Saturday, May 31, 2008
Speaking of exchange rates, apparently we're down to somewhere around 2.9 or 3 to 1, which means I lose out on an extra Bsf 20. I did manage to save about Bsf 50 this month, which is all right, considering I spent a lot on sunk costs (e.g. my cell phone from which I've made 5 calls). Still, I took a look at my statement today, in lamentation for my last paycheck from Brown, and it looks like I'll be able to survive the summer, due to my inability to correctly multiply by the number 4.
It still looks like a long summer, mostly of work, with very little play. I e-mailed the Venezuela Fulbrighters the other day and got back two responses -- one from Caroline who's out in Merida (far), and from one named Evan who's been very busy as of late. So far, I've made lots of professional acquaintances, but not so many non-professional ones. I guess if I just keep going to work I'll eventually bump into someone, but I'm all for imagining this is just like my life in Providence, which usually has me spending weekends playing basketball and writing blog posts.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Today, I went to the ticket dispenser line, awaiting my fate of having to re-feed my coins in the machine while the people behind me jockeyed for position, when some dude pulling a rolling carry-on bag, with his shirt creepily unbuttoned, and his face unstylishly 5 o'clock shadowed pulled up right next to me. He asked a few questions about the ticket machine to the kid in front of me, then ASKED HIM TO BUY HIM A TICKET. Granted, maybe he was from out of town, but even then, do you ask someone to buy your ticket for you? That's cutting. And cutting gets your name put on the board if the teacher catches you.
Anyway, second, to get you all in the mood: aural sex (thanks JSTOR!)
So as I promised, I was going to talk about boobs today, more specifically, how every woman here has huge boobs and how there's no way around them: they're in your face all the time. Let's talk about my gym. You know those commercials where all the women exercise in sports bras? Well, welcome to my gym. Except imagine the vast majority of those women are forty and older, probably with kids, and (because of that?) with enough cleavage that two scoops of sports bra couldn't hold them back. Granted my gym has basically two client bases: meathead weightlifters, some of whom I can actually out-lift (mmm I love to compensate!); and said mommies. Both groups like to flaunt what they've got, and that often means wearing as small a top as possible. As you might imagine, this prevents anyone but me -- apparently -- from running on the treadmills, lest they bounce all over the place. You would be hard-pressed to see any woman at my gym wearing a t-shirt, unless said t-shirt had an incredibly low neckline.
But the public display of mammary tops (a medical term. I just invented it) is not limited to the gym. This isn't Quito and its pantsuit denizens, this is Caracas and be it the weather or something else, the pantsuit gives way to the tank top that somehow squishes the boobies together and lifts them up so that everyone's cleavage is about a mile deep. People aren't walking around naked, but they're certainly walking around confidently.
So everyone's got breasts. Funny then how the most attractive person I've seen here was nowhere near the norm. She was wearing a long fuschia strapless dress (in the middle of the day), with fuschia flip flops, carrying a fuschia purse, with a fuschia hoodie tied around her waist. She laughed as she ordered her Japanese food. And she goofily kept readjusting her dress since, well, there really wasn't much to hold it up. Later, I saw her nearly skipping along in the mall while her male companion sheepishly carried their tray.
Clearly, I've got strange taste in women, as the "I-Like-Your-Bangs" Debacle of 2008 shows. But if this post is any indication, I've clearly not grown up very much.
Monday, May 26, 2008
I couldn't sleep last night. Venezuela has decided to begin its rainy season, and the downside of having windows that don't close is that once it starts pouring, the sound of the rain is deafening (plus the mosquitoes get in my room). I really shouldn't just blame the rain I guess I can be enough of a man to blame myself on this one: since I've been lonely and depressed, I've been staying up late, and so I jetlagged myself for Sunday night and didn't really get to sleep until about 2am. I did, however, get to see Chronicles of Riddick and some lame show with Dylan McDermott in it. I also like how I made that sound like that was some sort of appropriate consolation prize.
Anyway, I got up at 6:45 to try to eat, get dressed, and figure out where to go -- my plan was to get to the opening session of the LASA conference at the UCV, then head over to CENDES, which I thought was on campus (foreshadowing, a popular literary technique), for a 10am meeting. The internet connection was wonky last night (and finally not the reason I stayed up!), so I multitasked over an arepa with peach jelly while Google mapping. Turned out, however, that CENDES was nowhere near UCV, and so I decided to just try to make my meeting at CENDES and show up to the LASA conference tomorrow.
