Entre la tendencia a saber jugar con la luz y las visiones del infierno. Reflexiones sobre temas venezolanos / Dayana Fraile

Between the Tendency of Knowing How to Play with Light and Visions of Hell: Reflections on Venezuelan Topics

                     Armando Reverón, “Landscape”

“Adolescents suffer”
[Los adolescentes adolecen].
A true masterpiece of technocratic Caracas poetics. If not for inventiveness, at least for its diffusion. And yet, it can’t surpass in splendor the more popular
“armadillo works for the guinea pig”
[cachicamo trabaja para lapa]
It doesn’t even compare due to a matter of perception. The second one turns out to be more fascinating because the association is destined to remain in darkness. My lack of referents is absolute. I’ve never seen an armadillo or a guinea pig. Except in photographs, videos or zoos and petting stations. I don’t know anything about their habits, the places the live. I don’t know about the relationship between these animals. The mere association leaves me perplexed. Now is the time of Venezuelans who don't understand Venezuelan phrases.
The enthusiastic nationalists inscribed in a purely no-worries vision propose that “Venezuelanness” is nothing more than cultural artifacts like the dance of the guarandol bird, arepas, joropo music and even the industrially-produced beer of the Polar company. This is a mystification that attempts to delineate us as though we were completely westernized beings facing a display of postcards and souvenirs. It is a reification. It creates artifacts. No one thinks of culture as something that is breathed. It’s turned into a corpse and from it surge, as though superimposed on a puddle of mud, those fragile mummies-testimonies that ceaselessly wave their fingers in the air trying to touch you. The cadaverous doesn’t move nor does it move us.
there’s also that tendency to always think of mestizaje as being of a whitening nature. I’ve witnessed how the sanitizing vision of mestizaje defends the purely Spanish origin of the joropo to the very end and then I’ve been left astonished when I see how they read authors like Winthrop R. Wright, who argues that the joropo is an ensemble of European songs and forms inscribed in the polyphonic rhythms of African music. If we add the pair of shamanic maracas that accompany any self-respecting joropero, we find ourselves in the presence of an all-out interracial super-production. This would represent a more interesting reading,
and also a more realistic one
of the frenzied beat of the zapateo dance.
when it comes to that meticulous, compulsive stamping that takes place in the joropo style from the Tuy Valleys —and if you don’t believe me, watch the videos of El Gabán Tacateño.
Personally, and I’m speculating here, I think that Venezuelanness is to be found somewhere between a fragment from A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de las Casas
published in 1552
and the episode about Tebaldi in search of the perfect yogurt that occurs in the novel El bonche by Renato Rodríguez
published in 1976.
The fragment by De Las Casas constitutes a truly brief aside in A Short Account. Set in a page with too many blank spaces, located between an aside dedicated to the Pearl Coast and to Paria and the island of Trinidad, and the aside dedicated to the Kingdom of Venezuela, we find this short paragraph flowing under the title “Regarding the Yuyapari River.”
And the Dominican begins,
“Through the province of Paria climbs a river called the Yurapari, more than two hundred leagues heading inland...”
And the crystalline peninsula, its luminosity and mangroves all come to mind... "A sad tyrant followed its course for many leagues during the year 1529 with four hundred or more men, and he committed great massacres, burning people alive and wielding swords against an infinity of innocent natives who were in their lands and homes without harming anyone, not paying attention, and he left much of the land in ashes and astonished and fearful..."
The initial beauty plunges toward the territories of the abject. Everything has become a story summarized by a pair of images, flames and ruins...
“And finally...”
De Las Casas continues resigned,
"... he died a horrible death and his armada fell apart. And afterwards, other tyrants succeeded in those evils and tyrannies, and today we see them destroying and killing and damning the souls that the son of God redeemed with his blood..." in this manner outlining it like a never-ending story, destined to be repeated for eternity. I focus on that unknown verb in Spanish, to damn, [infernar]
“to damn the souls.”
What else can these visions of hell be but prophecies. Eternal damnations. I imagine that to damn means precisely the act of making the soul pass through a bit of hell. As though passing through eggs and flour. Becoming inferno, a macabre product of the technology of the spirit. Ever since then, perhaps, we have lived as damned. Irremediably contaminated by inferno. That’s how those fleeting tyrants end up elaborating a version of the story about the bald rooster. That story from Venezuelan folklore that consists of an opening phrase that's repeated forever;
when someone says,
“Do you want to hear the story about the bald rooster?”
“Yes," someone else replies.
“I already told it to you,” the first one says,
and then again
“Do you want to hear the story about the bald rooster?”
And so on
until the other person gets angry or annoyed.
Or they both do.
I was a child the first time I encountered the story of the bald rooster. Dad repeated it to me until he managed to make me feel like I was at the edge of desperation.
To hear the story.
But the story doesn’t exist. It’s nothing more than that prefiguration, a hook to catch your lips. A matter for tricksters.
Changing the subject,
