There are few spaces in my city for public catharsis, moments that I enjoy to the fullest even though they are not numerous. It could be a bus stop, an interminable line for some absurd bureaucratic process, or simply a taxi for ten pesos.
The Old Havana-Vedado-Playa route is famous for the problems and delays on the buses – though clearly never as impressive as on the Vedado-Nuevo Vedado route where to catch “something” is agonizing – and because of this the availability of the private drivers goes a long way to relieving the inefficiency of public transport. With the brutal arrival of summer a few days ago, trying to get somewhere under the hot sun is irritating and the wait is unbearable. When you can’t take it any more and finally break down and decide to go the private route, it’s always more efficient.
The other day I was standing in the full sun on 23rd and decided to take a shared taxi, an almendrón. Inside it was full and the drops of sweat were running down everyone’s faces, but I felt the breeze of freedom from the moment I got in; the conversation was very animated and the topic: police abuses.
The driver told of the vicissitudes suffered by his wife during two hours in the cells at Zapata and C, having been “captured” by two uniformed cops while heading home with two quarts of yogurt, confiscated, and to make matters worse, held as a “black market merchandise” during her detention. A lady in the back seat detailed the inhumane conditions of her stay at the Zanja station, where she was taken for illegal possession of four bottles of bleach and two of hydrochloric acid. Another gentleman next to me complained that they had seized, in the Historic Center, his quota of toothpaste and cigarettes, which he unsuccessfully tried to sell.
For my part, I told them how once, while enjoying the sea with some friends in Guanabo, they stole all our belongings and we were left with just the bathing suits on our backs. We went to make a complaint at the station of the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR), and as we didn’t have our identity cards we were detained until 10:00 at night.
I reached my destination quickly, the heat no longer bothered me so much and I delighted, at least for a few minutes, in the indescribable satisfaction you feel when you say what you think out loud.
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.