Colina’s List

On January 25, 2007, critic and achiever Enrique Colina took part in the interchange between Cuban intellectuals which ended up being known as the “e-mail wars.”  I use the word interchange in a calculated way because I don’t think what happened was a true debate.   If we discount the declaration issued by the Secretariat of the Union of Writers and Artist of Cuba, who have the greatest responsibility for what happened, we find that they did not express their opinion, but continued to exercise their control over the national culture.  Or better yet, over some of the creators and the media supporting the socialization of such culture.  Much has been written about such an interesting episode, and it is possible that, in a few years, new assessments may present its true significance within the dynamic national culture of the still young XXI century.

In his extensive and courageous message, Enrique Colina intertwines personal experiences lived -or suffered- during the thirty-plus years that his program, “24 per Second”, aired; ideas about the relationships between creators and political leaders, and brief stories about Cuban movies that generated controversy at the time. And as incontestable evidence, he leaves a list of thirty films -not including documentaries- that had never been shown on national TV.

Although I have no basis to support what I state, I want to believe that the subsequent “thawing” of some of those movies was the result of the intellectual exchange and, in particular, of Colina’s list. In the following months, gradually, they showed several of those films on TV, airing “Fresa y Chocolate” (Strawberry and Chocolate), a Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío movie, in May 2007. The showing of this film brought an end to an almost 14-year wait for most Cubans, who can only see movies on TV, and who wished to enjoy a highly promoted, lauded and internationally acclaimed movie, considered a symbol of the new Cuban cinematography of the 90’s.

By wonders of happenstance, exactly two years after Enrique Colina sent his message to Desiderio Navarro, on the night of January 25, on educational channel 2, I saw “Madagascar,” made by Fernando Pérez in 1993, the same year as “Fresa y Chocolate.” I wonder if it would be possible -with the collaboration of some enthusiasts- to update the Colina list and see how many films still remain to be “thawed”. Or to compile the documentaries list, which has also moved along. At least, with the movies, old debts are being settled. When will there come a time for settling the rest?

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.

My Neighborhood, My Little Country

In the bureaucratic and political jargon of my country it’s called Vibora People’s Council. It’s my neighborhood. A piece of geography, extending from Avenida de Acosta to Santa Catalina, and from the Causeway on 10th of October – once called Jesus del Monte, which the poet Eliseo Diego Rodriguez immortalized – to Mayia Rodriguez.

They form a quadrilateral seven blocks long and ten wide. There are many schools like the Institute of Vibora, now a technical and business school, the “Thomas Alva Edison” primary school and “Enrique José Varona” secondary school, once prestigious colleges. Other schools, such as “Pedro Maria”, are now dirty warehouses, and the ancient college of the “Marist Brothers” is the headquarters of the shadowy political police.

When night falls, the Calzada de 10 de Octubre, becomes a catwalk. Repressed gays hunting for a partner. Lesbians with military haircuts, who after drinks kiss desperately at the door of Pain de Paris, an exclusive cafe that takes only convertible currency. Cordova Park is perhaps the largest open-air “hotel” in Havana. Cheap sex in foreign or domestic currency, whichever. You choose your sexual preference.

Later in the morning, old men with sad faces and worn clothes form a line at the Metropolitan Bank — opposite the former home of the Counts of Parraga, today a cultural center — to collect their meager pensions. Also under the cover of darkness, thieves, robbers and voyeurs practice their misdeeds.

When the sun heats up, the nightcrawlers go to bed. And the street is colored yellow, red and brown, the colors of uniforms for secondary, primary and high school. Rushing people gather at bus stops to board lines P-6, P-8, P-9 and P-10, and to try to get to work on time.

The old men who in were line at the bank at dawn are now the first to buy the solitary 80-gram roll that the ration book allows us.

These seven by ten blocks make up the Vibora neighborhood. My home town.

Iván García

Translated by: Tomás A.

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.

