One more year

It’s true it’s only the first, but I am very pleased to reach this anniversary with optimism and the hope that many more will come. I don’t plan to do a recap of the past year (the word ‘evaluation’ terrifies me), there are the published entries, and in particular, The old man, the Internet and me.

I want to celebrate, have fun together, if it’s possible in this virtual world. And we won’t talk any more, here comes the cake with its single candle. Look for the Mecano album of 1987, Descanso Dominical [Sunday Rest], and listen to the song that gave its title to this post. I hope its joy will be contagious. It will not be an unmentionable party, nor a monitored party. It’s time to get drunk, forget for a moment, sleep, maybe to dream… and let no one begrudge me this day of my happiness.

Morning Never Comes

I must confess I did not write these words. A friend received them from a mailing list, so we have no idea who its author is. We both think the message is useful and we hope the reader receives it with pleasure.

Part of a child’s beauty consists of a lack of a tomorrow, he lives everything in this instant and without conflicts about the future. You start to lose your childhood when you start to think about tomorrow. You stop living in complete wonder, start to live in great sadness and agony, stemming from knowing from the deepest part of you that tomorrow won’t arrive, yet you make plans, you build castles in the air and say:

“Marriage until death” “Your love until death.”

Everything in a tomorrow mode. Your life becomes an ambition to reach your dreams, your fantasies, but sooner or later you realize that you have lost the most beautiful part of you. Your youth, your beauty, your intelligence, and everything has been lost to the dream of tomorrow, with that false promise that you have made to yourself.

True happiness is only possible by living in the eternal now, the past and the future are mirages of the mind, they are traps that the ego has created to make you lose this moment, to rob you of your freedom to live here and now.

Tomorrow never arrives, thousands of beings have waited for a thousand and one things, the resolution to all their problems, the coming of the prophet, the end of the world, but yet they die without seeing tomorrow, only the wise man lives the moment intensely, gives in completely, simply because he knows that this moment will not return, it is impossible that it will repeat itself.

Don’t listen to your mind when it speaks to you of tomorrow, that is the true temptation, that is the serpent of Eden, promising what does not exist, taking advantage of your ambition, of your belief in tomorrow.

The wise man always looks at the inevitable, the inevitable is that this moment will not return, that is why he takes advantage of his vigor, his intelligence, his mental clarity with only one purpose, to go beyond the appearances, to eliminate all his inner negative aspects here and now.

The wise man knows that nothing is forever, and not only does he know it, he also lives it, he lives it in a way that he transforms the places in which he moves, he converts them into a paradise, from there stems the beauty of a man, of a woman who know the truth, who live in God, who have gone beyond the ego.

The present is the only reality that exists. Happiness is in your hands, live the present and make your light shine.

Fabricio’s second death

Author: Sindo Pacheco

On September 15th, 1980, at 75 years of age, Fabricio Campoamores’s heart got bored from so much beating. After going through the famous tunnel, the one those who have returned from death talk so much about, Fabricio found himself in an open field facing a steep hill, whose slope, covered in a layer of very thin grass, had a marble staircase leading to the summit, where a stunning blond was descending the steps

She was the most beautiful young lady he had ever seen, the perfect example of a princess whom every man invents and reinvents for himself in his fervent deliberations. Golden curls surrounded her face, from which two perfectly symmetrical, semi-transparent eyes gazed at him with some sort of affection. Her straight nose went down, undefeated, to lips which were the most exact representation there could be of a kiss. She wore a red velvety suit, winter booties and in her right hand carried a long wooden pointer.

“This is the mountain of minor offenses. You have the right to remain silent if you so desire,” she said in a melodious voice, like a tinkle of jingle bells. Fabricio did not understand what he should keep silent about. He had been a fine, upstanding father, worker, disciplined man. During his forty years at the head of the roasted corn meal factory, he was the first to arrive every morning, to observe, standing tall in front of the door, each of his employees’ arrival. He was obsessed with punctuality, and if he had been a reading enthusiast, he would have taken Phineas Fogg, the one in Around the World in Eighty Days, as his idol.

Fabricio could not stop staring at the princess, who seem to be waiting for a gesture of attention on his part. He meant to ask a question, but before moving his lips, she gave him the answer.

“There are nine mountains for you. Number two corresponds to not-too-slight offenses, number three includes those of a deep nature, and so on. The young woman moved her pointer from side to side, as if she were opening the curtain on the landscape, and immediately, the hill disappeared, the funeral home in town appearing before their eyes. He saw his wife Lucrecia, his sons Fabricio and Rafael, and in attendance a reasonable number of other relatives, neighbors and ex fellow workers who were surely there at his wake. His first worry was being late to his funeral, which would be presumption in the extreme, even when he could not be grateful to anyone for their presence.

“Do you know what it is?” asked the young girl
“Me, I’m dead” said Fabricio, shrugging his shoulders

She removed her jacket, which she lay on the grass, uncovering a white sleeved blouse, snug around her torso. Fabricio had started to feel anxious, apparently someone was determined to make fun of him, to humiliate him. The young woman moved the pointer from east to west, tracing a circle in space, and a country landscape appeared, whose wooden house and thatched roof Fabricio thought he had seen somewhere before.

Around the house two children ran, petrified. All of a sudden, one of them took the other one by the ears and started to pull with all his might. When the second child started to scream, a young woman came out to the yard, ready to help him out.

