I’m in a house waiting for a friend and there are two books on the table: The Daily Nothing and The Pain of the Dollar, both by Zoé Valdés. I haven’t read the second one so I grab it and start to browse at random. I wonder whose books they are and ask people indoors and out, but nobody seems to be the owner. At a certain point a foreigner enters, looks with dismay at the literature and exclaims, “But who reads this horror!”
I look surprised and it only occurs to me to ask timidly, “Why?” I expect him to talk to me about literature, to say that he doesn’t like Zoé, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, no? I even imagine an interesting literary conversation and plan to confess that I haven’t read The Pain of the Dollar but that I really liked The Daily Nothing… but my imagination, however fertile it may be, is taken over by reality. He looks at me and I know, by his expression, that he thinks I don’t know who the author is, so he dedicates five minutes of his time to explain to me:
“This writer is the worst of the ‘international anti-Cuba campaign,’ etc. etc. etc., very active and, he adds disgustedly, she has been very successful in France.
I keep quiet, waiting for the next blow, for one second I wonder if maybe I am delirious, maybe Randy Alonso disguises himself as a tourist midday before going on the Round Table TV show. But I persevere and craft my response, even though it depresses me a little to have these discussions with the free citizens of Europe. I wait for him to pause in his speech just to say:
“I think the position of Zoé Valdés is against the government but not against the Cuban people which is not the same.”
But I’m left with the phrase on the tip of my tongue, he ends his sermon, turns his back and leaves. He assumes so many things that he doesn’t even think he needs to wait to see my reaction, so convinced is he that I have nothing to say, that I haven’t read Zoé Valdés (the books might well have been mine), that I’m unaware of the concept of “anti-Cuba campaign,” that I don’t read, that I’m not capable of commenting on politics, or society or literature.
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.