the fragment by Rodríguez introduces the “energetic man” in the landscape. An image that circulates, that lives inside a fucked up loop, like the petty tyrant in the boat. But it represents a notable improvement because it comes from the same creators of the “1975 Petroleum Nationalization.” The avatar of the “energetic man,” the political prototype of the oil boom in the seventies, the millions of photos of the presidential candidate Carlos Andrés Pérez leaping over a puddle in an Olympic pose is incarnated in Tebaldi, who like the Wandering Jew seeks the utopia of the perfect yogurt after seeing the movie “The Man on the Eiffel Tower” and discovering Franchot Tone's satisfied expression when “he shoots a yogurt between his chest and back.” Tebaldi understands that this is “the thing,” by which he means, “beatitude, peace, a balanced relationship with the cosmos, the harmonious life” and he gives himself over insatiably to trying all the types of yogurt to be found in Caracas. After buying a cow and producing his own yogurt, he ends up robbing money from the cash register of the company where he works so he can flee to Europe and throw himself into the delirium of travelling on foot throughout the entire continent trying millions of portions of yogurt. However, he never manages to feel what he yearned for, “that beatitude and peace on Franchot Tone’s face.”
Is it the search for El Dorado in reverse?
Venezuelans mount themselves in the libidinal energy of petroleum in order to pursue the fetish of modernity.
We are
the eternal Latin American
Caracas was the city of utopia, and that’s why today it seems retro-futuristic to us, with all those beautiful buildings in the modernist architectural style. The streets of Los Chaguaramos, Colinas de Bello Monte and Las Mercedes are an architectural museum from that belle epoque. Even though the streets are sometimes sprinkled with soulless glass buildings in corporate Palm Beach style, the city maintains an atmosphere of a classic cyberpunk story.
Caracas is still the city of utopia.
But the “infernal” utopia of Bartolomé de las Casas.
The city of the reversible utopia. The city of the executive crystal skyscrapers occupied by the impoverished masses always pushed to the limit. The extreme precariousness of cardboard disintegrating in the tropical humidity. The modernity of Caracas is as fragmented, broken, as the windows of those skyscrapers.
what we know about Tebaldi we know thanks to José, the best carpenter in Galilee. They often run into each other in extremely improbable ways on the roads of Northern Europe. On one occasion when José is getting ready to spend the night around a campfire hidden amidst the trees, he catches a glimpse of a man walking quite decidedly as though he were being dragged by a mirage. Each time he grabs a new portion of yogurt, he fails. The revelation doesn’t materialize and it's hard not to imagine him falling incessantly toward the lower right hand corner of the screen. The petty tyrant from De Las Casas and Tebaldi coincide in the video game recurrence of the story about the bald rooster. Both of them always return from the upper left-hand corner as if they were our telluric versions of the Mario Bros. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to speak of the story about the bald rooster as a philosophical concept that belongs to us. The truncated story. Very truncated. The very new story
unleashes desire,
the utopia of progress.
But it seems to be doomed from the very first phrase to the poverty of progress. Paria-story-metaphor of the earthly paradise in the diaries of Columbus. Liberating and seeking independence in the 19th century, Venezuela-unstoppable-magma, the absolute fantasy of republican emergence.
But all of them, unleavened bread.
They flatten
in the oven.
Nationalism as a political concept is not important to me since it can turn out to be misleading. Nationalism isn’t something unitary that can be considered a solution. It can’t be considered positive or negative by simply speaking in the abstract without analyzing each particular manifestation and I,
but frankly: I don’t like the anti-nationalist diatribes that many Venezuelans are willing to share each time they have the chance. Now it turns out that it's in style to be anti-nationalist...
it’s a reaction to the saturation of Chavismo's discursive manipulation, which has kidnapped the referents, the meaning of the spirit of our imagined community. Some in the opposition have made the mistake of waving a flag in response under the figure of a supposed individualism that denies the existence of something as imperishable and nebulous as Venezuelanness. I think it's a mistake because we should situate ourselves in a thought scheme that takes into consideration our reality, our particularities.
I don’t know if thinking about Venezuela from
is being a nationalist.
But I can’t help it: I like love. So I think about that shack I glimpsed on the road between Puerto La Cruz and Arapito beach in the state of Sucre. A fragile shack made of odds and ends prolifically adorned with pieces of blue glass. It was evident that these were pieces of Solera Light beer bottles. Broken. Crushed against the ground. I think of that radiant shack on the hot road. With all that blue glass filtering the light in a kaleidoscopic manner. The landscape transfigured by the rays of the sun that were pounding its humble walls.
What else did Armando Reverón and the artists of Geometric Abstraction do but play with light? Reverón with his humid, impressionist landscapes, elaborated expressive devices inspired by the light of the tropics. The abstract artists with their kinetic art, marked by optical illusions, assembled the movement of a space that was necessarily crossed and modified by light. The fragments of the “Orange Sphere” by Jesús Soto distributed along the Caracas horizon reach the plenitude of
an artificial sun.