Fabricio felt an indescribable tenderness upon staring at the image of his mother recovered from time and oblivion. Then he recognized his cousin Evaristo, two years younger than he, and he felt guilty for having hurt him. He remembered that he had been a restless, ear-pulling, arm-biting, belly-nipping child, and, in his heart, he repented about that far away event.

“Do you know who the aggressor is?” asked the young woman.
The word aggressor almost paralyzes Fabricio, but his answer was already on the tip of his tongue.
“It’s me, but if you will allow me…”

The young woman did not seem to listen to his arguments. She removed her blouse and her skirt. Her body was blinding inside that small bathing suit. Fabricio shut his eyes. Anyone in his place would have lost his senses before the most beautiful woman in the world, but he started to feel consumed by fear, an icy fear that he did not know how to explain. She moved the pointer and a street appeared, the one where Fabricio had grown up. He recognized it by the sugar cane juice machine belonging to Juan Vargas, who was offering cane juice to his customers, and by the billiard hall where men usually spent those nights of his childhood. Old man, Pancho Cruz, leaning on his cane, was trying to pick up a cigar stub when it leaped, fleeing from his hand. Pancho went forward one step and tried to capture the gift placed there by divine providence, but once again, the stub moved. The old man made a last effort and lost his balance, falling against the cement sidewalk. The cackle of the children could be heard, while one of them, Fabricio, pulled the string that converted the cigar into a slippery object.

Fabricio hardly remembered the incident, but now, when he knew what it was like to be old, and to think like an old man, and to feel like an old man, even more than old, he had a grief attack, but he tried to compose himself, to look for some kind of justification, children were innocent, incomplete creatures whose scarce knowledge of the world made their actions lacking in importance before the law, besides…

“Do you know what it’s about?” the girl interrupted his thoughts
“I used to like the cigar joke” he said, lowering his head.

When he looked up again, she was in her underwear, wrapped in a robe of red tulle, which the wind moved slightly as if it was dancing around her legs. She moved the pointer again and the house where Fabricio had grown up appeared, with the trees as they were back then and the same paint on its walls. An adolescent boy had come out of the kitchen door and was placing a handful of rice on the stone slab of the yard. Immediately, a band of sparrows flew down to eat the tender grain. Fabricio felt relief. At least good deeds were being taken into consideration in that unforeseen confrontation, and of those there were plenty in his life, dedicated to work, to society and to family. However, he hadn’t finished rounding up his conclusions when the boy took out a slingshot out of his back pocket, he inserted a stone on the band, he aimed at the target, and a bundle of feathers fell to the ground, with its little feet shaking in his death journey.

This time Fabricio did not wait for the question.

“I hated sparrows” he said, and took comfort in thinking that everyone had killed a bird during his lifetime, but the image of the little bird would not leave his conscience. Fabricio started to feel agitated. If that was the mountain of slight offenses, he did not want to find himself before the remaining eight. His slight sins were few, but he was no longer sure he had been an honorable man.  He tried to remember his bad deeds, his violations, cruel events of his distant youth, infidelities, selfish acts, double crossings, injustices carried out in his phase as an executive, against fifty or so subordinates on whom his indolence, his ire, or his ineptitude fell. He remembered his pleasures, Elena, his first secretary, and later Rosita and Isabel, this last one, married and with two kids, one of which he suspected was his. For the first time, he questioned having been a good son, a good father, a good husband. Here he could not resort to his patriotic speech and  blame his uncaring to his dedication to the common interest of the nation. His whole life was there, in a sort of video tape: the world under God’s hidden camera.

Fabricio was already horrified. If he had had any blood, it could be said that even his last red blood cell would have turned to ice. A primitive, unknown terror had installed itself in his conscience, and his body started to shake.  The young woman moved the pointer as one who reveals the appearance of the world, and there appeared a cemetery under the midday sun. People were lowering a body amid the sighs and laments of the relatives.  The coffin resounded at the bottom of the pit with a hollow sound, like the very shell of the dead man. Fabricio recognized his wife Lucrecia wiping her tears.

When he turned his gaze towards the young woman, she extended her arms.

“Come, love, wash your sins before you go on to the second mountain,” she said with an incredible shine in her gaze, but Fabricio was exasperated, as if he had seen evil in its most pure state. He gathered all his strenghth and before she could react, he jumped towards the grave, the coffin, and he went inside his body. When the first handfulls of dirt fell against the surface of the glass, he understood he had been stupid, but he felt assured, protected. He had arrived at his burial on time.

New Year’s wishes

For myself I wish for nothing, my life is complete and on a good course. If I ask for anything it is for forgiveness, for allowing myself this opportunity to speak on behalf of others without being qualified to do so.

I wish for my children, in your classrooms, to have in front of you teachers like those I had. Mature and educated people who teach you with patience and correct you firmly without insulting you. First-rate teachers who base their authority on esteem, morale and mutual respect. Let them teach you math and also how to be better human beings.

I wish for the youth the determination to reject the reins and barriers imposed on you and the decisiveness to chart your own course. I wish for you integrity and moderation, to avoid falling into prostitution, as much for the body—most common—as for the most damaging and irreversible, which is the prostitution of the soul. Finally, I wish for you the wisdom and patience to stay here and to not abandon us. Your place is here, together with your elders, even though coexistence at times can be suffocating. Here begins the long and torturous road to your rightful place that has been denied you for so long. Only together can we make the change.

I wish for my country, freedom.

Only this, nothing more is needed.

And with these wishes, I leave you until 2009.

Happy New Year!

