I recently bought a copy of Neil Young’s album Hawks and Doves (1980), which I first owned in vinyl during the early 90s. I must have bought it from a thrift store somewhere in Tampa. Its two short sides bring forth a really fantastic blend of acoustic and country-rock(ish) electric guitars. I remember listening to this album from the cheap, antique record player I kept at my mom’s house, during the semester I was living at her place and commuting to classes at USF. That must have been around 1993, the year I made it out to Naropa, where I found the center was non-existent. As I listen to it now, Young’s lyrics are much more cohesive:
“Ain’t getting old, ain’t getting younger though
Just getting used to the lay of the land
I ain’t tongue-tied, just don’t got nothin’ to say
I'm proud to be livin’ in the U.S.A.”
The first song I listened to this year, on New Years was “Dear Prudence,” loud in the kitchen while my father drank whiskey and I drank lemonade (trying to get over the nasty cold that struck me during my second week in Caracas). My time in Caracas over Christmas was spent on buses and subway cars, traversing the city on foot, speaking to friends and sharing with family. I was writing poems for the notebook, too, visiting bookstores and obsessively watching the government-sponsored TV stations, absorbing the recycled communist propaganda that Chavismo now offers as its theory & praxis.
I finally watched “The Lives of Others” last night, after several friends recommended I see it. The movie is beautiful, a study of how “socialism” usually ends up creating further structures of surveillance and exploitation. It was playing in Caracas while I was there, but I had no time during that brief window of a visit to see it. What struck me the most about the film is how Venezuela in 2008 is simply a repetition of a century of mistakes from the utopian left, the GDR, the Soviet Union, Cambodia, Cuba, North Korea, et al. And the most tragic aspect of the Venezuelan farce is how certain American and European intellectuals are willing to hedge their bets on an overweight, reactionary caudillo in Caracas as the hope for the future of “progressive” politics. Who would have thought The Nation and Naomi Campbell would turn out to be “revolutionary” comrades? Of course, I won’t mention those American poets I know who still think Venezuela is in the midst of a “revolution.”
What stood out the most from my two weeks in Caracas was the lack milk, pork and corn meal on supermarket shelves, the amount of SUVs & other imported cars on the streets and the crowds of shoppers in the upscale malls of Caracas. The pro-government TV stations spend their days extolling the virtues of a lieutenant colonel who never ceases to proclaim his “revolutionary” credentials on TV and on ever-present, giant billboards. Meanwhile, in 2007 Venezuela endured more than 14,000 deaths due to violent crime, at times suffering more murders than Iraq on a daily basis.
Because so many people had left Caracas for the Christmas holidays, I was able to get around the city pretty quickly, with hardly any traffic jams. I was blessed to meet various writers with whom I discussed the prolific period Venezuelan literature is undergoing at this moment, and the hope offered by Chavismo’s stunning electoral loss on December 2. As seen in “The Lives of Others,” writers will always be a counter-revolutionary force in a country where militaristic utopianism forces itself upon citizens.
Juan Sánchez Peláez’s widow, Malena, was one of the people who recommended I go see “The Lives of Others,” a film that has been received enthusiastically in Cuba and Venezuela, countries that are facing very similar situations of militarism and surveillance disguised as utopia. Malena has opened a blog where she intends to discuss his work and occasionally post unpublished texts from his archive. She recently posted an untitled prose commentary by Sánchez Peláez (with a photograph of the handwritten manuscript), where he discusses the composition of one of his earliest poems, “Profundidad del amor,” from his first book Elena y los elementos (1951). The note says:
“I wrote “Profundidad del amor” when I found myself in the city of Maturín as a teacher at the Miguel José Sanz high school (this must have been during the years forty seven or forty eight). I felt that the poem was dictated to me due to the incredible speed with which the phrases and images appeared and I didn’t revise it, I left it intact once I finished it. I mean there were no last touches in it, (neither with periods or commas, not even with any deletions), and I let it remain in its pure, original, state.”
There are several books I read while I was in Caracas, and others I brought back with me that I hope to discuss here in the future. The poem is composed of decades that bleed into each other, a solace in the silent pages of new & old texts. How Boston, Caracas and Tampa turn out to be reflections of each other, stages for my own stumbles and hallucinations. I arrived in Caracas by ship in 1976, the green mountainous coastline still hovering in front of my eyes as I write this. I left in December of 1982, sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of a private airplane lifting out of La Carlota airport, the valley and its mountains a 3-D map under my feet, the Caribbean opening into Jamaica and Miami, almost a movie.