The Illusion of Color / Yoani Sanchez

Caribbean TV

I got home from school and there was a man sitting on the floor in front of the TV. His fingers were stained with paint and some oil-paint tubes were scattered around him. It was the latest fad in the neighborhood: painting a colorful pattern on those boring black-and-white screens. The first one to do so was the downstairs neighbor, always up-to-date with the latest trends, which included posters of lightly-clad women taped to the walls, and an enormous porcelain tiger at the entrance to her home. She dictated fashion throughout the whole tenement, so when she transformed her “boob tube” with a rainbow in reds and blues, everyone imitated her. In my house at 218 Krim, they painted some stripes and even a central circle in various tones. Most significant is that years later, I remembered the programs and cartoons I saw on that “invention” as if they’d come to me in their original polychrome. My brain had joined the shades and constructed the illusion of color.

This personal anecdote comes to me when I read the latest 2012 Statistics from the Census of Population and Housing. On learning that there are still more than 700,000 black-and-white TVs in Cuba, I can’t help but evoke the excited neighbors of my tenement using their fingertips to paint their cathode ray tubes. But in the current figures, there is not only evidence that they are still watching TV programming in black, white and gray… but also that they are economically worse off in our country. They are the ones who have failed to get together the convertible pesos for a modern Sony or LG. Those who probably have no family abroad, who haven’t found a way to divert State resources, or whose privileges ended with the end of the USSR. The poorest who, in a society of such avid TV watchers, don’t have the resources to enjoy the tonalities.

I wonder if any of those old TVs touched up with stripes in green, purple and cyan still survive… If some child on this island still watches like my sister and me did, mentally joining a piece of color here and another there to imagine Huckleberry Hound was a blue dog, or Cheburashka with his fur brown.

Now I no longer know, I can no longer distinguish in my memory, between what came to me thanks to the ingenuity of painted screens, or what I enjoyed years later thanks to Technicolor.

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23 November 2013