Litro #154: World Series | Cuba

The Litro Magazine, World Series brings to Londoners annually a selection of fresh, exciting literary stars and artists from around the globe.

Cover Art: by Tonel

Contents:

Letter from guest Editor Leila Segal

Havana Hemicrania by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Losing Twice by Aida Bahr

Last Wish by Ihoeldis M. Rodriguez

The Cuban-Americans by Geandy Pavon

Artist Q&A with musician Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas

Ravings by Karla Suarez

Off the Page by Omar Pérez

How to Play by Ihoeldis M. Rodriguez

Luca’s Trip to Havana by Leila Segal

Taste as a Political Matter by Coco Fusco

Someone’s Stolen the Cockatiels by Dazra Novak

Welcome! to The Cuba issue Litro#154.


Join us to celebrate the launch of Litro | 154:Cuba, with an evening of workshops, talks, readings and live music from some of today’s leading writers, artists and musicians from Cuba.


12TH JULY 2016, Waterstone’s Piccadilly 203 – 206 Piccadilly W1J 9HD.
£5 tickets are available in-store, by telephone 0207 851 2400 or by email: [email protected]




Litro #154: Cuba | Someone’s Stolen the Cockatiels

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Translated from the Spanish by Daniel Hahn

To Susana A. Borges,
to her family.

I’d known from the start that it was going to end well and badly at the same time, because there was something about her that reminded me of my mother, though the weird thing is they hardly look alike at all, but that’s something I’m not going to try to explain. Not any more. The whole thing took just a few seconds, while I made my entrance and settled in the armchair. At first there were people coming in and out, there were the children, too, her children, or rather, the boy and the young woman, as the girl’s already big now and she has these caramel-coloured honey eyes that anybody with any taste would gobble up in a single bite. The boy was at just that moment coming back from a swim and, like a little automaton, he went straight over to the TV set and got hold of the wireless remote control, one of those bloody modern technology things that reminds you so rudely that time has already passed. One of the daughter’s friends, a chubby girl with a friendly face, sat down beside the boy and picked up the other control.

Robertico,” she said to him, “pause it and say hello to her.”

The boy gave me a kiss practically without looking at me, as focused as he was, and returned to his game. On the table there was an open packet of sweets and I took one. I hadn’t eaten all day, so I put it in my mouth with some desperation, I started to fold up the wrapper, to scrumple it up, I made an accordion, then a little boat, a ball. I got so caught up in the noise of the wrapper that I almost lost track of where I was. Maybe it’s that I still feel a bit reserved when it comes to the children of psychiatrists. I don’t know. The telephone rang and I, instinctively, took advantage of the distraction to look at her, see how she reacted, what she said with her body and the inflection of her voice. I tried to imagine what they were saying on the other end. She paused briefly to tell the girl to deal with me. To look after me.

“You want water or something?” said the girl, breezy as anything.

“No, I’m good,” I answered, trying to seem as natural as possible. But I didn’t lean back onto the backrest, oh no, I kept sitting on the edge of the armchair, ready to run out if necessary.

It was one of those houses where people wander in and out as they please. There were clothes on the sofa, a flip-flop in one corner of the living room. The least of it was that each of the people was getting on with their own life. That was the least of it. You didn’t need to be too bright to realise that the people there were happy, for fuck’s sake, and that made me nervous. They were too white. Too healthy. They moved about with that privileged kind of freedom of people who know something and aren’t telling.

“No, no tea, thanks, I’m a coffee drinker,” I answered the daughter’s chubby friend.

The game was idiotic. A few little characters that turn happy or sad, or laugh like crazy and who have to get the hanging balloons with enough points to pass through the level and progress to the next. Idiocies of the modern world. One of those.

“Yesterday someone stole the cage with the cockatiels,” she told me when she had hung up the phone. “Today we’re in family mourning.”

The daughter’s friend went off to the kitchen and I was glad to hear that she’d put the coffee pot to strain as I hadn’t had any coffee the whole damn day. But I didn’t sit back in my chair in the dining room, where we’d moved in order to work more comfortably, no, I wanted to look straight at her while she read. Her voice became hoarse and I passed her my little flask of water to refresh her throat, but no, she didn’t need it, that’s just what her voice was like, like the voice of an adolescent who’s just woken up. I never returned to that house but days later, going back over that moment, I came to the conclusion that what she wrote couldn’t be understood in any other voice than hers, hoarse, out of tune, a hangover voice. And even though I didn’t pay much attention to that reading, the thing was, I swear it, there was something that so reminded me of my mother. I heard the daughter who was talking on the phone and telling someone about the birds. Such a nuisance. I don’t like caged birds, I was about to say, but it seemed impolite to interrupt her reading. After all, God only knows what kind of luck the creatures had had. Probably they were eaten, or they were chucked out to sell the cage, or they were sold with the cage and everything.

“I like my coffee with a lot of sugar,” she said when she had finished reading the first story, raising the steaming cup that her caramel-eyed daughter had placed in front of her. “If I’m honest, I really like sweet things.”

I looked away. I no longer had the candy wrapper to scrumple up because the daughter had already taken it to the trash when she brought us the coffee. Now the daughter’s friend went back to playing with the boy at the game with the happy little animals.

“I don’t understand this game,” I heard the daughter’s friend say, and the boy teased her.

“I’m going to beat you,” the kid said to her, then he smiled and I saw a small mole in the middle of his chubby cheek, lovely like his mother’s.

The telephone rang again. At this rate we weren’t going to get anywhere, I thought. She was probably talking to some friend or colleague and the tenderness of her manner seemed to confirm my suspicion. She said she was busy, that she’d call back later, and that someone had stolen the cockatiels. She paused to allow the other woman to express her shock at the news. The animals were evidently much loved in this household. She knew I was watching her, there was no way she could have not known. A short time earlier, while we were leaning over the printed sheet of paper, our hands had brushed against each other and I noticed she had short nails, which were wide and set deep in the flesh, with gnarled fingers and you can always tell, without fail, that’s something that indicates a great sexual appetite, according to Nathaniel Altman in his palmistry guide.

“You’re an inveterate romantic,” I said to her. “It’s clear from your stories.”

She smiled, so lovely. I went on talking to her about the dangers of excessive adjective use, of platitudes and set phrases, of the fake sentimentalism, which didn’t apply to her, but she looked at me and something in her eyes changed. It wasn’t a reproach exactly, rather that she bowed her head just a little, in a movement where she tilted her neck forward as though wanting to put her head into the hollow of my thoughts. Her eyes turned blacker still, round, with a depth that was bordering on madness. I tried to focus on the mole on her cheek, so beautiful, but her eyes did not relent, they looked like a feline waiting for the perfect moment to pounce on the bird, that brief second when the defenceless little creature would have no escape.

“Do you want some guava juice?” said the voice that providence had commanded to speak for the benefit of the unfortunate little animal. It was her mother, a woman with very short, completely white hair, with prominent lips and a happy expression on her face. “Fuck,” I shouted to myself, “is it possible that everyone here is happy or what the hell’s wrong with them?”

I nodded, relieved. I drank the juice as if I were putting on an anti-radiation suit, getting into the Batmobile or giving my hand to the hand of a lifeguard from the Titanic. The outside of the glass was grubby and I sucked slowly on my fingers and talked to her about the difference between writing a diary that you expect nobody else to read and writing a story which is, in that sense, the exact opposite. I also told her she ought to make the most of it, to write one thing as though she were writing the other. She was now listening to me with the utmost attention and making notes on the back of the sheet of paper with that doctor’s handwriting that’s impossible to understand.

“I’m going home,” said the daughter’s friend with her bristly hair gathered into a charming little bun. “I’ll be back later to give Robertico his bath.”

“With hot water?” asked the boy, never stopping his game.

“With hot water,” replied the chubby girl, with that emphasis typical of someone who’s just such a good person that the time comes when they start doing favours without even being asked.

