and Neon Bibles
By Benjamin Dangl
The Upside Down World news
Naked bodies and the
bad teeth of politicians are on the covers of magazines on kiosks across Santiago,
flapping in the wind like the dried scales on a land locked tropical fish.
The dogs are pregnant; the flamingos are plastic and even the Coca-Cola tastes
different. Out near the sea, on the seagull-shit-encrusted docks, they sell
postcards of the famous mountains that you can never see through the smog
of Chile’s collective unconsciousness. The tourists think it’s
so cute. They buy a dozen copies of the same picture, writing home, "The
waterfalls are beautiful and the pumas are so very real."
New Year’s Eve
in Havana is a million stereos bubbling out of a single electric stewpot,
with flames spurting out of the speakers, windows and tilted bottles of rum.
Apartments burst with people, dancing onto balconies, porches, spilling into
the streets to more parties, neighbors and roasted pigs, while the dogs bark
themselves insane. Children on rooftops fly kites, hooking ribboned tails
into the aquarium of the sky, the tired white fish of the moon swimming in
circles, wondering which year it is and the drunken people below not caring.
In the streets, shadows creep into shadows kissing, drinking, making love.
A ball bounces into the glow of one porch, a boy skids past and retrieves
it, sends it spinning back into a collection of waiting bodies in the half-dark.
Music oozes and pounds at the air, over the gnarled rooftop antennas and laundry
lines. Up a side street, an extended family beats rhumbas out of overturned
buckets, while a man in an orange hat strums an out-of-tune guitar. A house
down the block has a whole band on the porch. One man is plucking at the bass
as the trumpet player’s belly flops to the beat of the music, and the
singer exhales a mouthful of smoke into each sultry word. People are falling
over, spilling their cups, holding onto each other and laughing over the crumbled
pavement of the dusty streets. In the pitch black night, colors thrash through
the air, dripping with the music of a city drunk on its own sounds.
This is the only city
in the world whose morning sound is the crowing of roosters. Today at dawn
they woke us up screeching like a pack of crazed wolves. Out on the street,
a man sprints past with a tuba over his shoulders. Another man cruises by
on a broken motorcycle, pedaling it as if it was a bike. Cars from the 1950's
roar down the road like finned tanks, choking out black smoke. This city’s
soviet buses and side car motorcycles all sound like locomotives, are full
of invented parts and look as though the owners spend more time fixing them
than driving them. An old man on a porch smokes a cigar next to a huge pile
of Granma, "the official newspaper of the communist party," while
his dog barks madly in the next room. The old man smokes on, appearing not
to hear. Out in the street, a white truck sits with the words, "Nada
Mas Rapido Que Pronto," written on the side of it.
A bicycle heaving with
the weight of its four passengers oozes past a billboard advertisement that
says, "A Revolution In Every Neighborhood." Off one porch, a collection
of old men play dominoes. In some far off apartment, someone is practicing
a sad clarinet. The bartender tells us that Coca-Cola arrived here last week,
and would we like one? A kid next to me at the bar carefully pulls a small
American flag handkerchief from his pocket, places it on his seat then sits
down, smiling. Laundry flaps like faded victory flags from the balconies and
windows of the decayed colonial mansions of Havana, occupied forty-five years
ago by a revolution that claims never to have stopped revolving. The sunset
here is a flaming mistake hovering over the mangled rooftops and staggering
branches of the wide-eyed anachronism of the city at dusk.
An Evangelical Bus Ride
El Chapare, Bolivia
I climbed into a humid
bus ride through the Bolivian jungle at night. Before the wind blew through
the windows, the inside of the bus was like a sauna. Passengers on the bus
did nothing but sweat and moan, "Aye, que calor!" The sweat poured
down my face, stinging my eyes, then down my back and legs, soaking my clothes
and turning the bus seat into a heavy sponge. Soon the bus picked up speed
and a breeze with it, and all that air on all that sweat immediately cooled
Then the bus speakers
started blasting evangelical Christian propaganda against alcoholism at full
blast. This was followed by evangelical techno music on a distorted tape they
played three times in a row, which was full of maniacal songs and roller coaster
rhythms at screeching pitches sung by a young girl with a horrible voice.
Following this onslaught, an even worse recording of yet more Christian speeches
played at a piercing decibel level. Throughout this nightmare most passengers
were either moaning or tossing in an uncertain sleep. Many had realized the
harsh truth; that the high volume level was the only thing keeping the driver
Eventually a heavy jungle
rain began to drip through the leaks in the ceiling of the bus. It happened
slowly at first, and then turned into a torrential downpour. Within minutes,
everyone’s clothes and bags were soaked. As the rain continued, people
started to shut their windows, and the bus quickly began to smell like mold.
Perhaps fecund moss and plants were sprouting from the fertile armpits and
backpacks in the bus as it sloshed on, like an overstuffed dinosaur, blasting
the message of Jesus Cristo into skeptical ears.
Copyright © 2004,
The Upside Down World news
to go back to home page