Adriano, Señor y siervo / Oswaldo Barreto

Adriano, Sir and Serf

Today, second Sunday of January this year, I know people from all over Venezuela are mourning the death of Adriano González León.

I first heard about this man, who, with utmost courtesy and elegance, passed on Saturday afternoon at the bar of a restaurant in Las Mercedes, the neighborhood where he had lived for decades, when I got to Valera sixty years ago, the least cultured of the Andean cities where one could study secondary school. As soon as I registered at Rafael Rangel school – the high school the city had just opened that year, 1946 – I knew I would have as a classmate, in a higher grade, the city’s most arrogant, tremendous and ingenious kid. Adriano, the best first baseman for the admittedly precarious baseball teams in a city that didn’t even have stadiums yet; the founder and leader of the “La Silenciosa” gang, a precursor to the Hooligans, who made commercial establishments pay for the failures they suffered during exam season; and, above all, the only kid to whom the Director of the Carmen Sánchez de Jelambi Library gave access to the serious books of literature and philosophy.

Still unable to find him among the two hundred high school students, I started to familiarize myself with his ability to transform everything that happened to him into brief chronicles or sonnets that appeared every week on the school’s newspaper murals. So, from the time he was fourteen years old, Adriano showed himself to be a master of the written word.

Chance or destiny, that gift of Adriano’s began to manifest itself at a time when our most local events and experiences could become confused with what humanity was living as an entity, those years in the mid forties when the giant transformations provoked by the Second World War were added to those brought on by the Venezuelan revolution of 1945. From that point on, Adriano’s faculty of being able to poeticize, against prescriptions and sanctions, tedious Chemistry lessons in 11-syllable lines (“I would like to resolve an equation of kisses / with your electro-positive lips / and my electro-negative lips”), began the terrible task of converting his experiences and those of his society into short stories, chronicles, essays and novels that today belong to universal literature.

To convert people’s problems and dreams into words. Such was our dear friend’s power. Such was also his servitude, since in order to practice such alchemy as work, he had to consecrate himself to conquering the freedom to do that. And that’s what Adriano González León did until yesterday afternoon when death overtook him with pen in hand.

{ Oswaldo Barreto, Tal Cual, 14 January 2008 }

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