My Kingdom for a Cake

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Butter? No. Flour? Sorry. Sugar? No luck. Portable urinals? As many as you want!

Long-time friend of the blog Emiliana Duarte contributed this little ditty just before Tuesday’s announcement. I hope you don’t find it’s too soon: we need a change of pace around here. 

This is a post about cake, and how I became a soulless, sociopathic monster who makes children cry to make one.

See, when I’m not obsessing about politics sometimes I bake cakes to order. My cakes are yummy and pretty to look at and baking them is really fun, so why not make a little money on the side doing something that makes me, and the people around me, happy? I was contacted by a sweet old lady who needed a birthday cake for her grandson this weekend. As I set out to buy ingredients, I tenderly pictured a little boy blowing out candles and clapping with joy, and it made me smile.

Now, I’m not that naive. I’m aware that, this being Venezuela and all, I probably won’t be able to buy all of my ingredients on my first try. So, as I whistle the Happy Birthday song and merrily skip over to Supermarket #1, I know I’ll need to make a couple more stops before I return to my kitchen for baking fun.

Well, Supermarket #1 has no flour, no sugar and no butter.

“Hmmm. That’s funny,” I think to myself, “guess my first pick was pretty unlucky. I mean, what are the chances of that?”

Just a small hiccup…on to the next store.

After visiting supermarket #4 and getting the same exact answer I got from clerks at Supermarkets #1, #2 and #3  (i.e., they laughed in my face), I start to discern a trend. After a fifth “noooo, mi amor, eso no nos llega desde el año pasado,” I begin to sense I have a better chance of finding a portable reusable urinal (see photo) than basic baking goods.

At this point, I decide to reevaluate my strategy, and opt instead for the offerings of the more vibrant and less regulated informal market. Surely some resourceful buhonero of the capitalismo popular variant has grasped that there’s a gap in the market for selling hard-to-find luxuries such as flour, butter and sugar to increasingly desperate cooks.

Three hours in traffic and a 7-stop metro ride later, set to the soothing soundtrack of a passenger’s cellphone blaring reggaeton on a loop, things start looking up. Sitting in a plastic tub sandwiched between some Colombian thongs and some pirated DVDs, I find sugar, or rather, I am extorted for some sugar. It comes in inconvenient individual packets like the ones you get in a coffee shop, so I’ll have to spend a good 20 minutes opening each one and pouring out the contents. It also comes with a 400% markup.

One down, two to go. It’s been 6 hours of this crap now. No leads. Back to the dreaded supermarkets. Traffic. Lots of it. And the Metro stopped working. Apparently Chávez died. Again. Ooh, look, a Danubio pastry store with cakes in the window display. Assholes. I hope people choke on your cakes.

Supermarkets #6 and #7 are a bust. No flour, no butter. “No hay.” My heart grows colder and more bitter with every exchange I’m forced to have with the charmless, monosyllabic cashiers who sit and text on their Vergatarios  all day and can’t be bothered to look me in the eye as they crush my hopes. Bitches.

By now I’m running on sheer stubbornness and an irrational refusal to resign myself to my fate. So I brave the throngs of nervous shoppers at supermarket #8 to find my goddamned butter. All the way in the back of a dark, empty fridge, I find a sad, sorry stack of nondescript, shady-looking product of dubious origin, which claims to be imported from a Uruguayan cooperative even though the packaging is in Portuguese. Fuck it. Good enough for me.

Then, in a flash, my optimism vanishes as I notice the handwritten sign: “Mantequilla: 1 por persona.” I am enraged! I look at the long queue of people lined up like sheep waiting to be denied their butter privileges. A violent rage gushes from every pore in me. What the hell am I going to do with ONE goddamn stick of butter? Who the fuck uses just one lousy stick of butter for anything? Goddamn FUCKING people and their FUCKING butter rationing coño!POR ESO ES QUE ESTE PAÍS ESTÁ COMO ESTÁ, NO JODAAAA!

By now I’m in a screaming fit that involves violently kicking a shopping cart and knocking over the Cubitos de Pollo display. I shoved a child in front of me. So that I might acquire two sticks instead of one.

To complete my debauchery, I then go to my mother’s house knowing she won’t be home and steal her carefully hoarded flour, replacing it with some shitty pancake mix. Serves her right for bringing me into this flourless world.

Yeah, I know. We’re living in a lawless, politically unstable, economically crippled third world nation with no president, out-of-control crime, failing health facilities and decrepit infrastructure. There’s also famine in Africa and war in the Middle East. But there is something deeply troubling about the fact that I also live in a country where I must stoop to Dickensian lows, lying, begging and stealing, for cake. What I got paid for this stunt cannot begin to compensate for the soul-crushing demoralization that procuring the ingredients involved, to say nothing of the ulcer that’s surely now in the making.

Looking back, I was clearly delusional for entertaining such a preposterous idea, wanting to bake a cake. I should have just done the sensible, Venezuelan thing: buy the cake at the corner panadería, sell it to the old lady for triple the price I paid and tell her I made it myself.

50 thoughts on “My Kingdom for a Cake

  1. Great post, Emiliana, you have a knack for it!.

    That’s what I call “Soberanía Alimentaria”… “Soberana Arrechera” to find food!.

  2. Oh, I liked this. You know, if she had purchased the cake and resold it, she’d be contributing to that wild resurgence in the private sector that Keane Bhatt was talking about where it outpaces government employment growth.

    Also, for the entrepreneurially minded seeking a new growth industry – Rent-a-Kid: when you absolutely, positively, without fail must avoid the “un limite per persona”.