So I like to think Venezuelanness has more to do with collections of contingencies such as these, circumstances that provide us with contours. The tendency to play with light. The tendency to transform the tendency of playing with light into a form of artistic expression. Venezuelanness as a way of thinking and being in the world. Not like a concretist corpse. Venezuelanness is not the “Orange Sphere,” it is all the contingencies that limit its creation and the creation of the kaleidoscope-shack on the road to the beach because it never ceases to amaze me that a Venezuelan living in the middle of nowhere, who has probably never seen the works of Reverón or the Geometric Abstraction painters, can share the same instinct, a similar sensibility accompanied by its respective correlative of know-how, because it never ceases to amaze me that a man living in the middle of nowhere, using waste materials and a rudimentary knowledge, arrives at the same results, reaches the same aesthetic.
So that,
the furious masses that are trying to construct themselves as the extreme opposite of Chavismo are a virus of the system.
“Venezuelan music is horrible, man... Arepas don’t nourish you, they just make you fat as hell, man... Venezuelan writers have always been shit and that's why no one knows who they are, man.”
They’re mistaken when they think that Venezuelanness is disposable, as if it were merely a possible option that can be taken or rejected. In actuality, it’s simpler because it's an organic matter. It is merely features.
For example,
in my case it involves not being accustomed to animals because I grew up in a fishing village that was improvised into a oil-producing city. A fishing village with a single street that in the forties began to transform itself into a zone that would eventually have one of the largest oil refineries in the country. Houses built on top of salt mines. Yellowish sand. Sterile. Tenuous breeze facing the sea. Everything flat. A few sand cliffs here and there. Everything scorching. Blue sky like a mirage. A handful of palm trees. Some sea grapes. The purple, sour fruit, spreading like stains on the pavement. Everything so full of space. The grass planted by the mayor’s office languishing and faded to brown on the traffic islands that separate the streets and highways. A life emptied of animals. Some tiny bird, a black shadow on the sidewalk. A pelican on the beach. A macaw at some tourist inn. No chickens. No goats. No cows. No horses. No roosters. No dogs. No cats. Not many trees. Hardly any trees. Only salt water. Small stones. The sand putting pressure on red skin under the shiny edge of the day. Being blinded by the excessive sun. The industrial chimneys expelling black smoke. Ashes. The industrial gas burners.
When I watch people in Pittsburgh
hugging chickens
I’m immediately overcome by a premonition that I can’t do that. I can't hug chickens. But paradoxically, I fondly remember the stories of my dad eating impossible animals during the survival training he received when he was in the army. Dad emerges in my memories in some thicket on the Colombian border, eating grilled long-tailed monkeys and serpents. Or climbing onto a boat and beating the water with a stick to disperse the deadly piranhas. Or riding grey horses that for some reason I imagined being purple.
the image of dad sitting in Ciudad Bolívar in front of a plate of turtle pie.
The horror.
the image of the macaws at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas balancing themselves on the campus palm trees in the green spaces known as No Man’s Land. The man who kidnaps the incredibly beautiful yellow-blue macaw that crashes into the paranoid, tall gates of an apartment building in Los Chaguaramos. The bus on the street’s horizon. The electric fences. A dry blow and a blue shadow cracking the pavement. The man who runs and hides the bruised body of the bird beneath his shirt.
The horror.
And yet
hug chickens.
So being Venezuelan involves a collection of contingencies,
like having a certain predisposition to playing with light or having certain probabilities of not knowing how to relate to animals and, perhaps, it might also be that repressed smile at the gynecologist's office when she looks for suspicious bumps in my breasts and starts to recommend that I use sunscreen whenever I leave the house each day and I'm suddenly struck, like never before, by the vision of the tenuous paleness of Pittsburgh, kingdom of ice, because I fully remember
the utter intensity of the light in the city where I was born.
So the gynecologist recommends I use sunscreen every day and I,
I immediately think there’s no possibility of me getting skin cancer. If I survived the light in Puerto La Cruz there's no chance the light of Pittsburgh will defeat me. The majority of us don't even suspect such an atrocity could be possible: to become ill because of the sun.
Impossible, impossible to not see it as an eccentricity on the part of the gynecologist, especially when I recall having spent entire weeks sitting on the sand uninterruptedly, swallowing salt water. Without paying the least bit of attention to sunscreen or moisturizing lotion. The inclement sun of the tropics assaulting the strips of my dry and peeling skin. Charred. Impossible to not think that my indigenous blood protects me from these types of things. And then the salt water floods my mouth and nose while I'm lying on the bed with my legs open as the gynecologist holds a metal pincer and I think of how pleasant it is to be dragged by the currents of the sea while my body floats, overcoming any future sinking. I don't need any sunscreen. I have an understanding with the light. I leave her office holding a piece of paper with information about the services I received. I note that the doctor has written in the box at the top of the page, even though I told her I'm from Venezuela, despite my accent:
Age: 29
Race: white
Ethnicity: not Hispanic or Latino.



or Latino?

It’s impossible to not think that being Venezuelan is also that. Your racial identity is an indecipherable enigma for any foreigner. They project what they know onto you. They dare to guess and are always mistaken.
In contrast, each day I understand less the meaning of that other word: Latino.

{ Dayana Fraile, Eternal Typewriter, 27 June 2014 }

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