Wistful about the Tower of David

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Farewell to all that
Farewell to all that

I loved this piece by Boris Muñoz on the evacuation of the Tower of David. Painstakingly, Boris took the time to visit the Tower and get to know its residents. He went deep into their back stories, their fears and aspirations – why, he even got to go to a wedding at the Tower! (Which begs the question … what do you wear for a wedding at the Tower of David?)

What emerges is a microcosm of revolution and populism, crime and traffic, yearnings and despair. It’s quite something – kudos to Vocativ for having the patience to wait until a story like this emerges.

For those aspiring writers out there, notice as well how Boris masterfully evokes the feel for the place – the smells, the scenery, the people’s lives. Little details – things such as “[g]usts of wind blew candy wrappers across the building’s atrium” or the fact that Luiselmy Reinoso, a 31-year old resident, has five children – linger in the mind long after the piece is done. The architecture of the piece holds its own next to the building itself.

By conveying the lights and shadows of life in the tower, Boris seems to be conveying his own ambivalence toward the setting for such a great story. After all, the Tower may be a hell-hole, but what a treasure trove it has been for journalists. The demise of the Tower suddenly makes Caracas a little bit less interesting, just as the demise of the Revolution will inevitably (hopefully) make Venezuela a tad more normal.

And we all know journalists hate “normal.”

Followers of the tower story will be surprised to learn that “El Niño” Daza, the “leader” of the Tower that was the main subject of an extended piece by Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker last year, no longer lives in the Tower. According to a resident who spoke to Boris, Daza is in prison for unexplained reasons. Is he a political prisoner? What is he being charged with? Nobody knows. It’s one of those things that mysteriously happen in revolutionary Venezuela.

There really isn’t a standout part, but I found this one outstanding:

“Not all the Tower’s residents are poor, and the differences in wealth are obvious. On one visit, I bumped into Mayra Castillo, a 26-year old government employee with an undergraduate degree in education. Her husband works for Venezuelan state television, and the couple owns a car and a nice two-bedroom apartment with ceramic tiled floors.

They came to the Tower in 2011 because the nicer parts of the capital were too expensive. Since they moved into the building, they’ve spent thousands of dollars turning their apartment into a middle-class home. Because they both work normal business hours, moving outside the city will mean spending considerable time stuck in the capital’s notoriously bad traffic. But they still signed up for the move. “Buying an apartment in Caracas would cost more than $100,000,” Castillo said. “And there’s no way we could afford that.”

Other residents aren’t so fortunate. Carolina Moreno, 43, moved to the Tower in 2012. Previously, she lived with her husband in a four-bedroom house in a low-income neighborhood in the western part of the city. The couple owned a small security-guard company, which Moreno managed. Now she’s divorced and unemployed and takes care of her granddaughter. “We made good money until my husband left me and kicked me out of our business,” she said. “I ended up here, thanks to the pastor of my church.”

Moreno’s early life in the building wasn’t easy. And as we chatted on our way to her apartment, I could see she was holding back tears. “It was horrible at first,” she said. “Come and see the space I’m living in. I can’t call it a house.”

Moreno was living on the ground floor of the Tower in a tiny room she created between two hollow concrete pillars. The only light in her apartment came from a single 60-watt bulb hanging from a sewage pipe on the ceiling. Inside one pillar there was a two-ring stove beside a toilet bowl. Near the other pillar were a headboard, a mattress and a computer. These were all the belongings she had left from her marriage. “I try not to think about the way I’m living,” she said. “When I look at the cooking stove right next to the toilet bowl, I beg God to give me the strength to keep on living.”

1 COMMENT

  1. “Which begs the question … what do you wear for a wedding at the Tower of David?”
    What do you think? It’s a pretty elitist question to ask.
    That is the kind of thing only someone who didn’t spend much time in a poor house (at least not before getting into politics) asks.

    Yes, the article has some interesting bits, but journos have really discussed this issue to death. Meanwhile a very high percentage of the population outside Caracas has got chikungunya and most are spending days without working because of the consequences of that. A lot of them have no pain killers (no paracetamol or the like). Nothing about this. It’s not Tower of David.

    • Not too far fetched. It’s not uncommon to find 50″ LCD’s in Torre de David.