    As an aside, the shortages have gotten dramatically worse in Merida. Usually my mother-in-law has access to the basics there, but in the past two weeks, its completely dried up. Between that and the rolling blackouts that have finally hit the city after plaguing the rest of the country, she’s decided to come for a three month visit. Gracias Gobierno de Venezuela.

  3. Emiliana, I am in awe at your command of the languges you use, the well carafted pictures you paint with your words, how well you describe what Venezuela is going through. Please, blog again,
    you brought me a big smile!

  4. But wait! Didn’t one PSF called Getaclue try to convince me and others, a few days ago, that sugar production in Venezuela has risen, that Vzla actually exports sugar, that all is excessively normal?

      • That’s it! Perception Cakes. What a concept!
        Order your cake today! Have the perception delivered on a silver platter, with some balloons thrown in de ñapa.
        Emiliana, you’ll soon be rolling in the dough (pun intended).

  5. Brilliant post! I’m going to recommend it to the very next person who tells me I don’t understand all the good Chavez did for Venezuelans.

  6. Pretty soon we’ll be doing for bakers like Emiliana what we did for that school in Petare.

    ‘Na guevonaaaaa!!!

  7. Fantastic piece Emiliana.
    Two weeks ago in Margarita I went through a similar ordeal. My sister bakes cookies and muffins to sell to get a little bit of extra money.
    First, we were in Caracas dealing with a familiar affair and when she saw there was margarine in a supermarket, she went crazy about it. Of course in my canadian-way-of -thinking I argued with her about taking margarine to the island when she only had a small carry on. Of course I lost that fight so we had to endure a long line up to pay for the margarine.
    Then in Porlamar, at the CM, my mom, a viejita who looks like the very cute viejita, told to the guard on our way out “there was no flour mijito..”. Another employee heard it and said: we got some this morning but we have it at the storage for the employees. I could give you a couple of kgs if you would like”. So she smiled and said yes! and followed the woman, got the flour at the cashier. Paid for 4 and got only 3 kgs (on purpose?) but she didn’t care. Kept one for herself and gave two to my sister.
    Now, to add onto the “baking for a little extra money”, a couple of years ago she got fined for the use of extra electricity….

  8. A chavista would read this and say, “See? You made your cake. What are you complaining about?” … as they laugh your tale off over 24-year old Scotch at Alazán.

    In fact, they may be reading it now. Buen provecho, coñuem…

  9. Sensa cio nal… Te felicito Emiliana por tu prosa y por tu perseverancia! Keep it coming… “The adventures of Cake”

  10. Por lo menos aqui en maracaibo lo de la mantequilla para mi ha sido lo de menos, si hay que rodar, pero la consigues, ahora, el azucar y el aceite? good luck with that! todavia no he podido comprar el primer kilo/litro del año, si no es porque mi madre es amiguisima de la dueña de un abasto, hubiesemos comido bien sano desde diciembre…

    Muy buena pieza, y suerte en tu proxima aventura repostera!

    • Eso tiene que ser mentira…si en Maracaibo se hubiese acabado el aceite hace 3 meses ya la ciudad entera se habría muerto de hambre. Todo el mundo sabe que los maracuchos sufren de una mutación genética que les impide digerir comida que no sea frita…

      • En los mercados de cadena, disculpen lo incompleto :p

        Por los caminos verdes si hay, pero I refuse to ir al centro, esa vaina es el infierno, prefiero comer pastelitos al vapor que comprar aceite en el centro… el meteorito ruso se desvio, debio haber explotado en plena avenida libertador

    • ‘Tas seguro de que es mantequilla? no será margarina?
      Vos me mandais mantequilla y yo te mando mazeite! en Caracas lo consigo, aunque también tengo que rodar.
      En todo chiste hay algo de verdad…

  11. If you want to see the country really erupt, wait till there are no Polarcitas.

    Great job, Emiliana!

    • Which is why, for all the hatred that Chavismo has for Polar, the beer-making part of Polar will not be nationalized. Chavismo has SOME orientation to reality.

      It is a sad comment that the purchasing of groceries, which in my urban area would take a half hour of my time, becomes a seven hour+ adventure. In reading the tale, I felt as if I were there in line. Well written, Emiliana, and I hope you provide more tales of life at the ground level of Chavismo.

  12. Emiliana:The child you shoved in front of you just might some day become another resentido social Presidente de Venezuela, and shove your children/grandchildren back (lol).

  13. WOW!! Thank you all so much for your kind words!!! This is my first time ever publishing anything anywhere, so your replies are really special to me! I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it.

    • I just sent it to my daughter in Madrid, who like you, bakes delicious and pretty cakes to make ends meet. She just wote “super! Me reí muchísimo” the difference being of course that she wouldn’t need to hunt for ingredients over there in spite of their crisis.
      So…as you can see from all our feedbacks, you really have a wonderful irreverent humor in your very creativel writing streak, and combined with your cakes. Who’s to stop you?

  14. How I would like to give this to these morons in latin american departments…and saying to me oh but thanks to Chavez…but none of then soul go to Venezuela and throw they passports away. ( or for that matter go to their “countries, well they were born in The US but they are really confused” and try to save their fatherland…they always say it…I never say anything)..and try to live like the rest of us, and doing research in only specific papers of certain authors…I’m so upset, well in top of everything they tried to insult me calling me white ( because most Mexican origin students in these departments that is the insult of order) But When Even After I lived 33 years in my country, I am on a list, and still they said that everything I said was not true? And well I’m re yellow, that even the Chinese said to me…but oh well…. F…Them

  15. Great article! Totally true! my dad has bakeries and is the same story for them, but in bigger scales! so maybe next time you decide to buy it at “La Panaderia” and you won’t find it there either jajjajajaja! so good luck for us!

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