Russia is Coming Back

Breaking: The Russians are coming back to Cuba, this time as tourists and with hard currency. And these last few days there has also been a fleet of enormous Russian ships, bristling with weaponry and radar, at anchor in Havana’s port. The intentions of both governments are clear. Castro II wants to ask for a lot and to pay little. Dimitri Medvedev wants to re-position Russia at the center of world power.

They’re as tall as palm trees. They walk slowly and scrutinise the buildings in the old part of Havana. It’s a group of five Russian tourists. Three men and two fashionably dressed young women. They’re blond and have green or blue eyes. If you didn’t know about the embargo on Americans travelling to Cuba, you could easily mistake them for bored and slightly lost Yankees.

Near the Plaza de Armas, in their faltering English, they ask a balding mulatto guy holding a guitar where they can get something inexpensive to eat. “Fast food”, says the Russian girl. “Oh, there’s no McDonald’s here. The most similar thing you’ll find is the ‘Di Tu,’ which sells chicken, about two blocks from here”, the mulatto guy replies, in Russian, to the amazement of the tourists who want to know where he learned it.

“In the 70s I studied at Oleg Popov’s famous Clown School in Moscow”. “Oh, so you’re a clown?” asks a Russian wearing a Chelsea football shirt. “Yes, a clown who earns his living by singing nowadays,” he replies, while picking out on his guitar the tune to “Midnight in Moscow.”

The ex-clown manages to extract 10 convertible pesos from the Russian’s wallet for the song. His name is Manuel Oritz and he’s 53 years old. For the last 15 years, he’s been on the soup circuit (the term used on the island for serenading tourists while they eat) around Old Havana’s cobbled streets. “I was lucky with them. On the whole, they’re stingy, the Russians, and they don’t like hearing the old Russian songs, nor being called Tavarish.”  [Translator: Tavarish is the Russian word for comrade, and was the only acceptable form of address in the days of the USSR.] Ortiz confirms that he did indeed study as a clown in the former USSR. With this new wave of Russian tourists, the extensive and well supplied informal market place, home to jineteras, personal guides, musicians, rum and tobacco sellers, drivers, and guest house keepers, is dusting off the old basic Russian manuals so as to be able to break the ice with the new visitors.

Joel Romero is 32, slightly overweight, and has the look of an intellectual about him. He works as a private guide for tourists. Keeping an eye out in both directions in case a tourist comes along, and smoking a menthol cigarette, he offers the following profile of the Russian visitors: “They still like rum and Cuban tobacco in excessive quantities, just like the old Soviets did. They go after mixed race girls, and young bisexuals, for their orgies. Unlike Western Europeans, they don’t like the old style Cuban music. They prefer rap groups, like Orisha, or Isaac Delgado’s salsa. They do sometimes leave tips, but they’re not big tippers, not like Cuban-Americans or Canadians.”

Héctor Gómez is 48 and works for the Gran Caribe hotel chain. He estimates that the number of Russians who have visited the island this year is about 10 thousand. And the new Russian invasion extends beyond tourism. Russian-made Maz buses are operating the Metrobus company’s PC, P9, P6 and P10 lines, some of the routes around the city’s main roads where the use of large capacity buses has managed somewhat to alleviate the capital’s difficult transport situation.

Besides buses, the Cuban government is also studying the possibility of establishing joint ventures with Russia in the petro-chemical and biotechnology sectors. Where they’re keeping mum is on the question of the military. We know that the islands’ armed forces are  equipped with out-dated Russian technology: it’s a miracle it keeps going and then only thanks to the numerous adaptations carried out by Cuban military workshops. Nothing was said last November about this during Dmitiri Medvedev’s visit as Russian leader.

One thing which is being updated is civil aviation with new Russian Ilyushin 96 and Tupolev 204 airplanes. Even in religious matters Cuba and Russia are busy. Those who control our destinies have never looked favourably on the Catholic church.