The daughter said goodbye to her friend, came over to us and, her hands on her hips, said that she still hadn’t managed to get hold of Jacques le fataliste et son maître, which her hermeneutics professor had advised her to read in French but you could only get this novel of Diderot’s in Spanish, and that what with her French, and university, and to top it all now without those cockatiel things she really was going to go mad. Something I missed in her speech made her little caramel eyes open up wide and the happiest smile I’d ever seen in my life, I mean, there had to have been something funny because she exploded into an uncommon happiness that caused her to laugh compulsively. Then her mother laughed. Then her grandmother, who had just sat down in the living room armchair and had lit a cigar stub. Then, to my own surprise, I laughed myself. I laughed without knowing what the fuck I was laughing at, I roared with laughter and when I was invaded by that neutral kind of calm of feeling completely at home I knew that everything was already lost. I laughed till the girl closed her bedroom door behind her and it was as though an orchestra conductor had said right we’ll go to the coda now and I was the only idiot who hadn’t heard him.
Fortunately she overlooked the incident. She began to read another text, much more poetic than the previous one and dedicated to her inseparable lifelong companion, the sofa in her house.

“Mum!” yelled Robertico, “bring me some water!”

“Roberto Manuel, mum’s busy, you’re just going to have to get up and fetch it yourself,” she said, pausing in her reading but never losing patience, not getting annoyed, or shouting, or any of those things normal mothers do.

At that moment someone appeared at the door. She got up and went to talk to the person who had arrived. I’m guessing she dispatched them politely on the grounds that we were working, because I took advantage of the moment to try to understand her hysterical scribblings, but they proved undecipherable. I couldn’t have said whether they were notes on her texts, on my humble bits of advice or wishing so much that they were notes about me. When at last I gave up I heard her say:

“They were stolen last night. It’s a sign that we need to put a padlock on the garden railings.”

She walked over, apparently smiling with her whole happy forty-something’s body. Her skirt swayed this way and that. When she sat down she folded one leg under the other, as though she were a little girl, and apologised for so many interruptions.

“Mum!”, yelled Robertico, “bring me some water!”

“Robertico, I’ve already told you mum’s busy. What’s wrong with your own little feet? Go fetch it all by yourself, love.”
It was so very sweet. It was. I told her readers are serious things, that it doesn’t do to underestimate their intelligence, there’s no need to explain everything but nor should you reveal these surprises at the end, I mean come on, the sofa in the house? Are you sure that’s what you want to write about? Seriously, if it’s just something to get a laugh out of your friends that’s one thing, but a story is something else, doctor. And yet I thought this time I’ve gone too far, because she focused all the blackness of her round eyes on me once again, as though she were discovering one of those voices I often have in my head and which tell me which way to take a story and which way not to. If she had been a guard dog surprising me in the doctor’s garden stealing the cockatiels I wouldn’t have been more startled by that look of hers. It wasn’t attentiveness so much as a predatory ambush, who do you think you’re fooling with that story? I’m sure that’s what the eyes of an omniscient, all-powerful narrator would look like.

“Mum!” yells Robertico sweetly, such a cute boy, “bring me water!”

“I’ve already said to fetch it yourself.”

She continued—without looking at me now—with those annotations that were unintelligible to me. She wrote a lot. Each second passed like the dry blow of a mortar and I didn’t know which was worse, her gaze or her silence. I even thought that maybe she was writing a story. Perhaps one in which I was the patient, one of those schizophrenics who needs to be interned as soon as possible to prevent their committing some injury against themselves or against humanity. Her hand moved with the certainty of someone who has signed a lot of admission papers.

“Robertico,” she said with her voice that is hoarse but filled with a sweetness so cloying that it made me shiver, “what happened to the water? Weren’t you thirsty? I didn’t see you go to the kitchen.”

“I’m going, mum,” replied Robertico.

She yawned, went on rifling through her papers then set to reading another story. I looked away but what didn’t come in through my eyes came in through my ears instead, because she was whispering, she wasn’t reading out loud, she was whispering the story into my ear on a cloudy evening, the two of us in the half-light of the room and in an instant the fact that she reminded me of my mother no longer bothered me so much, it was as though my aberration had found a happy place to settle in the plot, not a solution to the conflict, I’d say rather another possible reading, a reading that made my very spine straighten up like anything.

“Well?” she took me by surprise.

I told her she had a gift for poetry. I was delighted at there being two female characters. Delighted. She rested the biro on the corner of her mouth, demonstrating that she was weighing up my words, and that made me feel proud. I had the sensation that even the old woman was listening to me between each suck on her cigar stub and the next. Robertico had paused the game with the happy little animals and he had gone to the kitchen to have some water. The only sound to be heard in the whole house was my voice. Nothing could compete with me except for the cockatiels, but they were no longer there, and so I treated myself to telling her there was nothing wrong with being a bit daring and telling things about some matters of the body, that sometimes you need to tell things as though no one was watching, as though one had allowed oneself to be hypnotised and there was no option but to tell it all.

“Have you ever done that?” I asked her.

She shrugged and that meant of course, but that’s something you can’t do without the other person’s consent, I mean, the other person has to give in to it. I knew this already but I wanted to hear it all the same. At that moment the boy approached the table. Final exams, he said. And my mother leaned over my notebook, so that our faces came so close that when I looked towards her I brushed lightly past her lips. This time she did not move away from me with an expression of horror fixed to her face, instead she smiled sweetly, just as she had done before.

“How lovely!” exclaimed the boy looking at us, and even he seemed surprised at his words, because he tipped his little head to one side, blushing.

I did not say anything, but she did.

She said:

“Thank you… my love.”

And she opened her arms to him. When their faces approached they accidentally stumbled and they exchanged that clumsy little kiss on their lips. Both of them laughed, still hugging. Then the old woman laughed. Then the girl, who had put her head around the door to hear what that noise was. Then I laughed, too, or perhaps I didn’t, I’ll never know if that was laughter, I mean, it seemed as though I was crying at the same time.




Litro #154: Cuba | Losing Twice

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Translated from the Spanish by Dick Cluster

I hate losing. And losing twice makes me madder still. So I should have known as soon as I saw you, but no, the rum went right to my head, because you’d come alone, so I left Enrique in mid-sentence and made a beeline for you, almost crashing into you in my eagerness to get started with the blah-blah of “Wow, it’s been so long” and “Man, where have you been hiding?” and planting an innocent kiss close enough to your mouth but far enough away too. It’s funny, because I can hear it now—what I said, I mean, because I don’t even know what you answered, I just know that it only took one second for me get all ga-ga again, so while you were talking all I did was pay attention to your lips, your teeth, and I’d already decided that I was spending the night with you, why not, I’d been holding onto that desire since college, when you dropped me for Gabriela. We were only together three or four times, but you left your imprint and I never could get rid of it. Every time I saw you go by with Gaby at your side, I could feel something eating away at me. You didn’t tell her you wanted to avoid commitments, you didn’t have time for a serious relationship, the way you told me. Not her, no, instead you bought her a ring and even presented it on Valentine’s Day, like how trite could you be? I wasn’t about to slit my wrists—why should I? —but it did hurt, it was like a knife in my heart to see you sitting on a bench with her or to cross paths in the dining hall. And Gaby never took you out, never paid for anything, while I even paid for you to get drunk in El Rancho, and I’m not sorry, because it was one of the best nights, though in the end I practically had to carry you back to the dorm, and shush you when you tried to should insults at the boys in the reform school, and then when we got to the dorm you started putting the moves on me again and if I didn’t go along it was only because you were drunk and it’s no fun that way. That’s why, today, I was very careful not to drink too much and to keep you from drinking either. I monopolized you, I didn’t care who saw it, all that mattered was not to let the opportunity slip. When you told me Gaby was out of town, bells went off in my head. I spent a while considering how to arrange the thing, because a hotel room on Saturday night, no way, and then when you told me you’d been given an apartment, that was too good to be true. Your place was at the far end of the housing project, but still, an apartment plus Gaby being away, problem solved. Right away I could tell it wouldn’t be hard to convince you, because you were as ready as I was, and I have to admit I was moved by that.