I timed myself as I waited for the Metrobus to the Metro station. It was 9am when I arrived at the stop, and it took the bus 15 minutes to get to the station, and to Plaza Venezuela (where I figured it'd be easy to catch a bus to CENDES), it was about another 20 minutes. So, there I was in Plaza Venezuela, fairly confident about what I was supposed to do next: take a metrobus to Colinas de Bello Monte, get off at the sixth stop, then walk a bit downhill to Avenida Neveri and voila, I'd be at CENDES.
Of course, I couldn't figure out for the life of me where the bus stops were. So I walked around, trying not to look lost, until I decided to trust my sense of direction and head south towards Colinas de Bello Monte and see if I could hoof it. Once I crossed Bello Monte -- a pretty large street -- I followed a sign that pointed towards Av. Neveri and figured I'd be all right if I just kept going. But I ended up in a very residential area after walking uphill for a while, and as doubt started to creep into my mind, eventually I asked a dude working at a kiosk where Avenida Neveri was. He seemed sort of ticked off that I had interrupted him or something (I don't think I did), and he said I had a bit more walking to do -- uphill.
So uphill I went. And finally, I arrived at an intersection and Av. Neveri. So all I had to do now was find the CENDES building and I'd be early for my meeting. Well, after walking up the wrong street, and then finally walking up Neveri, I came to another really residential area. I asked a security guard at a construction site where I should go, and he said that I had a long, LOOOOOOOOONG way to walk, all the way uphill, then "down down down," he said.
I figured it couldn't have been that long, so I kept going uphill. Mind you, I decided to wear my boots today and my suit jacket, first impressions and all, and so after my second blister on my right foot and sweating through my shirt, I decided to stop in the shade and call up Luchy. She had no idea. I called up Lissette, the sociologist daughter-in-law, and she had a better idea of where it was, but ultimately her advice was to take a taxi. So I took a taxi (I was pretty far, but not that far. But far enough). Long story short, I had my meeting, I have to go back tomorrow, and I read some books.
TOMORROW: Boobs, Part 1
Saturday, May 24, 2008
So I watch a lot of TV, mainly because work is boring and I have no friends. As I think I mentioned before, if you get up early enough, you can sing the national anthem either karaoke or in sign language on nearly all the channels. And, I think I mentioned in the same breath that Chavez is all over the media. In fact today, he had a press conference/early Alo Presidente that was carried by nearly every single TV station, except I think for one or two. And on those other channels: telenovelas from Colombia. As a statement of the absurdity of politics, I think they missed the mark a bit.
One of those channels, RCTV, is one of the few anti-Chavez channels out there, but they spend valuable time doing that stupid music video montage of the entire staff and talent of the station singing some pep-up song. Also, again, going with the telenovela while Chavez is out speaking both nonsense and truth to power makes you look lazy.
But today, I had dinner in a small Japanese restaurant in Macaracuay Plaza (fyi, all sushi in this country has cream cheese on it). After a mixup that involved the waiter thinking I was there for a job, I sipped the really sweet green tea and waited patiently for my yakisoba to show up. I started to watch the TV they had hanging over the sushi bar, and I think I found the worst television show ever conceived: Bailando con los Gorditos, or Dancing with the Fatties.
As the name implies, instead of dancing with celebrities, professional dancers dance with fat people. And then, they get massacred by a panel of four judges. Just so you know what you might be up against if you were to go on Bailando con los Gorditos: brush up on your hip hop, or dress in slimming colors, or do that country-western piece you were working on. It's raining men, indeed (nice cartwheel, I have to say. I can't do that shit).
It's weekend #3 that I'm home. There were fireworks earlier, and lots of the clubs here turn on searchlights, so the night sky on the weekend in Caracas is a hazy glitter of city lights and white circles. Me, I'm sitting in the bar/lounge area of the house, which I figure in its glory days was the rockinest place in the suburbs, but no one's sat on the big leather couch for ages, judging by how much dust it's collected. I think I'll join the furniture in collecting dust, lest I join a gang or buy some drugs in the dark alleys of Caracas.
Friday, May 23, 2008
And that's where I was, in the midst of bagging my own groceries and telling the particularly apathetic cashier to subtract the granola bars (there's a 9% VAT that always catches me off guard. Fucking 9%!?), when, like in all good fight observation stories, there was a commotion out in the main plaza. I turned around and saw the entire working population of CC Macaracuay Plaza literally run out of their offices and stores to watch a security guard tangle with some dude. I mean, one dude ran out of the fucking bank to see what was going on (an apt time time rob the bank, and now in retrospect, a missed opportunity), and by his button-down shirt and lanyard, he clearly worked there.
