Monday, September 1, 2008

Darkness illuminated

Someone forgot to tell Caracas that it's a city, and not a scattering of villages connected by rural byways. So here it is, 2008, with the lights of humanity shining off the dark side so as to make the place look like it has holes through to the sun, and in Caracas, there are streets as dark as anything in the exurbs.

The Tolon Fashion Mall punctuates the Las Mercedes neighborhood, one of the busiest parts of the city. Just out the door is a 5-way intersection with a big-screen TV billboard and a bustling hot-dog stand. Beyond that are the sapitos: a street with a few well-separated streetlights, so dark it's hard to see the huge wheel-eating openings on the sewer grates, the brightest light coming from up the security post atop the driveway of the abandoned Iraqi embassy. Another few blocks' worth of distance and the lights disappear entirely amid the Valle Arriba Country Club, where the smell of tree growth and mud puts the entire scene back 60 years to when this road, the Old Baruta Highway, was the only route up a jungly year-round river to the outlying villages of Baruta, El Hatillo and points south.

(As I'm writing, a flying cockroach is trying to convince a light bulb in my room that this electrical fixture is actually the moon and hence should be aiding, rather than interrupting, the poor invertebrate's nocturnal navigation.)

The old highway is mostly abandoned now, especially at night, while thousands of cars an hour slide by on a freeway on the other side of a golf green, their sound muffled almost entirely by rows of trees around the river, now a concrete ditch five or six meters deep, stinking of chlorine and waste.

I find the presence of so much darkness refreshing and sweet.

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