      Venezuelan poor “enjoy” some sort of perks

      • Not paying taxes nor services saves truckloads of cash to spend in gigantic led TVs, fridges for tons of beer and two or three conditioned air machines to cool your little corner there.
        If you don’t believe that, just ask like 50% of the population that’s stealing electricity and water, and like half of them will flat out threaten your face with a semi automatic for saying a peep about it.

    • “What do you think? It’s a pretty elitist question to ask.
      That is the kind of thing only someone who didn’t spend much time in a poor house (at least not before getting into politics) asks.”

      That’s the kind of comment someone with no sense of humor makes.

      • That is the kind of counter-answer from people who make elitist or racialist jokes. No, man, definitely not. This kind of comment is only based on their social class and it is completely tasteless. It is the kind of stuff from people who make jokes about the “riffraff”….strangely enough, I have heard the English word riffraff more often nowadays from English speaking Latinos of upper middle class Venezuela, Chile or Argentina than from Britain…a bit out of Oliver Twist’s times. You didn’t say that word but that kind of joke does belong to those people. Humour my foot.

        • Tasteless for a Brit or any other stiff “anglosajon”. For us, caribeños, is not a big deal.

          I think that easily offended people is the MAIN reason why the U.S or Europe suffer from these kind of racism related problems. Venezuela may be fucked up beyond repairment but racism is not such an ingrained problem here. Government certainly does try to spark such things, unsuccessfully though.

          Carvajalino can say whatever about catiritos or “hijos de inmigrantes de mierda” and at the end of the day, the average venezuelan doesn´t give two fucks about skin tones. Venezuela is simply too mixed to make any racism work at levels seen overseas.

          I’m white. I’ve been subject of “anda pa la playa carajito” jokes since forever. I have black friends which whom i share negro jokes over a beer. They retaliate with albino jokes and the like. No one gives a damn, no one cares. Friendship prevails.

          Political correctness is stupid most times.

          • Friendship prevails among friends. More institutionalised forms of racism -like the remark of what they might wear to a wedding, or black people being stopped more by police than whites (which happens in Venezuela, not just in the states), or making sweeping generalisations about people of colour or the poor- prevail, too. As a Venezuelan woman, my family praises my English husband because he’s ‘bettering the race’, something I have heard other friends say their parents have said to them about their choices of partner. I don’t care if it was said light-heartedly. The content of what is being said is abhorrent.

            Racialised violence and racism in Latin America might be more complex than in the States or Europe, but it is so mostly because it goes a lot under the radar under this guise of “everything is fine and nobody minds and Europeans are just wusses”. Their issues with race are simply very different from our own, especially in Europe, because they have more to do with spoils of recent colonialism and immigration than with their countries being pretty much built on the shoulders of all kinds of people (like in our case, where people of colour have been here since the beginning). I think more often than not, you’ll find that what you’re deeming ‘political correctness’ is more ‘basic respect’ than anything else.

            Also, I hope you can see past your own nose there and understand the humongous historical differences there are between you calling your friends ‘negro’ and anybody else calling anyone ‘negro’ in the US or Europe, or any other racial slur. If not, I hope it is because you have a very nice nose.

          • There is a bit of covert and not so covert racism permeating cultural mores in Venezuela , much of it is uncosncious , but beause its not laden with any deep hatred or loathing and because so often it takes a humorous or light touch it just doenst enter peoples span of attention except in a superficial way.

            Generally light skin is favoured over darker skin (even by people of darkened skin) but not so much that it can prevent people from unconcernedly marrying and sharing a life or a friendly relationship with people of a different hue of skin colour. its there but it doesnt register quite the same way it registers in places where political correctness is rampant . Same thing for religion , its never bothered anybody that someone was jewish or evangelical of whatever .

  2. Of course this makes for very fascinating reading , but since the Tower of David became a journalistic topic of international interest a year r so ago , things have changed , now it is very very difficult for an ordinary person ( middle class or below) to find or (if found) be able to pay for such things as fridges, cars , tv sets , a new home or even much humbler items such as detergents , wooden panels , car batteries or parts , a gallon of paint . etc. We have entered a new world in Venezuela , one where everything is a struggle to find , where long unending queues are the norm practically in anywhere , where prices rise 20% or more from week to week, so much so that some concerns of the past have basically become frivolous !!

    This morning my wife laughed at me because not finding another soap I bathed using a laundry soap and I couldnt care less .!!

    The quality of life gets more battered every day in way that can actually touch your skin and the expectation is that its getting worse by the day. Next time will someone remember to write about this .!!

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