Anyway, the fight was pretty lame because while fights on TV and the movies are usually carried out by one or two (or more) "skilled" fighters, real-life fights are either brutally clumsy or clumsily brutal. This fight was the former: the dude tried to "karate kick" the security guard, but instead managed to raise his leg with minimal force. The security guard, not being of great acumen in fighting either, ran into the "kick" then tried to grab the back of the dude's shirt. The fight entirely reminded me of the Great DMV Melee of 2005, when I watched a Chinese dude whom I guess figured he knew kung-fu, lame-kick a guy who had taken his seat at the DMV.
As the "fight" dragged on, more and more people were running out to watch and there gathered a huge crowd to see these guys go at it. Eventually, the other security guards had to restrain their own man, and the other dude got led off by the police (I think). Still, the guard was chomping at the bit, struggling against his buddies who were trying to pacify him. He ended up winning that fight, and ran down the hall to chase after the dude.
At that point, I decided that I'd had enough of bad fighting and made my way outside. Turns out that even the taxi drivers had all ran in to watch, leaving a backup of taxis outside the main entrance to the mall. They were all heading back to their cars, shaking their heads at how lame that fight was.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Well, a couple days ago, Luchy had also warned that the city was planning on doing some major excavation in our area and as a result, we'd have no water for a day. Well when the day came around (Saturday), she simply called a plumber to have the water pressure turned up on the house tank. I figured that since the delay was supposed to only take a day, we'd be a-ok with the water once the weekend was over.
On Tuesday, we had the old stove removed and Luchy's live-in handyman knocked out part of the counter to fit the new stove, and today the new stove arrived. While all that is splendid, it turns out that the city's excavation either started late or they never finished; we ran out of water in the house tank, and now I've got a 1-liter bottle to use until they get the pipes all fixed.
So, that means I've got to go unbathed for a second day. Not a terrible prospect, considering I don't leave the house for fear of spending money (or doing work). But as I collect dust on the couch in the house's "bar" (clearly not used for a long time), I figure a shower would be in due order sometime soon.
Monday, May 19, 2008
But it's like I'm either heartbroken or homesick, not sure what it is. It's not quite heartbreak, since usually I can't listen to any music when I'm heartbroken. And it's not quite homesickness, since usually I end up downloading every song about San Francisco and playing them in heavy rotation, which would sound mad funny in between the freestyle that makes up nearly all of the music on my computer at the moment.
I think I might just be lonely. Funny, this is usually how I feel most of the time in Providence.
Last week, Coach Wuyke was in town, along with Lindsay, a girl I should have met while we were at Conn together, but I guess I was too much of a dick to talk to the distance runners. Anyway, with Coach around, I got to meet a lot of his friends and do some touristy things (what little there is to do in that regard around here). We went up Caracas' teleferico to the top of El Avila where it was a little too foggy to see the Caribbean, but you could get a hazy view of Caracas.
(Side note, I just saw two parrots fly into the tree in the neighbor's yard)
That hazy view day, coupled with how much Coach and his friends would gush about Los Roques made Lindsay and I keep dropping hints about wanting to go to the beach. Coach relented and on Thursday of last week, we hung out in La Guaira for the day at a private beach (that is, it cost about $17 bucks to get in). I got to dunk myself in the Caribbean for the first time in my life, and, as usual, tan the outsides of my arms.
Besides having some friendly company, Coach's visit proved to me while Venezuelan food prices might be higher than Amy Winehouse in a bathroom in the Eiffel Tower, nearly everything he got us to eat was downright tastetacular. The highlight might have been our visits to Coach's mom's house; she cooks very, very fast and she cooks very, very well. I think other than sleeping and swimming in the Caribbean, I did not stop eating all of last week.
In other news, I finally got notice that I'd be funded for next fall (yay!) as a TA (boo...) I imagined having to TA a huge class again, but this time as a jaded, cynical TA telling the kids straight up about how some of them aren't gonna get A's. Ah, so much to look forward to.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Everything was generally good, except one dude pulled me aside and started talking politics with me. Long story short, he basically said to not talk to two people at the party, as they are "the enemy" and then throughout the rest of the day, would come up to me and greet me again (shake my hand over and over), and basically try to win me over to some side of something that honestly I don't want to stick my head in. Of course, instead of making me afraid for my life if I talked to "the enemy", he made me afraid that he'd end my life if I talked to them.
Anyway, I was told to try to avoid moving around on Mondays because the traffic and density of people will be horrendous. Still, I want to start working so I'll be sending out e-mails from home, I think.
