which aligns itself with the party in power) claimed that the earthquake in Haiti was at the hands of a conspiracy theory backed by who else, the United States. In other news, Venezuela is in the process of making a pact with Iran to build a series of nuclear power plants in the south of the country. The bonds of the Axis of Evil are still strong.

I leave for Quito in the morning. Caracas, I’ll see you in hell (already there!)

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