I’ve got a thing about earrings. A lot of people do. A lot of women, especially, are all for earrings. I’ve met few people who are against earrings, except maybe my mother who adamantly refused to allow for ears to be pierced until the ripe age of 16. I started to obsess about them roughly around the age of five. By six, the wining was constant. Around seven I went on semi-perminent hunger strike. By eight I’d worn her down, and proudly sported a pair of fat gold studs under strict instruction not ever to graduate to hoops any larger than the circumference of my little finger.
The giant silver loop phase began aged 15, some two years after I’d pierced the top of my left ear with a needle and an ice cube, and some two years before the nose stud that came to be known as “the scab” among family circles. Over the years, I’ve covered quite a lot of earring territory, from dodgy-wire-hanging-seed-type earrings bought in Mexico City to semi-precious-but-probably-not-really stones picked up in Delhi. My current strand is big, brash, and gold – fake, obviously. The faker the better. The kind that eventually go copper then silver unless you paint them first with clear nailvarnish. The sort that make your holes go green and your lobes itch incessantly. The type most other people look at and think, “really?”.
I was also in this earring phase the first (and only) time I’ve been a victim of crime in Venezuela. That day, the earrings were swirly, gold, and worth about 10p. The bus I was travelling on was stuck in typically heavy Caracas traffic, the metro stop less than a block ahead. I decided to hop off and walk. Two steps on and the earrings were gone, snatched by a figure I caught only disappearing backwards into the crowds. Losing them was of no importance, but the experience was quite unnerving. I had a change of attitude almost immediately, resulting in a series of realisations I’ve had since.
As tourists we often approach a city hoping to make it ours. We want to take that photo of that landscape from an individual perspective, make the snap personal, choose an instagram filter of our very own. The souvenirs we pick up come to represent are like take-away fragments of a place we’ve claimed, like buying a rock on the moon. Our routes, our footsteps, our movements make the city we’ve always desired, experienced as no one before and no one again. Tokyo, London, New York – these are cities tolerant of starry-eyed faces that find themselves reflected in the glassy facades of buildings reaching for the sky. Some cities, however, won’t play game.
Caracas is one of these. For better or worse, it resists interpretation by the patter of wondering feet. Rare is the presence of the lone traveller here: those that do arrive are often constrained by the fierce energies of urban life. When in Rome we might map out our walking tour, Caracas designs its own route for us. From East to West, limitations including those of security and accessibility, are constantly and unavoidably in place. For some, the city also dictates how to dress, who to see, where to go, and when to go home. Other inhabitants choose to stage personal rebellions, whether on the smaller scale of openly using a smartphone in the metro, or the larger scale of carrying a gun in the glovebox of the car.
I’m not sure either attitude of compliance or defiance is right or wrong. I am sure it depends mostly on context and intent. While part of me wants to be me as I would be while at home, another – most probably the ineffably British bit – would prefer to avoid the conflict that enacting the privilege of such freedoms might entail. I’m also aware that I’m a guest in someone else’s city. It would be impolite not to conform (damn those manners that almost always kill rebellion). This time round, I’ve taken conscious steps to modify my behaviour and appearance: dark hair I’d normally wear blonde, simple accessories in place of bling, and uniform outfits of jeans and top. Perhaps shredding the material baggage of each day will do me well in an age of hyper consumerism. Perhaps I’ve been inflicted with paranoia instilled by the whispers of high society. Perhaps I’d gain strength in character if I risked another outing with the earwear I’d normally favour. Perhaps that would be stupid. In any case, the cheap metal gold earrings are put away in the drawer. There’s a time and a place for badly faking wealth and style. Caracas now isn’t it.