Death is a Party

Transport, Superheroes, Best Wishes

The street is hot. The radio spits, salsa, ranchera or vallenato. Bottles of alcohol pass from hand to hand, curved like the hips and cheeks of the women who dance in apparent celebration.

Screams and shots in the air. Drunkenness. This procession in the streets of Caracas, Venezuela, is big enough to stop traffic and impose its own pace. But it is no political rally, no carnival nor religious pilgrimage. This rumbling caravan of cars, bikes and people is a funeral.

In Venezuela, as in the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and other South and Central American countries, raucous funerals are a special tradition in neighborhoods with criminal backgrounds, and the coffin leading these caravans usually holds a twenty-something year-old neighborhood thug. His friends will swear revenge over bottles of rum, pistols in hands, but in the meantime, death is a party. Family, neighbors and comprades celebrate the deceased with all the things he loved in life:

The caravan stops first in his favorite restaurant, usually a pizza joint. There, the party begins with speeches, tears and a libidinous reggaeton or ranchera. Then, the corpse will be carried to once-favorite haunts- his house, a park around the corner, the neighborhood bar where he did “business”. Now onward to the cemetery. In the street, the stiff body decked his best clothes, hat, tennis shoes and sunglasses may be brought out to enliven the party. Ex-girlfriends dance with him and former friends say goodbye with a hug and a kiss. According to some witnesses, the same friends bring firearms to prevent pedestrians and motorists from hurrying their farewell.

At the grave, another song, perhaps salsa or bachata, beats out a goodbye. A few last words, an appeal to heaven, a burst of gunfire. The volume of the music jumps. Soon, the living will return home to grieve, in the quiet of a looming hangover.

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