RIDING MISTER ROJAS / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

RIDING MISTER ROJAS, originally uploaded by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

In art, like in politics, the speeches of epigones, now free of the original guilt of the Messiah, start attempting a liberal rereading of the revolutionary scripture and end up being pure fascism. The Cuban intellectual Fernando Rojas, beyond his high governmental charge (every now and then the rumor that he will replace Abel Prieto circulates with horror in the Cuban literary camp), has no reason to be the exception.

Half a century after an adjustment in incidental accounts, Rojas relaunches Fidel Castro’s Words to the Intellectuals from 1961, to the future. He does not want to let the archeologists be the ones who exhume the fossil violence of the document. To interpret is to sanitize. And Rojas bets on ideologizing what was such a concrete act: to put the gun over a desk at the Biblioteca Nacional, the National Library.

It’s about, of course, an attempted coup against Cuban culture. A process of terminal “red”-ization. And hopefully that maneuver will be successful, beyond his scientific demagogy and his republican cadence of Stalinist party in power. Because the full health of any culture is only attained under the obscene boot of a despot. Because without censure there is no moral resistance that might yield limited creativity (cue the developing world’s yawns for our aesthetic exile). Because the future depends on equal parts victim and torturer, where right now Fernando Rojas incarnates that second role (leading role and not at all supporting) with historic chivalry.

So then, the next decade promises to be both gray and luminous in Rojas’s perspective. There will be debates of an anti-dogmatic style about the big mistakes of the Revolution’s past. The bureaucracy will be bureaucratically memorialized for the one-thousandth nine-hundredth fifty-ninth time. There will be rescue rectifications, even for the non-revolutionary writers who don’t get to be incorrigibly reactionary (I myself might be saved on a little plank there). The rage of Cabrera Infante and Reinaldo Arenas will be bleached, like the iniquitous irony of Virgilio Piñera and the atrocious cunning of Lezama were, in their moment, bleached as well. The barbarism of Lydia Cabrera will be folklorized and the stridencies of Celia Cruz will be obligatory. In the meantime, the market will continue being a medieval tool in the mummified hands of the State: the illusion always immersed inside the institution. It’s the theory of the ripe carrot versus the tyranny of an olive green whip.

Applause, close ovation: that’s how the Cuban press transcribed the translation of Fidel Castro’s calligraphers. And Fernando Rojas should’ve finished off like that Granma’s grammar in his last speech. He should not have felt pity for that coda that no one in Cuba, except me, will concede him. In fact, applause and closed ovation is the least that the monolithic ideal that betrays him from paragraph to paragraph deserves, the ones that suppurate an anti-intellectual disdain that would be better articulated, in terms of author, in one of those novels about the loneliness of a dictator previously sadistic and now senile.

Fernando Rojas magnanimously pardons his new captive children’s lives (little happy men that are panic-stricken by him or flirt with him, but definitely children lost in the forest, that sooner or later, will be corrected by the political Peter Pans who care for them). There is no way to avoid his good intentions when brandishing a paved paper like it’s the sole Law. Our Rojaspierre in the ministry knows that the illiteracy of the Cuban audience is in direct proportion to their high educational level. Everyone wants to create, ergo it will then be very easy to make them believe first. And later we will agree on heroes and tombs, as well as grants and voyages, but always complicitly between companions, because out there and in here citizens are sharpening their knives, that never-as-useful than today unscrupulous and insatiable counterrevolution.

Nonetheless, in spite of the enlightened effort of Rojas, clucking out of context “inside the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing,” forwarding the phrase without reading the rest of that primitive speech, exaggerating its character of cultural apartheid and nullifying the semantic subtleties of socialism, maybe it has been the luck of a minimal vengeance, inconsistently transgenerational, almost an anonymous tweet that doesn’t remember what user it came out of, a discontinued vanishing line before the megalomaniac monologue of decades and decades of the Maximum Leader in his tribunal grandstand. It seems that each one has the bad date he deserves.

Translated by: Joanne Gomez

July 6 2011

growwwing old.cu / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

20TH CENTURY OLD MAN

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

I suddenly aged today.

I lived my normal life, at the margin of everything, now without understanding anything too much, but without worrying about it. I looked at death with indifference. At pleasure with a touch of horror. At society like a tolerable evil. At lies like metaphors. At my mother as if she still was my mother. I suspect I was at peace today.

