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The Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasilia

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Designed by Oscar Niemeyer, and completed in 1970, the cathedral is one of the signature architectural works of the Esplanade. I had the opportunity to visit in the past week when I had a few free hours in the middle of town.

via Wikipedia

During construction:

via Fabiano’s Blog/

The building looks graceful from the outside. It consists of 16 poured concrete pillars that sweep inward and meet near the top of the structure. They converge and then their points evoke the image of a crown. Apparently they weigh 90 tons each.

You enter through an underground ramp, and transition through the corridor from an enclosed and tight space that is finished in black marble to a space that is white stone, poured concrete and stained glass. That transition looks like this:

Outside the building looking into the corridor

In the corridor

End of corridor

Looking up

Another view upward

a borrowed photo taken with a wide-angle lens:


The pews are beautiful minimalism

The cathedral looks so closed from outside. But the way the interior draws in the light it looks so weightless that you really don’t feel the presence of giant concrete pillars. The light color of the glass from the inside amplifies the light in the space and makes what isn’t that huge of an interior feel large.

Like a number of the buildings here, the material predominantly used was poured concrete. Not all of the buildings here have held up well over time, and this building is currently being restored. The economy has been growing here so it has been a better time for foundations and easier to pour funds into restoration. The building has a big fence up showing that work is going on at the surface level.

I really like the poured concrete bell tower, with its four bells of increasing size. This was a beautiful way to spend an hour in-between interviews!

So Long, Caracas

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I was too busy visiting with a friend and my host family last night to actually type something up eulogizing the Caracas leg of my trip. Caracas is a city of contradictions. The contrast in income and attention is evident in the last few blog posts. But the contradiction between what I think people tolerate, between frustration with transportation, beer that I have no idea how anybody can like, and issues of political polarization, is how it doesn’t close them off. The people that I met were so open, so willing to share their time. Even if they weren’t ultimately going to be helpful, they weren’t unpleasant about having me around. So many people offered kindness, picked up a lunch, called me back, sat down with me, put up with my bad (but improving) Spanish that what was more apparent than anything was kindness.

Living in Caracas is hard work. Here are a few examples from my experience trying to get around town. I was talking with a good friend about that last night and again this morning with my cabbie. For example the Metro is not only fantastic, but also .50 Bs F (meaning it is 6¢ with the black market exchange rate) for any connection on the thing. Which means that everybody is riding it, trying to avoid the traffic on the surface streets and the autopista. I rode it between stops where I could easily walk because it was so inexpensive. Tons of people use it, some perhaps using it as unnecessarily as I did. The lines are super long to even get on a train. I cannot remember how many times I sweated through my clothes pressed in like sausage in a train or because the a/c was broken in a car. People have been protesting the quality of service and so far the government’s response is summed up in it’s new slogan: tomamos medias. sigue las reglas (we’re taking measures follow the rules) which puts a sizable (and not deserved) onus on the people who are using the service.

I hailed several cabs but only one delivered me to the location where I intended to arrive. And that was because it was the only time I had been to the destination before. No other time was a cabbie able to take the name of a prominent location and neighborhood (or address!) and turn it into me getting there.

The beer is not for me. I was not a fan of Venezuelan beer. I liked Destilo which I had late one night in a bar, but that beer was not widely available. I thought either Destila or Zulia were the best but both were in the yellow beer category.

I’m really not touching the situation of political polarization here but I will say this: it’s on everybody’s mind. People are thinking about the future and what it means for them. And lots of different people have interests in it in many separate ways. And that makes it hard to find common ground.

And these are just some of the things that somebody who shows up for a month has to deal with. I don’t own a car and have to deal with the traffic all the time. I don’t have to deal with any issues related to public services and I didn’t have to deal with herd behavior/ shortages in grocery stores.

There is such a range of things that wound me tight that I can’t imagine what it’s like for somebody to be there all the time. And yet people are not wound so tight – they’re open and giving. Perhaps it’s a way to deal with the stress. I can’t say for sure. It was a truly great experience to behold.

Last night we had arepas at the house. Mercedes cooked 9 arepas to honor the requirement of the night before. A tradition with fans of the Venezuelan baseball league is to “have to” eat/ cook as many arepas as your team put up zeroes on the scoreboard during the game. The night before the Leones put up 9 arepas. They were shut out. So last night we had 9 arepas with a delicious spread:

Pernil, queso maduro, jamon, caraoatas; all the stars of Venezuelan cuisine were there. That thing that looks like Turner’s Iced Tea is Pabellon con Limon, which is an unrefined sugar drink flavored with lime. It’s ridiculously good. Made for some great sandwiches to send me out of town. I truly appreciated it. I wasn’t the only one. This is Salvador.

He’s the son of my host’s niece, who stays there during the week because the commute from a nearby town is impossible given the traffic. This family brought a light to my days that is impossible to bring to words here. Along with a friend who I met while here (who I think it’s best to have remain under the radar), I’ve found it hard to compare the kind of generosity in such a short time to my situation here. I’m indebted to her kindness and I will always think of each of these people when I think of Caracas. I was asked last night what I was going to miss the most, and it’s not the arepas, the baseball, etc. It will be the people. And I’ll be thinking about them a lot. So long, Caracas. For now.