Monday, August 23, 2010

Life's a Beach

Darlings! I can't believe it's been weeks since I've kvetched in this here space. But I am now in one of the most dangerous capitals of the world, basically crapping my pants every time I venture out. There is certainly a lot to be enjoyed in Caracas, except every time you set out to do it, you fear for your life.
The weather is magnificent. The fruit juices are sublime. The food is great. The city is in a beautiful, lush place, surrounded by the greenest tropical mountains. Magnificent Arepa got the toothache from hell, walked into a government clinic and was treated immediately and well for FREE.

And the beach is an experience.
Going to the beach here is both supremely pleasurable and not for the faint of heart. The good part is that Venezuelans, like most Latin Americans, understand that the beach is the place where everyone can feel like royalty for bubkes. There is plenty of shade, and folding beach chairs. People are super simpatico. There is a combination of good manners and street smarts that I love (compared to Mexico, people here are more equal, and treat you as such). Beer flows and so does a parade of yummy food. Delicious fried cheese empanadas, coconut sweets, wafers with both arequipe, which is like dulce de leche, AND condensed milk (and sprinkles to taste).  A tray of fresh fish arrives for inspection and selection and a couple of hours later, platters of the same arrive cooked to perfection. The water is clear and warm. Considering the crowds, the beaches are clean. Paradise.

But. Venezuelans park their cars right next to the shore, they open the backs to reveal  sound systems that rival the loudest dance clubs in the world. They proceed to crank it up to the maximum decibel level that can be tolerated by the human ear and reggaeton, with merengue and salsa thrown in, blast out from every other car. It is impossible to have a conversation without screaming at the top of your lungs. People dance. Babies dance. The dancing looks like copulation, but never mind. This is one crowd that can shake their ass. I saw a fat old guy putting together a grill and dancing at the same time.
People drink, and not just beer; also hard liquor in vastly imprudent quantities, which makes you wonder if this will be your last day on Earth as you drive back to town. The way these people drive when sober is scary enough to give anyone pause. Drunk is an entirely new plane of experience. I saw a pickup truck driver on the highway with a baby on his lap, the baby playing around with the side mirror. No seat belt.  I saw behaviors on the road that left me breathless. Aggressive passing in the no passing zone, 3 lanes where there are only two. Teenagers drinking and driving. Utter disregard for the rules. It's similar to Mexico, but I think Mexicans tend to be a bit shy of being totally suicidal. Venezuelan irresponsiblity is not fatalistic, like in Mexico, but defiant, the recklessness stridently proud. People here are oblivious to their own fragility.

Mr. Ex-Enchilada once went to a cantina in Mexico and a man gave him his wife as a gesture of friendship and welcome. Yesterday, I had a similar experience at the beach. A very drunk man came to tell me I was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen (I think he was blinded by my paleness). He then offered to give me any one of his nine sons, I could pick and choose. When I respectfully declined, he called some of them, to parade them around in case I changed my mind. Three young men came by, quite good naturedly. I was amazed at how such an unattractive man could have such incredibly handsome offspring. Two of them were actually quite yummy... anyway... this guy told me he was in the army, he told me about the Bolivarian revolution, which according to him belonged to the people, not to Chavez, he expressed his absolute worship of Fidel Castro and went into a lengthy diatribe about how the US is to blame for absolutely everything that is wrong with his country. I had told him I was Mexican because, except for Arizona, being from Mexico always gets plenty of love abroad (which is not the case with being American). So I didn't think that engaging with him on a political argument was the right tack to follow. But this is where I beg to differ. The mighty machos in Latin America need to stop whining, grow a pair and stop blaming the imperialists for their own regressive, moronic penchant for chaos.

Today, I wake up to that sobering article in the New York Times about Venezuela being deadlier than Iraq. The statistics are appalling. One awful newspaper picture of bodies strewn about in the Caracas morgue did what public outrage (and anomie and cynicism) couldn't do in years. Immediately, the government ordered the press to stop publishing images of violence. Hopefully, Venezuelans have reached their tipping point. I hear Chavez has lost popularity among his loyal constituents because of this issue. He may blame the gringos for trying to discredit his regime. But people here know the truth. Everybody has a horrifying story to tell. For years, the regime has willfully ignored the rise in crime. And the worst part is that the majority of the murders happen among the poor. The Times article concentrates on Petare, which is a giant slum. The rich and middle class are victims too, but they have more resources to defend themselves. When the shit hits the fan, those who can hit Miami.
It has always been a mystery to me why Chavez, who has created a lot of positive social programs, and who is genuinely interested in improving the people's lot, has been so callous and indifferent towards the insecurity problem, which is dire. He could come up with measures to lower the ownership of guns and the homicidal mayhem in the same idiosyncratic way in which he does everything else. I think that the deliberate avoidance of this scourge (perhaps to scare the rich into fleeing, or to blame everything on them) has finally backfired. It is beyond unconscionable that it has taken the lives of over 150,000 people.
It's really a crying shame, because Caracas does have its charms.

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