The first bucket of cold water came on our way up the stairs, when the noise from the second floor made you nervous, but okay, that was normal, after all this was the home you share with Gaby, where everybody knows you, and so of course this made me think about her again. Then there was the photo on the coffee table, one of those poses I hate, in full bridal gear, as if to announce “I’m married!” to all who enter there. And in this case it was saying that to me, which was still worse. Then you got out the bottle and I thought, okay, we’re going to have our own private celebration, but you were in so much of a hurry. Not that I wasn’t eager myself, but I wanted to enjoy it, I needed it to be the best night of my life, better than the ones I spent with Tony in Varadero, and I even said it was too bad the bathrooms in those project apartments were so small and uncomfortable, and you were shocked by that idea, so that was the third bucket right there. Still, when you pulled me toward the bedroom I didn’t yet know that everything had gone belly up. It was when I saw myself in the mirror on the dressing table, alongside the glass bottles of colored water, the orange plastic powder case — the same one she had in the dorm — and the little curtains ever-so-cute, that I knew, even before you folded back the bedspread, how the pillowcases were going to say Hers and His, and the sheet would be embroidered with your monogram. That’s why I started to laugh, because the anger was rising up to choke me, and then, yes, when you put your arms around me and said “quiet, love, these walls are paper-thin,” I told you to go to hell at the top of my lungs. You still had the guts to follow me and ask what was going on, peppering your speech with swear words to impress me, as if Tony hadn’t had the best repertory of curses that any woman could hope to hear, but I knew how to hit you where it hurt, so I got loose, and you weren’t macho enough to kick me down the stairs the way you threatened. I went down upright under my own steam and walked away as stiffly as I could until I was out of sight of the building, and then the anger was too much for me, I burst out crying, and I even wanted to run into some degenerate who was going to rape me, but no, by luck what came by was the late-night bus, which picked me up even though I wasn’t at the stop. The driver asked me was anything wrong, and the anger answered him, because I wouldn’t normally say out loud that I don’t like being taken for a whore. The old man—because he was an old man—looked shocked and said of course not, and then did his best to ignore me, the poor guy, he probably thought I was nuts, but that’s because he doesn’t know how much I hate to lose. And losing twice makes me madder still.




Litro #154: Cuba | Last Wish

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Translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel

“That they not kill me!” the condemned man hurried to reply.

The chief of the firing squad, a captain who was neither young nor old, smiled confused. A breeze came from the nearby lake, bringing the sounds of water, of birds. When the captain spoke, incredulity still danced in his mouth.
“Such a digression,” he says at last, “has only one way of justifying itself: let it be so, but you can’t wish for anything more in the rest of your life. This was your last wish, and we have fulfilled it for you.”

And returning to the soldiers, he said, “Men, withdraw.”

The man who had saved his life watched them draw away along the path that bordered the lake.




Litro #154: Cuba | Ravings

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Translated from the Spanish by Daniel Hahn

There’s a place, mother, in the world
that is called Paris
César Vallejo

Each time he scratched his head he asked again whether there was anything to eat. “Idiot,” I thought, looking at him out the corner of my eye, and I went on with my accounts. Eating: baguette, 4.20 F; paté, 7.90 F; beer, 8 F; total: 20.10 francs. With 20 francs and 10 centimes we’d be able to eat. I needed to do the accounts while he just muttered between his teeth. He did it to annoy me, I know that, so I just gripped the pencil stub and went on counting.

“There isn’t another blanket around, is there? This cold’s seeping into my bones, and so hungry like I am, I can’t take it.”

He keeps talking rubbish like this. We ought to count ourselves lucky we still have even these old coats. A coat, 200 F; though you can find them for 100 F at a street market. Total: 120 francs and 10 centimes. The last blanket I managed to get my hands on cost me a bruise on my left eye. We were already living alone by then and I was the one who had to take care of these things. Before then, the girl used to deal with everything, and she never let me help with the accounts. Just as well I taught myself. That day there were four of us rummaging in the same garbage can, and I came across the blanket, but one of them wanted to snatch it from me and the whole row kicked off. The other two took advantage of it to join in the quarrel. When the guy hit me in the face, I fell, but with one hand I managed to reach a bit of broken toilet and I threw it at him. Blood started coming out and the others got scared. I took the blanket back and ran off. The bruise lasted weeks and now this guy starts with his whole There isn’t another blanket around, is there, because I’m cold, well I’m cold too, idiot, we’re all cold here. Winter is tough and with an empty stomach things are harder to bear. I should do a count: how many winters have we been here? I don’t know, a whole life. (Make a note of this as an outstanding account.)

“One day I’ll go up to the top floor of the tower and I’ll build myself an apartment there, the city must be a beautiful thing seen from up there, and not feeling cold, that’d be even better.”

The tower, 57 francs to get up to the top level. Total: 177 francs and 10 centimes. Who ever told him they’d let him live up there? He’s a moron who does nothing but dream, that’s what the girl said before she left, but nobody can live on dreams, that’s why we haven’t got anything. The tower’s for the tourists who come to take photos of the city and the people. We can go up, too, but it doesn’t interest me at all, but what I do like is when they take my photo. I smile and try to put a nice face on for them, unlike him who covers his face and starts insulting them as though these tourists were to blame for the life we lead. One time he got so angry that he snatched some poor girl’s camera off her. The boy was no longer living with us then and we had nothing from the girl but the postcards. He threw the camera on the floor and started jumping up and down on top of it. She tried to apologise in a language I don’t know and ended up taking out a banknote to give us. He yelled hysterically and turned his back on her. I looked down, gathered up the pieces of the camera, in pieces now, and looked at her. I remember the girl. She was pretty, and all she wanted was some souvenir of our city, which everyone likes so much. She watched me smiling as she walked away. With the banknote I bought 2 pains au chocolat, 3.90 F each, a litre of milk, 6.10 F and a cheap cologne, 15.10 F. Total: 29 francs. For a grand total: 206 francs and 10 centimes. The following day we breakfasted like kings and he didn’t dare ask where the money had come from. Of course, he’s only the dreamer, I’m the one who has to keep track of the accounts.

“When the cold lets up a bit, I want to go see the little boat, I’m homesick for the water.”

I throw him a dirty look and he shrinks under his blanket. Homesick for the water, who else could have come up with something like that? He has dozens of paintings of the little boat, when it started operating he used to like going to the river, which looks like a sea, where the little boat goes. It tours all round the city and the tourists show themselves on deck with their flashbulbs and their cool drinks. Bateaux Mouches, 40 francs. Total: 246 francs and 10 centimes. He fell in love with it the moment he saw it. The boy and I had to go with him. He would paint them from the wall while the boy got bored and threw pebbles in the water. One day he wanted to visit it and then we had a problem. Who’d ever imagine that people like us… You only had to look at our faces to know we didn’t have 40 francs. I grabbed his arm for us to leave, but he started insulting everyone, like he always does, and while that man was trying to explain it to him he ran out onto the boat. There was chaos. Everyone was running and he was like a fly always slipping through their fingers, running and jumping over the benches, laughing like a lunatic, and me standing there dying of shame, until they caught him. I thought we’d be sent to the dungeons, but they let us go free. I spent a week not talking to him then, I counted up all the benches that had been left standing and the ones that were knocked over. The boy helped me with the accounts after he had got back from selling the pictures of the little boat. It was a difficult calculation, the whole thing done from memory, a very hard job. Now whenever he wants to annoy me, he recalls that episode.

