The other day I was waiting for Orlando at the Capitol building. I got there ten minutes early, so I sat down on the steps to pass the time. It was a very intense few minutes; I witnessed two discussions about money, one of them quite outrageous and in two languages.
One of the photographers who uses a box camera to take pictures of tourists was trying to get 2 CUCs from a man who apparently had stolen them. That guy slipped away some how and he then threw himself at a tourist whose photo he’d taken. He spoke no English and she spoke no Spanish. He shouted he hadn’t received his money and she answered that she’d given him 3 CUCs, but they didn’t understand each other and repeated the same things over and over. It ended with some guys trying unsuccessfully to get the foreigners to pay for some caricatures they’d drawn on the spur of the moment without asking, which apparently they didn’t like and didn’t want to pay for.
I can’t help, at times, feeling a deep shame for all of us: the Cubans begging the tourists to pay them for some work they’ve come up with, because the State doesn't really pay them; and the tourists playing the naïve victims who don’t understand anything. I keep seeing TV spots that talk about us as if we were scum. There’s one in particular that bothers me, in which Fidel and Raúl and others are in the Sierra walking around with rifles on their shoulders. Then a voice-over says, “They gave everything… and you? What have you done? Then work!” Or something of that sort, fortunately I don’t know it by heart. For me, the truth as I see it is: we won’t do anything until they pay us… it’s so logical it seems like a joke.
When foreigners ask me if it’s true that Cubans don’t like to work I simply say: Would you work 8 hours a day for 20 dollars a month, or for 30, or 50 or even 100? I’ve never received a positive response.
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.