Friday, May 09, 2008
I took a walk around the neighborhood today, and I think it's best described as the Pasig of Venezuela, unless I find a more Pasig-like place: apartment buildings, gated neighborhoods, high concrete retaining walls, jungle, and here and there some strangely-constructed shopping centers. About ten or so minutes up the Avenida Principal de Macaracuay (which is actually what it's named) is Macaracuay Plaza, a tower of a shopping center with a far better-stocked supermarket and the closest gym (which, by the way, is about $100 a month. push ups!). But, like most everything else constructed around here, it's concrete and reflective glass that's poorly cleaned, with a purple-and-black-and-exposed-concrete color scheme that evokes a subway station. Also (and I have to get a picture of this), the shopping center is basically stacked concentric rings (luckily not named, but numbered), but instead of let's say a pair of escalators per level to bring you up and down, the architects built low-sloping people movers -- the kind you see in airports -- that move you from level to level. It's amazingly strange.
In the world of social interaction, I talked to Coach Wuyke today. Apparently, the black market rate for dollars may be down to BsF 2.8 to $1. With that news, he also said, "you'd think you're living in Japan or something."
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Anyway, Wilfredo took me to the country club that the Ramos' are members of. It immediately reminded me of the clubs that my friend Andrea studies in Mexico City, complete with guarded entrances, a waterslide (under repair, along with the tiles in the jacuzzi), what seemed to be a quite elaborate equestrian area with stables and a grandstand with a huge horseshoe arch, and a baseball diamond/soccer field. Of course, when I think "club", I think of "athletic club", but this place only had one treadmill. Though if I wanted to play bolas criollas, I definitely could (heeding of course the warnings that no little kids could be in the bolas criollas area). But, with only 50 minutes, I ran around the perimeter of the club a few times until I could feel the onset of blisters, and then I just walked around.
But I really started walking around because I forgot my towel, and thus had the bright idea of drying my shirt in the breeze to use in its place. Afterwards, Wilfredo said they probably had towels somewhere, something I deduced too with the baskets that said "For Towels Only". In any case, I was none the worse for drying off under the ceiling fans set to "really fast" and my running shirt.
Wilfredo took me to his office at the Alcaldia de Chacao, where he sent his assistant Karina to help me buy a cell phone. What ended up happening was we had to go up and down the Municipio building about four times because the Movistar store was "open" but no one was there, you can't buy a cell phone without a cedula here, and to actually come back with Karina's cedula to buy my phone. I chose the second-to-cheapest phone, and in total it came out to be BsF 60, or about $19 something at the black market rate. The number should be up on my Facebook profile, if you're my friend (meaning, you'd be pretty likely to call me. Right?)
Anyway, before I left home, I remembered to check where the Caracas Crepes & Waffles was on line. After taking a few minutes to get lost, I managed to find the mall it was in, Sambil, or, Venezuela's largest mall (a dubious distinction I might add). I took another few minutes to get lost in Sambil as well, since apparently there's a quite stupid (if you ask me) naming convention in the malls here where the floors aren't numbered: they're named. Hence, I couldn't figure out how to get to Nivel Autopista from Nivel Miranda and then from one side to the other.
After awhile, though, I did find the Crepes & Waffles, and after thinking about it long and hard, decided not to eat there, nor get an ice cream cone, mainly because of the price of food. The cones, by the way, were BsF 6, meaning they were roughly $1.86 -- about 51 cents more than the cones in Quito. If that was the case with the ice cream (which, by the way, they had to explain how asking for ice cream worked on a sign), I didn't feel like spending $5 for a $3 pocket. In addition, the place was dead empty -- at lunch. Something was a little off.
So, after looking at other eateries and getting desperate (though not desperate enough to pay $10 for fast-food Japanese; a place where people were so put off by the cost, they didn't even get in the line-ropes but congregated in the hallway looking at the menu from about 20 feet away), I ate at Wendy's for around $3.80. Not the best thing I'd eaten, but oh well.
Afterwards, I took the Metro for the first time from Chacao to La California, the stop nearest to Macaracuay. I explored the mall near the stop -- C.C. El Marques -- which, by the way, also had that stupid convention of naming the floors instead of numbering them (if anyone's interested in not-quite-Tony-Roma's, you can go to Tony Libano's, which seemed awkwardly similar). Anyway, afterwards, I queued up for the Metro's connector bus to Maracaracuay. Strangely, and even unlike in the States, people lined up single-file to wait their turn to get in the bus and the driver waiting for quite a long time until he could either fit everyone in that needed to get on, or for stragglers. And, you actually had to press a button to get the driver to stop AT DESIGNATED STOPS. Wow, order. And let me just say, order is very slow.