“Oof, I can’t even move my legs in this cold! I’d be glad to go to the Grand Avenue like we used to, but now it’s all so expensive, it’s all so expensive…”

He turns around curled up in his blanket and manages to shove me with his stocky old backside. It was different before, I was different and so was the city. We used to go up to the Grand Avenue, as he says, the most important one in the city, and we’d walk it top to bottom. But the Champs Elysées is only for tourists now, or kids asking for money, or whores in disguise, and everything so expensive. A coffee, 15 francs. Total: 261 francs and 10 centimes. Last time we were over there, he waited for me sitting on the little wall outside the cinema. We were already living alone by then and I’d wait for the tourists to ask for money. At one point a policeman came up to me and started insulting me, didn’t I think a woman like me was too old to be doing this, and wasn’t I ashamed? I said what I was ashamed of was not having a pair of gloves to protect me from the cold. Then the guy started laughing saying I was crazy, to go home, it wasn’t the time to be wandering around there on my own. Except I wasn’t alone and he got up from the little wall and gave the policeman a big shove from behind. The policeman fell over and I started laughing seeing the way he kicked him to defend me, a girl came over and spat on the one who was on the ground, then another really camp one came over and farted at him. Then some other policemen came. That was the last night we went out to the Grand Avenue. They held us for several hours before letting us go. I don’t want to go back there, I don’t want to.

“God! I can’t get to sleep and you’re making me all nervous now buried with your accounts in that notebook of yours. We’re out of cigarettes, right? If only we had one left, just one to calm my nerves!”

Cretin. The girl didn’t like it when I counted things either, but now if I don’t do it, who’s going to, huh? Who’s going to do it? Cigarettes: 19.60 francs. Total: 280 francs and 70 centimes. Cigarettes were how the boy started, I know that, but it was other people’s cigarettes and then he went on and on and we never noticed. One time his friends brought him back, they said they’d found him under the bridge, his body practically half in the river. His eyes were red and his face all stupefied. I lay him down and he just repeated over and over “I want to go to the Louvre, I want to go to the Louvre”. But the Louvre… 45 francs. Total: 325 francs and 70 centimes. We can’t do it, kiddo. I tried to understand him, but he was a very strange kid and then the other one with all his crazy dreams, grunting and cursing he said culture was universal and that he would take the boy to see the museum. They went the next morning. In the afternoon he came back alone and sat down on the ground without speaking to me. The boy was back at midnight, totally drunk, and that was when he started cursing at us. He said we were just crazies who spent our lives filling his head with things that were beyond his grasp. He wanted to be like his sister and since he wasn’t a kid any more he had decided to leave us. And he left us. Just like the girl so long before. He left us.

“What time is it? Can you tell you how many fucking hours there are still left till morning?”

How many hours? I don’t know, my watch is six hours fast, that’s what the girl says. How many hours left till morning? (Make a note of this as an outstanding account.) How many hours have passed since the boy left home? I don’t know, sometimes the accounts do go a bit wrong. The girl’s years of absence can be counted in postcards, one a month, one year equals twelve months, so that adds up to 72 postcards (this goes in a separate account.) With the boy the account remains outstanding. I remember that when they called me I had to get the bus, 8 francs, total: 333 francs and 70 centimes. No, we paid for two tickets, so 16 francs, total: 341 francs and 70 centimes. I’m sure this one doesn’t remember a thing, now he’s lying with his back against the wall and he’s humming La Marseillaise, real quiet, as usual, to annoy me. But I do remember. The boy was found on a bank of the river. They say he was very drugged up and drunk. When I saw him he was so skinny I wanted to take him to eat things he liked: a nice fish 82 francs, a glass of wine 12 francs and one of those little sweets at 8.40 francs, total: 102 francs and 40 centimes. For a grand total: 444 francs and 10 centimes.

“You think it’s really so cold up the top of the tower? ‘cos if that’s what it’s like I don’t want to live up there.”

Idiot, cretin, this man can only say the stupidest things. It’s him and his dreams that have brought us to ruin. Another 57 francs to go up the tower, total: 501 francs and 10 centimes. Going up and persuading him you can’t live there, you can’t get there, it’s too high up, it’s too far away, but he has no sense of boundaries. The last thing the boy said was “I want to see Paris from the Eiffel Tower,” and he replied quite madly yes, we’ll go up together, and we’d get a photo of the four of us. Then the boy smiled and I knew we were never going to get anywhere. The doctor said it was a suicide, but I didn’t believe him. He simply went, he took the metro 8 francs, total: 509 francs and 10 centimes, and he went someplace else. I just stayed doing the accounts, while this one went on rambling the whole time, talking about his unattainable dreams. When the girl came back, she caught us by surprise. She announced that she’d only come for a short holiday, but she didn’t want to tell us anything about her trip, nor about the places she’d been. She said life was difficult in any city. She cried when she learned her brother had taken the metro, because the metro in Paris is so big that anybody might get lost. The girl did a lot of crying in the first few days and I counted the tears (separate account). Now she’s about to leave again and it makes me happy because the postcards will start arriving again and then I’ll have accounts, many accounts to do and I’ll keep myself busy the whole time.

“Oh! It’s starting to get light already, a nice cup of coffee and the cold will start to let up.”

A coffee 6 francs if you have it standing up, it’s cheaper like that, two coffees 12 francs, total: 521 francs and 10 centimes. He’s got 10 centimes in his pocket, I know he keeps them like an amulet, so now we’re just 521 francs short and then we’re all set. If it weren’t for me doing the accounts I don’t know what would become of us because this one’s scratching his head again and asking if we don’t have anything to eat? Oh!—and then the door opens and there’s the girl holding the coffee.

“What on earth is all this?” The woman stops and looks at her parents huddled on the floor, surrounded by postcards. You didn’t sleep again today? Mamá, please, papá, it’s 35 degrees out there and here you two are bundled up in those rags like you were freezing to death, that’s enough, please, I’m sick of you, in a week’s time I’m going back to Paris and I don’t intend to send you any more postcards, or come back on holiday, I’ve never been able to bear this city or the two of you, so forget about me and open that window as it’s morning already and it’s hot as hell.”

The sun comes into the room and they cover their eyes with their hands. Just beyond her, the outline of the tower of Revolution Square in Havana.




Litro #154:Cuba | Taste as A Political Matter

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1985 was the year I decided that I didn’t want to end up teaching Moby Dick in Kansas and said bye-bye to grad school. I was 24 years old and every kind of social convention felt onerous. I returned to New York and let it be my laboratory. Wandering took my mind off a boring day job and tuned me in to political dramas that were unfolding—battles between homeless and the police, between poor but tenacious tenants and encroaching developers, between strident bohemians and cultural elites. From what I could tell, few below 14th Street paid attention to noise ordinances—parties were loud and street life was wild. I met a guy on the subway who wrote about art and music for Condé Nast, and I followed him into downtown Manhattan’s nocturnal underworld, leaving the day job behind. We boogied next to coked-up stockbrokers at Area, sipped cocktails at the Milk Bar across from a dazed but still beautiful Jean-Michel Basquiat, and chowed down with fabulous drag queens at Florent. On one memorable evening, we slipped past the bouncers at the Palladium, which was Mecca for night crawlers of the time.

In my memory of that cavernous club, everything glowed—the crimson walls, the light-studded stairways, the spiked-up hairdos and the overblown eye shadow. Hundreds of trendies were chattering, smoking, snorting, giggling, lounging, and teetering on high heels, while rockers and artistes feted above and below us in their private sanctums. In the middle of the whirling bodies and blaring music there were ten women ironing clothes with gusto under spotlights in one area of the lounge. Several other women in gorilla masks were also milling around. The crowd around them had parted, creating the effect of a stage. I read their dramatic statement as a well-aimed zinger and was intrigued. Of all the strange encounters I had in 1980s pleasure dens, this is one of the only ones that I vividly recall, even though I knew nothing at the time about the political back-story or the performers.

