Pine Trees, Pelvic Thrusts, and Terrifying Birds: Happy Thanksgiving!

Meet the Harpy Eagle.
He could eat you.

Feliz Navidad! It’s Christmas time in Caracas, though it’s hard to believe winter is happening anywhere in the world. Here, it’s just more rainy than usual, with daily afternoon storms to interrupt the 76-and-sunny. With no seasonal change, I lose track of time, and the only way I know it’s late November is that the streetcorners are full of tree stands and blow-up Santas waving in tinsel fields. The otherwise dull offices of the Compañía Anónima Venezolana de Industrias Militares (slogan: Mucho más que armas”) are draped in blinking lights. The mystery here is, where do the Christmas trees come from? Caracas is a tropical city–sure, we’re at 1000 meters elevation and therefore a little cooler and less jungly, but I have palm trees and mangoes outside my apartment. Macaws fly overhead. We swim outdoors year-round. But what do I know? Maybe there are secret stands of ponderosa and spruce just over the hill, pining away for some sandy soil or a high mountainside.

I’ve settled into a few weekend routines, getting to know the neighborhood. Saturday or Sunday, I’ll walk down to the market to do my grocery shopping and stop in at the bakery for a coffee and a treat. They know my order by now (un marrón grande y una palmera, por supuesto) and even remember where I like to sit, on the corner of the counter, where there’s room to spread out the newspaper, but where I can still overhear the gossip. Venezuelan coffee is really good, better than I expected, and well above Starbucks quality. It’s been hard to find in stores recently, so when it is available, everyone in the supermarket loads up with 15 or 20 pounds of beans, and the shelves empty by mid-morning.

The Avila, the lagoon. No dancers here.
image here

Usually I’ll manage to get out for a run at Parque del Este, Caracas’ green heart. This is where the whole city comes on weekends for picnics, parties, ballgames. My students say it’s a great place to get mugged, but I’ve been perfectly happy and safe running the winding path alongside moms with strollers and kids with soccer balls. Sunday, one thousand people danced together on the wide plaza on the edge of the park, led by energetic young pros on the stage who taught hip-hop moves and Latin grooves. This was no Sweatin’ to the Oldies, though; men in their 70s snapped out rat-a-tat pelvic thrusts, smacking the imaginary butts of their imaginary partners. Middle-aged women brought all the boys to the yard with an abs-and-ass milkshake that I’ve only seen before on late night cable. Sexytime!

Hello. If Sauron had a pet bird,
it would be me.

In and among the bends in the running path are groups of meditators, Falun Gongers, and martial artists of every variety practicing takedowns in the grass. Just past the soccer fields you’ll find Makeout Hill, a little rise with trees providing cover for couples on blankets. And around the corner from there is a sad little mini-zoo with monkeys and crocodiles (not in the same space!), a solitary otter, a fat old jaguar that looks just like your grandmother’s lazy golden retriever, only with spots. Run a little farther, just off the official jogging path, to see the bird exhibit, featuring toucans, macaws, and the terrifying Harpy Eagle. That’s a real thing, the Harpy Eagle. He sits alone in a big cage, two-meter wings folded, eyes on fire, glaring death at every animal within a hundred meters that he just . . . can’t . . . reach. This bird’s diet, according to the Peregrine Fund, is “sloths, monkeys, and opossums.” He scares the hell out of me. 

From the sports desk: 
As part of an ongoing effort to imitate Hogwarts Academy and create a world of magic for our students, Escuela Campo Alegre has a yearlong house games competition, where kids battle in sports and the arts–no quidditch, sorry. Today we held a half-court basketball roundrobin tourney for the boys, and soccer for the girls. After 45 minutes in a sweaty fifth floor gym refereeing, I can tell you that despite their amazing futbol skills, a lot of our students are terrible basketball players. They play hoops the   way American third-graders play soccer: catching balls in the face, making passes to opponents, tripping over their own feet. The four or five real basketball players in the tournament scored at will, as long as they could thread their way through the confused bodies clogging the court.

Or maybe Dick Cheney.
I could be his pet.

Next week, a tour of the Venezuelan currency, featuring our terrifying friend the Harpy Eagle, a guy named Negro Primero, and more. Also, something cool: buildings here have names, not addresses. Does your building name say something about you? I don’t know, but I live in Mascaras. More on this when we return.

To my American friends and family, and to those who join us in Thanksgiving, may you have a wonderful holiday, filled with good food and warm hearts.

Note: all the Harpy Eagle pictures are by other people. Frankly, I’m kind of scared of standing close enough to get a good photo. 

The Harpy Eagle says:
“Happy Thanksgiving. I could kill you.”

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