I went through a radical period with the television show Roundtable and with television in general between the ages of 15 and 20. At the slightest decibel that my ears could pick up, I became hysterical and desperately searched for the radio or television that was the source of my discomfort to turn it off immediately. One day, my intolerance even overcame my terror and I shut off my father’s TV when he was watching a march for Elián that I had just escaped from after 7 hours of trying, futilely, to flee He was so surprised he didn’t say a thing to me, while I shouted: Today, NO! Just today, I can’t stand it!
But luckily that period passed, always with the help of Fidel Castro’s mental deterioration, to the point where I became a fan of his speeches, but that was later. My grandmother spent five years with senile dementia, I could write 100 posts of the hell we lived through in the hospitals, at home, with the family doctor that does not exist, with the meprobamate and other medicines from the black market… in short, an odyssey. But before getting too maudlin, my grandmother, a very practical woman from the lower class in Luyanó with a primary education, came to the conclusion that she had never been so hungry as after the triumph of the Revolution and, ironically, called the United States, The Brutal and Disheveled North that Oppresses Us, to dishonor my mother and father, militants in the Communist Party of Cuba (fortunately my mother has recovered from her ideological rut). But she was getting old, could barely hear, she couldn’t go out and the only thing she could do was to watch television. After a few months she began to change. I couldn’t speak ill of the government in front of her, she quoted the TV moderator Randy, gave examples from the “Battle of Ideas” and didn’t understand that for my mother and me, who spent the day working, we never had money for anything.
The squabbles started in a house where politics was no longer taboo after the politics-infused divorce of my parents. My grandmother, who still clung to a bit of reality, decided to swear off watching TV because she sensed that she could no longer judge well and that they were brainwashing her: she preferred boredom to engaging in discussions with my mother and me.
Yes yes yes yes yes yes, Commander
We came to be among the few fans. We waited for six in the evening to watch the show, and if there was a special appearance by our Commander in Chief, all the better. Even my radical friends, like me in adolescence, came and sat in front of the television, to see me start with the tears when it began and also laughing at the end, if not as fanatical, at least lowering the level of intolerance almost to zero.
I once met a Spaniard, a fighter against Franco, who told me that when he came to Cuba he caught a taxi from the airport to downtown and the driver was listening to the Roundtable on the radio. The topic: the queens of pots. The tourist, intrigues, asked the taxi driver how he managed to get a station from Miami in a State taxi, thinking it was a satirical program. The poor man had to stop the taxi in the middle of Boyeros because he was overcome with a fit of hysterical laughter, while explaining to the tourist that it wasn’t a parody, that it was Him, speaking live and direct to all of Cuba. The Spaniard didn’t believe him, until he saw for himself on television what seemed completely impossible.
When he told me about it he said: Listen, Claudia, this guy doesn’t have more than a year left, it’s impossible.
Unfortunately, the anecdote is already more than three years old.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.