The ironing performance, devised by Jerri Allyn, was part of an exhibition in the club curated by the Guerrilla Girls. The show also featured provocative artworks hung on walls of the bathrooms, stairways, and halls by the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, and Hannah Wilke, together with numerous works by Guerrilla Girl members. Inserting agitprop feminist art into a downtown pleasure dome was the Guerrilla Girls’ way of skewering the Palladium for owning a collection of art produced exclusively by men. It was my first encounter with a full-on feminist art intervention, and I was tickled and inspired. This was an activist approach that I could connect with, as it spoke truth to power playfully, with wit and style. The Guerrilla Girls’ ironic and data-packed posters detailing the ways that seemingly liberal art dealers and high-minded museums reinforced sexism by limiting the visibility of women artists were starting to pop up around Manhattan. They made me think about museums as more than showcases, as institutions that wielded power and shaped public understanding of what art was by virtue of what was left off the walls, not just what was on display. They taught me crucial lessons that have informed the way I think about art, the way I understand feminism, and the way I make art today.

Admittedly, I was primed for the Guerrilla Girls’ message, having studied many feminist texts in college; and even before that, I had embraced pop cultural celebrations of women’s lib as a teenager, reading Xaviera Hollander under a blanket with a nightlight. I knew that women’s bodies were objectified and exploited and that independence, sexual freedom, and equal pay were things one had to struggle for. But none of that showed me how to get a discussion going about how people’s decisions in the art world, not just the content of artworks, affected the status of women as cultural workers and shaped aesthetic values. The Guerrilla Girls, together with other political art collectives of the 1980s, introduced me to a different kind of conversation about art, one that focused on institutions as social organisms that produced and reproduced ideologies with palpable effects. The Guerrilla Girls gave me a way to consider taste as a political matter. They used irony to make institutional critique entertaining and low-cost graphics to make it publicly accessible. The billboards and counter-art historical books they produced as the group gained momentum showed how fun and illuminating it was to poke fun at the cultural establishment. In doing so, they made a place for artists to be publicly present as thinking subjects, not just as crafters of beautiful things.

None of this may seem unusual in the age of social media, when anybody can fill thousands of email boxes with boldly designed political messages—and you can delete them before opening. But the Guerrilla Girls emerged in another time, when the art world was much more of an elite fortress that paid little attention to the public, when contemporary art was just beginning to make its way into museum collections and artists imagined they might have rights, and when people with a message who lacked access to mainstream media scribbled on walls, handed out leaflets, Xeroxed zines, and spray-painted subway cars. Exposing cultural elites with a humorous deployment of facts was risky enough to warrant the use of disguises, and in those days, it was actually possible to maintain anonymity. Indeed, the assuming of names of dead women artists extended their critique of art institutions, allowing the Guerrilla Girls to haunt the cultural sphere with memories of others who lacked sufficient recognition. Operating collectively not only enabled the group to benefit from a range of talents, which yielded artfully designed and incisively composed artifacts, but it also made them seem like a cultural sensibility rather than an individual whose criticisms might be dismissed as the effects of personal bitterness.

Twenty-two years after seeing the Guerrilla Girls in action at the Palladium, I was invited to be on a panel with them at MoMA’s first conference on feminism and the arts. I was nothing short of ecstatic to be sharing the stage with such living legends—but I also sensed that their simian guises upped the ante as far as how to appeal to the public. So instead of walking on stage in an artsy black get up and reading a paper, I put on the military fatigues I was using for a performance about the joys of being a female interrogator in the War on Terror, and congratulated powerful women in the art world on having espoused conservative values that mask persisting inequities. I wasn’t so much trying to throw down as to step up. To this day, the Guerrilla Girls remind all women artists that the most effective way to convey painful truths is to make them hilarious. It may take a while for those who hear you to change, but in the meantime, they won’t forget.




Litro #154: Cuba | ‘Off The Page’

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It is an almost universally accepted cliché that a poet´s career is a solitary one; Dylan Thomas would talk about a “sullen art”, even if he was an energetic communicator of his own verse in public readings. It is precisely when reading or saying verse before an audience that the poet has one of those precious occasions to question the craft, a craft which is normally attached to the written page and embedded in the literary tradition.

Actually poetry antecedes literature, the letter and, obviously, the printed book. Sometimes we forget this when we’ve devoted more time to the page. For thousands of years poetry was closer to dance and music than it is today. The instruments and functions of the poet underwent a progressive reduction until poetry became, practically speaking, a matter of words fixed to a sheet of paper or a computer screen.

That could account for the fact that improvisation is not one of the most frequently used tools of the craft. As a matter of fact, outside of jazz and happenings or a few theatrical exercises, improvisation does not have such a good reputation in an art and literary world which is still overseen by academic and utilitarian perceptions of creativity. Slowly, slowly, who knows throughout how many centuries and cultural operations, improvisation has become almost a synonym of sloppiness, lack of preparation or concept, in other words a deficiency in craft.

We look around at the other sister arts and wonder how specialization and pre-meditation become naturally necessary for the creative process. How much improvising do we need at the point zero of creativity? While avoiding a general overview of that which, again, Dylan Thomas called “the history of the death of the ear”, I would to try to understand how the theater, music and dance can become a common area for a renewal of the perception of poetry and, eventually, the writing of poetry.

Perhaps it all begins when you feel a certain discomfort in the notion of poetry as a literary genre; how is it that an open source of knowledge, able to inform our perception and production of sounds, colors, feelings, movements, not to mention ideas, can be enclosed in only one type of mental structure or discourse? You can say, of course, that such is precisely the magic, flexible condition of the poem: to contain worlds within a few letters. And that would be right, yet a poem knows that there are other worlds before and after its completion. If poetry is not only a literary genre, then what is it or what more can it be before and beyond the page?

It is crucial to notice that other artists also feel the same discomfort within their respective limits of specific arts or genres. Watching a film by Andrei Tarkovsky, say Mirror, or reading Artaud as he describes the actor as “an athlete of the heart”, or listening to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, or looking at a painting by Rothko, one feels that there is more to it than the use of a single artistic structure or craft. There is such a flow of meanings, such an interaction of those methods of “doing” that we call techniques that one single specific art form would not be enough to encompass works of the kind. Furthermore, we can observe in them the common trait of improvisation.

I started to study improvisation in the theatre; even if in Cuba a strong tradition exists, especially in the country side, of stanzas improvised to the accompaniment of folk music, a “literary” poet very seldom is expected to do so: he or she is supposed to write and not to sing aloud whatever comes to the mind in rhymed form.

I was lucky enough to find a man whose theatrical method was based on improvisation, not exactly as a technique but as a source of self-knowledge as well as of comprehension of the Other. His was a mirroring method based on a You and I line of attention. In his view, spontaneity could be learned and practiced deliberately sometimes leaving to the artistic result the possibility of being just that, a result and not a goal in itself, however valuable.

The thought that all what we do must serve a purpose and bear some gain has contributed more than any other artificial or natural disaster to keep the human species in a state of bondage and art is one of the few windows left to a world of non profit. Art must be profitable in itself or not be profitable at all. That is probably why we look for an alternative to the bondage of profit and start to think of art as a process and not as a factory of artistic results. In this moment, the practice of improvisation becomes crucial.

This man came from a theatre family and had been working for years on behalf of sincere and playful acting. I saw him once as the Fool in The Twelfth Night, playing between stage and audience, making fun of the characters as well as of his fellow actors attracting the audience towards the embarrassing wonder of look- at- yourself- looking- at- the- theatre. He emphasized the meaning of theatre as something related to the action of looking. His name was Vicente Revuelta.

He encouraged the use of live music and singing and eventually with a couple of professional actors and a bunch of amateurs, we managed to assemble a Brecht Cabaret: one small piece about a beggar, an emperor and a dead dog, one poem, “Baal”, an acting exercise based on Auden´s poem “Musée des Beaux Arts”, two songs from Mother Courage and some drumming and dancing. And one collective creation: an acting exercise based on Auden’s poem “Musée des Beaux Arts.