The latter awaits an official response in order to be able to dedicate more space to pastoral work and to the work of the church in educational and social spheres.

Meanwhile, however, a Russian orthodox church has been consecrated in historic Havana; this is a religious doctrine which has few followers in this country. Raúl Castro’s new foreign policy aims to get Russia back as an ally, alongside Venezuela and China, so as to re-float the country’s precarious economy. The Russian answer has been Yes.

It remains to be seen what cards the young Russian president is keeping up his sleeve. Analysts suggest that Cuba has a debt of 20,800 million rubles to the former USSR. Neither Putin, the current Prime Minister, nor Medvedev, is a fool. They know that the island’s ability to pay for their products is non-existent. Cuba isn’t a good place to do business.

So, the reasons for this rapprochement with Cuba must be of a political nature. The joint military exercises with Venezuela, plus the war with Georgia, both point to Russia looking to regain a pole position among those countries which play a decisive role on our planet.

It remains to be seen whether the current government of Castro II is more interested in a dialog with the president of the United States, Barack Obama, or with being a chess piece in Russian’s foreign policy. once before, 46 years ago, marriage with Russia could have meant the end of the world with the missile crisis. And in exchange for an oil pipeline and Russian oats, the Russians got permission to establish on our soil military bases like the Study Center Number 11, and the Lourdes Farm of Electronic Espionage.  Apart from that, Russia made little mark on Cuban society.  Thousands of marriages, and names like Mijaíl, Iván, Tania or Tatiana.

The shape of Cuba’s future foreign policy is in the hands of Raúl Castro and his team, and theirs alone. It’s simple. Do we side with Obama and his view of the world or with Russia’s twisted imperial ambitions.

The visit of the Russian fleet to Havana, and the political flirting with Moscow, create more doubts than hope. Let’s wait and see.

Iván García December 2008

Translated by RSP

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

The Reprimands of Wednesday / Yoani Sanchez

At nine in the morning an official looks, with boredom, at the citation we have presented at the door of the 21st and C station.  We are left waiting on one of the benches for about 40 minutes, while Reinaldo and I take the opportunity to discuss all those things the dizziness of daily life always keeps us from talking about.  At 9:45 they take my husband, asking first if he has a cell phone.  Ten minutes later they return and take me to the second floor.

The meeting is brief and the tone energetic.  There are three of us in the office and the one who raises his voice in song has been introduced as Agent Roque.  To my side another, younger one, watches me and says his name is Camilo.  Both tell me they are from the Interior Ministry.  They are not interested in listening, there is a written script on the table, and nothing I do will distract them.  They are intimidation professionals.

The topic was as I expected: We are close to the date for the blogger meeting that, with neither secrecy nor publicity, we have been organizing for half a year;  they announce we must cancel it.  Half an hour later, now far from the uniforms and the photos of leaders on the walls, we reconstructed an approximation of their words:

“We want to warn you that you have transgressed all the limits of tolerance with your rapprochement and contacts with counter-revolutionary elements. This totally disqualifies you for dialog with Cuban authorities.

“The activities planned for the coming days cannot be carried out.

“We, for our part, will take all measures, make the relevant denunciations and take the necessary actions. This activity, in this moment in the life of the Nation, recuperating from two hurricanes, will not be allowed.”

Roque stopped talking–nearly shouting–and I asked if he would give me all this in writing.  Being a blogger who displays her name and her face has made me believe that everyone is willing to attach their identity to what they say.  The man lost the rhythm of the script–he didn’t expect my librarian’s mania to keep papers.  He stopped reading what had been written and shouted at me even louder that, “They are not obliged to give [me] anything.”

Before they send me off with a “get out of here, citizen” I manage to tell him that he won’t sign what he told me because he doesn’t have the courage to do it.  The word “Cowards” comes out almost in a guffaw.  At the bottom of the stairs I hear the noise of the chairs pushed back into place.  Wednesday has ended early.

3 December 2008

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?