Without batting an eye, I arrived at quarter past six for the Pedro Luis Ferrar concert at the National Museum of Belles Artes in Old Havana, accompanied by two friends. One of them was surprised to see “apparent civilians” posted in military positions behind the uniformed guards of the museum… but I didn’t see them.
When we were buying our tickets a man came and introduced himself as the director of the theater and smilingly asked us to accompany him. I knew what it was about but something inside me said no, it wasn’t possible. I felt sorry for my two friends who, without eating or drinking, stared wide eyed at what is known around here as “The Clerks of Cuban Culture.”
The man told us that the institution reserves the right to refuse admission and we could not enter because we’d participated in a provocative action “against this” during the Havana Biennial. My girlfriends had no idea what he was talking about but I asked him if he could be more specific and he said that we were being denied entry for having spoken into Wilfredo Lam’s microphone during “The Whisper of Tatlin” performance of Tania Bruguera.
I told him I’d been there but that surely there was a mistake because many people had been there that day; he asked me to wait a minute and went off to “consult.” A woman came and asked,
- Which one of you is Claudia?
I raised my hand as before, and the man came with another woman who held back a little.
- Claudia, I’m sorry, the museum reserves the right to refuse admission and they called to tell us that you cannot enter.
- Are you aware of the sad role they’ve put you in?
- Yes, I’m sorry.
At this the one who had held back stepped forward:
- There is no sad role, you are a provocateur and you can’t enter.
- Madam, on what are you basing your statement that I came her to provoke something?
- You participated in the performance of Tania Bruguera, I was there.
- Yes, I spoke into a microphone that was open for the whole world for one minute each, everyone who wanted to could speak.
- You can do it here.
- Do you know what a performance is?
- It’s not obvious. Don’t you realize you are acting as a segregating and discriminating agent of Cuban culture?
- You are not showing me respect.
- Madam, you have failed to show me respect since I came here.
She wasn’t going to stop watching me until the concert was over so I left, and also I couldn’t ask my poor companions to pay for something they hadn’t been able to enjoy for one minute in the full exercise of postmodern communism: freedom of expression for one minute in the eternity of the revolution.
On my way home I wondered if our photos are in all the museums like the photos of those wanted by the police or those missing. I’d love to know if in order to graduate from the Committee for Vigilance and Protection (CVP) course you have to be able to recognize all of us from photos and demonstrate that at any time or place, a Vigilance and Protection Committee law knows if you spoke into a microphone or not.
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.