Drumming and dancing was sort of an informal action also happening before and after the show. At a certain point of the night, while the performers were singing one of the songs, they shared bread and tea with the other participants—that is, the presumed audience or public which was all over the place sitting, walking or standing inside and outside of the open barn-like garage.

We were learning the interaction between improvisation and result, between process and structure. The night show arrived after a day of improvising and was improvised in itself from a structure of text, music and action.

We can see improvising as a departure from clichés as well as an investigation of clichés, not only in the intellectual arena but with physical movements and the expression of emotions.

One cliché about improvising is that it doesn’t need a structure, that it is even the opposite of structure. Actually structure and improvisation are close relatives, like brother and sister, like delicacy is related to strength, as in smell or sound.

You can improvise about a commonsense idea of what a structure is or should be: something firm, fixed, symmetrical; as much as you can write the structure of a play using a series of clichés about improvisation: you don’t know what to do now or next, you go crazy, act like an animal, crawl, howl, uttering unintelligible sounds…

Improvisation can surely make us look ridiculous, on the stage as much as in everyday life. It can make us be ridiculous. Since the idea of what is or is not ridiculous is also based on stereotypes, it can be improvised upon.
Musical premises exist to be defied through improvisation. Can “pure” and “spontaneous” coexist in the interpretation of, say, flamenco? How original is swing? How somniferous should lullabies be? Anything, from blues to Bach, is indeed improvisable and thus translatable.

Translation is also a form of improvisation; no one word means the same thing at all times and places. Only at a specific time and place does the word have a specific meaning. In Heraclitean fashion, improvisations are often described as flux away from crystallization. Then, how can the structure flow within improvisation? It is a topic that has triggered such books as Finnegan’s Wake, with a structure as flexible as sound can be. The sound of the words is just as important as their meanings—that is, we can understand sound as meaning.

I feel moved and encouraged by the fact that such people as Aristophanes or Sophocles were and are still considered poets; at the same time, it puzzles me how in Shakespeare’s time a poet was apparently a different thing from what Shakespeare himself was, not to mention Omar al Khayam, an astronomer and mathematician who is better known as a man wrote a number of songs for his friends. And how “off the page” are Carroll’s adventures improvised while drifting in a boat with two kids?

The ways of poetry, in fact, wander a lot outside the literary reservation, though there is no Poetry Channel to inform us about such possibilities.

Spontaneously methodical, as E. E. Cummings would put it, improvisation opens a view towards the building of a structure, whether in book, song, or dance choreography, which does not rely on preconceptions; structure thus becomes part of the erotic phase of conceiving work as a tool of happiness or, if you prefer, as fun. All this, of course, is a cliché about improvisation, one that the page very well permits.

The other side of the Wall that protects poetry against improvisation may also be covered with beautiful clichés because we are producers of preconceptions and concepts; writing could be conceived, from this perspective, as a mental machine within that other machine that the writer is.

Then, in dance or painting we observe the same production of common places. Now they are not only intellectual but also executed through movement, rhythm, colour. It is precisely because everything, around us as well as inside us, is so full of clichés that improvisation exists at all.

The Japanese renga is a combination of improvisation and stereotypes about season, nature, time of the day, weather and other common perceptions of life. A group of poets gather to compose, one haiku after another, a sort of cantata inspired in the moment by using those stereotypes as basic, imaginative tools.

The structure of renga can be applied to another flexible and marginal space such as the cabaret, and the initial process of translation from, say, nature into words can be re-translated then into music and dance spinning around a subject. Once I participated in such an experience focused on the topic of translation. An actor or dancer improvised a haiku departing from a clichéd posture of how she or he imagined a poet to be. Then, the music tried to grasp the essence of the poem while a second dancer or actor improvised. A second poem would then materialize from the image of the actor-dancer.

Whereas the experience of traditional renga could be for a contemporary poet no less uncommon than playing with a jazz band or acting in a play by Artaud, it is also a fact that the participation of the poem itself in music, theater or even dance is not so rare. Poems travel all the time and they are surely more flexible than what very often their authors can be.

Sometimes an attempt can be more impressive than certain predictable results.




Litro #154: Cuba | Photography | The Cuban- Americans

CaZYGYUUUAI5bRI In The Cuban-Americans Geandy Pavon contributes a series of photographs on displacement and longing.

When I left Cuba with my family, the only thing we brought with us was a photo album everything else was left behind. For many people in exile Cuba has become a photograph, a memory they protect and long for. I have the feeling that this strong connection to the past has made us forget our present, in some ways is like everything that really matters has a direct connection to the island, meanwhile we forget about the memories we generate somewhere else. To me, photography has become a way to document everyday live of the Cuban Diaspora. I have realized that this is a story that has not been told yet, at least from a photographic perspective.


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My ongoing series The Cuban-Americans is an attempt to tell a story of Cuba outside Cuba. The series takes off from a concept put forth by Cuban-American writer Gustavo Pérez Firmat: a hyphen that both binds and sets apart—nominally and culturally—the Cuban and North American identities. This in-between realm, almost a no man’s land, creates a sort of a-temporal existence and, hence, a strangeness, a complex, un-definable and anachronistic space, the key element of my work.




Litro #154: Cuba | Interview: Ahmed Dickinson Cardena

maxresdefaultDescribed as “a true pioneer” (Classic FM Magazine), award-winning Cuban guitarist, Ahmed Dickinson Cardenas, is one of today’s finest performers of the Cuban classical guitar school. Ten years ago he came to London from Havana to study at the Royal College of Music, and has made his home here ever since. Leila Segal met him, to talk music, Cuba—and navigating two cultures.

LS: It’s great to have this opportunity to see London through the eyes of a Cuban artist—can you start by telling us how easy or otherwise it’s been to make the transition to life in the UK?

AD: The most difficult element has been for me to express myself, because I have a huge vocabulary in Spanish—and I can be very eloquent when I express myself in Spanish but when I first arrived I couldn’t communicate with people the way I wanted to. I knew there were things missing when they were talking to me and I knew that there was a big desert. I really like to tap into people’s minds and see what can I learn, what can they learn from me—that’s what interaction is about. I hate small talk, so when I wanted to speak to people about anything, I felt I didn’t have the words.

How does your musical life here compare with that of Havana?

Here, it’s overwhelming because I feel that the opportunities are way more than what I could achieve in a lifetime—the people I meet, projects I can set up, the opportunity to travel further. I’ve played and taught all over Europe, and just launched my new album, The Bridge, in Spain. It’s incredible—you begin to see how big the world is. You also learn that there is space for everybody, creatively speaking.

You didn’t feel that when you lived in Cuba?

Not really, because it is a small island—it’s as big as Britain but the society is created in a very narrow-minded way. There are no spaces for grey colours. Here, there are spaces for everybody—you just need to realize what makes you different from the rest of the crowd and amplify it.

What makes you different?

My repertoire. I had a classical education, and that’s one part of who I am, but at the same time I am from Cuba, where you have salsa, rumba… everything else on the street. You don’t really have that here—it’s very difficult for people to navigate different cultures as fast, whereas for me, it’s in my blood. With my music, I can approach different styles and I just feel them, like different languages.

Different languages, but you move very freely between them.
Exactly. It’s just switching.


You have said that you are an ambassador for Cuban music in the world. Could you tell us more about that?

In my concerts I try to combine classical and Cuban composers. Although the guitar is a Spanish instrument, because it’s been also developing in the Americas in the last 100 years, it has taken on many other musical styles—pre-Columbus, African elements of the slaves, the Spanish and European traditions. In Europe, the guitar went into pop and jazz but in terms of specific traditions, country by country, it hasn’t experienced the same evolution as it has done in the Americas.

Will this diversity be reflected in your new album, The Bridge?