The bus stop isn't too far from the entrance to the subdivision, but what became clear after five minutes of walking and not having reached the house was that I'd have to still walk another ten or so minutes uphill (not a Guapulo hill though, mind you) from the stop to get home. Meaning that if it rains, I'm gonna get pretty much soaked after waiting for the Metrobus and then the uphill walk. Though, luckily all of today's walks were sponsored by sunshine and a nice breeze.
So far, not as bad as yesterday's freakout/tearfest. Tomorrow, I'm going to see what's around Macaracuay and then try to head a little further into the city for a look-see.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
So I got here yesterday, here being Caracas. I took a taxi, and on Coach Wuyke's insistence, his mother-in-law paid for the ride. Having been accustomed to taxistas in Quito -- and well, most Ecuadorian prices -- I was scared to shit when I found out that it cost about $50 to get from the airport to Macaracuay. Holy moly crapadoly (say that slowly).
So with that introduction to middle-class life in Venezuela, I started to freak out. Today, I went to the supermarket with Luchy, coach's mom-in-law, and was doubly-surprised. First of all, while I'd never call Quito a shopper's paradise, even the viveres had more selection than this place, and compared to Supermaxi, it was like night and day. While one can overcome such difficulties, it bears pointing out that all the stuff that has been reported to be missing on shelves -- milk, maize, coffee, sugar -- was missing from these shelves. There was condensed milk and powdered milk, a few corn tortillas, and maybe a bag of sugar, but no coffee. As it turns out I don't eat any of that stuff, except for sugar, but of course everything else was driving me nuts, since it wasn't like there was much else to choose from. I ended up picking up about $60 worth of groceries, hopefully stuff I won't have buy every week. Still, I'm not expecting costs to get much lower than that.
Anyway, I ended up drowning my sorrows in a moussaka I made from a ton of ground beef and eggplant. There's more frustrations there hidden in that sentence, but at least I knew I could command food out of anything in my life at the moment.
Though I should be much more generous: the Ramos' are great people, they live so close to each other, and I can only assume how close they are in love as they are in distance. Wilfredo, Luchy's youngest son, is taking me to his gym tomorrow and then to work so I can attempt to find a cell phone in the city. And Luchy's daughter-in-law is a sociologist with the Universidad Catolica, so she's got some connections.
But I talked to my mom today and did what I should have done in Quito when I left -- I cried. I broke down. All the goodbye tears I had for everyone back in Ecuador ended up on a bed in Caracas and in front of my mom. And all this is fairly absurd: I've done bigger transitions than this in my life and I'm bawling because everything is six times more expensive, I won't have any money, there's no one to eat dinner with every night, and I miss my friends who all became like a family to me?
That shit's baby shit, no? 200,000 people might be dead in Myanmar, the Donner party ate each other, and families worry every night whether or not their mom or dad or son or daughter is coming back from Iraq. And for all I know, instead of shitting liquid like I usually do when I'm seriously stressing out, maybe I can just keep crying, 'cuz that seems much more hygienic.
Thanks to Mike Racine for laying down today's best pick-me-up quote:
“hey, they're socialists in Venezuela, maybe they'll think you're über-cool in that your redness comes straight through your eyes”
Maybe they will.
Because it's better to know people than to not know them, I decided to stay with Coach Wuyke's in-laws in the southeast of the city. This had changed from staying with family friends after, I guess, they upped their price to about $1000 a month for rent. Here I'm paying $450/month, using a pretty ingenious scheme where I mailed checks to Coach Wuyke's wife in the states.
What's freaking me out, however, is that said $450 is only room, not board, meaning that I've got to buy groceries and cook. Of course, that's nothing extraordinary in terms of my "regular" life back in Providence, there's talk here about the rising cost of staples -- milk, coffee, beans, maize -- all food I don't eat, but perhaps an indication of how much things will cost. In addition, without two other dudes splitting up the cost for things we all use, I lose out on the economy-of-scale of ketchup and eggs.
Actually, what's really freaking me out is that it cost Bsf150 to get from the airport to the house. The black market rate is about 3:1 right now, meaning that my taxi ride cost $50. FIFTY FREAKING DOLLARS. So much for chatting up the taxistas here in Caracas.
And what's more, while I think I took out enough cash on top of rent for living expenses, I forgot to budget in some sunk costs -- cell phone, umbrella, bus/metro passes, and of course, books. It may perhaps make slightly more sense to purchase anything big or important with my card, since lugging around that much cash will probably make me so paranoid that I'll look like I'm carrying that much cash, and thus, an easy mark.
But I guess I should just calm down before I start pawning off my clothes or something. I'll be going out to see how much things really are in a bit, so let's hope that I'll calm down and figure some stuff out before the next -- and real -- post.