Monday, November 19, 2007

Sunday on the Beach with Chavez

Hello, Comrades:
Dispatching here from the capital of the Bolivarian Revolution, where the incongruous rules.
Cliched slogans like "Fatherland, Socialism or Death" (it's apparently a multiple choice question) compete for your attention with ugly ads for beer, Pepsi, Avon, Smirnoff, etc. All of it is visual pollution of the worst order in a city so ugly, a monstrosity nestled in the middle of spectacular nature, I fantasize an extreme makeover for it.
Yesterday, after a grueling and exciting week of shooting my first TV commercials as a director (with the help of the Magnificent Arepa, my codirector), we packed it in and drove to the beach.
As easy breezy as this sounds, you must know that it is an adventure with the highest degree of peril. Not because of dengue fever, or malaria, but because of something even more insidious and intractable: the roads and the drivers.
1. There are no speed limits posted anywhere. This is interpreted by one and all as let's see who gets killed faster. There are drivers with cars put together with dental floss, very flimsy but nevertheless suicidal compact cars, as well as your garden variety SUV wielding asshole, truck drivers and bus drivers, all hurling themselves at one another in what can only be described as an urgent death wish. We witnessed two accidents in one day and in both not only did nobody stop to help (as people were crawling out of an upturned car through the broken windshield), but there was no police, no ambulance, no authorities in sight.
2. The roads would be a hoot if they weren't so damned dangerous. No signals, no warnings, no lights, no lanes sometimes, but yes a huge Smirnoff vodka ad right as you emerge from a tunnel in the middle of the mountains. There is a new autopista, a new six lane freeway that has not been completed yet, but even a roadblock and a huge sign saying ROAD CLOSED, does not deter the SUV wielding assholes from getting on it. I come from the Land of the Enchilada, where the absurd is king and the driving is maniacal, but this here country takes the cake.

However, if you happen to be blessed by a the protection of either fate or a higher power, once you get to the beach, then you can relax, or spend your hours thinking you better enjoy your last day on Earth, before you get killed on the way back.
This is a beautiful country, tropical and lush, and the beaches are gorgeous. They are not overdeveloped and ruined forever, as it happens where I come from, for Venezuela lives from oil and not from tourism. Thus, all tourism is local, and it is all quite rustic.
We went to a little beach called San Francisquito, about two hours from Caracas. It was packed with families. Because we are traumatized by what passes for a beach in NY state, we asked the guy who rents the chairs and the shades if there is food. "Tons of it", he replied. And sure enough, soon someone comes over with fresh red snappers to show off, and we breathe in the good sea breeze. The sea is warm and refreshing, the sun is blinding and killer, and you can't have one beer, because they don't sell them by the bottle, but by the case. When you ask to buy only two beers people look at you like you are demented.
People park their cars right next to the beach, they open the backs and they broadcast, at the highest volume possible, their choice of music, which runs the gamut from reggaeton to salsa.
This means every car is blasting something out, so there is a fierce competition for the noisiest. I fantasized blasting some Mahler, and Magnificent Arepa said that people would probably ask us to kindly turn our volume down (or lynch us for killing the mood). So the atmosphere is beyond festive, colorful and rich.
This is the Caribbean, which means body inhibitions are relatively absent. Nobody goes topless, God forbid, but they almost go bottomless. People were gawking at me, probably blinded by my preternatural whiteness or by the fact I was the only person wearing a one piece. Women wear g-strings despite the fact that most of them have what I call Arepa body (like the Mexican Tamale body, but much curvier and meatier -- huge tits, huger asses). They ooze flesh on all sides. They make the Michelin Man look svelte. They are also all tanned to a cinnamon crisp and they shake their booties to the wind, with not a care in the world.

Then the food comes: incredibly delicious fried red snapper with fresh limes. Mashed fried plantains with white cheese and ketchup (delish), and shrimp drowning in garlic and oil.
After this, going to the beach in Long Island or anywhere in the US, is safe and quiet but pathetic.

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