Nothing makes us different

The guardian angel of today is Abilio Estévez. Playwright, storyteller and poet, well-known and a winner of literary awards, this Cuban who lives in Barcelona has published mid-year the novel The Sleeping Navigator, the final part of a trilogy that examines three tragic moments of a family and a city. A family that tries, without success, to remain united.  A family that waits, with slow haste, in a city where time doesn’t move forward, or doesn’t move at all, maybe we are the ones trying to slip through a wall of time. The immobility has been our only mobility. A city which is loved or hated with equal need.

They’re hated, the grimy, unpainted walls, the stinking streets, where it’s been days since the garbage was collected and where there is a dull light of lethargy and a shadow of despair.  A city where one feels there is nothing to do is hated. The constant need to escape is hated.  However, those same walls and those same streets, with a strength that forces you to repudiate it, are loved. And most surprisingly: when you’re away, you want to return, to go on hating it and to go on loving it with equal fervor, with the same need. You want to be rid of it and you don’t want to be rid of it.  It’s fatal, like your own body, like your own family.  A city is a destiny.

It happened in the early nineties. The Berlin Wall had already fallen, in Moscow thousands of people were lining up in front of McDonald’s and in Havana dozens of uniformed cops out of uniform were lining up in front of the movie theater to see “Alice in Wondertown.”  Trying out my twenty-two years of age for the first time, I was going through life with that sensation of omnipotence, the result of hormones, lack of worries and not being well-read. Hemingway used to say that every man always has one drink too few. In my own version of the phrase, I substituted book for drink. So, one of my favorite occupations on arriving in any town or city, was to look for the bookstore, to browse through it without haste and—like a devotee visiting the temple—to make an offering of a little money in exchange for a certain quantity of printed paper. It was on one of these explorations that I found it.

It was a little notebook, small and brief. It fit in the palm of my hand and its scant sixty pages took up a space about the same as that between the thumb and forefinger when we demonstrate the size of a little bit. The cover, delicate and discrete, told about the title: Handbook of Temptations, the author’s name, and specified—as if it were necessary—that the contents were poetry. I remember that while I was looking at it, I thought it peculiar that Abilio did not seem like the name of a poet, but like that of a hick. It could be, perhaps, about a book of décimas—ten line poems. I opened it at random and what I read made me forget my speculations about names and décimas:

One afternoon some man will go past your door.  By chance, you will look out over the street. You will look at each other. Your eyes will meet for a second.  Only one second.  And then nothing will be the same.  Never again will you ever see him, nor will he again ever see you. But both he and you will know that everything in the past and in the future was contained in that instant, and the two of you will believe that to live is to prepare yourself for one glance in which everything is said.

My debts to this discrete gem that Abilio wrote for us are several. To verify one more time that poetry is more a question of essence than of form. To discover two indispensable names among many others: Lezama and Virgil.  To enjoy a sober and profound style which—I confess shamelessly—I try to imitate and capture ravenously. Understand that the temptations, large and small, are inseparable from our existence and that without them there is no happy ending to the journey.

My gratitude to the angel is twofold today, for his beautiful writings and for allowing them to be published here, for the enjoyment of visitors.  Gracias, Abilio.

To choose one door is to leave doors unopened.  A pleasure presupposes that many pleasures will not be lived, as each sorrow deals out so many sorrows.  The lover you take into your bed is one among all possible lovers.  The chosen word prevents the use of an indefinite number of words.  You visit a place so that other places will be left waiting for you.  Only the day that dawns for your death is any old day, a coincidence.

As it has happened since forever, we also must await the night and the ceremony of dream and silence.  We must hide -so that they won’t see us, so they won’t hear us–even though we are at the end of the 20th century and the next century threatens to transform us into the most advanced society of those who inhabit the universe.  This is one night of all times.  I enter your house, unseen, and descend to the bedroom.  I have accomplished this like any lover of Cnosos.  The prejudices have been left out on the street, and as I mingle myself with you, I feel clean and outside of time.  You are there and I wake up.  So near to the 21st century your loveliness moves me and I embrace you and am afraid.  The silence of your house is a civilization that peeks at the window.  Nothing is different in our kiss: it’s the same, simple and lasting, from the first man who could discover your lips.  We undress and are in Alexandria or in Havana.  I caress your chest, explore your thighs with my mouth, and reach the same pleasure as the young men from Umbria.  Nothing makes us different: when we join together it’s possible to prove that time has not passed.  Now I know the delight of the artist on having chiseled the torso, pelvis and arms of Hermes.  You are the pleasure and so am I, we belong to all time, and if you caress me it is the present, but also the past and the future and there can be nothing shameful. One in another, one on another on the whitest sheet, we become the couple rescued from death.  Eternity also has also descended to this damp and dark cellar.

From the book: Manual de Tentaciones, Letras Cubanas, (Handbook of Temptations, Cuban Letters), 1989.

There once was on Earth an island-most-island-of-the-islands. All around it, the horizon was not an imaginary line, but the place where the sky and the sea were truly united.

Perhaps the story he narrated is not true. What story cannot be told from the opposite side? The lie is my only truth.  I lie the same way I flee and my biggest lie is the return.

I was not king, however, I could neither drink the river water nor eat the fruit.  I wandered around the island and the beauty withdrew from me.  I wanted to touch a body and the glare of its violent youth stopped my hand.  There was never a body I could touch.  At the banquets I was alone, without touching a bite.  No one looked at me, no one wanted to look at me, as if serpents were growing from my head.  I was alone for years in my house by the sea.  I wasn’t born to live but to recount that I lived.

