Long ago, someone once sent me, an alleged interview with Hemingway where he expressed his feelings about Cubans. Words more or less read:
-Why live in Cuba? What do you think about the Cuban people?-
His answer was:
-“Ah Cubans!… What a difficult question! You see, Cubans are everywhere but nowhere, only with themselves. They drink from the same cup of joy and bitterness. They make music out of their sorrow but for others to laugh and enjoy that music
They take jokes seriously and make something serious out of a joke. They believe in nothing but consider everything. You don´t ever want to argue with them; ever. Cubans are born with wisdom. They do not need to read books, they know it all. They don´t need to travel, they´ve seen it all. They are something like the chosen people… not by God but by themselves. Cubans are individually characterized by sympathy and understanding and in a group, for their shouting and infatuation. Each carries the spark of geniality, unfortunately, geniuses do not get along with each other, therefore gathering Cubans is easy, but to unite them is almost impossible.
With Cubans, you don’t want to speak about logic, because it implies reasoning and restraint and Cubans are hyperbolic and exaggerated. For example, if you are invited to a restaurant to eat, you are not being taken to the best restaurant in the area, or the town, no; it is the best restaurant in the world.
When discussing a matter, they do not say “I disagree with you” they say “You are completely dead wrong”. Cubans love contradiction so much that they call beautiful women “monsters” and scholars “barbarous” . They provide solutions before they even know what the problem is, because to them, there is no problem. All Cubans know what to do to eliminate terrorism, hunger, pay off debt, or how to become a world power. They do not understand why others do not understand them; when their ideas are so simple… and they really do not understand why people do not want to learn to speak Spanish like them.
Ah … Cubans … I love Cuba for its people. Because it is a matter of loving them, respecting them, but above all, letting them be CUBANS.”-
Well, I do not know if it is real or not. It does not matter since it was like reading about my own family… Or like if he was describing me!
Since I am a descendant of Cubans, on both sides of my family, I decided that I wanted to see it through the eyes of Hemingway and understand where that love for his second “motherland” came from.
I wanted to discover the taste of avocado, pineapple and mango the way he described it in his article: “Marlin off the Morro: a Cuban letter” published in “Esquire” magazine in the fall of 1933. I wanted to eat breakfast at one of “Papa´s” favorite cafes in central Havana or walk along the pier in San Francisco where his boat “Anita” was tied. So I did.
I went up and down; over and out, saw, and met… The Chinatown, Víbora Park, Santa Amalia, 10 de Octubre, Fontanar and Miramar, the old and the new. Walked San Isidro street, the barrio of Atarés, the docks and the hills of Casablanca.
I crossed the bay despite the oppressive state security, which controls the coming and going of boats as well as those who travel across. Once at shore, I take a deep breath, and the smell of sand and sea enters my lungs, accompanied by the rhythm and melody of the waves crashing against the jetty rocks, splashing its fresh dew on my face.
Right there, before me, the longstanding church of “Regla” with its picturesque park, and scattered homes clothed by its adjacent hills like a fluffy blanket.
I like to talk, to ask questions. I am curious by nature and within me lives a beast of great appetite for understanding and knowledge. This beast desires to know more, and my will is weak so it must be fed. I succumb to its will. I ask questions to strangers with whom I hold brief, but intense dialogues. We may never see each other again, -and they count on that. – So they open up to me and that is when truths are best articulated, clearly spoken… and the sad reality of Cuba becomes more apparent.
Many of them know no better because they do not know that something better exists, those that do, cannot do anything about it; those that can, because they have some sort of means, pay for certain things…But, there is not always things available. So, like Doña Evangelina said to me: *“Aquí toò tá jodido”.- (SIC) (*Here everything is fucked up.)
Back on the streets, walking my way around, I am now in Vedado, in “Paseo” street precisely, the street where my father´s family lived before leaving their homeland because of the revolution. I contemplate the magnificence of its surroundings. Its colors, its architecture, its luxury that can only be compared to the beauty and majestic of Paseo Montejo in Merida Yucatan.
I close my eyes and for a brief, fleeting moment, comes an image, an idea; the thought of how this city must have been like in its golden age, in the time of opulence and freedom. I cannot help but wonder what would have become of Cuba without the revolution.
Much is still unknown to me, but I am discovering how the past meets the present, understanding some, questioning even more.
Questioning how I have lived, how I used to understand life… Until now.
Havana is the mix of what it is, with what it was. Its people are happy and grateful of having a loaf of bread for the day, an avocado or a sweet snack as dessert. They appreciate what we take for granted.
Those who lived the then, remember the past as a fable, a story from somewhere else.
– “It has being more than 50 years since the triumph of the Revolution”– says Luis, 48, married with two daughters, a doctor in economics who never knew the Cuba of the yesterday. Only throughout old anecdotes or the State Official History of The Revolution.
Exercising his profession, he earned an average of $ 50 US Dollars a month (yes a month!). Now that Luis manages a tourist spot, he earns with tips about $600 USD a month, which has allowed him a much better quality of life.
If Luis´ “machine” (that is how they call a car in Havana) breaks down or gets a flat tire, repair is done. They figure it out… The same applies to almost any everyday item. Unlike us, they make it work. We have become a useless, spoiled, consumerist society that fortunately, has everything at hand. We waste, we do not value things and take everything for granted. We are fortunate to not know what the word “NEED” really means.
The tire is gone, no big deal, let´s get a new one, something is broken, just replace it. It’s that simple. All new, all replaceable. Everything is bought and sold… And that includes souls and wills if the price is right.
I’m leaving Havana and I take with me its smell. A mixture of salt, rum, cigar smoke, roasted coffee and humidity. I take with me its images like a painting that hides between its lines and colors, friendship, shared love, furtive sex, loneliness, need and sorrow buried behind a smile, a toast and a bolero song.
The cruel, harsh, and unforgiving time passes… But not in Cuba, where it is just as cruel and unforgiving, but there time does not pass, there it has stopped.
José E. Urioste
Mérida Yucatan, México
José Eugenio Palomeque Urioste is a Business Intelligence professional in the area of Research and Development. He began his training process in mass media writing scripts for radio programs, commercials and advertising campaigns. Since then, he has written for newspapers, magazines and mass media in general in Mexico and the United States, ranging from the professional to the editorial and has written 3 fiction novels that have been presented in numerous forums and literary competitions causing much controversy as to its content.
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