The Mangoes Are Ripe in Caracas. And All Gone.
People used to select the juiciest, and least dented, leaving the dregs behind. Now, they grab every last one.
Editors Note: There are few places as chaotic or dangerous as Venezuela. “Life in Caracas” is a series of short stories that seeks to capture the surreal quality of living in a land in total disarray
As a friend puts it, Venezuela has two seasons: one without mangoes and one with them.
A whole lot of them. They rain down all across the capital during the wet summer months. You hear them crashing out of trees, thudding onto sidewalks and slamming into parked cars, setting off alarms. Those that don’t descend on their own are knocked off branches by laborers wielding long poles or kids hurling rocks.
The season has been cut regrettably short, with the city feeling almost bereft of the orange and yellow spheres instead of overwhelmed by them.
True enough, even now not all of these delicacies are consumed on the spot. Mangoes are cherished ingredients in jellies, sauces, ceviche and desserts. But truly, they are best fresh off the tree. They’re messy and sticky but so tasty most folks don’t bother trying to eat them gracefully. Or privately. I’ve seen them being slurped on the metro at rush hour and in crowded elevators.
People lucky enough to have the trees on their their property used to stuff shopping bags full and press them on friends, neighbors, co-workers, anyone, trying to get rid of the distant peach cousins before they went bad. With so many mango trees in Caracas, these were futile efforts. Mounds upon mounds would end up rotting, emitting a sweet, pungent odor.
As beloved as it is, the mango is not native to Venezuela. One theory is that it migrated from Brazil, after being brought there by Portuguese slavers from Africa. Another is that Spanish traders bought seeds in Trinidad and planted them in plantations in middle of the 18th century. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez admitted he made an error in an early draft of his novella about Simon Bolivar, the South American independence hero, when he wrote that the Liberator enjoyed mangoes as child in the 1700s in Caracas.)
Whatever the provenance, the plant found such favorable conditions that it flourished. “We consider it to be native,” said Armando Belloso, the author of Mango: Ripe, Green and in Between and a self-described tropical fruit enthusiast. “Given the circumstances, I think today Venezuelans cherish mangoes more than ever.”
They’ve even become part of the local vernacular. If you say something is “arroz con mango”—rice with mango—that means it’s complete chaos. That’s Caracas these days.