Heaven is in hell and both are on the Island.  I slept with the anguish that wine brings, or hashish.  So much escaping left me without legs.  So much saying goodbye left me without arms.  So much hiding they granted me invisibility.  Everything and nothing, I slept in the sweet-serene-horror of the island.  Pursued.  My biography is the book of persecution.  I slept without monsters: the most atrocious and inoffensive ones had fled from a land where intoxication leads to fright.  There were no monsters, I had to make myself into a monster.  I invented the being-awake-in-being-asleep.  Thus I could defend myself and build another world in places where the world began to disappear.  I slept awake, feigning drunkenness, now the fat giant using word-enigmas, now the basilisk of furies.  I possessed the codes to the island.  They didn’t see me, I was sleeping, and while sleeping, I fled to injure and blaspheme; I wept for an impossible love, the only possible way to be in love; I recounted the unmovable garden; I returned to seed, I changed a woman into a blackish rabbit, born with the Peace of Basilea, I went out to see on a three mast boat, I was in jail, I lived in Jesus del Monte Road, I was a murderer, an aristocrat, a laborer, a pornographer, a tuberculosis sufferer, gallant poet and ambassador.  I was persecuted, condemned.  My biography is the book of condemnation.  I was locked up in rooms, trunks, barrels, hand tied, gagged, writing on walls while I slept.  I would write autumn and the ground of the island would be covered in leaves.  I lived, exiled, in Persia and China, in the moors of Yorkshire. I always lived here.  They cremated me in Paris and New York, and at the end, my ashes ended up here.

I never abandoned the island in spite so many ships and fake seas.  They wanted to make me crazy and I made them crazy.  Transforming myself, with each death, being everybody and nobody, returning asleep in appearance, with an unexpected name, my radically changed name, my disguise, made of contradictory disguises and yet strangely the same.  Dazzling changing to confuse, deep down, the unique man, apparently asleep, writing raindrops on the walls so that the water would heal the bodies.  I got to be the first multiple man on the island and I don’t regret it.  I would have liked a different destiny, potter, thief, for example, villain, dancer. Gladly, I would have given my hands to wake in others the spark of desire.  I would have given myself with pleasure to the inactivity of the hammock and tasted the nectar of the medlar.  But I was born for insomnia and simulation.  Happiness is the only word that remains inert on the wall.  If others receive its strength, I do not.  Nevertheless, Can I speak of bad luck? I am here and that’s enough.  Pilgrims come to my grave on a daily basis.  They bring flowers, basil leaves, then they take honey and praises to the place where I am to be born.  I die and I am reborn on the island.  I hate it only because they taught me how to love by hating.

From the book: “Death and Transfiguration,” Holguin Editions, 2002.


Homage to JFP

Juan Francisco Pulido would have been 30 years old last November 14th. I’ve learned his story from Cousin Frank, who has come to visit. He brings me a draft that he had been preparing for some time and that he decided to complete with the verses from JPF that make up the title and the foreword.  Coincidentally with a previous post, the theme of suicide occurs. We have decided, despite the paradox, not to publish the details of the life and work of Juan Francisco, in hopes that it will motivate the reader to search on his own and discover, without mediators or influences, what parts he decides to keep for himself.

To Hell with Life
By Cousin Frank

…I am free, but I am sleepy.

Juan Francisco Pulido, poet, émigré and suicide
(Cienfuegos 1978-Minnesota 2001)

