Surrounded by Armpits

I want to thank Venezuela
Analysis for the invitation to share some of my thoughts through this
website. I currently contribute columns
regularly to Narco News and to 21st Century Socialism. What I would like to do here is share shorter
reflections of an expatriate, looking in on Venezuela
and looking out from here at the U.S. and the rest of the world.

What direction these thoughts
will take, I have no idea. As Stephen
King wrote about writers in his book, On
: "We are writers, and we
never ask one another where we get out ideas; we know we don't know."

So let me start with some
reflections from the Metro:

Surrounded By Armpits

The other morning I was riding
the Metro during one of the early rush hours.
It was full, although nothing in comparison to a Sao Paulo train where I thought my life would
be ended by suffocation early one morning.
On that day, I was finally able to squeeze my way out–three stations
after where I wanted to get off.

While sometimes crowded, the
Caracas Metro is much more civilized.
But when the door closed the other day I looked around me and realized
that I was surrounded by armpits! In
every direction I looked, there were arms reaching to the ceiling or clinging
to an overhead bar.

However, very interesting to me
was the fact that I sensed no body odor.
It was a reminder, again, of the almost mania the Venezuelan has for
cleanliness. I doubt that if I were on a
train in Europe or in the United
States my experience would have been equal.

The Venezuelan is
super-clean. Workmen always carry extra
clothes with them to change before leaving their workplace. Someone commented that even men who are
street dwellers shave every day. That
comment may be an exaggeration-but not by much.
There have been times when food consumption has gone down in Venezuela
but the purchasing of personal hygiene products remained the same.

Imported Violins

Foreigners are quickly
recognized in Venezuela
by their offensive body odors. I
remember a cartoon showing some naked indigenous people looking at arriving European
explorers landing on a beach. One
indigenous person asks another, "Do you think they couldn't find any water in
the ocean?"

Someone having bad body odor
here is said to have "violin." It is a
code word. Just imagine a violinist
playing his or her instrument and you can understand the symbolism.

Standing on the Corner

In my youth there was a song
with the words, "Standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by." The same day I was observing armpits in the
morning, I was watching pedestrians and automobiles near a busy intersection in
the Altamira section of Caracas. The area is filled with five star hotels,
elegant buildings, night clubs, and fine restaurants. It was close to 6 p.m. and people were
leaving their places of work.

Walking past me on the sidewalk
in the direction of the Metro were men and women who probably work as laborers,
housekeeping personnel, bank clerks, receptionists, etc. The street, on the
other hand, was filled with fine cars, most with windows closed and
air-conditioners on.

A Chacao policeman was
directing traffic. (If you lived in Caracas you would
immediately have an image of the policeman in your mind. A former Miss Universe, Irene Saez, was once
mayor of this district. As Bart Jones
points out in !HUGO!,
she "outfitted them with the kinds of white pith helmets she'd seen British
bobbies wearing when she'd visited London…."

There was a great deal of
congestion in the direction of the major highway and so as to prevent gridlock,
the policeman was not permitting cars to proceed on the green light until there
was room on the other side of the avenue they had to cross. The result: horns honking, honking, honking. The policeman was doing a good job. The owners or chauffeurs of the stylish cars
didn't appreciate his efforts.

When I entered the subway, I
encountered a different world. People
were standing in line to board the trains when they came. No one was "honking." People seem to be respecting one another.

A man in an elegant restaurant
once told a British columnist that there were not rich people and poor people
in Venezuela. There were, he said, intelligent people and
stupid people and the stupid people lived in the barrios and you could do all
you wanted to do in the way of education and nothing was going to change that

I guess "stupid" people respect
others more than "intelligent" people.

Earrings, Noserings, My Rings, Your Rings

A teenager was standing near me
in the Metro. He had a silver ring
dangling from his nostril. A young woman
looked at him with disdain and made a comment to the man accompanying her, who
turned and looked at the teenager also.

Interestingly, the woman had
two silver rings hanging from her earlobes.
I wanted to make a comment to the teenager and to point him in the
direction of the woman's earrings. I didn't.

This brings me back to the
reality of being an expatriate in Venezuela. I get the feeling the U.S. government is always looking at
other countries with distain and doesn't see the plank it has within its own

The following is a recent
quotation of Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and
public affairs taken from an article of the Religious News Service written by
Marci Davis-Seale.

"We have a great deal of work
to do and we face a lot of misunderstanding around the world. One of our biggest challenges is getting more
concerned citizens in all parts of the world to speak out and make clear that
extremists pervert religion when they bomb hospitals, universities, wedding parties,
mosques, even groups of children. The
time has come when people of all faiths must join together to make these acts
of terror unacceptable."

It appears she is speaking
about the United States,
although she doesn't seem to be aware of it.

I wonder if she wears earrings.

I think I might have my nose
pierced tomorrow.

Hardy is author of ­Cowboy in Caracas:
A North American's Memoir of Venezuela's Democratic Revolution,
published by Curbstone
. Other essays by Hardy can be
found on his personal blog You may write him at
[email protected].