Loving the Elevator

Hello from sunny, and then torrentially rainy, and then clear and mild Caracas. It’s beautiful here–or at least as much of “here” as I’ve been able to see in two busy days. I’m writing this as I look out the enormous sliding-glass window in my apartment, the high peaks of the Avila mountain only a few miles away, the evening lights of the city filling the valley.


Outside, just past the mango trees, it sounds like there are seventeen squeaky bicycle wheels grinding up the hill; I’m assured that my neighborhood isn’t under assault from an angry mob of lube-free cyclists, but that some insect is whistling its insecty hola y ¿cómo estás? to its friends up and down the valley. I forget the name of the little beast, but I call him “Bicicleta.”

Historic site of elevator battle.
My place is just above the trees.

In 48 hours in Caracas, I’ve spent maybe two of them messing around with keys, or stuck in locked stairwells and elevators. A typical experience: I open the outside gate, then pass through and re-lock with Key One. Then open door up the stairs into the building and re-lock. Call the elevator with Key Two, then use the key to select the second floor. For some reason, this doesn’t work, so I end up on the third floor, think about it for three seconds, and the elevator doors snap closed. The elevator stays shut, stuck on the third floor. I pry the doors until they surrender and open with a groan, then use Key Three to open the stairwell and head down a floor. Key Three doesn’t open my floor now, so I head down to ground level to try again. There is a lesson here, somewhere, but I haven’t learned it yet. Twice today stuck in the elevator, and once trapped briefly in the building’s HVAC room. By next week, I should be able to get in my apartment in under 10 minutes.

local timekeeper

When the movie of my life is made, the role of Caracas Alarm Clock will go to this guy, the guacharaca. He and his pals live in the hills above my house, and at 4:30a.m., they go streaking down the valley like a squadron of pissed-off diesel airplanes heading for a crash. It’s one of the loudest things I’ve heard anywhere, including that Neil Young concert back in ’91 that left my ears ringing for two days. Old man, indeed.

My view is almost as good.
Got to be the boss to earn this.

Escuela Campo Alegre has put out the red carpet–not literally, though that’s certainly a possibility in this socialist nation–for the new teachers. Mixed in with meetings and orientations, we’ve been out to a great steak restaurant, had drinks and dinner on the penthouse deck of the school director, ate platters of Chinese food (why not?) at lunch. But the real warmth has been from the school staff and teachers, who really take care of us.
Today, we went to the bank to open local accounts. Leilany walked us all down there and worked the bank’s now-serving ticket machine like a master, getting us through the paperwork and the card activation (two steps, one upstairs on the phone, the next downstairs at the ATM, neither very transparent or easy), without pissing off the many locals whose bank was suddenly full of illiterate Americans. It’s too soon to say much about the school, except that I have a great feeling about my courses, my colleagues and students, the administration. More about all that later.

More to tell, of course, and next time I’ll tell you about the embassy guy who came to scare us, the tennis courts and swimming pool on campus, the many great teachers I’ve met–including the local Venezuelan woman who has a professional line-stander who will hold her place in line at the bank or government office for hours while she shops, or works, or sleeps.

(Apologies to Aerosmith for the post title. Sorry, Steven)

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