Barrio entre el cielo y el infierno / Adriano González León

District between Heaven and Hell

“The air swung the cane thickets producing a fresh sound with the taste of countryside…” said the chronicler when the old trolley entered open fields, while the city was left behind with its Central Station and its tumult. The entire family had arranged its temperance or temper in that miniscule city, with barely how many houses, a certain fencing on the outskirts and the spikes that moved in a type of sacred, slow, obedient oscillation, decidedly abandoned to the luck of the wind that came from the east or to an inclination before the low clouds, like imprecise animals, of the stories and histories the old men set off wandering through the cliffs and thickets. Enormous trees for gathering the sky’s blessings, guama and bucare trees, palms that sometimes wanted to reach up to the crest of the distant hill. The city had been left two and a half kilometers behind and the visitors had gotten off at one of the shabby trolley stations, just as shabby as most of the homes with roofs made of straw, big branches and barbed wire. Through the main road, made of pure dirt, went the carriages pulled by oxen, random dogs, laborers with shovels and machetes, women with huge hampers full of clothes or baskets overflowing with branches and fruits. An entire vegetative peace was evident. And for the delight and mystery of local walkers and travelers, this laid out symphony of birds, or alternating trills and flights above the distant and luminous mystery. Everything else, after a few flights, was silence, gathering, a sensation that men and the landscape had reached an agreement.

This shattering horn, this allegation of demons, is something else. If you’re ready to hear them…not to hear them…to succumb to a horn playing tumult and whistle blows, to die beneath the sound of irons that open and close, to wish you could untangle your head and throw it far away where it will keep bouncing, making noises over debris and trash heaps, finally lost in a drain that sinks into a creek also sonorous with cans and forgotten containers, of ex-men sleeping on top of sewers and in the worn out, broken walls covered with stains and illegible signs, a few miserable announcements offering the most unbelievable merchandise: a promise of absolutely confusing sales from socks and wristwatches, screws and umbrellas, panties and perfumes, handsaws and diapers, plastic saints, wooden devils, anime angels and a great globe looking like a clown hanging from a wire while a few ragged people hit a barrel and a few cardboard machineguns shoot plastic bullets against the mouth of a dancer who turns round and round on top of watermelons and dried out vegetables. What is this about? Have we finally reached the country of madness, the backwards world, the cursed region named in old worthless books, the place of fires and confusion described in the pamphlets of old beliefs and horrifying situations? But what about the houses, the buildings, the green spaces, even the billboards for soft drinks and canned goods?

Nothing. It is impossible to see anything. We find ourselves in the only place in the world where things never cease to observe things and those very things have transformed into something else. And the people? They don’t exist. They are robots that shout out or remain hidden behind enormous cans, display tables, crossed planks, sheets, sofas and mattresses, hammocks hung between the light post and a tube coming out of the wall, reflectors and pots with soup made of bread crust and leftovers, frying pans with dishes that might include, why not, a sacrificed rat.

All of this, with a great sonorous backdrop, as in major musical events, but made by the shrillness of three different horns shot off by cars, parked even on rooftops, moving against the traffic lights or trying to squeeze between stands and toy witches, or actual witches, all of this in a vast confusion that maintains itself for several blocks, almost an entire district, no one understands each other, various slang dialects are spoken, everything is vague, confused, undefined, with no entrance or exit, as if this were the great end of human beings spoken of in the cities of occult books.

Do you know the idyllic field described at the beginning of this chronicle? Prepare yourselves: nothing less than Sabana Grande during the first thirty years of the century that just ended, pointed out by witnesses, writers and neighbors who still remain to give testimony of those times. Do you know the pandemonium described in the second part of this piece? Well, that was also Sabana Grande. What happened, what serious fault did we commit, when did we become sinners to the terrible point all beliefs agree on calling the end of the world?

There is an historical interlude we would like to tell. There is a glorious and creative time when the old town of tiled roofs and plaster, dusty roads subjected to mud, began a slow transformation that reached into the final years of the nineties, with galleries, gardens, bars and terraces, stores with shining display windows, space that belonged to pedestrians, safety for even the most distracted or intoxicated poets, salons for literary groups such as Sardio, Tabla Redonda, Techo de la Ballena, el Pez Dorado and bookstores with salons such as Suma, Ulises and Cruz del Sur. Above all, that singular experience of friendship and creation that was known as La República del Este, where the title of citizen or governor was acquired by merely showing up and in absolutely serious votes, with an unpolluted Electoral Tribunal. We possess eloquent archives and testimonies. One day these will compose a volume for the glory and distinction of a Caracas district.

{ Adriano González León, El Nacional, 16 March 2006 }

No comments: