From time to time, during my last week of travel, spent in Caracas, Venezuela, someone would get surprised by my Spanish-speaking abilities and say about me, "El habla igual como un venezolano." (He speaks just as if he was Venezuelan.)
At which point, Eric - a young engineer I stayed with - would tell them: "El ES venezolano. El otro dia, el estaba bailando salsa al mismo tiempo que estaba haciendo arepas!" (He IS Venezuelan. My god, the other night, he was dancing salsa at the same time he was making arepas!)
I don't think most Venezuelans are even Venezuelan enough to dance salsa at the same time they're making arepas. I was really taking in the culture. However, when I'm kicking my feet and shaking my hips to the salsa drums, I generally prefer a beautiful, hot pants, made-up Venezuelan woman in my hands to the arepa dough.
Arepa dough, I mean, is a good thing, but a beautiful, hot pants, made-up Venezuelan woman is a better one. Venezuelan women put on dark eye shadow, shiny lip-stick, cheekbone make-up, products to make their hair and bangs soft, classy, tight shirts that show their upper chest and arms, tight pants with fading colors and baggy bottoms, high heels, and fun, pleasant personalities. And they dance close to you and with style, and you can just feel the caring in their bodies. Much better than the arepa dough ... which pretty much just sits there.
They came in all colors. And I wanted one. But, they were aaall against me.
They were against me. They may've seemed fun and pleasant at first, but they were really out to screw me. I'd come to Caracas to visit good friends, David and Gerardo. But, those girls had put on their extra make-up. They were out to stress me.
My attention was first stolen by Marcia. Marcia, in a baggy white t-shirt, with dark hair curling down her back. She and I shared a romantic, heart-quivering kiss so full of love it revived all the dead flowers in Caracas, and it really meant something.
Okay, I lied, it was a "penalty" kiss she'd been assigned during some stupid game we were playing. But, she slipped me some sleazy tongue. Sleazy tongue that really meant something. And then, as soon as the game was over, she forgot about me. Poor I was left wondering what had so quickly separated our souls as one, I became stressed, and I wanted some more sleazy tongue.
So I moved on to Diana. Diana was some underwear model I picked up one day in the street. (She was wearing more than underwear, at the time.) She was a short "morena" (a girl with skin like brown M&M's), with thick, black hair, big, wet eyes, make-up caked on, and full, cherry lips. Her beauty was pretty engulfing to talk to, as she spoke Venezuelan in a sexy, proper way like Alicia Silverstone spoke Beverly Hills-ian in "Clueless."
Diana and I ate cachapas and hung out among the Caracas street-vendors. She spoke a lot about herself. But, I didn't really mind this about her. Hey! she was an underwear model. I didn't even mind when she told me to meet her the following day and left me waiting for thirty minutes. However, after I'd waited an hour, I realized my poor Michigander heart had been played like a salsa bongo once again.
Thirdly, there was little, blond Conchita. I like to think that I won over Conchita with my wit. But, then again, she was kind of an airhead, so I imagine she paid as much attention to what I had to say as I would pay talking to, oh, say, an underwear model. I like to be an airhead, sometimes, too.
In a nightclub, drunk Conchita had been all night near one of those huge, big, tight-shirted musculy guys. I think those guys are ridiculous. "Tu llevas peso!?" I said excitedly to the guy. (Do you work out?) "Yo tambien!" (Me too!) Coolly, he told me, nah, he didn't work out. "Es increible!" I yelled. (That's incredible!) "Y tu eres casi tan musculoso como yo!" (And, you're nearly as muscular as I am!) Of course, he had more strength in the gel in his hair than I had in my whole body, but he didn't really get offended.
For whatever reason I don't know, Conchita came to me at the end of the night. She was really getting cuddly, and she asked if I liked her. Yeah, "Si," I said, but I said I couldn't like her because she had a boyfriend in Miami. She said, "Que es el problema?" to me, and looked at me how she'd look at a martian. (So? what's the problem?)
Now, I may be Venezuelan enough to dance salsa at the same time I'm making arepas, but I'm not Venezuelan enough to hold no respect for boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. Conchita would've been an alcohol-breathed barrel full of monkeys to hook up with, but I have my stupid morals. I'm just trying to be the best person I can be. It doesn't seem like many people anymore try to be the best persons they can be. So, I left the nightclub alone with pal Eric, Venezuelan, who says a barrel full of monkeys is way better than being a good person.
There was one more girl in Caracas, my angel Angy from Venezuela trips past, and she actually did make people around her into better people. She was generous with me and her friends; she supported her true love, her twin sister, to study away from her in Trinidad & Tobago. I would've said, at one point, that she was one of the nicest and most beautiful persons I've met. (Despite all that's happened between us, I still kind of believe it.)
