Breve visita a Cuba / Cantórbery Cuevas

Brief Visit to Cuba

It would be difficult, even in the most luminous days of Pericles’s Athens, to find such profusion over slender columns with their abundantly ornamented Ionian, Doric and Corinthian capitals, as the one that ceaselessly amazes – even today (even for an ancient and once assiduous visitor to that beautiful metropolis) – whomever passes not just through Old Havana, but also – and perhaps with more persistence – throughout the ample, extensive and very antique avenues such as 10 de Octubre, the Calzada del Cerro heading south, culminating in the once aristocratic crossroads of Santos Suárez and La Víbora.

In one of those venerable houses with lively capitals in this final neighborhood left over from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, bordering a tree-lined and shaded park on the highest point in the city and with my back to it, I spent the final mornings and evenings of the closing millennium, enjoying from its ample terrace the incredibly horizontal and pristine landscape of the most dazzling Caribbean metropolis to ever exist suspended in time.

I was kindly taken there by my grandchildren last December (under the pretext of one of them visiting an old Cuban combatant and former comrade in arms from the crazy sixties, an untiring and festive colonel retired from the Revolutionary Armed Forces: the unusual Mochila), and I must acknowledge it was a gratifying visit which included, moreover, a quick tour of Oriente.

I won’t discuss political aspects that no longer interest anyone after being threshed over to the point of exhaustion, and I’ll merely be redundant in mentioning the commonplace of a population that catches one’s attention with their usually effusive, bon vivant and by no means stiff mood, even amidst their universal condition of, to say the least, solemn poverty.

One is instantly repulsed by: a) the general unraveling of the venerable facades everywhere and the probable imminence of collapse in not a few of the most impressive ones; b) the dishonorable impact on an impoverished population of an arrogant and growing tourism (by all appearances as beneficial to the economy as it is catastrophic for communism); c) the shameless commercialization of a face, which is surely making Ernesto Guevara’s bones turn in his mausoleum in Santa Clara.

On the other hand, after a quick adjustment to the environment, the following aspects delight the spirit: 1) the mild odor of organic waste spread on the streets and reminiscent of old Barranquilla; 2) the absence in the pleasant town of Guantánamo (and surely despite itself) of motor vehicles and their substitution by innumerable horse-drawn carriages full of passengers; 3) the proverbial loquaciousness of Cubans of any latitude and condition; 4) their natural disposition to rhythm – more than to melody – no matter the time or place; 5) the women with fruit-like haunches and sensuous behavior; 6) that contradictory and blanketing atmosphere of ancient timelessness in which half a century has made no mark other than dressing the passersby with improbable clothing belonging to no era, and, as I already mentioned, the merciless unraveling of walls and facades.

In this respect I will add, so as to round out this brief review of a trip as unexpected as it was refreshing, that when it came to an end, after a three-day tropical storm, Havana suddenly revealed itself to me, from the ample terrace, in all the decrepit splendorous virginity of the great exiled city of Chronos “with a radiant future at its back.” At that moment I recalled how in an old science fiction novel, I can’t remember if it was by Asimov or Bradbury, the entire Indian Republic is bought by a powerful northern consortium and converted into Indiastries, C.A.*

I don’t think the island could sustain so much. But let us imagine that once its tenacious president has disappeared definitively (without even needing the arrival of such an extravagant and improbable possibility) and facing the blows of a single, overwhelming global economy, an entertainment transnational has the idea to acquire the central district of the capital and its surroundings up to La Víbora, just as it stands today. It would be the deal of the century: restored structures and facades with their essence unaltered and the park nourished by retro vehicles, an extensive scene outside of time would be available for nostalgic multimillionaire films, with virtual Hemingways and George Rafts, also providing a fantasy “Theme Park.” Personally, I would find its purchase by Disney odious.

* Translator’s note: The book is The Space Merchants (1953) by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth.

{ Cantórbery Cuevas, Tal Cual, 25 January 2001 }

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