Yes. The music is written by Eduardo Martin, one of my teachers in Cuba—he is about mixing everything that falls into his lap, from classical, jazz, pop, rock, South American rhythms, Afro-Cuban rhythms, everything. His music is so vibrant, so alive. You feel that yes, it comes from somewhere, but it also lives in the present and moves forward.

How do you think you’ve changed during your time in London?

I have become more independent: I have become a man. But I’ve had to do it according to British standards. I didn’t pay rent in Cuba, I didn’t have to think about how to pay all my outgoings at the end of the month—everything was heavily subsidized by the state. I didn’t have to go out and find work: the company I worked with in Cuba would just give me my allocated performances for the month. I knew when I was going to play, and got paid no matter what.
When you get here, you say: Yes, I’m living in a capitalist country but let’s see how this pans out. Yes, there are things that need to be changed in this society but there are things that work really well. It’s the same in any other county in the world because they are societies run by humans. So we will always have elements in which we have to evolve.

Most of my friends at the Royal College of Music thought that I came from a rich family because a musical education is so expensive here, but in Cuba you receive your entire musical training free. At the same time, I had to leave Cuba because after I finished my studies there wasn’t much more I could do. So Cuba has its limitations. Britain also has its limitations—not everybody has access to the education that I had.

Yes, there are many obstacles here—not only money, but also believing that you’re entitled to it.
Exactly. I think the difference is that sometimes this society wants to put you in your place really early on: the way you speak, the accent you have, the school you went to, everything. People always try to see where you come from, which box they are going to put you in. In Cuba we’ve got other problems, but it’s not like that. I had to learn to navigate the different landscape… in both places.


How do you feel when you go back to Cuba?

I love Cuba, but because I usually go for two or three weeks, my hopes are still here—my plans for the future are still here. It’s not that I feel like a tourist when I go there, but that reality doesn’t belong to me any more. Every time I go to Cuba I have a project back here, or I go to further something I’m doing here—collaborating with Eduardo, for example. And even if I have the ideas, over there, I feel that it’s going to take a long time for me to put them into practice, because people in Cuba are not ready to do things fast, like you can here.

On the other hand, Cuba has an energy that’s missing here.
Yes, big time. It’s really edgy. But the reality of life in Cuba is that you have to look for food, for transport—basic things that don’t allow you to look beyond, and that’s the sad thing. People in Cuba have an enormous energy and will power, and sometimes I feel like they really can’t do much with it. Because… they have to live.

The Bridge is available at www.cubafilin.com




Litro #154: Cuba | HAVANA / HEMICRANIA

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Translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel

The light was killing me. The light and a dream that was the same dream every night. A sort of labyrinth, where we ran like mad through the streets of the neighborhood, blind beneath a murderous sun, shouting pinga and cojones, shouting libertad, shouting viva and Down with the Cuban Revolution! while police bullets shattered the skulls of my friends and girlfriends. Reality cutting to the bone.

But I always saved myself. And it is so terrible to remain alive all alone. Outliving is outdying.

I woke full of sadness. With tears, without breath. Unable to even swallow. With a heavy weight breaking my ribs on the side where the heart lies.

That’s all that I have left now of Havana. Light that kills, blindingly. Light and a meaningless dream. Light and lousy words, shitty words. Evil deaths, passed through the dreamlike blender of savagery. Intermittent shouting, neighborhood vulgarity. And a Cuban rage that (one can’t be certain) is either a consequence or a cause of the Revolution.

In any event, a residual rage. Like the echo of a big-bang which now no longer scandalizes anyone.

I woke with my head wanting to crack from the pain, to split in two from the pain. My brains sliding out of my ears on their own. Through osmosis or gravity, or through some quantum effect of the proletariat.

And I leapt from my bed to open the nineteenth-century windows of my apartment. To open a breach. And then the oppression became sea, became clouds, became parades of planes. I saw the smoke from the chimneys, and I saw another year acting brutally toward Cuba. Two thousand something, two thousand nothing. Counting the minutes, can’t-ing the minutes. The silence of suicides. Hemicrania, a migraine of half the skull. Desperation.

Only later, after a while, did peace return at last. A damned exile at home once again. Wearing my own pajamas against social despotism. A floozy who doesn’t belong to anyone or any place, but who can’t ever manage to get far from home. Oh, Havana. My Hava-not…

The breeze from the Malecón is a relief against my thoughts and the plague. There down below it must already be ten something in the morning. From up here the fatherland suddenly looks like a parking lot. One without parking meters, of course, or civilians. In Socialism we are all sovereignly soldiers. Military Paraparadise.

To wake with a jerk of one’s head, headless. Demented, decrepit, delirious. Slam shut the shutters. No more sea, no more clouds, no more parade of planes. No more smoke from the chimneys, no more two thousand something or zero years. No more minutes. Only the migraine is criteria of truth. Only the silence of suicides remains half-inalterable, half past insistence. Eloquent, deafening, until the tam-tam of the totalitarian tribe out there starts to sound again, as the Cuban midday begins to gather up the shadows beneath our feet.

A country without shadows is so loathsome that.

The light in Cuba is so humiliating that.

It slithers in between the window blinds and beneath the doors. It invades the remains of your privacy. It deprives you of any inner space. Dirty light, exposing, vigilant, photons that are accomplices of State Security. That’s why it’s necessary to set out rags, traps. To halt it. The light in Cuba is like the Revolution: immanent, unnecessary. It must be walled in.

At noon on the dot the funereal party of living in a building with a thousand or fifteen hundred neighbors in the Center of Havana began.

“I’ll kill you, marícón,” a woman’s shout.

Running feet, broken glass, children yelling. People fainting, having heart attacks. Loquacious local hysteria.

“I’ll kill you and I won’t pay you: I’m no cuckold of anyone.”

They were the upstairs neighbors. Or the downstairs ones. Or both. Marriages that held together fairly well, but could no longer hold up under the heat of midday. Then they fell to slaps and curses, only rarely a blow with a machete or something more serious. Almost never was anyone wounded. And even less did anyone think to call the police. That, in this neighborhood, would be considered the highest treason. And although they’d never read José Martí, the neighborhood’s cliques, clans, and cabals certainly knew “the ancient penalty for apostasy” was execution.

And sure enough, some five or six minutes later, everything calmed down. Pax cubensis.

“Te quiero, Papi,” I heard the woman’s voice again. “I loviu with all my heart.”

Applause, laughter, reggaeton and ballads at full volume. Bottles uncorked. And that squealing of children that in Cuba is a universal constant. Everyone gets pregnant and gives birth so early here. We’re starving, but screwing and screwing until the island sinks under our collective weight or Fidel’s posthumous fetus dies on us.

Once the matinee is finished, the curtain slowly comes down.

“Te amo, Papi, I want to make you feel so good and for you to squirt that warm milk of yours on my face,” after the show, porno in the dressing rooms. “And as for that girl, well, it would be better if she went back to her motherfuckin’ mama’s house and never showed her face around here again.”

The phone rang. It was you. You and your voice, like liquid, like stainless steel. Like seventeen-year old lichen. You asked if I was awake. You asked if you could stop by. You always asked. Your curiosity was the sole stimulant in the whole length and breadth of the country.

“Please do,” I told you. “I had a bad night yesterday. I dreamed you had been killed. I saw you dead, bleeding to death. I saw you as a hero in the middle of the horror. I think I’m going crazy. I think I need to go to a good hospital.”

There was a knock at the door. I went to open it. It was you. You and your hair like black rain, like asphalt. Like jet-black shampoo. You were so sweaty. There was an unbearable lethargy hanging over everything. You asked if I felt a bit better. You asked if you could come in. You asked if I wondered why you always asked about everything.

“Please do,” I told you. “I had a bad night yesterday. I dreamed that you had been killed. I saw you bleeding to death, dead. I saw you horrified in the middle of the heroes. I need to go to a good hospital, I think. I think I’m going very crazy.”

