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Saturday, November 29, 2008

for the birds

Most of my classmates at the Espelozin secondary school came back from summer holidays with stories of having been away for a length of time in the country, where they had relatives and where most of them seemed to originally come from. For me that was a strange idea. I don’t think I understood my own origin, peasant on both sides, Italian small-hold farmer on my father’s side and subsistence farming on my mother’s -although oddly you had to go a little further back, or sideways, in my mother’s line to find this -my grandad had been a truck driver, which itself is difficult to imagine, making a living driving a truck in what roads there could have been in the high Venezuelan Andes in the 1920’s.

Many of the kids came back with stories of how many birds they’d killed while out there in the country. I didn’t understand why they would want to do that -not that I was any less destructive, I suspect most children are, purely out of curiosity and instinct. There were campaigns in school trying to make them see how pernicious that activity was and how it was having an impact in wild life and the nature’s eco-systems of which the birds were part, although I don’t think they used the term, ‘ecosystem’ until I was in fifth year (that’s the last year of secondary, normally at 16-17). At the time I didn’t understand at all how we integrated in the world around us; I was beginning to have a sort of quasi-religious (although not really believing in God and yet being supremely superstitious) inner debate about why we were in the world and what purpose, if any, our existence could have. This was, however, completely divorced from issues like ecology or politics. I didn’t even know where most of the stuff we ate came from (apart from fish, whose origin I knew very well as my dad was a keen amateur fisherman) or the mechanisms by which it arrived on out plates. It probably would have been good for me at that age to do a newspaper round, for me to learn a little bit of how basic economy worked, but unfortunately there doesn’t (or didn’t, then) seem to be a custom of newspaper round delivery in Venezuela and my father would have probably not allowed me to -he was clearly trying to spare me from the privations he had had to endure as a child and it took me a very long time to make up for the missed experience on many things, because of this. Of good intentions, they say, the road to hell is paved...

So I would sit in an overcrowded class where the teacher was unsuccessfully trying to make herself heard here at the back -and where I could see nothing of what was happening on the blackboard, short-sighted and astigmatic as I am-, listening to my class mates’ stories of petty ecological vandalism and wondering what it all was about, what the attraction of it was. Not contemplating the evil in taking life just for fun or the damage to the environment, just wondering what the point was. And my eyes fixed in the princess of the class, in her white fluffy cardigan, who never noticed me or acknowledged me once after that initial walk home on the first year of school, but why should she. I was a clumsy, shy boy with a lot of interior life and not a lot of outwardly life, embarrassingly and incomprehensibly infatuated with this girl I practically didn’t know, who was sitting every day seven or eight desks away from me. I didn’t see that as time went past she developed insecurities and acne. like the rest of us; I always saw her as she was on that first day, fresh and beautiful like nobody I’d ever seen. I was away with the fairies imagining scenarios in which I would conquer that ice queen and make her fall in love with me, while scribbling nonsense in my notebooks, completely absent to what the teacher was saying and only vaguely aware of my classmates’ rude jokes and tales of summer vacation exploits.

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