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Wednesday, July 07, 2010


I am soaked. I dig into the drain with a stick; a mix of human hair, soot and who knows what else comes out at the end of the stick. It is not enough: the rain runs freely on the floor and down the steps, now shiny in terracotta red and reflections from the blue-grey sky from where the rain comes down like a biblical punishment. My granddad is getting a bit impatient, he'll have to unblock the drain himself, this boy doesn't know how to do this, huy no no, the drain downstairs is beginning not to cope and his rooms will flood.

Often I would have the feeling -not even the fear, it wasn't anything as strong as that, just the contemplation of the fact- that the rain would one day bring our crumbling old house down. One day, one of those enormous aguaceros would come down from the sky and wash us away down Avenida El Cristo.

Did I really not shower, not even dry myself and change after those deluges? I would just go back in my room, dripping, and carry on reading. Or drawing long comic strips on the margins of books, of magazines, of any paper that was at hand, in which the super heroes lived and they were my friends. I never was one of them, I knew as much, but they helped me in my small big adventures of thirteen years of age. They would help me put the world right. They would help me impress Her, she the princess of the class, the most beautiful woman in the world, who I loved but who would never, ever love me back. She would see me for who I really was underneath the clumsy teenager, the acne, the shyness, the never knowing the right thing to say or do. She would love me and the world would be right.

Outside, the drain was already not coping again, water was running above it and cascading down the stairs one more time. "Muchacho, vea que se tapó otra vez, destape eso pues, oyó?" the voice of my abuelo would wake me up from my reverie. Had to go out in the wet again, with the little stick and the little hand pump to try and unblock the drain. In the distance, a clap of thunder was slowly rolling across the sky, from 23 de Enero to Blandín.....

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Where does it begin

(I had originally put this in my iblog in 2005)

Where's the beginning?

Maybe at one end, the furthest end, where it all seems to start. That end at which I grab my mother's hand as we come out of the house through the rather unkempt front garden with that plant of big shiny leaves of dark green with lighter spots, some of which at some point I had eaten and being very ill as as result. Maybe it could start by me not being quite awake, being carried by my dad to my room, half an eye open under the stars, the smell of tobacco and whiskey from my dad, the distant shiny lights of the 23 de Enero tower blocks on the horizon.

Maybe it starts before I start but then it is difficult to define a point where it all begins. Maybe in the textured black and white photographs of my mum's and my dad's wedding, he looking very stern, she looking... something like frightened. Or is it just hindsight that makes me see that. She was frightened alright, she didn't understand the world, something I can relate to as I am so much like that -I've made myself be able to cope but she never learnt. My memories of her are the chronicle of her slow disintegration, the gradual dissolution of her will and whatever it is that keeps us together and fighting and being ourselves, the slow giving up and surrendering to chaos and entropy.

Maybe the beginning lies elsewhere, in a field in a mountain in Italy, or another, different field in a páramo in the Venezuelan Andes. maybe that one that appeared before our eyes like a vision of a dream, when we turned a bend on the road on the way to La Grita sometime in 1983. Or perhaps much further back, in endless numerous stories of suffering and toiling and dying over many hundreds of years, the stories of many forgotten people who came before me and whose genetic material I carry, but in whom I probably would have difficulty recognising that which I am, whatever it is, other than the toiling and the suffering and the hoping for a better life... perhaps, many times before me, the hope in an afterworld that was better than this one devoid of sense and justice.

I am told many on my maternal family's side out there in the mountains had not worn or possessed proper shoes until very recent times. I met some uncles that were rather on the bumpkin side. Stolid, conservative, Christian, a very small view of a very small world. All the things that I have worked so hard to get rid of in myself. And yet there is something of value in there. I live nagged by doubt. You do not live in doubt when you have a solid foundation of religion and hard work.

There were the spotted green leaves. Also the fish bone -that is probably an earlier memory, as I recall being sat on the kitchen table (which was huge, huge) and holding a chipped enormous enameled mug and being made to drink sips of water and being patted on my back, choking with the sensation of something piercing through my throat. My mum with her deep red hair in plaits, the radio set on top of the General Electric fridge with a big handle and rounded edges, the wooden slat furniture, all those things that I cannot be entirely sure whether I really remember them or my knowing they existed brings them into those snapshot memories.