Then I suddenly aged.

On the TV, Fidel and Chavez incarnated the scrawny image of defeat. Not political defeat, of course. In that arena, both tend towards immortality now. Instead in biological defeat. The swan song of the body. Holding on to the Cuban newspapers, that say so little, luckily. Snatching tasteless headlines. Fixing the date of the day before cameras without microphones (the audio was awful, maybe on purpose) so that the whole world would judge them as living zombies.

I looked at my hands. Since high school I had not felt that panic. The visible veins, the porous skin. I thought of my age. I turn 40 in December. In a little while I’ll probably look worse than Fidel. In a lot less time, something like Chavez’s mysterious pelvic abscess could happen to me (except I would have terrible free medical attention in my own country). In no time, there will be no reverse for my aging. In fact, I already feel very old. Ancestral. Archaic. It’s enough, please.

It seems it was essential to liberate that hyper-edited video for the always pressing international public opinion. It seemed pathetic to me. I had never seen Fidel like that (maybe it had been decades since I paid him any attention). I remembered the elderly of my family, all too long-lived. Their mandibles and cheekbones and gesticulations were now those of a Fidel guided more or less by Chavez’s infantile incontinence.

I stretched my hand. I wanted to touch the man before it was too late. It’s called piety. Too late could very well be too late for me. My eyes teared up. There is no beauty in the ruins of a human being. There is never justice in that much decadence. It would be monstrous if we didn’t die, but any prattling cadaver is a startling monstrosity. I say it only for my grandparents, it is understood. I say it only for myself.

When the little video ended, I felt I could not regroup in front of the TV. My joints burned. My cheeks much more. I was hungry. I wanted to go out and buy stuff. Stuff to accompany me to the end of the world. But I didn’t dare. I fancied Planet Cuba as a spectral place, a hologram in past perfect, a fragile fractal whose disciplinary order was to the point of exploding.

My little bones jingled. I felt an insufferable pity for myself. Cuban television was digging the grave where its sensible citizens let themselves fall. I would’ve done it today, almost without noticing. I don’t want to look like that, please. I don’t ever want to see anyone like that.

Translated by: Joanne Gómez

June 30 2011

DIRUBE’S DRAWINGS…? / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

A VISIT TO VISTA MAR

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

In a cultural magazine of the Catholic Church, I read the tiniest notice, published maybe a couple of months ago. It spoke of a chapel abandoned for many years and of a mural by Dirube that survived in its interior decor.

This past weekend I went up the Santa María del Mar hill, crossed a small, grassy park full of prisoners or crazies with gray uniforms (they performed labor-therapy), and I found the chapel at the end, with its cross raised towards the sky between a telecommunications tower and hard-currency hostel.

The place was beaten by neglect. Palsied fences, planks, bricks. A family inhabited a part of the building, as worse they could. And, in fact, I saw master strokes on the wall, adjacent to what may have been an altar.

It was a virgin. A Picasso virgin, chopped. Ruled, with baby God and little boat of charity with its three rafters included. Thin and thick lines, straight and curved, interwoven, illegible, perhaps a dystrophic flower, a goatish eye, everything holding glimmers of light that may well have been just remains of another painting that eventually faded.

There was an atrocious silence. A resonant vacuum perfect for Dirube, who was deaf from infancy, as well as unknown on the island during his biography. I put my ear to the mural. On the other side one could hear the voice-over bustle of a black Cuban family at the margins of a worldwide 21st century. It smelled of cockroaches and fresh cement.

I felt an inconsolable sadness. Fifty years ago, that division was being built to populate the future. People came and climbed these same hills and put their money to work as a function for creating an architecture of rupture against the patriotic Provincialism of our city concept.

Then they had to immediately flee from the overwhelming justice of the Revolution and they lost forever the epiphanic vision of a cyan sea. The vision that I now had for free, ignorant witness but susceptible to pain.

I took pictures. I breathed. I looked at the concave and claustrophobic line of Playas del Este. It was Saturday afternoon. It seemed to be the last weekend of the nation.

I do not know if, as he died in the nineties, Dirube remembered this mural. I don’t even know if he finished it or if I marveled at a mere sketch at the hands of a magician. Nonetheless, it was a miracle that his work still remained standing, fading without an audience in the face of ministerial indolence, waiting for me to pass serendipitously though here and kneel before the gods gone to pray.

