Isla de Margarita, VenezuelaMay 9, 2016
In your city, how can we tell that we are in the year 2016?
The current crisis created by water shortages is a problem that’s present in many cities. Fresh water is such a scarce resource, particularly on Isla Margarita; we depend on an undersea supply that comes from the mainland. This year the situation has reached a critical point in which the drought is generating a paradigmatic change in the population’s becoming oriented toward saving every drop of water and rationing use of this vital resource.
What in your city reminds you of the past?
Pearls. In the past, the indigenous Guaiquerí called their island Paraguachoa, a term that can mean “abundance of fish” or “people of the ocean.” They made necklaces and clothing with pearls and mother-of-pearl to embellish their bodies during offerings and rituals. At the end of the 15th century, approximately, the first colonizers to arrive noticed this and took stock of the plentiful oyster beds on the coasts of the region; from that moment, by royal decree, they began to explore the pleasures of the Caribbean, and that’s why the island was baptized as it’s now known: Margarita, a word of Greek origin that means “pearl.” The extraction of pearls reached its peak in the 16th century, and the business was so massive that at the end of several decades the colonies had imported African slaves to work in the trade. After an insurrection against the new laws, the indigenous Guaiquerí people were banned from working and ended up outcasts. With the diaspora, the foreign population managed to exhaust the bounties of the pearl beds in Coche, Cubagua and Margarita. They say the fortune that was made in pearls was equal to that of the silver from Potosí.
Which building or intersection in the city would make us think that we are in the future?
Here, thinking about the future is a paradox. My city seems like a distant murmur, the echo of a lost civilization. Our technological features—communication, transportation, health care, architecture—aren’t up-to-date. What’s certain is that this is not a self-sustainable city.
Where in your city would be the best place to lose track of time, freeze time, or gain time?
I like to think the island runs on its own time, a rhythm of life that’s perpetual and very different from that of the mainland. That’s why it’s a great place for exile, for vacations, banishment and even for oblivion. On the Macanao Peninsula you can breathe fresh air; it’s a place where you can submerge yourself in contact with nature and the humble people who live there, a place where time seems to have stopped amid the old customs.
What song or local band would you recommend for an everyday playlist?
The "Suite Margariteña" by Inocente Carreño. It’s a brilliant sound poem that’s very subtly orchestrated.
Which museum or cultural space is generally omitted from a typical cultural excursion, but is definitely worth visiting?
The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Francisco Narváez in Porlamar, founded in 1979, has been the Mecca of modern culture on the island. Its galleries house an important collection of works of contemporary and modern Venezuelan art, in addition to a permanent gallery dedicated to the region’s artist of greatest renown: Francisco Narvaez. When I was a child, my visits to this museum directed my own interests toward art. Today the country’s delicate situation has affected its cultural axis, and the local agenda is increasingly diluted.
In which bookstore can you find new or second-hand publications on art history, exhibition catalogs, or artist monographs?
On Isla Margarita you can count the bookstores on one hand; there’s not much of an offering. But the Feria Internacional del Libro del Caribe (FILCAR) began a couple of years ago, and it makes it possible to find a diverse group of bookstores and publishing houses along with important literary figures, artists and intellectuals. The book fair aims to be an interesting cultural meeting offering workshops, talks, forums and local cuisine, in addition to books.
What dish most embodies your city, and where would you find it?
A pastel de chucho (manta ray) with plantains, made at home.
Where can you find the best coffee (or tea)?
At A Granel, at the Sambil shopping center.
What is a monument that reveals a hidden past?
The Arcos de Inducción Cromática para Margarita, by the artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. It was unveiled in 1997 on Avenida Rómulo Betancourt in Porlamar. Originally it served as a fountain that could create links between the arcs with fine streams of water. Now the work is abandoned, with no maintenance, lighting or water. It’s been vandalized and looted. For me the situation of this monument to contemporaneity on a universal scale doesn’t reveal a dark past as much as it shows a sad reality of how our society values art and culture. The state of this work is the witness to what could have been and wasn’t.
Outdoor or public artwork worth visiting:
The Farallón, a natural monument that’s a large rock emerging from the southeast coast of the island; you can see it from Pampatar to Porlamar. You can take a boat ride to visit it. Its sculptural potential has always gotten my attention; when I was 12 years old and I did my first painting, a landscape in oil, I decided to paint it.
Where would be the best place to view the sunset in your city?
Punta Arenas, a beach located with a view facing west. From this heavenly place you get a clear view to watch the sun set over the horizon of the Caribbean sea.
Next Sunday, let’s meet at:
A motorcycle ride around the island’s towns. Traffic is light, the streets are picturesque and gasoline is cheap. So it’s the perfect day to get together and go out and ramble around the streets.
Which book transports me to your city?
Historia de las perlas en Venezuela (The History of Pearls in Venezuela) by Fernando Cervigon.
What aspect of your city most inspires you?
Its austerity. Life here is simple and serene.
Where would one probably get lost: geographically, emotionally or historically speaking?
In the Plaza de La Asunción, a historic zone where the capital’s old church is located. Near there is the Museo Nueva Cadiz, a colonial boulevard, the J.M. Subero public library, the Castillo Santa Rosa, the government buildings and several restaurants. It’s a fresh, pleasant place during the day, but at night the streets become ghostly; the colonial streets and façades are a bit mysterious and lonely.
If you were to be commissioned today to create an artwork “about” this city, briefly describe your proposal.
An illustrated atlas of the island’s endemic flora.