Paperboys Made in Cuba / Victor Ariel Gonzalez Celaya

Photo from Cubanet
Photo from Cubanet

Isn’t it totally iconic that the four or five newspapers — no more — that are sold in Havana are distributed by old men?

Whether it’s a way to flagellate myself, make myself laugh, and even to get a spark that sets off something I end up writing about, every day I go and buy one or two of these gray pamphlets that should contain news. I recognize that sometimes they succeed.

And one of the things that marks this regularity is that I always buy them from a quite old gentleman. It’s not that it’s always the same seller: what I mean is that in Havana it’s the old men who sell the newspapers, and in the morning, at dawn, you can see long lines of old men (if we add their ages these lines would be millennial) waiting at the newsstands to buy what they then sell for a profit.

So let’s compare this: if you watch a movie and see a newspaper seller, for example, in the United States. His figure is diametrically opposed to the “dealer” here because he has, let’s see, a bike, he rides through a nice neighborhood, and he’s no more than 11 or 12 years old. He’s a child who sells newspapers to Americans. He rides quickly through on his bike, hefting a canvas bag with with its umpteen pages (obviously the newspapers there breakfast better) and then he gets lost on his bike, zigzagging childishly between one sidewalk and the other.

Now I turn my gaze to the daily Cuban move, where I am my own hero: I’m walking down the filthy Carlos III Avenue (and still I have a song in my chest just being out there) until I reach a corner where waiting for me is a gentleman who could be my grandfather, surroundied by newspapers on the ground. I look at the old man, who must be more than seventy, and give him a peso or two for a few printed sheets.

These veterans of whom I speak are part of an army that is our living image. This is because the situation facing the elderly in Cuba is the extract of Revolutionary history. There is no one more helpless, no one from whom they’ve snatched more because, to me at least, I have overabundant youth and strength, but I don’t have all the freedom I want; to them, all that remains is pure waiting while their strength and the years of their youth are left behind, “compensated” by a pension so miserable that they have to walk around, with their tottering steps and trembling hands, selling the newspaper Granma, peanuts or candy.

4 November 2013