Based on all the reading up we’ve been doing on Orishas, I painted an Elegguá spread of pages in my journal.
Kris had bought an Elegguá necklace (two feet long!) and I drew it as the border. Then, I “made” my own 2D version of the orisha. Traditionally, every Santero has to build his own Elegguá—usually just a mound or cone of soil, clay, or cement—using dirt from a crossroads, a cemetery, a prison cell, a bakery, the entrance to a church, and an open field. I made mine from a collage of local newspaper items about traffic lights, obituaries, prison cells, flour shortages, religious events, and cattle ranchers, plus bits and pieces about roads…close enough! Cowrie shells (called caracoles) are used for the eyes, mouth, ears. I painted my caracoles, and stuck them on. I even gave him a paper cigar…
The text around my Elegguá is just a Cuban Santero’s description of the orisha…his powers, his character, his areas of influence, his roles among the other orishas…
Elegguá is the master of pathways and doorways.
He is of the keys and the knots.
It is he that ties, and unties.
He is the beginning and the end of all paths.
He is the sentry of the days and the nights.
He mixes sugar and blood….
Everything is turned upside down, he is playful and sensitive.
Dangerous, like a child, he rescues or kills.
He is also tricky and bloodthirsty….
He is greedy and gluttonous, you win him over by giving him sweets.
He likes whistles, balls, kites, and spinning tops….
He holds the keys to the destinies of man.
So far, Santeriá has been the most interesting new thing we’ve come upon in Venezuela, and the richness of its rituals and paraphernalia have been feeding our creative appetites.
Kris says I have grossly understated the economic situation in Venezuela in my first post. “Come on, it’s not ‘very, very affordable‘ here…Venezuela is currently recognised as The Cheapest Country in the World, for crissake!”
He’s right, of course. So there you are, it’s even better than I made out. The black market dollar rate is a hundred times the ‘official rate’ artificially set by the government, and the value of paper money here is next to nothing. To pay for a meal for two at a mid-range restaurant, you hand over a wad of 100s about a centimeter thick…Bs1,800.00 or thereabouts. And, for all that, it amounts to something like 3 bucks. Petrol is 7 litres a dollar. Need I say more?
So this is one country where I can afford to keep a sample of each denomination as a keepsake in my journal…a whopping 21 US cents are attached to the page above.
The reason I WANT to keep these bills is that Venezuelan money is beautiful. I love the vertical format, the bright colours, the modern graphic layout, the metallic inks and holographic strip that runs through each bill…they’re gorgeous. I’ve been painting them on postcards and in my sketchbooks…challenging, absorbing, and fun to do. Makes me wish I’d thought to make painted versions of the money we came across in the different countries we’ve been to since the start of this trip.
Kris jokes that I should be painting US $100 bills instead of Bolívares…says they, at least, would be worth all the effort. Especially here, if we can find a money changer who will take watercolour dollars. ;)
It’s never a good idea to have expectations when you travel; we broke this cardinal rule when we sort of allowed ourselves to look forward to the coffee in S. America. So far we have had no luck finding decent, locally-grown arabica beans. Neither Brazil nor Guyana had any decent arabica for sale. Everywhere we went, soft bags of dried-out, burned-tasting, robusta coffee were the norm. Dreadful stuff.
Now we are in Grenada, and the chance of scoring decent arabica are even slimmer here. The supermarkets have precious little in the way of real coffee (Nescafé has invaded all these countries…you even get instant coffee at fancy restaurants!) and what few bags of ground coffee are available are robusta (robusta is a high-yield, low aroma, low-flavour, high-caffeine crop…most countries grow robusta, now, because Nestlé is their main buyer, and Nescafé is made only from robusta).
It’s really disappointing…the local stuff is overpriced, and gives us palpitations, and doesn’t smell or taste like anything but strong dust. In desperation, we bought a tin of Maxwell coffee (the label on the back says “100% coffee”; that’s like buying “100% wine”, the quality could be anything!) but it’s no better than the local stuff, and more expensive to boot.
Hoping and praying that Cuba has better coffee, though we won’t be in Cuba for a long while, yet. Oh, well, I guess it’s time to check out the teas in Grenada…
Thank you, Dave & Sharynne, for the concerned e-mail! As I mentioned in my last post, whatever mood my posts may depict, chances are that the moment has long since passed, by the time I manage to write about it. I can’t paint and stay glum for very long…so whatever mood my paintings are in, I am probably feeling better simply for having painted them.
Just to reassure you that I have not fallen into a swampy morass of riverine jungle moodiness, this is something I painted more recently…as you can see, I have “climbed back up” into the saving arms of colour…
It’s nice to know that there are beautiful people looking out for me, though! Thanks, again.
It rained for three weeks, straight. Without sun, the solar panel wasn’t feeding the battery. Couldn’t use the lights on the boat, nor the laptop; certainly there was no internet. No chance to do the laundry. Everything in the boat was damp, musty, smelly, or starting to sprout mold. There was nowhere we could go for a walk on these boggy islands that are technically below sea level and therefore flooded during the wet season. We sat, or lay around for hours at a time, in the dark. There were several days at the beginning of all this when I thought I would have a little melt down. All my energy was starting to funnel into something like suicidal madness. There were times when I wanted to rush screaming out of the boat and jump into the strong current of the river, kicking my legs, churning the water with my arms, risk drowning just to feel alive again.
I caught desperately at the few threads of sanity remaining, and forced them into painting things, instead. Imagined scenes loosely based on the jungle all around us. Mechanically, at first, but as the ideas started to spread, I was pushing paint around with more and more enthusiasm.
It all started with the journal page, above. I went on to make this postcard (gave it to Kris…)
Not the first time creating something has saved my sanity…I’m sure it won’t be the last.