Una ciudad enloquecida / Adriano González León

A Crazed City

The urban theme definitely progressed uncontained in the accounts, reports and even in the sensible intervention on walls and avenues during the recent conference with Carlos Cruz-Diez, Tulio Hernández and others. The architects, artists and intellectuals had already discussed the need for an urgent interference to avoid the complete destruction of the city and her abandonment in a final inclemency of long lines, alarms shot out of cars, irregular traffic and the birth of places nearly prohibited to the normal citizen.

To prevent, above all, the destruction of the few places that make memory luminous and provide a testimony that Santiago de León de Caracas was made to be inhabited with dignity and respect for the memory of our ancestors and that any inhabitant today has the legitimate right to the enjoyment of parks, monuments and avenues.

First, one must acknowledge the infernal traffic that seems like a labyrinth deliberately constructed to punish all passers-by. The unstoppable car alarms only make noise in this part of the world and the owners of these machines must be idiots, since the noise is a sign of alarm and I have never seen anyone check on their vehicle. A noisy music that no one dances to, and which can't be enjoyed, emanates from the nightclubs. In certain tall buildings, headquarters for pretentious companies, the owners believe they're the sovereigns of the sky and they mount powerful spotlights that can find black holes. Neither in the so-called elegant neighborhoods nor in the miserable ghettos is there a single street that doesn’t look as though it has been bombed.

There is a group that with concern and humor is taking an inventory of the potholes, the telephone, electricity and gas boxes. The lines seem to be full of crazed volunteers who are waiting to depart for another galaxy. Those looking for ID cards, faith in life, drivers licenses, pensions, they all go from one end to the other in a type of practice for when they’ll stand in the patios of insane asylums. The…whoever they might be…the pedestrians who are obliged by work…the…the…what can we do…the crazed people that move about in the great urban asylum with no hope for a cure.

A city is not, as someone said, “a machine for living.” The elemental tasks are accomplished, but there exists a right to an inner world, to a bit of leisure, to the inalienable enjoyment of living in a neighborhood, a ghetto or a hill. The authorities should take care of peaceful inhabitants. The authorities resort to violence, assaults and gunshots. It is useless to make an inventory of the dead and the kidnapped. It is all useless.

Nor is a city merely a human conglomeration. There are people who think, feel, study, create, invent, have dreams, make travel plans, want to celebrate a party or celebrate having found a job at last…just a little job, but what can we do?... A city is the point of reference for an entire region. People exist, wait, dream and die within certain lineaments so they won't trouble their neighbor. A city has requirements.

Hippodamus of Miletus made the first grid of a plane for Piraeus, the port of Athens. Even though it seems incredible, Nero demanded that Rome be rebuilt on a plot different than the original one. Phillip II gathered various urbanite ideas in the Laws of the Indies.

And evidently, though many don't realize it, a city carries much of our inner world. A corner, that little window on the 42nd floor where a girl leans out, the intersection of the avenue and the newsstand, a certain tree just beyond the old wall, the violet-blue flowers of a garden, the places where we studied, the empty lots for our first encounters with baseball, the amusement park, the lights of the ferris wheel that's no longer there, the time we went to the opening night of a movie with the blonde from down the street, the secret places we invent, the friends who have departed, all that and much more was spoken by the poet Juan Sánchez Peláez:

“City of inexpressible sadness:
I perish in your exhausted ships…”

All of us, with more or less sensibility, possess our own urban secrets. There are those who cannot express themselves, so deep and so difficult is the memory, the relation between an antenna and the moon at dusk, the last flight of parrots, the lost friendships, the girlfriend’s old block, the old high school, emotions, colors, portraits, an abandoned piece of paper, the stain on the wall, the lights of dawn, those of night, that music that played from the Italian’s house, those photos in the park, those things, so many things, the innumerable things aching within us and which, especially now, make us feel crazed inside. What Eugenio Montejo says in his incredible text:

“Adore your city but not for too long;
forget the touch of its stones;
tread lightly as you go and continue your journey.
Don’t long to stay at home between its walls
till you plant yourself in its landscape.
A city isn’t faithful to a river or to a tree
much less a man.”

{ Adriano González León, El Nacional, 1 June 2006 }

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