Turn off the light? It’s an energy saver bulb above the mirror in the bathroom that shines brightly, although with having to twist it to turn it on, it won’t last long, but it doesn’t matter, better to leave it alone, it’s not going to use much electricity and there’s money left. This one in the bedroom I am leaving off, I’m already used to the darkness.  These last three days I’ve had my eyes covered because of this fucking conjunctivitis; first it was the lungs, then the dust from the wallboard and now this blindness that’s turned me into a shit inside and out. The doors are already closed tight because I asked her and she always does it without being told, it’s that, at this point, I wouldn’t like it if thieves beat me.  Let them take some of whatever’s going to be left, though they will take something when they come searching for the first thing they will want at headquarters: “You didn’t find anything in writing? Keep looking!” a letter, a note, a small piece of paper is the first thing they need to find to give themselves an explanation, if there is one, because everything has to have one, but I’m not going to be the one who will give it to them, let them look for it and let them be fucked like me, when it was my turn then.  I’m sure they’ll take the little black date book but it only contains names, addresses and a few rhymes.  They’ll also look for them, but those I’m going to leave around, both quite close, although maybe that won’t make them happy and they will keep on looking  “Search carefully because this place must be full of weapons!” as if this fucking house was a pirates’ lair. That’s what I must look like with this scarf on my head, me, who never liked pirates. I prefer cowboys, with high boots and a hat which I don’t have because I’ve had boots but I’ve been trying to find the hat for some time, one that looks cow-boyish, but no one brings or sends one to me to wear on the day the Yankees get here. On this block no one knows what they’ll have to do that day, I am the only one who has a plan, I am going to go out like a cowboy and attack the shopping center, but I’m going to just grab the food and take everything that will fit in my gunnysack and when I get back to the block I’ll hand out to everybody the sausages and ham, the cheeses and chocolates with the little olives.  I’m going to share everything except the milk because that’s for us although my old man brings it home for me, of course he’s lucky because he doesn’t hide and they almost never stop him, I know he uses  my name when they have stopped him “This milk is for the Colonel!” and my old man is a piece of work, but I am a bigger piece of work.  That’s why when he wanted to increase one peso per liter, I told him no way, “And my name? How much is my name worth?”  It depends, my old man named me after a very rich guy of that era but the thing about names is unfair because you don’t get to choose your own and sometimes you don’t even get to choose what you want to be, like me, who wanted to be a pilot but you couldn’t, you had to be a guerrilla, a soldier, always a fighter, ready to go where they ordered you, to Escambray, to National Liberation, or Angola.  Derailing a train and making explosives with a condensed milk can, pulling the trigger like in Escambray because in Angola I didn’t have to do it.  There, I only had to advise the FAPL as to which of the prisoners had participated in the assault on the testicles and later witness the firing squad. Those were the orders from headquarters.  There, in the Escambray, I did pull it (the trigger), so much that I still wake up when I finish releasing it and all the shots have already come out, then the names come back with their last names, their aliases. I don’t succeed at forgetting anything, to die must be easier than to pull the trigger and go on living with so many memories, and then to watch it on television, saying it never happened: “How can it not have happened, if I was there and remember everything?” it would be best to write a book that goes something like, “The stories of the Macorina,” the little black doll that we gave them to hold in their companions’ presence: “is this the tough guy that commands you ?” and the prisoner, putting the little black girl doll to sleep singing a song to her. There are some left around who remember, like me, but I don’t like to write, I prefer to make up stories and then tell them or watch them on the television set, like the documentary they showed today about the fat guy with the cap. Lots of blood, lots of shooting, lots of dead young men with their dreams ruined. Like hers, asleep but no longer dreaming, only aching for him, for me, for herself and no longer wanting to even leave me alone, although sometimes she says I am unbearable.  I know how she feels and she won’t leave me so I won’t do something crazy.  That’s the first thing they say, “He went crazy!” now, when I’m the sanest.  It’s hot, but I won’t turn on the air conditioner. I leave the room shut.   It’s better I use the little one because they will come looking for the big one, tracing it by its license, but this one has people backing it up who are crazy about it.  It’s true that it’s comfortable on the ankle and light in your hand but don’t even think about giving it away.  I wanted to sell it to a friend recently and he didn’t buy it from me but it showed up with the load he is carrying.  Now that she is sound asleep will she feel nothing? I will indeed feel it again for the last time, though I would just like to know one thing: who will turn out the lights?

Reinaldo Arenas in memoriam

December 7, 1990 was an ordinary Friday in New York City.  Nothing unusual changed the rhythm of life flowing in the Big Apple.  In his apartment crowded with books, the writer Reinaldo Arenas prepared to put an end to his life.  Sick with AIDS, he’d concentrated his energies on finishing his novel, The Color of Summer, and his autobiography.  Now that they are done, he hurries to stick out his tongue one last time at the bald woman, laughing to himself.  Giving proof of a bravery that many who boast of their manhood would like to have, imposing his own conditions on life and death, until the end.

Eighteen years later, reading his novel has made me feel his greatness.  Dispersed fragments of his personal history, anecdotes told and transformed, the ebb and flow of subterranean currents contribute to the weaving of his legend.  With more doubts than certainties, knowing that his work is an unresolved subject for many of us, today I want to remember the great Cuban that is Reinaldo Arenas.  And for this I am going to borrow the words of another great Cuban, a writer like him, who dedicated these words a year ago.  Words to which I subscribe, except for the reference to landing in New York, for obvious reasons.

When Arenas finally managed to escape from Cuba, in the 1980 exodus, I was only seven and had never heard his name.  When I landed for the first time in New York, many years later, he had already committed suicide.  I never got to meet him in person. Maybe that’s why I don’t give a hill of beans for the insults and other ad hominem attacks with which his detractors, even after his death, attempt to silence him. It’s clear he was no saint.  Simply a writer with an enormous talent for frankness who defended, come hell or high water and against all odds, his right to express himself with complete freedom.  One who yielded nothing on the battlefield where so many, even today, are dragged down.

Taken from:
The thrill and the laughter
Ena Lucia Portela
28 April 2007

Bottled dreams – Part Three, Final

But it was already too late, at least to recover his family.   Although his craft brought in better earnings and gave him more time at home, the drunkenness, increasingly frequent, ended up antagonizing everyone. His son was the first to go in search of a dream, which he found in much colder lands.  His wife asked for a divorce, even though she continued living in the house, having nowhere else to go.  They put up with and kept a watchful eye over each other and, according to the gossiping tongues—which there are in every village—were temporarily reconciled, until she managed to escape to a mission in the Latin American jungle, to make a little money and get something better when she returned.  Even though she’d made it very clear the marriage was over, he didn’t lose hope of winning her back.

The years of loneliness have affected him greatly.  Above all the lack of people to talk to, accustomed as he was to dealing with so many people, in discussions and drunken binges.   When someone visited him he found it difficult to let go of the easy conversation, the stories and witticisms, that burst out like when a dammed current finds a channel of momentary relief. Sometimes, when he went out in the evenings to find material for his workshop, he ended up some place where he found drink and conversation. And once again he felt at home, amid the interminable discussions that thrive so well in the shadow of the bottle.  Because he hadn’t lost the habit of saying what he thought, his fame as a crackpot rose among those who frequent these places.  Others thought him provocative and informative, because they couldn’t imagine that someone who could say such things could be in the gutter.  To others he was simply an old drunk.  One more.

