Imagine praying to the plaster statue of a young man on a motor bike, with dark tinted goggles and a gun stuck in his belt. A santo malandro, or thug saint, one of a ‘court’ of spirits in the virtual queendom of María Lionza, a Venezuelan deity of popular origin. The first images of the Queen herself were pastoral, a beautiful young woman against a background of nature, ‘protector of waters, goddess of harvests’. The distance from one image to the other – from the lovely nature goddess to the rough city delinquent – covers a little over a hundred years and the tumultuous historical and political developments in Venezuela during that time.

First, however, I should define the premises of a spiritualistic cult. This one, though such a European term is used to define it, and it was influenced also by the spiritualist movements of the late 19th century in Europe, has strong roots in indigenous beliefs and practices. The acrid-smelling cigars, for example, that are used to help achieve contact with the ‘other’ dimension are a native inheritance, and smoked even by young children, who can be seen at the cult’s altars puffing away with their eyes half closed. Continue reading


I wasn’t very clear about why I wanted to go to China. This was not unusual for me – I know or think it will be important for me to get to know a place, but what exactly its importance will be is only revealed during the journey. And even then it may not be obvious, more like a piece of a big puzzle, the human puzzle, falling into place. In the case of China, my desire to go there, and I knew it, was also tainted by a grain of masochism. I detest the noise and rawness of new cities, the Chinese tourists I had run into in other countries were vulgar and loud, and I knew that in China natural environments and anything old and traditional is now being destroyed at an alarming speed. On the positive side, I hoped to see beautiful and unique landscapes and the still preserved remains of a Buddhist civilization thousands of years old. Continue reading