I wanted to be humbled, sink before the splendor in ruins of a dead countryman, ask for forgiveness for so many kicks and coffins in exchange for nothing. I wanted to rebuild the imminent Cuba parting from a Dirube that may well have been a fake or by another painter (I do not trust the cultural magazines of any church).

Cuban culture is somewhat like that smudge, that scribbling of papers and walls, that despotic disregard against those who do not commune with the official faith, that masterpiece for nobody, that apocryphal elite that the people employ as latrine or guest house.

I left. I don’t know if I’ll return to the little chapel. Maybe I should organize a camping trip or hold a mass there in the name of all of you. That super modern temple, that the sloth of the religious institution did not know how to conserve, would be an excellent niche to begin repainting with the colors of change in Cuba.

Translated by: Joanne Gómez

September 21, 2010

ALL ABOUT E / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

E

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Her name is E. She’s twenty years old. She’s alive. She’s crazy. She’s desperate to do things, including, of course, the limitless freedom of her body. She’s sad. She’s very alone. She’s content in Cuba, at the reach of my hands and my writing. At the margin of everything, myself included. It’s impossible to not fall madly in love with such a little creature. E, exclusive vowel.

So thin. So angular. So dyed of an ancestral black. So scanty. A memorandum of death. So much desire compressed in a pair of decades. So orphaned. Such a vision when her smile at last bursts an explosion of pleasure. She smokes. Drinks. So post-Cuban, trapped in the shitty Little Havana of the thousand and one independent artistic groups that only dare to size up their own fear. Where would these lost angels hide if an explosion of hatred or perhaps a military re-concentration broke out right now in Cuba? They would commit suicide, certainly. Private beauty does not tolerate the mediocrity of the communal.

Hopefully E never gets killed. She’s at risk. She’s exposed. Museum of meows. She doesn’t stop. She gets involved. She’s expelled. They pedal over the minimal discharge of her backbone (her back is a cat’s back). She gets lost. Lunatic of the slums. She loses us. Not the faun’s labyrinth, but the nymph’s. She types formulas of circuits and impossible projects of books made with little pictures. She doesn’t sleep, accordingly. She doesn’t eat, except from other mouths. E is exceptionally spectacular.

I hope E reappears. That she resists. That she doesn’t become diluted in the familiar defect that this criminally conservative society has always been. I hope that she’s not deceived in her ingenuity of never telling lies. I hope that E lies. May she lie to us. May she manipulate us. May she mutate, but may she please survive the critical Cuba of the University during the times of Resurrection.

I hope to write more about E. All about E. Don’t envy me. Wait until I understand or extend myself better with E.

Translated by: Joanne Gomez

September 3, 2010

P350 AND LET’S GO…! / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

A MAGAZINE OF CEMENT PAPER

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

(more photos later in BORING HOME UTOPICS)

A free magazine can be invented over the dusty cartridge of an empty cement sack, opened.

In fact, freedom can be just that: a recycled powder, a remnant, with the rhetoric of its aired texts, without more design than that of a pragmatic parchment.

And the gates of the fringe theater group EL CIERVO ENCANTADO (5th and D, Vedado) served as coliseum for this somewhat eccentric experience: to cut up a cement sack and construct a personal magazine, live (Made in Omar Pérez + Yornel) by means of collage, cut-up, and cut & paste (preschool techniques borrowed by intellectuality).

This past July’s Saturday the 31st, the late night of El Vedado had in that corner a breather from the police oppression that smolders our avenues, on the hunt for an identification card or an island beating (under the digital cameras hanging from lampposts, perhaps by their necks).

“P350″: that’s the name of the Cuban Portland cement and it’s also a magazine that already accumulates a few collection bags.

Concrete creativity. In a special space where the prize-winning filmmaker Enrique Pineda Barnet fits right along with the censured performer Luis Eligio Pérez (from OMNI ZONA FRANCA). Even I.

The fossilized functionaries of the Ministry of Culture never peek their naphtha noses around there. They’re afraid of the democratic nobility and the enchantment of a theatrical stag. It’s just that they have quinquennials of experience closing down editorial projects, from El Puente, to Pensamiento Crítico, even Albur y Diáspora(s). It’s time that they retire or resign from some of their subcommitments of second-fiddle censor.