When he gets home late a worried neighbor never misses bringing him a plate of food if he’s awake, or closing the door if he’s sleeping.  The next day, he wakes up in a bad way, feeling the weight of his years.  This repeats for the umpteenth time though he’s already too old for these tricks, while he prepares the day’s work, which he knows from experience will be more tiring than usual.  And so it continues, day after day.  After so many years, the sailing ship of his youthful dreams has been reduced to fit into a tiny little vial.

Bottled dreams – Part Two

Sometimes, when the loneliness sinks its teeth into him, or he remembers the grandson he doesn’t know and who doesn’t speak Spanish, he seeks solace in drink.  Which is the main cause of his loneliness.  For this he lost his job, his marriage, his son and many friends.

As a child he wanted to be a sculptor, but the fear of his family’s reaction stopped him.  His father, the son and grandson of blacksmiths, didn’t want to know about any artists in the family; and so that he wouldn’t have to go through what his father went through, so he could make something of his life and not lose out on the opportunities presented by the changes just starting to happen in the country, his father practically forced him to choose between medicine and engineering.

He had recently graduated to a large workshop.  The workers, hard and honest people, were accepting, little by little though with suspicion at first, until they came to respect him for his technical ability and his fortitude and integrity in the face of any test.  The bosses saw him as a threat to their positions and from the start they declared war on him.  For almost twenty years he accumulated successes and friends, some setbacks, and a few—but fierce—enemies.  He begin to drink in the long days spent meeting the always growing plans, although meeting them did not serve to modernize the plant, which teetered on the edge of obsolescence.  He introduced innovations and developed technologies that then became mandatory across the whole industry.  But he never sweetened a phrase or was unclear about a responsibility. He always said what he thought and so was never allowed to enter the inner circle.  It was a kind of conflict, good for keeping the plant running, but not for being invited for a weekend of fishing.   He never had a car.  They authorized a telephone so they could call him at any hour to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.  Until he got tired.  Aware of his problem with the bottle, he didn’t want to give them the pleasure of catching him in a mistake while drinking so he left, with his head held high.

Bottled dreams – Part One

He gets up early to do his crafts.  He should take advantage of the sunlight; his eyes, tired out by the years spent in classrooms and workshops, don’t resist now working in artificial light.  When arthritis—which he attributes, despite what the doctor says, on no longer having the heat from the smelting ovens—allows it, he works the whole morning.  He has a vast repertoire, based on years of experience and the need to sell.  If there is electricity, he makes woodburning pieces, if it’s off, he carves figures in wood.  He prepares the articles in advance, depending on what celebration is coming up.  The lack of options for gifts and his low prices guarantee that all his pieces sell.  Many clients visit his home to ask for personalized details.  It’s common to see, on the path leading to his house, buyers lining up in the days prior to February 14 and March 8.  With the healthy pride of a creator, he boasts of having contributed to the decline of the divorce rate and in the increase in loving stability among the couples in the town.

At noon, lunch and a nap.  In the evening, he goes out to find raw materials for his workshop.  It’s the most distressing part of his operation, with the scarcity of wood and the tangle of existing prohibitions.  Several trees considered to be precious wood grow in his yard.  If you manage to get permission to cut them down, you can’t keep the wood.  It must be sold as communal timber to a forest company that didn’t plant it and that doesn’t care about the fate of the trees.  The forest company sells the wood to another company, that is dedicated to providing it to artists and craftsmen at a higher price, as befits the precious wood.  And the last company, when it sells it to him, will add on something to cover expenses.   He, as the interested party, must take care of all the negotiations and ensure that the wood doesn’t get lost during this long peregrination.  This has forced him to use materials much easier to obtain, such as branches, bark and seeds, carpentry leftovers and even wood recovered from construction forms.  As a young man he dreamed of making sailboats in bottles, like he saw on television; today he makes little bottles inside penicillin vials.  He’s a minimalist by obligation.

Silent blood

Some open their veins to let the blood flow out, others block the air to their lungs.  The determined use rope, the brave fire, for the fearful ones it’s always possible to overdose on sleeping pills.

A few are well known, leaving their works behind them, some are famous; the great majority are anonymous neighbor children.  Invisible lives that end in invisible death.

They all leave, and they leave us with questions.


Since when?

The three faces of Soy

There are things you never forget, even though they may seem insignificant. There are words that, like the tea of Proust, provoke the same memory, with the precision of a reflex mechanism.  The word substitute, for example; I refer to the start of Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita.  At first reading, the word stumped me, but I tried to infer its meaning and read on.  In a subsequent reading I found it in the dictionary and took control of it.  Or it me.  I’ve never thought of using it, but there it is, reminding me of the cold apricot drink with which two writers warded off the heat while walking by Patriarch’s Pond, just before meeting Monsieur Voland.

Something similar happens to me the with word soy.  The first time I read it, it was in the novel The Space Merchants, by Pohl and Kornbluth.  It was in the early 80s, I was in high school and attracted science fiction.  Interested in getting on with my reading, I didn’t bother to figure out what it was that was giving their consumers unique facial characteristics, cause for contempt from the successful advertising director Mitchell Courtenay.  At the end of the novel, moved, I forgot to inquire about the soy bean and subconsciously associated it in some way with a protein mixture without being clear about its origin, in short, it was something that was used to make croquettes.

