Photo by crl_ taken from Flickr:

Maracaibo, Venezuela

May 13, 2015

In your city, how can we tell that it’s 2015?

It’s difficult to respond to this question. Maracaibo is a city that, in large measure, destroys its past, and adopts plans for its future in a disorderly fashion. Less than one hundred years ago, Maracaibo spearheaded the technological advances of the moment on a national level; it enjoyed services like the telephone, trams, and electricity, and inventions like photography and film before other cities in Venezuela and Latin America. This was due mostly to its location as the main port for all incoming and outgoing goods from Europe and America. However, today it seems we’re closer to a distant past. I think of Maracaibo on fire, Maracaibo and its pirate stories (among them those about the very famous Henry Morgan and Jean David Nau, known as l’Olonnois.) I may be exaggerating a little, or romanticizing the chaos, because what really attracts attention on the streets at this time is the proliferation of contraband products with regulated prices, long lines, armed robbery, the lack of streetlights, power outages, the massive plundering of basic goods in stores, empty shelves, scams, trash on the streets, and people fleeing.


What reminds you of the past in your city?

The small cars that function as public transport. They have been there since my first memories of the city; they were already there, obviously. They are present and I think they still have a future; they are forms of pure endurance, informalism, survival on wheels.


Which part of the city would be the best place to lose track of time, stop time, or gain time?

I think the excitement of the city center can accomplish that. Finding yourself among buildings that have been there for years and that are far past their moment of glory, losing yourself among the countless peddlers who invade the entryways and facades of these buildings. Stolen products, pirated products, good-quality products, Chinese products and the figurines of the Virgen de la Chinita, pigeons, drunks, vinyl records, someone shouting their wares to the world, pastries, empanadas, yo-yos, a tower of speakers that explode with Colombian music. In short, a lot of things are happening and many moments meet—a very hectic place where time is strange.


What song or local band do you recommend for the daily playlist?

There are several. Among my favorites are TLX, Presidente, Jan Pawel and Ulises Hadjis. All of these projects and a few more are part of Entorno Doméstico, a kind of record label or platform that defines itself as a music house. Most of the albums that have come out under Entorno Doméstico can be downloaded free of cost on their website.


What museum or cultural space is generally omitted from the typical cultural tour but is definitely worth visiting?

Currently, there aren’t any spaces like that, but they have existed. The cultural tours are limited to institutions like MACZUL, Centro de Arte Lía Bermúdez and the Teatro Bellas Artes. There’s a gallery here or there, but mostly shopping mall galleries.


What bookstore has new or secondhand publications on art history, exhibition catalogs, or artist monographs?

It’s not easy to find art publications in Maracaibo. However every now and then you may be surprised. In this sense, I think the best place to find these surprises is at El Emporio del Libro, a small store that’s bursting with second-hand books, used vinyl albums and some interesting objects. I spent a lot of time there when I was a teenager.


What is a typical, local meal and where would you have it?

It’s not really traditional food, but whenever friends come to the visit the city I try to take them to eat fried fish with patacón (fried plantain) or yuca. Not only because I like it, but because it means a quick road trip to Cabeza de Toro, through el Mojan, passing by part of the Maracaibo Lake coast. There are several places there that sell this dish. I would also recommend the cepillados of Maracaibo: grated ice with fruit juice. The cold is wonderful in your mouth and stomach when you live in a city that’s all steam and sun. I personally like the ones sold by Jesús Ríos.


Where can you find the best coffee or tea?

I honestly drink very little coffee or tea. I could recommend a place to have some early beers, a small bar/restaurant called Palmarejo. It’s a mythical place and traditional for several poets and artists in the city, located on Carabobo Street, right in the center. It was one of the first streets to be constructed in Maracaibo and it’s still alive and active, with a long list of restaurants and nighttime establishments. Carabobo Street still preserves the colonial-style houses, with tall ceilings, big windows and bright colors.


What monument reveals a hidden past?

I’m not sure if I can call it a monument, but it does speak volumes about the city, of the maracucho spirit. I’m referring to the three-story ranch on Tule Street, which demarcates the north of Maracaibo’s township. No one knows who constructed it or why, but there it is and there it has stood for years, in a kind of show of endurance.


Outdoor or public artwork worth visiting?

The recently inaugurated Botanical Gardens, where you can still see many of the ideas that Roberto Burle Marx contributed to the project—especially El Castillito, a wonderful children’s playground inside the park.


Where is the best place to watch the sunset in your city?

I still haven’t found a place that has a good a view from the city’s west side. However, in the east, on La Vereda del Lago, you can enjoy a beautiful sunrise.


Next Sunday, let’s meet at:

On Sundays in Maracaibo, people seem to hide; many people stay in, many businesses close, which clears traffic out of the city and movement from the streets. It’s a great opportunity to explore the city in a car, go around listening to good music or talking to a friend. Lately, these drives end up with food or drinks at the soda fountain Irama, which I think has been open since the 1970s. I have eaten there since I was a teenager; however lately I’ve been going much more frequently thanks to the writer Norberto José Olivar, who I admire greatly and who uses Irama as the setting for some of his novels.


Which book transports me to your city?

La muerte del monstruo come piedra by Laura Antillano: "The afternoon dissolves into the sad colors of the lake: I walk to the broken gate, to leave the beach. I remember that I had plans to meet Marina and El Particular at the ice cream shop on Bella Vista Avenue; I walk a bit with my hands in my pockets, until I decide to stop a car on the Avenida El Milagro line. I heard someone marvel about this name once; 'an avenue named The Miracle, it must be wonderful to live in a place with that name,' it’s a foolish idea…but, thinking it over, this closeness to the lake doesn’t stop being wonderful; a sad lake with equally sad afternoons, a lake that complains of the winds. The lake as a reproachful presence…" 

Un vampiro en Maracaibo by Norberto José Olivar: "The aforementioned Professor continued on his way, shielded by the shadows of the night—a completely moonless night and hot like few are, because not even the breeze from the beach’s shore could scare away this humid and annoying heat that plastered your shirt to your back, armpits and neck, ruining any semblance of elegance that is so hard to achieve; but that’s how this city is, you want to live it, enjoy it, but she insists on screwing our patience and appearance, reminding us that this is a nasty and smelly beach with no remedy."


If you were commissioned to create a work of art “about” this city, briefly describe what your proposal would be.

Maracaibo needs many things, among them parks and green spaces inside the city. Without a doubt, I would love to be involved in a project of this kind, for example in designing a playground for children.


What aspect of your city most inspires you?

Just now (a long now) I’m living in a moment of mixed emotions. Maracaibo has turned into an unfriendly city, a city that rebounds, where it costs to live to the fullest, that isn’t walkable. Nevertheless, there’s plenty that I recover, and I must say that I love my city tremendously and that beyond the highs and lows, I’m profoundly grateful for everything it has given me, because I can only read the person I am today through my relationship with her. The heat, the excessive sun, the air conditioning and hiding in your house for long hours, the difficulties that push you to improvise and above all, the city’s men and women, lively and loud with joy. Cheers!