But P350 will be hard to fetter. The artists Omar Pérez and Yornel simply do not distribute it. They make it and then they exhibit it, carrying their cartons from home to home, like construction snails. Besides, they don’t even do it themselves, but they invite any creator to get in there and get their hands dirty so they can become smeared in the liberty of authorship. Do it yourself…!

P350 is a magazine that, as it gets stronger, like the original cement of its buttress, I’m sure will stick on the throats of more than one Cubanesque hooligan of guayabera and bureau.

Translated by: Joanne Gómez

August 3, 2010

VOICES / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

VOCES, originally uploaded by orlandoluispardolazo.

VOCES IS NOW A REALITY

A document circulates Havana, it surrounds it.

It’s VOCES 1.

A dossier of dissimilar discourse, in and out of Cuba.

A score of writers, and a window for looking in and out of Cuba.

Voices of change and continuity, swift to the point of the implausible.

Unedited and recycled, unheard on paper as well as on screen.

East of Eden. More loquacious than leaders of nothing, marathon runners of the

rhetorical resistance. Facing the crude body, without political

fibbing, pedaling between the spiritual and the stupid, reporting at the

foot of the horde, fictioning the black holes of a sinking vessel

in its nonsensical notion of nation.

Ways of narrating our unideological idleness at the height of the 21st century.

Ways of reformulating everything for the thousandth time. Endemic

enthusiasm of those of us who want to gain if not a voice, at least a

throat.

Future acknowledgment. Meetings of post-Cuban cultures. More a collage

than a choir. Binnacle of bits. Next to last papers. More art of hope

than of expectancy. Bullet-in of blogiterature.

Welcome to VOICES as a lucid reader. We also await you inasmuch

author at the edge of all authority.

Translated by: Joanne Gómez

August 5, 2010

TAKEN FROM VOCES 1 / Yoani Sánchez / Posted by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

That one will not return

Yoani Sánchez

I CAN STILL remember my mother’s sighs in front of the television, during those boring eighties, while Fidel Castro gave one of his marathonian speeches. He was the dreamy stud of many Cuban women who—from seeing him so much—could anticipate what he would say, they knew each of his gestures, even the new wrinkles that appeared on his face.

The attraction which that peculiar countryman of more that six feet, Grecian profile, and surprising oratory generated, took my mother and her friends into a prolonged paroxysm. It was like that until, in 1989, Arnaldo Ochoa’s trial was televised. He was accused of being involved with drug trafficking. My mother sighed once again, but this time opposite the face of the one who would be executed in a few days.

Something was broken within the “fan-club of the beloved and invincible Commander-in-Chief,” because in my house, nobody again listened stupefied to his speeches.

The age marked by Fidel Castro’s personal tantrums seemed to end. His absence in the media made us begin to forget him. Like every sorcerer, he needed to perform his magical moves for us, leaving us widemouthed and contented. He had to take the rabbit out of the hat and the scarf out of the sleeve in order to keep our attention.

Without his demiurgic image many of us ended up leaving our chairs and looking around. How little remained of “Him” in those four years during which we did not hear his speeches, when we didn’t have his punches on the table and his explanations of how the economic plan would bring the “solution” to all problems. Of the man who imposed himself with the strength of his presence, of the lulling us with his long diatribes, some unconnected reflections barely remained, published on the front pages of newspapers.

Suddenly, Pedro Luis Ferrer’s tune, warning us that “If grandpa does not agree, nobody paints the building” began to go out of style, to lose part of its meaning.

For starters, there were dozens of flu outbreaks going around Havana, and nobody thought of calling them by his name. During his long convalescence, practically no new nickname was added to the list of the ones He already held. And Pepito, the eternal rascal of our jokes, stopped mentioning him in his funny stories. Little by little, we had begun to forget Fidel Castro, even while he was still alive.

Homemakers were calm because the Brazilian soap opera kept its stellar nighttime time slot, without the delays that the Great Orator caused. The sports coaches felt lighter since they didn’t have to listen and follow his advice; meanwhile the meteorologists got startled, in the middle of a hurricane, when remembering the precise and irrefutable forecasts of the Expert in Chief.