Perhaps in revenge for having been overlooked in favor of fiction, soy reappeared a decade later, in a more realistic form, in the midst of a no less real and much more intense crisis in the 1990s.  Then, soy was a white granule that my old lady washed in order to separate it from the chopped meat, explaining to me that the soy bean was a legume which had to be cooked a long time to make it soft, and that mixed with chopped meat, it created the dilemma of how long to cook it; cook it just right for the meat and risk eating the soy beans raw or, run the risk of ruining the little bit of protein by cooking it long enough to soften the badly crushed little beans.  And when I say little bit of protein I am not exaggerating.  That ground meat in the Special Period had every kind of thing in it—tripe, cartilage, belly, ear—except meat.  I don’t think I can describe the intense disgust I experienced on finding those revolting pieces of intestine, easily recognizable by the characteristic villi.

And just when you thought you’d seen it all with regards to agriculture—or more accurately, the nonsense in agriculture—I learn that there are going to be experimental soy bean plantings, supported by a Brazilian company.  If this experiment turns out like the rice in the swamps of Zapata, the coffee in the Havana Cordon, the 8 million cows and calves for 1970, and the reconversion/destruction of the sugar industry, we already know what will come of it.  So many farfetched experiments, so many man-hours consumed, for what?  Instead of sowing the many varieties of beans that we have and that we like so much, soy beans.  In place of mamey melons and mango, passion fruit.  I suspect that behind all of this are a few of those who are “fighting” for their little trip to Brazil, to “learn lessons” so that later they can come and teach us what we have known very well for many generations, but are not allowed to do.

The old man, the Internet and me – Part Three, Final

One day before turning forty, aided by a person who needs no introduction or advertising, I started a blog.  Without going into the details, I did it because I needed to satisfy a long-deferred need for expression, I wanted to tell those things that I would like to be told and that have no place in the conventional media.  The greatest value of her help—and for this you will always have my gratitude, my dear Yoani—was to make me realize that I could write, and that I wanted to do it, in the same way that my old man taught me to swim in the cold pool where I was born: by giving me a good push.  Now, several months and thirty posts later, I’m surprised by the invitation to an event and the request for a text on my difficult experience as a blogging Islander.

What would it be worth reporting on at this time.  At least this:

Thanks to technology, digital information is much easier to reproduce than printing.  I can’t imagine how our grandparents managed in the era when the most common way to copy a file was to make a photocopy of the page of a samizdat.  Thanks to the Internet, the wall of isolation becomes more permeable.  In just three years, I was able to access an enormous volume of information through sites, forums and electronic books.  At that time, which today seems so long ago, blogs didn’t have their current role, forums were the places par excellence for exchange. Under this influence, the world for me reached a dimension that went beyond the 12 printed pages of the national media.

When I think of that, I believe that the accumulation of new knowledge, in conjunction with the maturity that comes with age, facilitated this change in my concept of the world and helped me decide to write.   But it’s not enough for me to have something to say and the desire to say it, if I don’t have a few ideas about how to say it.  A blog is a spontaneous medium—and even superficial, if you like—marked by brevity and immediacy, but that doesn’t mean neglect and improvisation.  Out of respect for the visitor, to our language and to myself, I have outlined an aesthetic and formal level where I try to maintain my work.  The reader will have the last word.

Keeping a blog can be exhausting.  Both for the body and the mind.  Traveling to places where I can access the Internet, sitting down to write after a day of work, putting off sleep for another hour, and so tired by having to organize ideas and references, dusting off the disused intellectual tools, and critically evaluating the completed material.

Keeping a blog can be frustrating, especially with so many problems in accessing the Internet.  Difficulties are compounded when you live in the provinces.  Time is scarce and expensive.  You have to resend posts and emails that are interrupted when the line goes down.  You can’t go back and fix the minor errors that escaped your notice.  You can’t read or respond to comments.  There is little chance of establishing relationships with other bloggers.  You can’t respond to offers to exchange links.  You are almost completely unable to upload images.  This entire string of impediments leads to a minimalist style that is too sober and visually boring.  It requires great skill for the narrator to write texts that appeal to readers, skill I do not possess.

For these and other reasons, more than once I have considered surrendering in the face of adversity, discouraged by the rare visits and the meager comments, oppressed by this new form of non-communication that reminds me of messages in a bottle sent by the shipwrecked, I have thought of abandoning the blog like a ship taking on water.  To paraphrase Ponte, I wondered what makes people continue with their blogs.  Why do this?  For fame?  Money?  To accumulate links?  For recognition now or in the future, if everything stays the same, or if it changes?  Then I go back to basics, the need to say the things I’d like to say.  Deep breath.  Turn off the monitor.  Check on the child.  Arrange the mosquito net.  Have a cup of coffee in the kitchen.  Smoke the last cigarette in the box.  Again, a deep breath, turn on the monitor, and keep typing.

The old man, the Internet and me – Part Two

I don’t think it’s necessary to list the difficulties that impede access to the Web for the ordinary citizen, but I will just point out that they are greater than those that prevent access to the sea.  It is a current topic in the blogs and we’ve even created our own, Potro Salvaje [Wild Colt], where with humor we laugh at our limitations.  I don’t think it’s possible—without stating the obvious—to describe the liberating potential of the Internet with the possibility of exchanging information beyond the fence established by the government.  It interests me greatly to emphasize its effect,   its influence in Cuban society today, where we are beginning to take timid steps which can be the beginning of a new organization of civil society.  The “Email Skirmish,” the “Case” of Eliécer Ávila—a drama in two acts—the freeing of Gorki Águila, are stories that would be impossible without the Internet.  Timid steps, few walkers, but we know this is how you begin the longest journey.

