I have been for a few days in Caracas and I have been reminded a lot of a book that I read long ago, Berlin Diaries. Not that the situation of Caracas in 2014 is like the one of Berlin 70 years ago. But there is a certain zeitgeist that we may want to explore as a gedanken experiment.
One of the images that I retained form that book is that war torn Berlin lacked food and amenities but some of the stuff that was not on ration cards could be found with some unexpected ease provided you could afford it. The diaries author found herself with her fiends of the foreign ministry, one of the last areas of German bureaucracy not taken totally over by the Nazis, partying with Champagne and oysters when not otherwise planning the demise of the Fuhrer. And that was all they could get for their parties, Champagne and oysters.
I suppose that this is the hallmark of any declining dictatorship. The cultural leftover surviving elite form pre trouble times find themselves cornered. This does not make them forget the meaning of some past life pleasures while plotting a change, though aware enough that a return to the simpler past is not possible. After all Princess Vassiltchikov knew better, being herself a survivor of the Russian aristocracy reduced to the status of stateless person adrift in Berlin when the war started. In spite of her youth I am sure she could not have harbored much illusion.
Today in Caracas we may not have ration cards, yet, but we sure have huge lines for the basics of life. And you get them if you were early enough in the line. Today in Caracas we have no bombs falling unannounced on our heads, but we can be robbed at gun point at the most unexpected time, and shot dead more frequently than one would have wished. If bombs did not mind your location, Caracas street crimes does not either, as you can be robbed by a biker banging your window with a gun while stuck in traffic at 9 AM or at your home at 9 PM if the building guard has been previously subdued.
But if you are educated and if you have some money that you want to spend before inflation eats it up you can have some fun. That money cannot buy you Harina PAN unless you pay someone to stand in line for you, but it sure can buy you Champagne still available in many liquor stores. There are no oysters in Venezuela but we still have at La Praline some of the best chocolate available in the world, much preferred by me over any Lady Godiva or pretentious French chocolatier.
Since I am not a party type I have found consoling entertainment elsewhere. I have discovered that if you are patient enough you can find absolutely great books, of the hard cover coffee table genre that no one cares for in a country that has turned itself over to the outright materialism of Chavez. True, they are expensive but much less than what you think when you compare them to books on fashion, or cuisine which still find some favor. Or even to the flown in Harry Potter type. I have found sumptuous books on geology, the Mayas, history of art, feudal Japan and what not, hidden in back shelves, the store owners having forgotten they had it and forgotten to adjust the prices.
Same thing for classical music lovers. CD are rare, very rare now, and you are likely to find some Dudamel stuff starting at 500 Bs. Of course I do boycott the creep, but I find it convenient that it hides some abandoned gems in the back that are below 200 Bs and way superior artistically than the Dudamel bombastic output so much in vogue. I am helped there with the odd notion Venezuelans seem to have retained all along that the more expensive the better it is supposed to be. Besides, who in his right mind would buy a CD of baroque Arias by a counter tenor? I bet you we are a handful only.
Culture these days in Venezuela seems limited to the pages of some newspapers and backrooms of certain stores. And polite plotting against the regime may be reserved to blog pages written in foreign languages by wanna-be intellectual dilettantes. Just as Princess Marie herself probably kept her diaries in another language than German.
Oh well, time to do some gestalting....
PS: If you have not read Berlin Diaries I highly recommend it. Amazon has quite a few used copies, but not for Kindle.