ebook published August 2013
6 Chapters 1 Map 166 Pages
Nice man Angel. I suppose with a name like that a person must take on a hint of goodness even if winged flight is out of the question. We began a climb up from the coast towards the high valley in which Caracas was situated. Traffic was heavy, the road uneven and the lights of those ascending and those descending merged into a stream of white, yellow and red. The Cosmopolitan rode the bumps and potholes like a huge settee with its eight cylinders burning their way up from sea-level to 3,000 feet like a slow-moving Saturn rocket on balloon tyres. Dry scrub rose into the darkness at the side of the road. Headlights caught a dusty tarmac edge glimmering with fragments of glass. I noticed that more than one sign was perforated with bullet-holes. Suddenly, the climb reached an end, the line of traffic swung into the Caracas valley and any view was the briefest of glimpses between illuminated billboards: Toshiba, Toyota, Ford, First National, Minolta and Marlborough winked, glared or gleamed out a New World urban welcome. Motorways took over as the valley floor became a densely-packed world of apartments, offices, shops, monuments and flashing neon. Angel deposited me outside the concrete portal of what appeared to be an underground hotel which he said was the nearest to the offices I would be working in. It was a struggle to conceive how this place – which he called ‘CCCT’ – was connected with anything remotely resembling the headquarters of the state-owned oil and gas company of the third largest oil-producing country in the world (1991) but at least I had a bed for the night. And a letter waiting on the table.
‘Dear Mr Johnson’ it said. ‘Your contact persons are Franca Dini, Aura Leon and Hector Villanueva. Robberies and attacks in the street are common things to all big cities and avoid some parts of town at night. Venezuela has a rich Latin-American culture of twenty million people (one in four of whom live in the narrow and congested city of Caracas) and we hope your time here will be happy and productive. Please find with this note, the keys to a rental car. This is parked in the hotel garage. Tomorrow is Census Day. We advise you to stay in the hotel.’
An oilman’s eulogy to pre-Chavez Venezuela: land, politics and people. October: Census Day in the CCCT/ orders to shoot/ the office and the team/ a new throw of the dice/ Shell’s Pecten logo/ the Maraven family/ a wet morning on the slopes of Avila/ bell tents, hammocks and mosquito nets/ a joyful noisiness/ Clara/ the forty-five nationalities of the American School/ Shangri La are here!/ autopista holes/ Los Ranchitos/ ‘later it gets worse’/ Venezuela oil/ Franca’s story/ a lunch with Elias/ the car and the orchestra/ Caribbean shores/ Clara’s story/ Zulia Oriental/ dawn running in the park/ the price of petrol. November: Santa Maria/ coalition forces and ‘all necessary means’/ the free lunch!/ El Draque/ the forest to the east and the Spanish Main/ meeting the National Guard/ flying with an air-conditioner/ shotgun in Puerto La Cruz/ Marlboro Country/ Diego Hernández de Serpa – refounder of Cumaná/ El Dorado – city of gold/ 9,000 wells/ Juan-carlos and the five per-cent gold share/ the British Ladies Pub Night/ ‘When God Made Venezuela’/ a young soldier waving a sword/ Los Naranjos/ road signs to Moron/ pink flamingos/ Transportation Fatima and friends/ a close shave on the 13th/ fading typescript and crumbling brown paper/ IRAQI SABOTAGE/ Venezuela politics and the government of CAP/ signing for an apartment/ view of Lake Maracaibo/ ‘a head, a gun and the Huddersfield Choir’/ the Frailejón moors/ La Ganadera’s Policeman’s Ball/ Feliz Navidad is alarmingly big/ Bonus Night. December: Ivan replaces Juan-Carlos/ the project clarifies/ a leaking condominium/ Maraven’s breakfast Hallaca/ Wedding at the Iron Mountain/ car rental on the Orinoco/ ‘too late, too late!/ a Christmas firework. January: alone in a vast space/ the blossom trees of the llanos/ Raleigh and the death of Piar/ a twentieth-century El Dorado/ the road to Maturin/ moving Plates/ Gulf War. February: a morning on Casanova; an evening with Burns/ Carnival on St Lucia/ coconuts, Bob Marley and roaring strong beer/ Sunday in Castries/ the Moslem conference.