It was the kind of night when you go over the sums again and again. Sacando más cuentas que un chino. I guess anyone who’s made the decision I’ve made — that I just have to leave the country — knows what I’m talking about.

You sit there, Excel sheet open, and try to figure out where the money to make the move is going to come from. At some point, this sinking feeling hits you: it doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter what you sell. The numbers won’t work. Then you find yourself toying with impossible ideas, asking yourself what your most precious belonging might bring in.

That’s when I take out the old books. I’ve always been a history nerd, and my family encouraged my taste for it.

In a flash, I find myself I’m considering it, and I can’t believe I’m considering this. But just as fast, I know I’ve decided.

The old books connect me instantly, viscerally to my happy, nerdy childhood. They belonged to my grandfather José Jesús Ferrer Luna, and to my mother’s stories of what an illustrious Margariteño he was. A real, Mason: proper 33º. My grandpa was one of the first administrators of what was then the only hospital on the island, and a futurist, a techie ahead of his time. Family lore has it that he brought the first Personal Computer to the island: a 1984 vintage Apple Macintosh. I’ve still got it in my loft.

He left the books to me as his last will: he died in December of 1993, just 6 months after I was born.

Quickly, I turn to my favorite one: the “Multimagen de Rómulo”.

It’s a biographical picture book about Rómulo Betancourt, with amazing photos by Carlos Gottberg and equally amazing texts by Juan Liscano. Best yet, it’s actually signed: autographed by Rómulo himself, in 1978, at his house, Pacairigua.

In a flash, I find myself I’m considering it, and I can’t believe I’m considering this. But just as fast, I know I’ve decided.

However much the Multimagen means to me, I know I need to get out. Life in this country is impossible. And there’s that signature. Maybe a collector would value it.

I guess normal kids don’t think that much about the history or the political situation around them: they just go to the playground and do their thing. But I’m from a political family: the public life of the nation seemed as natural a part of my upbringing as a game of metras. Grandpa wasn’t just an eccentric, he was a local grandee: a municipal councillor and a bedrock of the community. In the early 60’s he was a mover-and-shaker in URD, and a close friend of Jovito Villalba.

He never doubted that his children ought to and would take part in public life. He turned to Acción Democrática when my aunt Morelia (his daughter) married the youngest congressmen that Nueva Esparta ever had, Felipe Rodríguez ávila, who was state Secretario General for the party from the early 1985 till 2000’. Our family quickly went white, and never went back.

I was just six the time Antonio Ledezma came to visit my dad, his Compadre. I was playing with the books, especially this one, the Multimagen, when Antonio noticed it and told me me “Caramba jota jota, te va a gustar mucho la política, como a tú mai, ese hombre que ves ahí es uno de los más importantes de nuestra historia, nunca lo olvides.”

Of course, Rómulo himself was exiled for many years: leaving, when staying is impossible, isn’t giving up. It’s regrouping.

I never did forget. My curiosity grew. I was already asking questions, and started to ask more.

For me, my Multimagen stands for the hopes we all once had for a democratic Venezuela, and for an erstwhile opponent’s dawning respect for a man that changed the nation.

My goal is to go to Argentina, to Buenos Aires, to build a new future with my wife and to try to give our families back home a little help while we wait for a chance to come back. I think Romulo would approve of that. Of course, he himself was exiled for many years: leaving, when staying is impossible, isn’t giving up. It’s regrouping. I’d like to think that the Multimagen can help me do that, and that Rómulo would approve.

I ask Quico if he knows who might be interested in the book, and in giving me a hand in the process. He thinks about it a bit and tells me, “well, I bet there’s a Caracas Chronicles reader out there who will want it. Not just because it’s an amazing artefact, but because a lot of my readers are people who’ve gone through what you’re going through, and somebody out there will want to help.”

Then the idea for this post was born. I liked it right away, because I need to know my Multimagen is going to find a decent home, that it will end up in the hands of someone who treasures it like I’ve treasured it. And if that’s not a Caracas Chronicles reader, who is it?

I flip back through the pages one more time, and picture my porteño years.

You can bid on my Multimagen de Rómulo, and help me on my way to Argentina, on this eBay page.

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  1. Jose, I feel your pain. I grew up here in Canada as a history nerd, too, listening to stories that my father and grandfathers and assorted uncles told around the kitchen table about wars fought long ago. Over the years, I fed my addiction on books, both old and new. They also have become prized possessions; old friends, constant and true whenever there were other, significant changes in my life – and there have been many. Occasionally, a new, fleeting interest comes along and I need some quick cash to buy a new camera, or the latest gadget in the catalogue of my favourite hardware store. Sometimes, I too, have flirted with the idea of liquidating the money tied up in one or more of those volumes, but I never do. Somehow, the continuity in my life of having those books on their groaning shelves is worth more to me than any passing fancy.
    As someone who has walked a similar path to you, my advice is: sell the book and do so with a clear conscience. Sometimes, things come to us for reasons that aren’t always clear to us when we obtain them. I wouldn’t sell a book for a passing fancy, but leaving Venezuela now so that you can, as you say, regroup, and build a bridge-head of hope for the family you leave behind is no passing fancy. It’s an imperative.
    It’s as if Betancourt, reaching down through history, has signed your “letters of transit” (apologies, I’m also an old movie buff ).

    Dios te bendiga. Dios bendiga tu familia. Dios bendiga Venezuela.

  2. Hey there José,

    This is a beautiful piece of writing, brimming with nostalgia and wisdom. I really enjoyed the read and hope that you find security and peace in your journey to Buenos Aires. I’m a student and a journalist from the US, currently working on a story about the situation in Venezuela for an english language publication. I’m looking for contacts in the country who would be willing to tell me a bit about their experiences so that I can write the most truthful account possible. If you would be interested in talking to me along these lines, let me know and we can get in touch. I wish you the best of luck, either way.

  3. José Jesús! I sure hope you get the amount you are looking for. I tried bidding 4-5 times, but somebody is currently more determined than me to get the book! If my financial situation improves by Thursday, I will go and outbid the current highest bidder! 😀

    • Mohamad! hey, well the things are going better than expected and putting on my face a great smile, thanks you very much for trying to outbid the thing, i hope till Thursday you can make it, that would make me happy for sure, hugs my fellow friend Salam Aleikum !


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