The ministers, on their part, began to wonder if they had to make decisions for themselves, of if Raul Castro would inherit all the cabinet positions that his brother held. All of them, to some large or small degree, had stopped feeling the huge olive-green weight on his shoulders.

That sensation of lightness came about because since July, 2006, the Commander had not shown himself alive in front of them. All that time he did not give a speech or attend a public event. Neither did he approve a new law nor champion the sports delegations that traveled to international competitions nor sponsor the formal decorations to the presidents that visited the country. He was conspicuous by his absence in the numerous congresses celebrated and in the inaugurations of the new health centers. He practically did not utter any political opinion over how things had to be done in the country. Ultimately, he did not act like Fidel Castro.

And then he returned, like a blabbering elder with shaky hands that had nothing to do with that once well-built military man of Grecian profile, who from a plaza, where a million voices chanted his name, proclaimed laws that hadn’t been consulted with anyone, pardoned death penalties, announced executions or proclaimed the right of revolutionaries to make revolution. Little is left of the man who for hours took over television programming and kept an entire nation on the edge of their seats.

The great improviser of other times assembles now in a little theatre with an audience of young people, to read the summary of his last reflections—already published in the press—and instead of inducing that old dread that made the bravest tremble, he provokes, at best, a tender compassion. A young journalist asks an indulgent question and publicly bids him for a wish: Would you let me give you a kiss? What of that abyss that no audacity dared jump?

We had begun to remember him like something of the past, it was even a noble way of forgetting him. Many were willing to forgive his mistakes and failures in order to place him in some cindered pedestal of 20th century history, where his face—photographed in his last best moment—already appeared next to the illustrious dead. Suddenly he has come out to lewdly exhibit his ailments and announce the end of the world, as if he wanted to convince us that life after him will lose all meaning.

During recent weeks, he who once was called the One, the Highest Leader, the Horse, or with the simple personal pronoun HIM, has presented himself to us stripped of his former charisma, to confirm that the other Fidel Castro—fortunately—will not return again, even if this time, he makes the news again.

Translated by: Joanne Gomez

August 9, 2010

POEMS FROM VOICES 1 / Jesús Díaz / Posted by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

REQUIEM

by Jesús Díaz

This city was born of the harbor’s salt

and there it grew hot, irreverent,

its sex open to the sea

its clitoris guiding sailors

like a lighthouse on the bay.

And inside Chinatown, Tropicana,

Floridita, Alí Bar, Los Aires Libres,

orchestras of women jamming

a chachachá danced by aliens.

She talked, muzzled,

in a muddy mix of Yoruba and Castille,

of gypsy and Catalan, of Babel and Congo,

and all this patois, this creole,

the sweet streaky Esperanto

of Moore hullabaloos, Cantonese chitchat,

Jewish Jerusalemite jargon,

barbaric Spanglish of bars and bayous.

Stupefied, she confused Lebanese with Turks,

Asturians and Basque with Galicians,

Ukrainian Israelites with Polish,

all together and in sync screaming

on tables of tasteless linens

covered with yellow tamales,

gray crab, red shrimp,

the whitest rices dovetailed

publicly with black beans,

plantains like dicks and for dessert

a papaya open like a dare,

a great cigar and a gulp of coffee,

Satan’s preferred infusion, black and smoking.

An expert in contraband she dressed

with brandies, Chinese silks,

or well she wandered in rums or rags

and prayed Sunday at dawn

in churches of Gothic deceit,

false romantic, Baroque colonnades

sustaining the tricky art nouveau of the mansions.

Full of complexes, shameless, ridiculous,

she enjoyed a dark pleasure

impressing the more famous whores:

in her bay a gray Christ,

contaminated by the slow vapors of the party.

There, in the womb, a toy Prado,

a vacuous Capitol and skyscrapers

that never touched a clouds’ ass.

Euphoric tropical peacock

in the stained glass and ocelli of its sea-reflected tail,

her profound pain grazed above all

listening to soap operas on the radio,

snakes of the hopelessness invented by her

that traveled the world proclaiming

the insatiable evil of men.

Then, at night,

she showed her vampire fangs

elevating a hymn for the slaughters

to the music and lyric of La Guantanamera.

And in the break of day

she even gambled her butt cheeks

which she usually lost with cheer.

