I met him when I was eighteen: intelligent, tall, good looking, mulatto, bilingual and a liar. He said he was an Arab and that was a lie, he told me he had traveled and that was a lie, he told me he had a “yuma” girlfriend who was going to get him out of the country, and that too was a lie. But I liked him anyway, I like dreamers. We became friends.
Then life took us on two different paths: I got tired of waiting for a way to leave the country; while he chose the infinite wait. Once or twice a year we see each other, every time we are further apart: I deeply enmeshed in the thick of things, he waiting and waiting.
Now he’s nearing fifty: his height makes him seem gangly, his hair is graying, and speaking two languages is no longer a charm. He tells me he has a German girlfriend, and I imagine the day he will tell me he has the damned letter of invitation that for so many years he has longed for.
He is not alone, the “infinite waiting” has claimed almost all of my friends – the petition, visa, permit to leave, permit to live abroad, permit to travel or scholarship – everyone is waiting for that paper that will take them far away, very far from the land of No-Time. I myself spent many years waiting for my name to come up in the lottery, which it never did… although I know of friends who still send a vote of confidence by mail.
I have come to define it as a physical and spiritual state: you haven’t gone, but you are not here. I remember something similar I read in the The Dogs of Paradise, by Abel Pose where Admiral Christopher Columbus – ecstatic now in America – demanded of his subjects that they let their minds catch up with their bodies, that they live in the here and now, in the new world. It’s ironic, and sadly literary, that so many centuries later the men of the land he discovered – that land he described as the most beautiful human eyes had ever seen – have picked up his formula but in reverse: preferring to let their minds wander to places they’ve never seen, rather than live here, now, in the place where they have always been.
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.