In the present world autarchies of any kind are impossible.  The needs—not just for development, but the simple maintenance of information technologies—are forcing them to create openings, to be integrated into the world.  The whole economy is organized like a network of networks of value-added chains.  The survival instinct, on the other hand, pushes towards narrow mindedness, absolute control.  While our government stagnates in this contradiction, society pays the price of mortgaging our future a little more.  Armed with patience and flash memories, we are working inwards to create informal networks for the exchange of information.  Looking outwards, we make our voice heard through blogs, woven from the pieces of our national reality as we see it.  And our voice is gaining, in credibility and spaces.

In the classic noir novel there is a scene I enjoy remembering.  It’s when a character is beaten as a warning.  The attack confirms that our Marlowe has touched a nerve, that one of the old Mafia capos or corrupt politicians wants out of the plot.  The measures against several of our blogs and the harassment of those who are dedicated to the “constant monitoring of the Internet, issuing reports and the fights, as such, in this area,” constitute evidence of the interest with which they follow our exercise of our voice, and speak indirectly to our prestige.  The pathetic attempts to denigrate our ideas, and then to amalgamate them with the well-known meat-and-potatoes of the party line: the North American blockade, the foreign financing and the media campaigns; or the attacks on the authors through lies and character assassination, all these expose the lack of arguments among the censors and the convenient amorality of their executors.

These young fisherman, who ply the waters in motorboats provided by their powerful patron, attack us, aim their water jets at us, trying to sink our precarious rafts and sailboats, impelled by who knows what hallucinogenic combination of crudeness, credulity and enthusiasm.  They are the visible instruments of an entrenched and belligerent thinking, which determines that the Internet is a colt that must be tamed, a marketplace where only one voice is heard, an enemy to confront, conquer and destroy.  The use of a masculine gender to fabricate a confrontation should not surprise us; it’s difficult to dress up the feminine with an antagonistic image, and requires that we violate our tradition of respect and protection towards women.

How do we deal with that combination of ignorance and orthodoxy?  I think we can all contribute to the answer, just allow me to highlight two aspects.  The first is creativity.  Nothing is more disconcerting for a unadventurous thinker than variety, change.  Find new ways to circumvent the old reefs, to avoid the sunken dangers, the drag of the undertow.  Use intelligence to be the mountain facing the sea, and vice versa.  The second is humor.  Those who read Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” recall that the old monks were more afraid of laughing than of the devil himself.  If there is anything that efficiently and effectively disarms the most starched solemnity it is a good little Creole joke; so let’s hear it for the raspberry, the old Bronx cheer; it can be a good tool once in a while.  Don’t forget, a little kick in the rear now and again never did anyone any harm, not even us.

The old man, the Internet and me – Part One

I am a guajiro, a peasant. I was born on a distant mountain in a little island of huts surrounded by canefields.  I was nine the first time I went to the beach.  I was sixteen the first time I went out to fish in a small boat.  Since then, I like the sea.  From that time, so long ago, I keep the dream of a house made of wood from which you can see it, a place to grow old breathing the salt air and warming my body in the morning sun.  I, like so many others, before and after, dream of the sea.

In his novella “The Old Man and the Sea” Ernest Hemingway comments on the custom of using the female gender to refer to the sea.  He says there are those who want to speak ill of it, but they always do so with respect, as if it were a woman.  Some young fishermen, who have motor boats bought in good times, speak of the sea like a contender or a place, or as they speak to an enemy.  But the old man Santiago always conceived of it as belonging to the female gender, as something that grants or denies huge favors, and if it does evil and terrible things it is because it can’t help it.  Until moon affects him, just like a woman.

Since ancient times, man has gone to the sea to communicate, trade and make war.  Great advances have been made in navigation.  Great also have been the catastrophes that this fickle lady has caused to curb the excesses of our pride.  Even in our age of global telecommunications and satellite-assisted navigation, sailors sail her with ancestral respect.  They know that at any moment they may be faced with her fury, sometimes fatal.

We Cubans, who have always walked along the pathways of the sea, the same in ransom and contraband with pirates fishing offshore in the cold seas of the north, carrying troops to Africa (crowded in the holds of ships, similar to the taking of the Africans to become slaves of the army) and bringing bicycles from China, we find ourselves now, although it seems paradoxical, very far from the sea.  Its delicious fruits, which helped to develop the brain of primitive man, have been absent from our tables for decades.   Maintaining a boat is a far larger problem than owning a car.  To sail the sea you must have authorization, and as it’s grotesque to have to ask permission to have fun, those who go there do so in search of a consumer product or trade.  Sad paradox to live on an island and turn your back to the sea.

Of our relationship with the sea is paradoxical, the one we have with the Internet is no less so.  These two worlds, of dissimilar appearance, have much in common.  The first is of natural origin, created long before man walked its coastlines and from it, life on the planet arose.  The second is artificial, a recent product of human science and it’s radically changing the way in which we develop our lives, both as individuals and at a planetary scale.  For both, one navigates and surfs, ports and coordinates are used, in both logs are maintained and routes plotted.  From the comfort of a room, people around the world have the network to communicate, trade and wage war.  We Cubans, the sons of exceptionality, in spite of the terrible condition of the optical fiber everywhere and the promise of computerizing the society, still today, late in the first decade of the promising new century, are very disconnected from the Internet.

Like a stormy passion that shakes our life, access to the network of networks marks a before and—unfortunately if it is lost—also an after.  Like drugs, its use causes addiction and also euphoria.  Since that early morning at the end of the last century, when, in front of a dark UNIX console I celebrated for the first time the miracle of writing a URL address and receiving the corresponding hypertext, I, like so many others, before and after, dream of the Internet.