|You could be here.
In my last entry, I promised stories from the road—tales of travel through Venezuela’s hidden mysteries and secret gardens, epic adventures high in the Andes or deep in the rainforest. Maybe you were expecting something like Romancing the Stone, with slightly less Michael Douglas or a lot more Kathleen Turner. (One sharp-eyed critic of that movie on IMDB.com notes that “This film tries to do it all: adventure, comedy, and romance… but Crocodile Dundee and other films have done it better.” Confidential to screenwriters and directors: don’t let anyone say that about your work, ever.)
I don’t want to disappoint. Venezuela offers some amazing tourist and travel opportunities, especially for shrill romance novelists who need to ransom a kidnapped sister, and you should all consider coming here for a visit, blowzy drunk or not. In nine days of driving around the west and north of the country, my pals and I crossed 4,000 meter passes, descended in a few hours through rainforest and then desert, lounged on whitesand beaches surrounded by palms.
|No, the other trinity.|
We crossed the coastal mountain range past mist, waterfalls, and thick vines, back down to deep warm jungle and a friendly posada, where we lazed in hammocks drinking fresh lemonade on the patio as hummingbirds zoomed about in the last light of the day. The world knows Costa Rica as the Latin American eco-paradise, but Venezuela has everything that country does and more. The geography is more outstanding and varied; the climate more wide-ranging, the scale simply greater. The people are warm and friendly. Come check it out.
And while I’d love to indulge you with a yarn about a reckless soldier of fortune in a perilous land, that’s just not how it goes in Venezuela. (Well, it probably does happen that way, but we had a lovely, safe trip filled with people who were looking out for us at every turn.) Instead, how about this: check out the pictures, look at your calendar, and plan a trip to Angel Falls, the beaches, the mountains, or all three. Next, let’s talk about two key features of Venezuelan life:
|Get your own damn picture of breasts.
You know how to use Google.
It’s hard for me to separate them, but let me try for a second. Here in Caracas, women of every social class routinely get plastic surgery—the obsession with the Miss Venezuela pageant is just one manifestation of local beauty culture. It’s a national obsession, so much that president Chavez recently decried the amount of money poor women spend on boob jobs, instead of on food or education. (The surgery runs $4,000 here, and per capita income averages about $11,000.) Venezuelan women are not shy about showing off their assets, from modest enhancements to massive architectural reconstructions that owe more to monuments–rotundas, great capitol domes–than to human physiology.
|Still no breasts. A boob, maybe|
Where’s the best place to show off? At the scene of national obsession #2: béisbol. I’ve been to a couple of games now, at the University Stadium where the Leones de Caracas play. They’re sort of like the Yankees of Venezuela: always good, aligned with wealth and the old establishment, usually in the playoff hunt. Their historic rivals are the Navegantes de Magallanes, a team from nearby Valencia, a more blue-collar team whose fans also pledge allegiance to the Boston Red Sox. It’s complicated, of course: the aristocracy, who are so rich that they can share a team with the poor without fear, are also traditional Magallaneros. There are books about this.
|Seriously, just Google it.|
There’s a third local team, the Tiburones of La Guaira. The Sharks play home games at University Stadium, too, since they don’t have their own field. They’re underdogs, usually watching from home as Magallanes and Leones slug it out in the playoffs. But they have a big following, too: leftists, intellectuals, writers, artists, anyone who wants an alternative to the big powers. They’re my team, partly because I like sharks better than lions or navigators, but also because it’s just smarter to step out of the line of fire of the Leones-Magallanes shooting match. I saw them win a barn-burner against the Leones, from the good seats.
|Fine. Click here for the google breasts. Loser.|
What does this have to do with breasts? Everything. The ballgame is a huge social event and fashion show, a beer-fueled costume parade. Twice, I’ve tried vainly to watch the action on the field, distracted by an endless moving line of tube tops, spaghetti straps, and glitter makeup sparkling on glossy overstretched skin. I saw several women just taking laps on the walkway below our seats, glancing up at boyfriends or husbands to make sure they caught the show. Béisbol without boobs? Fun, if old hat. Surgically enhanced breasts without béisbol? Sure–but what’s the point?
The Tiburones games are especially fun, because they bring a full samba drumline to keep the party going in between pitches. Fans dance out of their seats and cheer raucously before, during, and after every play. There’s no Safeco-Field style quiet contemplation or milling about the microbrew tap. With a man on first, Tiburones fans chant “un hit! un hit! un hit!” and Leones fans yell their response in between, so it sounds like “un hit! (doble play!) un hit! (doble play!)”
Beer sales are a family affair at University Stadium. Our seats for the Leones-Cardenales match were in the outfield bleachers, where the concessions are less regulated. In our section, a mother and her 10-year-old daughter lugged a crate of cold bottles up and down the stands. When the little girl spotted my friend heading for empty, she ran up and gave him the puppy eyes: “you need another beer, right, mister?” She waved for mom, who followed with the goods. The girl scanned the rest of our group’s bottles and made everyone else promise to buy another round soon, like in the next inning, okay, and not to buy from anyone else, right?
School news: Lots to tell, and I’ll share more later. For now, though, do yourself a favor and take five minutes to check out these amazing youtube videos from my 3D modeling students. The class has been modeling our campus, one building at a time. Their latest efforts are just fantastic. I’ll embed one here for you:
More photos, just because: