This is a post about cake, and how I became a soulless, sociopathic monster who makes children cry to make one.
See, when I’m not obsessing about politics sometimes I bake cakes to order. My cakes are yummy and pretty to look at and baking them is really fun, so why not make a little money on the side doing something that makes me, and the people around me, happy?
I was contacted by a sweet old lady who needed a birthday cake for her grandson this weekend. As I set out to buy ingredients, I tenderly pictured a little boy blowing out candles and clapping with joy, and it made me smile.
Now, I’m not that naive. I’m aware that, this being Venezuela and all, I probably won’t be able to buy all of my ingredients on my first try. So, as I whistle the Happy Birthday song and merrily skip over to Supermarket #1, I know I’ll need to make a couple more stops before I return to my kitchen for baking fun.
Well, Supermarket #1 has no flour, no sugar and no butter.
“Hmmm. That’s funny,” I think to myself, “guess my first pick was pretty unlucky. I mean, what are the chances of that?”
Just a small hiccup…on to the next store.
After visiting supermarket #4 and getting the same exact answer I got from clerks at Supermarkets #1, #2 and #3 (i.e., they laughed in my face), I start to discern a trend. After a fifth “noooo, mi amor, eso no nos llega desde el año pasado,” I begin to sense I have a better chance of finding a portable reusable urinal (see photo) than basic baking goods.
At this point, I decide to reevaluate my strategy, and opt instead for the offerings of the more vibrant and less regulated informal market. Surely some resourceful buhonero of the capitalismo popular variant has grasped that there’s a gap in the market for selling hard-to-find luxuries such as flour, butter and sugar to increasingly desperate cooks.
Three hours in traffic and a 7-stop metro ride later, set to the soothing soundtrack of a passenger’s cellphone blaring reggaeton on a loop, things start looking up. Sitting in a plastic tub sandwiched between some Colombian thongs and some pirated DVDs, I find sugar, or rather, I am extorted for some sugar. It comes in inconvenient individual packets like the ones you get in a coffee shop, so I’ll have to spend a good 20 minutes opening each one and pouring out the contents. It also comes with a 400% markup.
One down, two to go. It’s been 6 hours of this crap now. No leads. Back to the dreaded supermarkets. Traffic. Lots of it. And the Metro stopped working. Apparently Chávez died. Again. Ooh, look! a Danubio pastry store with cakes in the window display. Assholes.
Supermarkets #6 and #7 are a bust. No flour, no butter. “No hay.” My heart grows colder and more bitter with every exchange I’m forced to have with the charmless, monosyllabic cashiers who sit and text on their Vergatarios all day and can’t be bothered to look me in the eye as they crush my hopes. Bitches.
By now I’m running on sheer stubbornness and an irrational refusal to resign myself to my fate. So I brave the throngs of nervous shoppers at supermarket #8 to find my goddamned butter. All the way in the back of a dark, empty fridge, I find a sad, sorry stack of nondescript, shady-looking product of dubious origin, which claims to be imported from a Uruguayan cooperative even though the packaging is in Portuguese. Fuck it. Good enough for me.
Then, in a flash, my optimism vanishes as I notice the handwritten sign: “Mantequilla: 1 por persona.” I am enraged. I look at the long queue of people lined up like sheep waiting to be denied their butter privileges. A violent fury gushes from every pore in me. What am I going to do with one goddamn stick of butter? Who the fuck uses just one stick of butter for anything? Goddamn FUCKING people and their FUCKING butter rationing coño! …POR ESO ES QUE ESTE PAÍS ESTÁ COMO ESTÁ, NO JODAAAA!
By now I’m in a screaming fit that involves violently kicking a shopping cart and knocking over the Cubitos de Pollo display. I shoved a child in front of me. So that I might acquire two sticks instead of one.
To complete my debauchery, I then go to my mother’s house knowing she won’t be home and steal her carefully hoarded flour, replacing it with some shitty pancake mix. Serves her right for bringing me into this flourless world.
Yeah, I know. We’re living in a lawless, politically unstable, economically crippled third world nation with no president, out-of-control crime, failing health facilities and decrepit infrastructure. There’s also famine in Africa and war in the Middle East. But there is something deeply troubling about the fact that I also live in a country where I must stoop to Dickensian lows, lying, begging and stealing, for cake. What I got paid for this stunt cannot begin to compensate for the soul-crushing demoralization that procuring the ingredients involved, to say nothing of the ulcer that’s surely now in the making.
Looking back, I was clearly delusional for entertaining such a preposterous idea, wanting to bake a cake. I should have just done the sensible, Venezuelan thing: buy the cake at the corner panadería, sell it to the old lady for triple the price I paid and tell her I made it myself.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.