Friday, January 02, 2004

The New Year’s post

Thursday 1, January 2004
(But posted on 2, blogger being down...)

If you are expecting big revelations from my New Year partying you will be very disappointed. I have always found New Year a particularly artificial holiday, with the aggravations of being noisy and expensive, noisy being the key word in Caracas. Thus, my New Year experiences have mostly been as an observer, with a drink in hand perhaps, but an observer rather than a reveler. But keep with me and I will let you know of one very unexpected and gratifying reward last night.

The day was strangely gloomy for the season, and for the first time since I have memory of December 31 in Caracas, the afternoon was cold and drizzly. Cold in the tropics is anything below 20C. I thought it to be a rather troubling symbol to say goodbye to the gloomiest year in our recent history. I did have to make an errand in downtown Caracas, and under that strange unseasonable weather (1) the mess, dirt and lack of upkeep of Caracas were put more in evidence than usual. Caracas looked almost like a bombed city! Rather depressing.

This year as usual I settled for a nice diner with some relatives. I did get asked to go to Plaza Altamira for the gigantic street partying that took place there. Really... I mean, I have nothing against collective street partying, but I find that my reserves dwindle real fast as noise and crowd size increase. So there we were at a little before midnight, barely done with diner, looking outside waiting for fireworks. Fireworks in Venezuela are big at Christmas and at New Years. Midnight can eventually become so smoky that after a while you cannot see anymore the weakest or distant bolts. Indeed, it is a source of amazement for me how many people do buy those incredibly expensive fireworks that would do proud a small US town on July 4th.

This year it was a little bit different. Usually between December 15 and January 2, there is no way you can have a complete night sleep: some jerk will blast something around 3 AM. Let’s just say that thanks to Chavez recession, this year we slept better than usual. However, fireworks might have been fewer this year but they were all saved for the New Year gap at 11:30-12:30, in as good a display as usual, if much briefer. I was actually very pleased by that. The holidays have been a little bit depressed this year. Few houses did outside lighting, and most of those that did were rather discreet affairs. Shopping was down considerably. The mood in the streets was not too hot. The Christmas fire works were nothing to write home about. When a country goes down 11.7 % down on its per capita income in one year cheerful folks are not to be expected. I do read this brief and unexpected sparkling outburst as a positive sign that people spirits are indeed looking forward. Venezuelans might have had a less than glitzy holiday, but consciously they all seemed to have targeted the year switch to show their optimism for better days.

The divine surprise came from TV of all places. Chavistas had announced some organized revelry in front of Miraflores to wait for a new and bright year with the great leader. On the other side of town opposition mayors tried to repeat what had happened last year for the first time: a Times Square like wait for the New Year. In the middle of the general strike, lacking gas and partying facilities it sort of made sense to go all out on foot to wait together for a the New Year as a gesture of defiance against Chavez. But this year? Surely people would go to their old partying habits. Instead the crowds were huge. A giant stage had been placed near Plaza Altamira and the Francisco de Miranda avenue became the latest salsa dancing arena. Close to midnight all but one of the networks switched to show the partying, waiting for midnight and following the very nice fireworks display, courtesy of Chacao town hall.

The lone dissenting network was VTV, the state network. Instead this one showed some kind of indoor concert featuring some Cuban group with a lousy Celia Cruz wanna-be. Rather pathetic. And no crowds to be filmed outside Miraflores (or anywhere else for that matter). Come on! Whenever there is any single meeting in front of Miraflores VTV cameras are right there showing the "incredible popular support to our president". For all the talk of megafraud for the signature drives, it seems that even chavistas went to Altamira for a good time, as the crowds shown on TV seem to indicate, by the way. This was precious, the vaunted chavista party nowhere to be seen.

Incidentally VTV was the news by its lack of news. In Venezuela all networks tone down their shows and talk shows, relying on old movies and a few specials which look strangely more like a party broadcast than a Christmas special US style. VTV in spite of the arrival of a new director was particularly dismal. Its fare for the last two weeks has consisted almost exclusively of re-broadcast of the "best" shows of 2003, meaning the opinion talk shows that best defended Chavez. Almost no paid advertisement, but instead all the ministries sort of put up a choral of their employees to transmit along the minister a holiday message. I will pass on the low technical merit. Unbelievable!!!!! This for a government that through the last few months promised a "Christmas that will count for two" as a clear reference to the missed holidays of last year. Well, if you ask me, certainly VTV did its best to dampen Christmas. It is in these little things that one detects the true despair of the administration, how scared they are running these days, how real the number of signatures against Chavez.

I find myself this January first in a much better mood than expected. Or is it because the lack of hangover?

(1) The rainy season ends late November and December rains are rare, in particular in the second half. Those are the most luminous, cool and dry days in Venezuela, the best time to visit as all is still green from the recent rains, but the humidity and heat are gone. By late February heat comes back, and all is brown and dusty.

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