We all know higher denomination bills are desperately needed in Venezuela, but who to put on them? Some weeks ago we asked for your help in choosing the worthiest Venezuelans and monuments, manmade or natural, to grace our currency. We tallied up the votes, and are presenting results in a three-part series.
2,000 Bolívar note: Arturo Uslar Pietri, Angel Falls
For the Bs.2,000 bill, our readers picked a Venezuelan renaissance man, and a magnificent celebration of our natural world.
Arturo Uslar Pietri (1906-2001)
A lawyer, journalist, writer, politician, and badass intellectual, Arturo Uslar Pietri is one of those people who just did more with a single lifetime than seems quite fair. Here he is a twentysomething writer kicking back with André Bréton discussing surrealism in a Left Bank Parisian café, here he is writing the paradigmatic novel about Venezuela’s traumatic independence wars (while still in his 20s!), here he is as Education Minister at the age of 34, introducing the most progressive Education Law the republic had ever known.
Arturo Uslar Pietri was the first person to think to apply the term “realismo mágico” to Latin America’s rising modernist style of literature: a serious short story writer who doubled as a genius historian of ideas and of society, and a pivotal politician, to boot – but why stop there? He was a real-life advertising executive at about the same time Don Draper was getting into the business, one of our greatest newspaper editors, a TV producer…you name it, he did it.
In the first half of the 40s, he was the pivotal figure in a project that would have seemed utterly fanciful even a decade earlier: transforming the hyper-repressive Andean dictatorship of the Gómez era into a modern, progressive, liberal state bringing together artists, militarymen and the nascent proletariat into a national project able to conjugate democracy with progress. If Diógenes Escalantes hadn’t lost his marbles, it might all have paid off, instead Uslar Pietri got the further privilege of being exiled and persecuted by the incoming adeco administration
If he hadn’t kept writing one of our most incisive newspaper columns up until the age of 90 – ninety! – he’d still be a giant of 20th century culture. If he’d died 50 years earlier than he did and hadn’t spent half a century as one of most recognizable TV personalities, he’d still deserve a spot on our currency. If he’d never uttered the dramatically misunderstood phrase about “sowing the oil”, he’d deserve it twice as much.
Salto Ángel, or Kerepakupai Vená
Scattered throughout the lush savannah of Southeastern Venezuela, spectacular table mountains called tepuys emerge like ghostly citadels shrouded in clouds and mystery.
Sacred to their custodians, the Pemón people of the Kamarata Valley, the most formidable of these monuments is Auyantepuy, or Devil’s Mountain, a vast and primordial rock formation dating back to 3.6 billion years before life even appeared on earth, so massive it creates its own weather patters. At dawn, the first rays of the sun heat up Auyan’s eastern wall and sucks up moisture from the lush forest below to form swirling turbulent clouds that quickly smother the mountain. Once condensed, water droplets eventually make their way through rivers and streams atop this impenetrable mammoth into one of the most breathtaking natural wonders we have the privilege of calling our own: Boasting a height just shy of 1km, Angel Falls plunges in a column of frothy spring water that eventually dissipates into feathery wisps of mist in the canyon below. During rainy season, water can burst through as many as 8 gorges atop the mountain’s summit, while dry season sometimes reduces the chute to a mere trickle.
This BBC Planet Earth clip might come close to illustrating the miracle that is Angel Falls:
The falls owe their western name to US pilot and explorer Jimmy Angel, who, along with his family, became stranded atop Auyantepuy in 1937 when his plane failed. He was forced to descend the Belgium-sized plateau on foot during an 11-day trek, and his aircraft remained at the crash site for three decades before it could be airlifted away.
Though the falls have captivated the imagination of Disney animators and filmmakers alike, to most of the world, and Venezuelans, they remain as exotic and remote as the uncharted jungle that surrounds them.