Midnight begins at seven in the evening in the Cuban winter. It seems the people were willing to sing the forty to anyone, hysteria of entertainment for everyone to get the height of the weekend, as if it were a regaetton concert (the dress of the young confirmed it). The cars barely slowed at the stoplight, although at the corner of 16th and Dolores there was a sea of bodies. I heard women curse the drivers’ mothers. I saw them beat the hoods (in a fetish scene from the film Midnight Cowboy). The stench of anger was not diluted, but added its spicy patriotism to our pedestrian concept of devotion. That is, once in each Revolution.
And indeed, in its class or acrylic case, shield at the ready between the Vatican flag and the heroic rag of our nation (without bucolic Byrne in the XXI century), the anonymous island Maria under her cape in her rented car, from the chapel cared for by the nuns on Conception Street, far beyond Lawton and the unused railway lines and the now putrid Pastrana river, in this sub-industrial mountain head that invades the capital from the Havana Cordon itself.
Virgin Mambisa. The running. Horns, chants, applause, loudspeakers preaching. A rope to keep out the faithful. Human circles trained in the parish, ancient and somewhat alienated men in their quasi-military Christian-inspired jargon, seventies clothes with a belt that hangs around the naval. Crude collage: cooperate with the Cuban widow! It’s a game of masks where Cardinal Jaime Ortega comes under his own sleeves and walks B up to Porvenir Avenue, until he turns right on 10th Street. Then he speaks.
Our cardinal looks exhausted at the microphone. No one pays him much attention (a drunk kisses his hand and the securities return with the airs of the suddenly devoted to his non-place on the sidewalk). And it’s logical that the word of an old man doesn’t engage Cuba this night (it’s not fooled); the superstar today is Cachita. In addition, Ortega, from his last rebound on Cuban television, almost without credits or promotion, continues speaking of Antonio de la Caridad Maceo y Grajales, nineteenth century soldier who before going out to kill his neighbors (or to be killed by them) always took care to wear on his starched mulatto chest a little virgin of noble metal.
Then the head of the Catholic Church in Cuba stopped talking. And finally it is our turn alone with the barbarism (headless power). And we give a good bath of vandalism. Against the gates of the temple and up the steps, a movie sequence not silent but not loud. Hundreds, thousands. Young girls, old men. A man, whose mother he told me recently had a heart attack. A woman who rode the wave of legs which had crushed her (bleeding from the calves). And again, cursing, a holy riot. The clergy and seminarians shouting with too proper diction to be violent, almost excommunicating their parishioners with little primary-schoolteacher judgments such as: “If they do not behave, there will be no virgin for anyone in the neighborhood.”
We are witnessing the avalanche of a soccer final, or, of course, a concert in hard currency by tough guys who do not understand anything. This is our undeniable raw material (blows from a minority who cannot impose a myth in perpetuity, being the canonical Gospels or “History Will Absolve Me.”). But this set lacks the elite police squad, the special forces to perpetuate the peace of a Special Period. It’s clear that the Cuban State wants the Catholic Church to know that so many processions a year, sooner rather than later, could lead to a tragedy (I saw several women, all black of course, taken away half unconscious to dissimilar destinations). For a while they crushed in counterpoint the complaints and curses. But it is obvious that the only thing that may not have voice here is another kind of swearing, a worse kind.
Freedom, for example. Just when some guys get on me about why all my photos are going downhill against the popular fight. We discuss the relevance of truth. I show them my white Laura Pollan Lives T-shirt. They mill around and hurry to surround me, while a woman tries to distract me and shouts herself hoarse interrogating me from a distance about who I work for (they all have the serial slang of the “Cuba’s Reasons” counterintelligence TV series, also shared by the official blogosphere), but I am already inside the temple and take refuge near the high altar to portray faces blessed by the Italian priest, whose smile I cannot define adjectivally other than as democratic. No wonder I have a work credential to keep clicking without them stealing or ripping off my camera “by mistake” or by “a stroke of luck.”
And the virgin? The mother of all Cubans who predates even the country? Every prayer and every tear is accompanied by a photo taken by cellphone. La Caridad is thus a little pop, before so much media delight (Nokia Syndrome). Her light mood a bit timid, despite her brown skin, pretty and outgoing, a Cecilia Valdes. And, with a certain wooden modesty, I would say our virgin is Islamicly hidden under her sorceress-queen’s cloak. Perhaps it is difficult to interpret if today the subjects of God, or of Nothing, adore her. Perhaps She knows more than four things for tomorrow (hence the sad smile). Perhaps she feels very lonely, condemned to carry that baby who never grows up in the face of eternity.
Poor little thing, so fragile, surrounded by a holocaust of flowers, petals with that odor so desperately indicative of an undertaker’s establishment. Poor little thing, forced into the insomnia of the ventilators of devotion, walled in under that falsely cheerful little tune for when death avenges us, egged on like a fugitive by the intermittent blackout that stalks the convent decommissioned for a school (just so says a totalitarian State: turning off the circuit breaker). Poor little thing, so invisible under the greedy eyes of the mob, disposed to be Maceos in exchange for a quality miracle. Poor little thing, my heart, so Cuban.
November 19 2011