You walk through the door of the doctor's office and the psychiatrist already knows it—here, take this so you can start solving the problem while we stabilize the treatment: imipramine with trifluoperazine—it’s your turn for the national antidepressant. Few escape: meprobamate, nitrazepam, amitriptyline, methylphenidate, phenobarbital, PV2 and, for those with possibilities, Prozac. There is something for every taste, pills to forget, to not hate, to sleep, to not sleep, to laugh, to not dream, to not think, to be strong, to be weak and to live permanently in a mental nirvana, analogous to a certain extent to the state nirvana of our leaders.
For a retiree with a pension of 200 pesos the black market is well supplied but it’s expensive. Nevertheless, the family doctor doesn’t have the heart to deny anyone a prescription for meprobamate, she too has taken one before catching the bus to go to work. Others survive with strange mixtures: PV2 (stimulant) and amitriptyline (antidepressant) in the mornings; and meprobamate (sedative and muscle relaxant) with nitrazepam (barbiturate) at night… a happiness bomb.
I don’t pretend to know the statistics, but I don’t know a woman older than 40 who lives without meprobamate or trifluoperazine; among men imipramine is more in demand, although alcohol wreaks havoc. As it happens, those who work for 300 or 400 pesos a month, from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon, painfully pushing the enormous wheel of the inefficient State bureaucracy, are the most addicted. A friend not yet thirty said to me the other day when she came to my house:
- Don’t you have a meprobamate around to relax me before leaving for the party? - Of course not, and anyway there will be drinks at the party, that will relax you. - Meprobamate relaxes me more.
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.