She gave herself to joy and strange rituals

and awoke dancing, the fucker,

boleros, mambos, rumbas,

in shindigs, cocktail parties and balls,

the devil’s revelry, her most revered angel.

Nothing moved her, not even

the blood her children offered

by burglarizing the Tyrant’s Palace.

She kept carousing, it was said

that nobody could romance her,

shut her music off and leave her

like a faithful wife, so tempered.

A little later the warriors came

reciting what verses

what songs, compositions, madrigals,

to make her forget centuries of partying?

With what wile did they manage to put a spell on her?

She fell in love with virtue like a whore.

Asked for forgiveness on her knees

to expiate her multiple sins.

Sacrificed her congas, her lies,

her scented soaps, her trifles,

her luxuries, passions, outbursts.

She ate a pair of eggs on a frugal table.

Screamed pure and happy until becoming hoarse.

She waited in a long line, interminable,

and to her great dismay, sometimes,

while with a saint or a man

she suffered the delirious nostalgia of the frolic.

Her pronouncement was not enough.

The sons of bitches, us, her bastards,

denied her three times. She never again had

nailpolish, not even

a sip of reflecting alcohol

to take to her lips in her frenzies.

And if she screamed with thirst, we did not hear her.

We were clamoring for the world

Translator: Joanne Gomez

August 10, 2010

TAKEN FROM VOICES 1 / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

REPORT AT THE FOOT OF THE HORDE

Orlando Lius Pardo Lazo

I believed in the knowledge of writing.

I believed in the power of freedom.

So when a colleague called me from Mexico, inviting me to collaborate on a magazine entitled Letras Libres, I had no option but to accept on two accounts.

The editors wanted a group picture. In public, under midday light, without the shadows of the Island of Cuba. Currently, in full action of March 2010. An intense snapshot, capable of inaugurating the White Spring in this city without seasons. They asked, of course, for a picture of the Ladies in White in their intrepid pilgrimage leveled next to a Havana that had become the Mecca of the acts of repudiation.

I accepted. I declined. I accepted. I declined again. Then I accepted again. I was afraid to be witness. I felt political panic, not only of writing, but of my own pixels set free. The title of the magazine suddenly sounded like an oxymoron: free letters, what for…?

After a week of doubt and a megabyte worth of e-mails, I felt like the pettiest being in the universe. I decided to do it, or I would never take a worthy picture or grow as an author: an entity with aesthetic authority, even against all types of static authority. Being a chronicler of my age couldn’t turn me in accomplice of that or any other social crisis. I sent my colleague a lapidary email: “yes.”

That dawn from Saturday to Sunday I did not sleep. At 7 in the morning I took the labyrinthic P1 bus route, from the proletarian suburb of the Virgen del Camino to the bourgeois district where the Parroquia de Santa Rita is climbed, in Miramar’s Fifth Avenue.

As soon as I entered, a lady climbed on me. I thought that would be the end. But she just called me aside and asked me to put the camera away inside the church. She was right, I had not considered the commercial obscenity of my lenses in that sacred ground.

I put the Canon in the backpack and I asked the lady for a thousand pardons. I probably stuttered. As (bad) luck has it, she asked me if I was a foreigner, because of my pronunciation that swerved from meticulous to precarious. No, no way (in vain I tried to imitate the most classic Cuban slang). A journalist maybe? Neither. And-then-what?, she relished the question like one who asks: po-li-ce?

Please. My name is Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. I write and take personal pictures of my country, I publish many of them immediately in a blocked blog that a friend let me use online. If you wish, I can leave you the address for you to verify: Boring Home Utopics. As a citizen I represent only myself. Maybe a fraction of the future that never was. I am here precisely to lose this paranoia that now clouds our glances and makes us seem like worse Cubans. Excuse me, can I sit now? Mass is about to start.

And I approached them. Towards the clearest pews, halfway in the luminous ship of the super modern parish, and republican to boot. I, suddenly sitting amongst the Ladies in White, las Damas de Blanco. Hearing them breathe, even. Smelling their perfume, I don’t know if expensive (the are accused of being Miami mercenaries) or cheap or if it was the fragrance of the gladioli, standard of gladiators which they each carried almost hidden inside, like I my camera.