I used to put my arm around her tiny shoulders like it was one of the most right and best things I could do. And, outside in the Caracas night beside her friend's car radio, we danced salsa.
For those of you who don't know, there are a couple of ways we Venezuelans dance salsa:
Separated, I and a friend's little wife shared a great dance in David's apartment one weekend. Playing was a salsa song that was like a drum beat on hyper-drive. I put my right arm on her side, and she accepted my left hand in her right. To the hummingbird rhythms, she juggled the floor with her feet and let herself get pushed around as easily as a shopping cart. Our dance was furious, exhausting, wicked.
Embracing, I held Angy close. Sleek black covered her frail body. She wore heels, a belt that dangled down her hips, and a stylish sand jacket beneath blond ponytail. Before me, Angy batted long lashes, letting out eyes dark like a forest but shiny like a star. Her kicking legs moved between mine, and she smiled - a pink smile that was big and clumsy and imperfect. And in some special moments when she danced with me, she rested her cheek smoothly on mine. We turned without rush.
You see how that beats dancing with the arepa dough! Hu-Haaaaa!
One thing about the arepa dough, though. It's always there when you need it, it always answers your telephone calls, and it always phones you when it says it's going to. Angy, on the other hand - although she was sure great at making plans - was terrible at keeping them. I waited for her a lot - just me and the arepa dough - and she made me stressed.
Poor me. Poor arepa dough.
It's sad to say. But, after one occasion when Angy said she would call and didn't, she totally disappeared. She became un-locateable, and it was dire that I say good-bye to her. I even went on a reconaissance mission to her downtown apartment.
She wasn't in. I told her mom I'd wait for her in the corner bar/restaurant.
I ate an arepa. Good old trusty arepas.
Four of the first five things I was told here were that, where Angy lived, Caracas' poor, dirty downtown, was "muy peligroso" (very dangerous) for me. The fifth thing was that a girl I was introduced to there was named "Raquel." "Raquel Welch," the arepa-man said then laughed.
It was a dingy, wooden restaurant, with dingy-looking people inside. Raquel wasn't very talkative, except for her "muy peligroso" comment.
After fifteen minutes, I was bored, so I asked Raquel if she wouldn't join me for a beer. She wasn't exactly excited, but she accepted. She sat down. She took her first sip of beer and turned into a happy little jabberer.
She did look a little like Raquel Welch. Except, she was tan-skinned and freckle-nosed. She had very short, dark-red-dyed hair. She was missing a side tooth.
She was in her mid-twenties, she said, and she'd moved to Caracas alone from eastern Venezuela. I asked if she'd found work in the city. She had. As a "dama de acompanamento" (lady of company). All right, my first beer with a hooker.
She was very nice, actually. She told fondly of her two kids, named David and Geusberlis. She educated me on the personality traits associated with signs of the Zodiac; we were both Scorpios. She borrowed 200 centavos from me (13 US cents) for cigarettes, said "Desculpa la abusa" (Excuse the abuse), and never tried to turn me into a trick.
It wouldn't have worked, of course. I even told Raquel of how I'm a "celibate," and how that means that I don't have sex. She looked puzzled. "Como tu haces?" (Then what do you do?)
Raquel headed to the bathroom. A small, inebriated guy came over and disapprovingly preached to me about Jesus Christ. He said, "Cuando tu pareja regresa, preguntale cuantos hijos la virgen Maria tuvo? Cuantos hermanos tuvo Jesus Cristo?" (When your female partner comes back, ask her how many children the Virgin Mary had? How many brothers did Jesus Christ have?)
Raquel returned after the guy had scurried off. We talked some more, and Raquel asked if I couldn't wait TWO minutes for her to run somewhere. She was running to the church.
Seven or ten minutes passed, and Raquel hadn't arrived. It was growing dark and dangerous out, and I had no choice but to split to meet Gerardo.
The following day, I flew out of Venezuela. Angy never even called. She'd really crushed me good; I'd really cared about her. I guess I had her judged wrong?
And you know what that means. It means funnily that, during my time in Caracas, the Venezuelan woman who treated me in the most humane, compassionate way, by far, was the prostitute. And it wasn't lost on me the fact that, in Raquel's case, it was me who kind of ditched her.
So, in the end, we learn that, as with the arepas, it's the inside of the girl that counts. Hot pants, new clothes, and lots of make-up don't also make you into a good person, surprisingly. You could've fooled me! Sometimes, you gotta search every city corner for one ...
Thank god for prostitutes.
- Modern Oddyseus
Much thanks to David, Eric, and Renaldo; and Gerardo and Pablo for the places to stay!
Good luck to Raquel and the kids! Thanks for joining me for beers.