Wednesday, February 18, 2009

purple pinkies

nuestro hotel
The election tally came in over an hour before I arrived in Caracas, with Chávez whipping up 54% of the vote to become candidate-for-life. On the highway into the city, my cab driver texted on his mobile phone, looping between lanes while telling me how crazy Chávez is. I made active listening noises and discreetly groped for the non-existent seat belt buckle in the back seat. We kept passing pickup trucks, the beds brimming with joyful flag-waving Chavistas decked out in red.
People I've talked to seem either ecstatic or disgusted by the election results. The city center is still plastered with "Sí" signs, stickers and graffiti, but the minute you head to a more affluent area, the landscape shifts to stark blue posters that say "No." Talk about framing the issue to your advantage.
I stayed my first night with a friend, in a neighborhood shaded by crimson bougainvillea and tall trees bursting with yellow flowers. It felt tranquil until about 6am, when an aviary worth of birds roosted nearby and raised a ruckus louder than my alarm clock. When I staggered into the kitchen for breakfast, jetlagged, there was even one small specimen flitting inside the kitchen window.
My first impression of Caracas? A dirty traffic-tied metropolis in serious disrepair, but nowhere near as scary as I thought it would be. The people I've chatted with have been super friendly, even if I had trouble understanding what they said when they drop key consonants. Strolling around the center in the daytime, it's easy to think that the crime stats are overblown, but everyone has stories to tell about violent robberies.
On a tightly packed metro car, I was mesmerized by all the purple ink-stained pinkies that identified voters. At home in San Francisco, everyone loves wearing the "I voted" stickers they hand out at the polling places, but I love the appeal of semi-permanent ink.
If you've ever seen a lost dog running down the street panting, with a dazed and frantic look in its eyes, it could have been me at 6pm yesterday on the busy pedestrian street of Sabana Grande. After walking for hours between mirrored love hotels, a lone backpacker shelter and a score of vegetarian restaurants that had already closed (curses!), I was beat. Although my clothes aren't anywhere near as tight as the local women's, I swear I was the only one perspiring. And since I can't just poke along like folks do here, I probably looked a little unbalanced, dodging oncoming pedestrians like I was in a video game. Watch out for those tired gringas - they'll run you down.

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