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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Carnival in Avenida España, 1968

(I'd written this a long time ago, in Spanish, and had put it up in this blog in that original Spanish text. It did take me a while to translate it into English, I know...)

Carnival time on Avenida España. A maelstrom of people. I, lost in the crowd, clinging to the possible presence somewhere of a friend. Or, well, don't even know whether it was really a friend or, in any case, to what extent I was his friend. I now feel that I may have betrayed him in some obscure way (but that may perhaps go into another story) and that I furthermore didn't have a clear idea of what that meant, that being a friend. I was just convinced that I was on my own, that the world was hostile and that I, by my very constitution, was quite incapable of dealing with it. I recall some ex-class mate from the Ezpelosin secondary school, atop one of the floats, raising his arm up in the air, bottle of rum in hand (well, I think it _was_ a rum bottle). All this took place some forty years ago and it is difficult to recall exactly what I actually saw or heard or felt, only the impressions they left me with, which seem to endure more than the perceptions themselves or what my mind processed of them at the time.

I searched for her in the crowd, knowing with all certainty that she could not be there, that she couldn't possibly be there -a certainty not based in any foundation of knowledge or fact, other than the statistical improbability of her being there at all. My friends were all shouting, they passed comment about the girls on the floats, comments without any double entendre because the only entendre they had was sexual, which I used to find, at that age, both exciting and alarming, compelling and repugnant at the time.

Who knows what may have become of those carnivals in Catia, they surely must have ceased to be when I stopped attending them. Not like the cat in Shrödinger's box, but rather in the sense that my stopping going there was a reflection of their terminal decadence; I was one of many, taken wherever the flow took me, in spite of how apart and different I felt to everyone else, unique and lonely and uniquely unhappy -and yet. I wasn't any different when it came to the fundamentals, only shyer and perhaps weaker.

Fights broke out in street corners, ending up in the police charging with truncheons through the crowd. I wanted to go to the other end of Ave. España, gripped by the odd superstitious feeling that 'she' would be there, or because someone had whispered that 'something interesting' (unspecified) would be happening there -in my imagination, or because somebody had said this, a float with girls scantily dressed, although of course you never saw such a thing in Catia. So I would avoid the packed main road by taking a detour through the side-streets, through Calle Colombia, also full of people, or even Calle Peru a few blocks away -and now I hesitate when trying to recall the names of those roads that it's been so long since I trod... I see the streets in the satellite maps on Google Maps, I can look so close that I can see the parked cars in the photos, I recall so many bits of my life of those days lived on those streets I've seen on my computer screen and yet I cannot recall their names... as if time and space split and twisted with folds and seams that I had never been conscious of but which I could have seen had I been aware of them and as if they showed me with a clarity that inspires a sort of primeval terror, that ghostly past, those insignificant parts of my life which nonetheless assault me with meanings which I did not, could not have envisaged at the time. If , that is, this process unfolds and develops in this way and not the other way round with some chemical reaction inside me or the result of the heavy cold I've had for the last five days, giving rise to that surge in me of those portions of memory that had laid buried for so, so many years.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


This was originally a comment on a friend’s livejournal about his salsa classes.... but it made me think, salsa was something I hated and felt outside of and perhaps only learn to like as I moved away from my native environment.

I find it so odd, the different cultural nuances and meta-content that the same item of culture can stand for in a slightly different cultural context. I grew up in a place where salsa was the norm. It was never as sophisticated as that, but I never was able to manage it successfully beyond a few basic steps -I think this was just a small data point amongst many of my alienation in relation to the society from which I'd come. To me, apart from something that made me stand out as an outsider in my own patch, salsa was very rough music, something like punk rock or gangsta rap, the music of people who led very rough lives in the barrios and a music full of violence and misogynism at that, reflecting the culture that had produced it. It never ceases to amaze me that it has here, on the one hand such a bland, gentle image and, on the other, that other image as something very sophisticated and full of nuance -which I'm sure it is. It wasn't really that for me, though, hopeless at it in the parties in the barrios in West Caracas, or for my class-mates, who didn't 'study' it and for whom it was a vehicle to pull the chicks. Fascinating.

Friday, February 13, 2009

San Martin de Porres

I don’t even remember her name. She had light brown or mousy -not quite blond- hair. She had glasses, which she only wore occasionally, for some lessons. She was beautiful -well, who knows. I thought so.

Having done disastrously badly in my fourth year of secondary school, my father moved me from my enormous state secondary (which had a very good academic reputation) to a little local secondary (which did not). St Martin of Porres, it was called. The premises were basic and a little bit tatty but sufficient, the classes were much smaller and I wasn’t one year younger than everybody else, there was in fact a wide mix of ages and backgrounds. That was when I discovered that I wasn’t a weirdo or a monster, that the fact that I didn’t get along or like what everybody else in my class at Liceo Luis Ezpelosin liked, or that I was not like them, in so many ways, did not mean that it was me who was the strange one. At the smaller school I was one of the gang in a way that I had never been at the Ezpelosin secondary. In some ways, the year I spent at that school may have saved me, or at least changed my life for the better.

It was inevitable, however, that I would unrequitedly fall in love with the princess of the class. I always do that,;I still do, She was clever and gentle, though, and gently steered me towards a calm friendship, instead of making fun of me. Maybe I was on my way to becoming normal, after a fashion.

The head of the school was a black gentleman from, I seem to remember, Barbados. Always impeccably dressed in a dark suit, starched white shirt, quite formal and severe. His name was Walrond or Walcond, had a deep resounding voice and inspired respect -not terror or the simple fear of being caught doing something wrong, but respect. That was new to me. He was also our English language teacher (of course and although I didn’t need to take the subject I remember often going to his lessons.

There were the parties. I discovered I wasn’t an outsider for liking Jimi Hendrix, the Doors or the Jefferson Airplane instead of Pete Rodriguez or the Billo’s Caracas Boys. Eventually I would learn to like that Latin popular music, when it no longer had for me those resonances of unhappy days of feeling an outcast in secondary school, of feeling and sometimes been made to feel different to your classmates. i did make the mistake of taking a bunch of new records to one of those school parties and play at being DJ for a bit; which resulted in several of those records never been seen again. Maybe the moral was, then, not to lower the guard. The world still was a hostile place, even if it was much less so at that new place. It was, however, a brighter, happier interlude in my unhappy schooling years; at the end of the school year my father would re-locate me again to Liceo Luis Ezpelosin, much to my chagrin. I never would be happy in school again until, quite late and still a couple of years into the future at that point, I discovered the Escuela Superior de Musica and started studying music. Something had changed, however, and I was no longer afraid of it, of that part of the hostile outside world which was going to be my main environment again.