I closed my eyes, I don’t know if I prayed. In fact, I don’t know if I know how to pray. The priest’s voice was grave and the microphones gave him an echo of celestial profundity. Five years back, the very same priest had closed the temple’s doors behind the backs of the Ladies in White, in the middle of an hysterical ordeal, pretendingly popular. If I prayed, I did it so that today, winds of brighter mercy would blow.

When I opened my eyes, one of the women in white extended her hand with a paradisaical smile. I shook it. Everyone greeted everyone as part of the liturgy. I joined in the enthusiasm of solidarity and then I noticed that I was surrounded by people much more tense than I: men on their own, holding nothing in their hands, short hair, graceful plaid shirts or striped t-shirts, belts with cell phones, in their looks a certain mystery of ministerial marble. It was the civil uniform of the Security of the State. Alea jacta est: Cubansummatum est!

At the end of mass, the Damas paraded towards the Virgin that presides over the parish, They asked for the prisoners: the sick and the healthy, the resigned and those who have decided to die of hunger before waiting. They asked for their family members and for the rest of the Cuban country. The asked for the soul of a martyred deceased, whose mother named him like my mother named me: Orlando… And to hear that name in their mouths broke my resistance and I fell apart ridiculously and cried.

I noticed that I was not the only one. And that those tears of life were our little security cord, because the congregation was already moving away from the Ladies in White, even making a point to not touch them: the faithful were fearful of catching the plague of such a prayer. And the ladies dressed in white, still asking for justice and peace. Prudence and forgiveness. Without ever raising their voices. Almost whispering at the ear of our lady of the impossible. The gladioli finally on high, to immediately trespass the threshold of the urban openness, and end up, like the first Christians, so alone and so saved in the leprous sand of the Revolution.

We went out, a procession condemned to repudiation (perchance provoking it like an exercise in virtue). I saw grimaces, adolescent wolves, howling with plastic jars holding tropicola or cubalcohol. I saw fists pointing towards the flat sky of the city. I saw a poor woman, foul-mouthed, ostensibly a convict or lunatic, dancing the demonic conga of one who wishes to delight in crime. I saw uniformed men in all the colors of the rain brawl. I saw cars of all the modern makes, unimaginable for a little country, supposedly underdeveloped. I saw people gesturing from the balconies of 42nd street in Havana. I saw cameras, and I think even a helicopter filming (my cowardly Canon stayed inside the backpack until the end of days). An entire evil alef that twisted wide and long across the Avenue of the Americas, until it reached the headquarters of National Parliament.

Then the Ladies in White, in a double file that seemed to cut noon’s hatred around them in two, chanted, out of tune, those same Sunday decibels that, thanks to the safe-conduct of Pope John Paul II himself, once resounded in the Plaza de la Revolución: freedom, Freedom, FREEDOM…!

And they went tranquilly to the sea, I magnetized with them amongst so much equanimity: women no, myths. I with skin soaking of their sweat after so many blocks. And they went to the stop of the P1 route, no less, in Playa, a bus that I boarded in between professional shoving as if I knew them. In fact, I still don’t know them. I mix-up their names in the headlines that nobody published in Cuba. I don’t even have a picture of our ordeal. As (good) luck has it, I sent my Letras Libres colleague not-so recent images from another colleague who pitied me. I have not yet heard an editorial response.

I know they are being produced with ferocious frequency, but not since 1980 did I survive an act of condemnation in my homeland (I had not ten years then; today I carry almost forty). I know that I must not trifle with this un-spontaneous debacle, but the images reverberate in my nightmares more and more each day, not only on weekends. Many other things were broken and healed on that Day of the Lord.

That is why I prefer to put everything in words now, like the exorcism of a foreigner who doesn’t understand anything in the beginning but will soon understand everything. I know that even the Cardinal of Cuba has taken charitable interest in the matter, and that my voice is implausible in matters of the State or Realpolitik. Precisely for this I write it down, to bet not for the masses with clubs, but for the piety of a new Realpersona.

So that, as my country, we may forget this perverse practice as soon as possible. So we don’t have to tell it to the Cubans who come after us. So that Cubans seeking vengeance never exist. So that the pain that burns these ladies white-hot won’t turn another vital color. So that the dialogue of the hordes doesn’t culminate in disaster. So that a Sunday mistake doesn’t convoke more demons of horror.

And to keep believing in the power of writing.

And to keep believing in the knowledge of freedom.

Translator: Joanne Gomez

August 7, 2010