Friday, August 18, 2006

In Caracas

I approached my flight to Caracas yesterday thinking that the security hassle was going to be the very preamble to the apocalypse, only to find the lady next to me at the boarding gate daringly applying lip gloss for all the world to see. Nobody arrested her. As my smart-as-a-whip darling sister Little Enchiladita pointed out, (after receiving via email my instructions on my Last Will and Testament): "Not to worry. Nobody is going to blow up a plane to Caracas. Chavez is chums with the terrorists".
So, Caracas:
Inevitably, it reminds me a lot of Mexico City, particularly the ugly parts, which are plentiful. But surprisingly, Caracas is probably the lushest city I've seen, nestled in the middle of astonishingly green hills, verdant with deep tropical foliage.
Its famous mountain, the Avila, looms magnificently over it. So if you are stuck in satanic traffic in the middle of an ugly street, there is always a wall of green right in front of your nose.
What boggles the mind then is how come they erected such an unwieldy little eyesore of a city in such magnificent surroundings. It's as if they looked around and thought "what the hell, we're never going to match it, so let's build as ugly as we possibly can".
Thus, the ugly parts are defiantly, heroically ugly. You can confuse the tire shops and the invasion of street stalls and garbage and the squeezing together of humanity where it clearly doesn't fit, with any such place in Mexico City, except that instead of almost 25 million souls, here they only have about 4. Because of the hilly topography, the poor encroach their shantytowns on top of the hills; an impressive example of spontaneous popular engineering that begs the question: is this a seismic region? It's rather a mudslide region, but when has that stopped anyone from building? These favelas are a sight to behold, built literally on top of each other, mostly of forgiving red brick, which at least contrasts nicely with the surrounding greenery. Interestingly enough, the rich who build their condos right across the hill, and often right next to the favelas, build with red brick too, which is something that would never happen in Mexico City. Of course, as in DF, the wealthy live in gated compounds. Caracas is basically a gated city. There are iron bars guarding everything and everybody, including whatever you may find in the most impoverished barrios.

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