Category Archives: English

The day I bet on Kenny Rogers.

Up until very recently, the word “bet” would always take me to the song “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers, which I first heard when I was eight years old.
As you can imagine, Mr. Rogers was not a staple name in Venezuela, and he would have remained unknown to me if it had not been for a lady whose name, I think, was Tania.
Back then, we used to meet every Sunday at my uncles’ house. I come from a big family, with enough cousins to turn any lunch into a tropical version of “The Lord of the Flies.” It was fun, to say the least.
One of those weekends, my uncle decided to include their new neighbors, some “older” couple that looked like just out of… “The Love Boat”?
During the 70s, even the most moderate fashion trends were excessive, so up until now, I couldn’t remember what this lady could be wearing that caught my usually absent-minded attention. Forty years after, I dug through the memories of my 5′ feet 8 years old mini-me and found it: 7′ tall, wearing a fuchsia and orange paisley polyester tunic, and white bell-bottoms. And silver platform sandals, with flames of course.
At the end of that day, the children’s energy was conquered by the unlimited supply of soda, and the tolerance of the adults had received enough help from Mr. Old Parr. We all sat together, and Tania decided to spice up the night by playing a new record she’d just gotten. A vinyl of a gringo bearded man, Kenny Rogers was his name, she announced.
As the music started playing, Tania (and Mr. Parr, I’m sure) grabbed something that could double as a microphone and decided that Kenny would not sing “The Gambler” by himself. My English proficiency came mostly from “Villa Alegre”*, so I really appreciated her live Spanish dubbing, and, overall, fell in love with the song.
From that day on, I became one of the 20 –maybe 21- Venezuelan fans of Kenny Rogers. Many years later I can still sing “The Gambler” by heart, but nobody wants to hear that; I can criticize the misogyny of “Ruby, don’t take your love to town,” and have a better understanding of the country of “The Coward of the County.” And while they are not skills that would help me find a job on LinkedIn, I am proud of that.
Thanks to that afternoon with Tania and Kenny, I discovered a musical genre that I still really enjoy. If you don’t believe me, ask Spotify why it insists on Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Rhett Miller, and my dear Kacey Musgraves.

So today, when I heard the news about the death of Kenny Rogers, I just wished he got what he wanted: “and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”


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“Corona Virus Diaries (or whatever it’s called when you read this) II

“Day 2. Friday, March 13, 2020.

I’ve been living in Berkeley for almost 12 years, and one of my first impressions of this city is that nothing ever happens. It is not that it’s a boring place, or that it doesn’t have a vibrant social or artistic life (we’re 20 minutes from SF), but when you grow up in Caracas, where the normality index is defined by the percentage of uncertainty, the ability to be surprised decreases considerably. In Venezuela, the way of calculating the “Population Density” could be rethought. In essence, it would be the result of calculating the number of inhabitants in an area who are victims of an unthinkable event in relation to a given surface unit. And this area could be just 5 miles. Trust me. It would be high. And perhaps we would start calling it “Depopulation Density.” Hence my poor bewilderment ability and my annoying way of dismissing any event that bothers my dear American friends as ” A First World Problem.” Please forgive me.

Friday starts easy. Having to wake up only just of the boys makes the morning particularly shiny, especially when the one who’s sleeping in is the teenager. The one who goes to Middle School is excited: he thinks that the Spring Break is coming early. And he still has his hand sanitizer! I drop him off at a school where it doesn’t seem like they are preparing for three weeks without classes: good for them. Children do not need to feel that panic. 

I decide not to go to my yoga class and innocently drive to Costco to make sure I get my weekly fix of Coke Zero and Red Bull (don’t judge me). Up until then, I hadn’t realized I was suffering from Venezuelan PTSD; then l I saw the cars trying to get into the Costco exit and panicked. I am only able to calm down after confirming that the gas supply is entirely healthy. At pick up time, the boys say goodbye to each other like any given Friday. I come home and my teenage son already has cabin fever. Luckily, children are not aware of their own mortality. Not even their vulnerability. So not being able to go out and play with his friends sounds like I’m punishing him. And he doesn’t understand what he did to deserve that. 

I’m grasping to the last straws of normality: families make plans to go skiing over the weekend because it’s finally going to snow on this side of California. I check the condition of the roads, and if there are chain controls.  It’s my way to stay in touch with real life.