Then I'm in a dark room. I could be in a cot, or a small bed; there are two other cots in the room, it is fresh and dark and quiet. Outside my mum walks past, with a broom in hand and a long suffering expression.

There is that old sepia photograph in which she is young, has a flower in her hair and is sitting in front of a house in the paramo playing an instrument that looks halfway between a cuatro and a large mandolin. She seems to be singing, she has a happy expression which I seldom, very seldom saw on her face in real life. She had said she'd had a daily radio programme, singing and playing and bringing other people to do that, in a radio station in a city, Cumarebo, where she lived for a while when her family were in their exodus from the Andes towards Caracas. I cannot really imagine that painfully shy woman hosting a live radio programme, but you never know.

I woke up to some counting aloud and grunting on the terrace rood patio. I didn't need to look, I knew it was my mum doing her exercises. She would bend over a hundred times, do other things of that sort, and yet her 'weight' inexorably increased (this is a euphemism, why do we say weight when it is not the weight that concerns us, really, but the volume?). At some point she gave up on that struggle. At around the same time she started to let herself go in other ways, stopped looking after herself, stopped going out, stopped, alas, playing the guitar and singing which was her passion and the justification for her life, one of the few genuine pleasures she had.

Her red hair, arranged with a sort of wave and a roll on the top of her forehead in a style that had been in fashion thirty years before, in a different world that was just about to be shaken by the second world war. She was getting seriously fat and we, her children, were so horrible to her. I now feel so sorry for her, trapped between an inconsiderate heavy drinking loud Italian husband and two untamed savage beastly children. With no way out. Maybe she didn't have a choice other than that slow suicide over ten years, if that is what it was. The escape exit lay through madness and death, there was no other escape conceivable.

We were truly horrible children in a very understated way. Many of the things we said and did are too embarrassing to mention and I would much rather forget. We had no idea about manners or consideration to others.. it is a miracle that we turned ok after all. I don't think it was our parents' fault either. They were, for different reasons, very ill equipped to bring us up and if there was a parenthood certificate they'd never have approved the exams. But it was not their fault. They were victims of their circumstance, and so were we. So much futile, meaningless, unnecessary suffering. And of course you could say there is so much worse in the world and it is true, but this somehow does not make it better, only more poignant and meaningless.

- to be continued.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

under the yellow moon of Catia

Thinking about those nights in Catia, long ago; overlooked by that big, round, yellow moon, lighting up the sky behind the Avila mountains outside my window; those deep, deep blues and blacks... while I used to dream of distant worlds far, far away, lejos lejos...and people who were at the same time very close and very far and I’d never be near of, or close to. And then, the counterpoint of the twinkling stars far above, reminding me of the depth of the vast abysses of the universe that contains us and of which we are part, and the gunshots and sirens coming from the 23 de Enero tower blocks on the hill a couple of miles away, tacit stories of suffering and misery and wasted lives -and my own histories of trying to get to grips with how it all worked: the world, people, even people I loved, and not being able to get a grasp and understand it all... while all the while the stars above twinkled across the unthinkable distance and the moon carried on its course, chased by the clouds across the sky.

Pensando en las noches en Catia, mirando la luna enorme, redonda y amarilla iluminando el cielo detras del Avila fuera de mi ventana, aquellos azules y negros y amarillos profundisimos... mientras yo soñaba con mundos lejanos, far far away, y con gente que al mismo tiempo estaba muy cerca y muy lejos y a quienes no lograria aproximarme nunca. Y el contrapunto de las estrellas titilando, recordandome la profundidad del vasto abismo del universo que nos contiene, y los disparos y sirenas que venian del 23 de enero en el cerro de enfrente, con historias tacitas de sufrimiento y de muerte y de vidas desperdiciadas, y mis propias historias de tratar de entender como funcionaba todo ello, el mundo y la gente, y la gente que yo amaba, y no lograr aprehenderlo... mientras las estrellas titilaban y la luna seguia su lento curso, correteada por las nubes...