The Trade of Nostalgia

Stories like this, sudden and bloody, of nostalgia and affection for what was lost. People who talk about what they didn’t have and what they wanted. (DC)
    • With this text, the author, originally from Villa Clara, inaugurates his collaboration with ’14ymedio’. He requested asylum in Spain after giving up the Italo Calvino Award for El fin del juego (The End of the Game).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 27 February 2022 — I have him in front of me, calm and austere, in a café in Madrid. He is a hard-boned guy with an old jacket and a broken nose, as a reminder of an old fight. Your country is not easy – he tells me – I tried to stow away there several times, to find out. To understand. Once I arrived along the coast — he pauses and sips his tea — with a new passport and on a boat.

Those were the hard years, and to see myself with so and so should be in a hotel, publicly. I had been a war correspondent and had a nose for who was watching me. After interviewing one of those characters, an exceptional and dangerous man, a waiter recognized me and I stormed out of there. The car was going full throttle and behind it the police, howling like in the movies. Traffic lights magically turned green.

I eluded them, but a few days later they managed to grab me alive and gave me a most educational beating. In a briefcase was my camera and other equipment. They took everything, including the deferred seaman’s passport.

I arrived at my embassy with a blood-stained shirt and a boxer’s face. They gave me a piece of paper with which I could file the complaint. The station secretary, a skinny and skittish girl, was waiting for her boss’s look to type the statement. What would those chimpanzees, with their rudiments of Havana karate, imagine I was carrying the cassettes of my report hidden under the seat of the car?

You were already an old dog, I tell him. An old dog — he repeats, smiling — just the same. continue reading

In the end I found her again – he adds, as he wraps the scarf around his neck. Who? The secretary of the station, who managed to leave the country and escape from her husband, a guy with airs and contacts who wouldn’t let her leave. But she made it, you see: the world is a handkerchief. She detailed her life to me, as I have now done with you.

If I had to count all the shipwreck stories I’ve ever heard.

Stories like this, sudden and bloody, of nostalgia and affection for what was lost. People who talk about what they didn’t have and what they wanted. People who, like me, have nothing but words and that is what they take everywhere. Words, laughter and cigar smoke – which is what I feel like now, to accompany the conversation of a friend, who says goodbye and hugs me.

I will have to tell this sometime, I say. And that’s what I’m doing here and now. Everything new is timid and, to some extent, crooked. However, I want to make this commitment to writing, calibrate it, measure the limits of my voice. I think of all those who preceded me in the Shipwrecks that give this column its name, coming from the sea and marked by calamity.

The island bites them but also gives them a reason for writing. It offers them small consolations: cigars, books, friendship, the rituals of good eating, the enigma of the Creole phrase, a whole literature and a destiny. In short, it offers them nostalgia as a trade and words as anesthesia.

I am going to talk about all this, if you allow me to place here the only valuable thing I have: my memory and the memory of others, which I have accessed through voice and books. Shipwrecks of existence that end up on paper, mediated by tobacco and rum that warms the soul, as in Conrad’s novels.

Here we will see each other – I hope – from time to time, in this room that I would like to imagine as an antique shop or a cafe. Two armchairs to talk, an ashtray to flick the words into and soft music, if possible a bolero. This being the case – with a good wind and better fortune – this shipwreck will not be so bitter.


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