Sabana Grande, renovado

The first time I lived in Caracas, I had an internship at a small business and finance magazine in a part of town known as Sábana Grande. It was not the nicest part of town. The pedestrian mall, which stretches from Plaza Venezuela to Chacaíto, was filled with buhoneros, or street vendors selling socks and batteries and burned CDs. And not just filled like If you were the one copyediting late, you weren’t allowed to be there by yourself, walking around at night was not allowed, under any circumstances. Since then, the pedestrian mall has been totally repaved and the buhoneros have been exiled to a large building named after liberatadora Manuelita Saenz (one of the few famous female figures from Latin American independence movements). It’s clean. And almost totally lacking in street vendors. It’s a supremely surreal experience, to walk up and down the mall. Music is still blaring, cheap shoes are still sold in half of the storefronts, and mannequins with impossible proportions (or rather possible with surgery) grace the windows. My enduring complaints about Caracas are being eroded. Well, at least the dirty part (we won’t get into the catcalls I endured today.) In fact, I’ve been impressed with quite a few areas that were once run down and dangerous and have been renovated. I spent the morning in areas called Altagracia and Capitolio, which has a new (not yet inaugurated) mausoleum for Simón Bolívar’s remains, a renovated Plaza Bolivar, repainted municipal buildings and more. I even saw some people scrubbing the bricks in Sábana Grande today and friends tell me that the nightlife in Capitolio is where it’s at. Unthinkable a decade ago. It seems that Caracas actually has changed in the last 10 years, though perhaps not so much in other ways. I’m here for another week, trying to dig up some data. I’ll let you all know what I’m up to after I get back.

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