my host family
me wish all the Guardian readers Feliz Navidad, as today
is Christmas Eve. While my learning Spanish in Caracas
story goes on for several weeks, as you read this I should
be in the depths of Illinois, up to my neck in snow, celebrating
Christmas, God and a certain Venezuelan airline willing.
But back to the story.
Once in Caracas, Ricardo showed me the location of my
school right in the heart of the city at Plaza Venezuela,
and then took me to meet my host family who lives on the
outskirts of the city at Palo Verde.
And what a lovely warm welcome they gave me! The father
Felito owns a body repair shop and garage; the mother
Ceverina is a retired physics teacher, and the son Felix
is a 15-year-old child prodigy violinist.
Plus, they have a miniature Doberman Pincer called Mimi,
who is a bundle of energy. Luckily, Felix spoke some English,
otherwise they would have wondered what sort of lodger
they had taken on if I replied Dos cervesas por
favor to everything they asked me.
They have a lovely apartment on the fourth floor of one
of the hundreds of tower blocks that make up Caracas,
and while the bedrooms are small, I have my own bathroom
and shower and a set of keys, so I can come and go as
I hadnt been in their home more than ten minutes
before Ceverina served a wonderful spaghetti dish with
pasta that had a mild pepper sauce built in. Delicioso!!
Then it was into the carro and off through
traffic that makes Trini drivers look like angels, to
downtown Caracas to the tiny studio of a violin professor
for Felix to have his last lesson before he gives a concert
What was amazing was there were eight other teenagers
there, all of whom play the violin and all of whom make
a full-time living in Caracas playing with various orchestras
I cant think of one violinist earning a full-time
living in Trinidad. Even panmen struggle.
What does that tell us about our so-called love of art
With Felixs lesson complete, we headed to an incredible
five-storey shopping mall called Sambil, on Avenue Liberatador,
with people like peas!
Now, your boy suffers badly from vertigo, so by the time
we were on the fifth glass-sided escalator looking over
the handrail at a 600-foot drop, it was all I could do
to keep my legs from buckling under me.
The last time I had a bad attack of vertigo was at Machu
Picchu. I seem to remember JP suggested I give him my
credit card and pin number before I looked over.
But I made it to the top floor, as our destination was
the roof of the mall. Thats right; they cleverly
built the sloping roof of the mall in the shape of an
amphitheatre, with a stage and sound system all out in
the open under the stars.
What a perfect setting for a wonderful free concert by
the Fundacion Orquesta Sinfonica Juvenil de Chacao, directed
by Florentino Mendoza (who has played in Trinidad with
Nancy Jackman. Small world, eh?) These children played
their hearts out for us with Christmas Carols and classical
songs of every description. Magic under the stars.
On the journey back to our
we had a glimpse of the other side of Caracas, as we saw
gangs of young Chavez supporters dressed in red T-shirts
and carrying nasty-looking sticks roaming the streets.
And this was just the first day!
Its Sunday, and I slept like a dead, thanks to all
those cervesas and music under the stars.
Mind you, when you live in an area of high-rise apartments,
there is a lot of coming and going, with cars starting,
people talking and children laughing.
This goes on until about 1 am and then starts up again
before 6, even on a Sunday.
After a great breakfast of freshly-made arepas, eaten
with spicy ham and cheese, all washed down with an incredibly-strong,
sweet black coffee, we head into Caracas, once more, to
go to church.
Now I am so rarely in church that I always worry that
it will be struck by lightning if I visit, but I took
the congregations life in my hands and found myself
in a wonderful building that was a beautiful mixture of
raw concrete and amazing stained windows.
Any where else in the world it would be a cathedral, but
here, the Roman Catholic Temple Parroquial San Juan Bosco,
in the Caracas suburb of Altamera, is just a plain parish
At one end there was a beautiful 20-foot high sculpture
of Jesus on the cross, only there was no cross, and he
was suspended in front of another marvellous mural.
Throughout the service, people were coming and going,
and the dress code seemed non-existent. There were young
women in very revealing tops, and one of the guys doing
the collections was even dressed in shorts!
Having secured our place in heaven for another week, we
went to another very upscale mall called Plaza de Americas,
in a wealthy suburb south of Caracas.
More people like peas. I dont think these people
have homes, boy!
More local Venezuelan food was consumed at a packed food
court before we headed home in time to have a nap before
I know Im going to sleep well again tonight!
(Next week) The first day of school)