La ciudad vulnerada / Cantórbery Cuevas Tortolero

The Wounded City

This City (I thought) is so horrific that its mere existence, the mere fact of its having endured, even in the middle of a secret desert, pollutes the past and the future and somehow compromises the stars. So long as it endures, no one in the world can ever be happy or courageous.
– Jorge Luis Borges, “The Immortal”

Caracas is one of those places about which men have differed widely and intensely: A paradisiacal valley, according to Oviedo y Baños. Don Alonso Escobar, canon of the Cathedral at the dawn of the 18th century: “O you Caracas! Generous object / of that Empire, whose sacred face / is venerated by more people than spheres the sun turns…” Someone else: “Promising seed of an eternal orchard.” And there are those who even today defend its aptitude: even though its current crime statistics – the highest in the world? – are too astonishing to be the product of an exemplary home.

Looking at this vale of tears through Google Earth, one realizes that the urban mange that corrodes two thirds of it is more than a treacherous simile or an expression of contempt. It is the verification of a reality that, in the same vein, despite its painfulness confirms the integrity of many of its own, as the stupendous documentary Tocar y luchar by Beto Arvelo clearly demonstrates: from those fetid entrails emerge young musicians who today astonish the world.

However we might see it, in four decades Caracas has degenerated into the discord that a blind electoralism nourished by petroleum rent continues to devise at a feverish pace. The urban inertia that takes off with Pérez Jiménez is unleashed with the 1973 Gulf crisis and continues to advance, surpassing the predictions of myopic politicians. A nefarious universal phenomenon, the proliferation of shantytowns throughout metropolises, in Venezuela reaches infamous proportions, with their concomitant anarchy, lack of foresight, absence of services, ruled by insecurity. And in the “official” city – the one displayed on maps – things are at the same level: improvisations, a false valorization of land, corruption at the highest levels of urban management (see Mani sulla città by Francesco Rosi). All this added to the odious importation of architectural models from New York and Chicago, which we never needed before and which today continue to insult the landscape and its citizens: Babylonian blocks of ice with their backs to people, autistic massive objects that devour electricity when we should be contemplating the different energy horizons the post-petroleum era demands, as is paradoxically being done in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, as you know, with the new city free of fossil fuels designed by Norman Foster, which I referred to once. At a time that howls for deep changes, there is no reflection here.

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I’ve heard that Monsiváis says: “I don’t understand what’s happening, or what I was understanding already happened.” All of us are going through this. Politicians as well. Only they (I’m positive) don’t know it.

{ Cantórbery Cuevas Tortolero, Tal Cual, 9 October 2008 }

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