But, of course, we didn’t go anywhere. There are no real hospitals in Cuba, neither good ones nor bad. Leaving my apartment was beyond my strength. And with you there, it was impossible.

You were lovely. You went to the kitchen and prepared for me one of those herbal infusions you always bring me. This was a red tea, imported from China you assured me. Your silhouette outlined against the rising steam was magnificent. You seemed ethereal yourself. You, your tea. I told you so. You didn’t pay me any attention.

The whole house smelled of gas, because the stove leaked. That propane gas was the smell of my childhood. Of the childhood of all Cubans. We miss that smell of gas, wherever in the world we go to never again return. That propane lost in Havana is the Paradise we’ve lost across the planet.

You started to cough. I realized that you coughed as if you were only seventeen years old. I had never before been aware of your age. You were a child, incredible. But even more incredible was that, being a child, you might love me. I saw you as such a woman. So free. So returning after everything. Suffering so from our inhospitable Havana. So determined to escape from Cuba with me at the first chance. So yourself. So tea.

You straddled me. I groped you. You arched. You said ay, very softly. Like how little girls complain, politely. Demurely. Unsurely.

I had to read your lips to understand your cry. It was an ay without question. A friendly ay, relaxed. An interjection, intimate rather than intense. An ay of feeling at home. Of not wanting to leave without me. Of leaving together and coming and leaving again.

Seated upon my flagpole. What a horrible word. Instead of saying like my neighbors do: seated on my cock and that’s that. Arching back, luminous. Your eyes rolled back until only the whites showed. Your gaze gone, so deep within my eyes. And I feeling stupidly happy that you were you.

I loved the disaster of my inherited apartment, with its scent of childhood gases. Hellflower. Molds from the damp. With the racket of the neighbors, their fights and cheap reconciliations. Cuba still with Castro, or with the walking cadaver of a Castro still with Cuba out there. With the Havana from which we also fled on the other side of the wall, a city blinded like the humiliating light that forced its way around the blinds and the doors, spying on the remains of our pleasure.

I loved that we were now and here, both of us ageless. You, my only woman, after a life with wholesale simulacra of women. I, your first man, before a lifeful of men. We, inhabitants of the future. Memoryless. Disinhabitants of a Havana now without any traces of migraine. Gracias, mi amor. You cured me. Even pain was diluted in the delight of my deliriums thanks to you.

You didn’t cover yourself after you came, like on other times. You stretched against me, as you’d never done. You told me, “Orlando Luis, I’m leaving.”

I understood. You understood that I understood. We understood.

“Orlando Luis, I’m leaving” meant in Cuban “Orlando Luis, I’m leaving the country.” It meant that you didn’t have the luxury of waiting for me and my eternal indecisions. It meant that a chance had fallen before you that you couldn’t share nor waste. And especially not with me.

Even clearer than water: “Orlando Luis, I’m leaving the country” meant in Cuban: “Orlando Luis, I won’t see you again.” But “Orlando Luis, I won’t see you again” has no intelligible translation in Cuban, so the sentence we utter in Cuba is the one you had chosen: “Orlando Luis, I’m leaving.”

And thus everyone understands perfectly what is meant without needing to say it aloud. You, I, us. Speaking it is worse.

I liked to undress myself at night in the city.

I went out to Morro Castle, to the edge of the pits where the firing squads shoot so many. I went to the Alamar’s decrepit buildings, beneath the flame trees and the electric blackout. I went to the statue of a tired Lennon in a little park of El Vedado. I went out to the mouth of the Almendares River. And then to the bridge over the Almendares River, where 23rd street became 41st street without realizing it.

I went every night to a corner of Havana that was more or less public or hidden. I waited for a moment that was a little more desolate in the middle of the general desolation. And then I took off all my clothes. Without thinking twice about it. That wasn’t necessary. I had already thought about it before, perhaps too much.

I breathed. My eyes wild. Buck naked. My skin goosepimpled with excitement, fear, or that Nordic cold that, when you’re alive, pierces you to the bone in the late hours of the night in Havana. And I was suddenly very alive. Very, perhaps too much.
And then I started to shout like a madman. Something that wasn’t human. Nor animal. It had no vowels. A sort of qwndtpfgwbklljchhh.

Only afterwards, peace. Getting dressed again, like a whore hurrying home. Penéloca, crazy cock Penelope of the barbarism belonging to no one and no place, but who can’t manage to get far from their hemicranial, hemicardiac, hemiHavana home.

The time the police stopped me I almost got shot with real bullets, made not from dreams but from a leaden nightmare. They pressed three pistols against my head at the same time. They cocked them some thirty times. I don’t know why they wanted to spill my brains, to shatter the very last bone in my skull, leave me bleeding dry in the middle of the street without even letting me cover myself.

They dragged me to an electricity pole. Still naked. They wanted to see properly who I was. They couldn’t ever verify anything. It was too obvious that I was Orlando Luis.

They spun me around. The lightpost struck my face with fury. As did fists, curses, spittle. The Cuban light and the Cuban police were killing me, but the most agonizing thing was that they never finished killing me. Where to stop? Where to place a period and start a new paragraph?

To forget is a strictly political question.
Whoever had a childhood will always be a child.
Castroism in Cuba is before and after the parenthesis of the Castros.
Light causes cancer.
Thirst is the essence of socialism.
Being Cuban means having no contemporaries.
True Life is not elsewhere either.
I miss you.

I sold the apartment. Clandestinely, I bought a raft. I wanted to leave Cuba, Orlando Luis. But I had no one in Cuba who I could say it to. Hence this dialogue among the deaf held in kicks more than words.

I wanted to stop anyone in the street in order to tell them. I’m leaving, I’m leaving, I’m leaving. It was a vile winter, in the thirties Celsius each afternoon. I was in the area around the Yara Cinema. And not even the breeze from La Rampa, nor the halo of air conditioning from the Habana Libre hotel could alleviate the thermal sensation of oppression.

That’s what totalitarianism is: a consummate conspiracy where even the climate is captive.

I saw her. I threw myself at her, almost without realizing. It seemed she was a university student. She was coming down the hill of L street and I told her by chance, perhaps to avoid her. I told her that I was leaving, that I was leaving, that I was leaving, and that I had no one in Cuba who I could say it to, as we crossed beneath the busiest stoplight of Havana and the Americas.

She had black hair, like asphalt. Jet-black shampoo, sweaty. She coughed, and I realized she coughed like a little girl. Incredible. But more incredible was that being a little girl she was also a university student.

She answered me, right before dissolving into the human herd that disembarked onto the sidewalk in front of the Coppelia ice cream shop. Her voice sounded liquid, like stainless steel. Like lichen forever virgin at her seventeen or who knew how few years. All symmetry is a symptom without sickness.

“The street is truly filled with a bunch of madmen,” she told me, with that instantaneous wisdom of when the Cuban people were the Cuban people, and not an amorphous mass stewed by a greater sustained sun.

It is not a matter of waking up with your head wanting to crack from the pain, to split in two from the pain. Your brains oozing out your ears on their own. From amnesia or capillarity or some optical defect of Paradises lost and found. Instead it’s that the most agonizing is not having even a half-silence in which to finish up waking up completely.

I woke up more or less happy. With luminous tears, my eyeballs popeyed. With too much air, hyperventillation. Burping up foam. And with a liberating weightlessness likewise pushing apart my ribs on the side where my heart lay. But I didn’t leap up from my bed to the nineteenth century shutters of my apartment. It wasn’t necessary. The bed is a breach and it is more than raft enough.

Politics is a question of selective forgetting.
Only he who is born an orphan is an adult.
Cuba is a parenthesis of the Cubans.
All metastasis is illumination.
The essence of socialism is to be insatiable.
Castroism is an exquisite state of timelessness.
True life was everywhere too.
I miss you.