Oh, and I’m already missing the fact that nothing happens in Berkeley.

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Corona Virus Diaries (or “whatever it’s called when you read this”) I

Day 1.

This is for my English readers. <3 You know who you are,

Thursday, March 12, 2020.

“This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts.

They resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions, the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime, it was folly to grieve or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.” The Masque of the Red Death. Edgar Allan Poe.

I send the children to school. Armed with their mini “hand sanitizers”, as if guarded with a protective virus shield, a mix of Cosmopolitan psychology and the “power trip” feeling of having in their possession one of the most sought goods, all while reeking of “Axe”.  At home, I follow the news second by second. And, if I try to give them a break, they chase me. Iran, Italy, Spain, devastated. Boris Johnson dismisses the facts. Donald Trump at one point calls it “strong flu” and, ten minutes later, a pandemic, but we are used to him. I try to keep the usual routine: it’s what we need. So soccer practice is still on, but  

I have the feeling that it could be the last for a long time. 

The business as usual fighting with my kid so he’d put on his shinguards is interrupted by an email from the association that coordinates children’s and youth soccer in this part of California. They announce the suspension of all events that depend on them until MARCH 31, the uppercase is mine. I feel like they’re yelling at us.Wow.

 I try to delay the distribution of the information until the end of practice (the boys were already there, they had touched the balls and who knows if they had even greeted each other). I’m just trying to give them a few more minutes of community play. 

I walk to the supermarket, just a few feet from the court, known for its exotic fruits and vegetables, and for its luxury organic products. People are shopping as usual. They’re even smiling, and that should give me the first clue that things are not as normal as it seems. Many fill their baskets with grains, cheese, etc. No panic shopping on sight. The smartest ones are buying beer. It’s them who, I have no doubt, know what to stock up on. We can all can count on there being food: we live in “The Land of Plenty”. What will be needed is a psychological supplement to help us deal with what is coming, and that, as far as I know, is not sold in supermarkets. Not even in Berkeley. I take a deep breath and get ready to pay (I’m number 20 in a line of 100 people, so here is my lucky break of the day. Behind me is the principal of one of the district’s schools. She says” hello”, and in a tone that is not necessarily reassuring, advises me to “check my email tonight”.

From now on, that phrase will be the synonym of “we have to talk” regarding academic communications: as in a relationship, you know that things are not quite right, but you prefer to live in denial, and, what is worse, you are sure that in this case the “it’s not you, it’s me”, is totally sincere . I get back to the field, where the parents whisper to each other. Many of them work in the district and only await the ratification of what’s imminent. There is talk of a case – not yet confirmed – at the city’s High School. But there is nothing concrete. Just rumors and 20 degrees of separation. I realize that I am very surprised to find out from the freedom and openness of a soccer field that countries considered much more “disorganized” by this self-proclaimed first world, have already declared entire cities in quarantine and are on the way to mandate a curfew for an entire nation. A boy from Madrid whispers to me that his aunt, a nurse, tells him that there are no beds in the hospital. Oh, “that’s in Spain,” I think. 

Trusting that there’s an ocean between us.

I agree with my son’s coach that, as long as there is no an explicit order in place banning small groups of children playing sports, for the mental health of young people and adults, the smarter thing to do will be to keep practices, respecting the basic rules of contact -or lack of- Somehow relieved I get home and, to cancel that momentary oasis, I make the mistake of turning on the TV, wrongfully tuned in CNN (thanks to the primaries of the Democratic party) and I remember: CNN It has the ability to transform any event into “Breaking News”, and any “Breaking News” into a catastrophe. Very late. The evil was already seen. 

I check my emails: the school district decides to cancel school, effective immediately for High School and starting the following Monday for the rest of the levels. Questions, even without official answers, come and go. And the unanswered questions are answered by the imagination, and to that nobody is able to put a limit.

You start to put everything in perspective. You wonder how important that science poster that your son had to deliver urgently really was. You wonder if it was worth arguing about the time of that soccer game that maybe now, hopefully, will be played in 2022.

You wonder if you really are with the person with whom you would like to spend four weeks of your life locked up.

And this is only the first day.

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