Despite all the times I wrote the word “solidarity” in my elementary school notebook, and how often they told me at home that, “in this society we are concerned about everyone,” and the multiple occasions on which I heard, “in Cuba we help each other,” I could never, in real life, perceive this generalization about the goodness of my fellow human beings; quite the opposite.
I have seen pregnant women standing on the bus while those seated fix their gaze on some distant point far beyond the glass; once I even heard a conductor spend half an hour arguing “why” pregnant women had no right to claim a seat: they had enjoyed getting in that state, now put up with it. Every day when I walk by 23rd and 12th I hear the dying cries of an ancient woman covered in filth, trying to sell her toothpaste from the ration and her little bags. It’s normal to walk in Central Havana and collide with barefoot children asking for money. I have to close my eyes when a doctor relates how a patient died in the emergency room because no one realized how gravely ill they were. A few months ago I decided never to go to the zoo again, the image of the emaciated and imprisoned animals reminded me that there is always someone who pays more dearly than men for the imbecility of humans.
It may be that there is no selfish act that I haven’t witnessed on the streets of Havana: robbery and assault without anyone getting involved, police abusing their positions with impunity, State Security taking over the streets and relocating people like it’s a chess game, the repudiation rallies, the streetwalkers who suffer the abuse from their pimps and the authorities, without the power to complain about the misery of being returned to the provinces.
I have contemplated the victims and the victimizers, I have even seen them change their dress and exchange their papers. I have seen people, and I have seen myself as well, turning our faces away from the pain and poverty, blaming the poor for being poor and the rich for being rich. I have seen this “valiant people who have resisted for 50 years,” drowning themselves in alcohol and bathing afterward in the mud of envy and misery. I don’t know if this can be defined as “to resist,” but I have the impression that on balance it has turned out very badly.
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.