My friend was driving while I, at his side, enjoyed the rarity of traveling through Havana by car. Dusk was falling and we crossed 41st and 42nd to catch 23rd Avenue in Vedado. Suddenly a Lada stopped pompously in the middle of 41st, blocking our way, and all those who were behind us.
I saw my friend’s hand impulsively reach for the horn while his eyes, following more rational orders, were focused on the license plate of the “Lord of the Street.” It only took a few seconds for his fingers to slip slowly, noiselessly, to his thighs. I said sarcastically, “The impunity of the green.”
But he looked at me with eyes so full of sadness that it turned my sarcasm into a sadistic act. I felt badly.
In slow motion he moved the gear shift to reverse. With the “poof, poof, poof” of the exhaust pipe, we changed lanes very slowly, passing next to a soldier who didn’t even realize that there was a long line stuck behind him, as he chatted quietly.
I didn’t manage to see his face but his wristwatch lit up the whole street, just like Pedro Navaja's* tooth.
Disclaimer: The green license plates belong to the cars owned by the Ministry of Interior.
*Translator’s note: "Pedro Navala" is a Spanish version of the song “Mack the Knife”; “Peter Knife” has a gold tooth that shines brilliantly when he laughs.
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.