Sometimes what we call in my country "geographical destiny" does not touch us for just a few meters, as is true in my case: I live in El Vedado, in an area where I have water every day. Despite the philosophical statement "man thinks as he lives," I try to get out of my wet environment to verify that, around me, others learn to live without water.
I have a friend who, long ago, gave up on the idea of having a white toilet; the water comes every two days and the tank never has enough for the luxury of clearing it out with every use: disgusting yellow marks are a reminder, every forty-eight hours, that whitening the porcelain may become a luxury. But she doesn’t complain, there are others – whom she knows – who are worse off. For Leo, over in Central Havana, water comes through the pipe once a week. As his house has been declared “uninhabitable,” he can’t put a tank on the roof because of the risk of the roof falling in on his head. Outside the capital it’s worse, they can go a week without a drop of water coming out of a half broken sink that’s not even worth repairing.
All these hardships can only be resolved – who even dreams any more about getting an answer to the letter sent to the Central Committee detailing your plight?! – in the black market. Plumbers with a truck, hoses and plenty of water bring, for a few hundred pesos, the dry tanks and appease the need for cool refreshment in the heat of this rainless June. As not all the neighbors can pay the illegal plumber, there is always someone who calls the police to snitch and denounce the crime of “buying water on the black market.” For my part – and there’s no convincing me otherwise – in Spanish we call it envy and it is one of the primitive features of the New Man: human misery.
This venom towards the welfare of others, however, has odd results: a few days ago a friend told me how he had been caught red-handed filling his tanks, because a neighbor called the police and denounced the plumber. My friend was left without water, the vendor ended up with a fine of fifteen hundred pesos and the neighbor – this is the part that is absolutely incomprehensible to me – also was left without water because the State can no longer thank each informer with a bonus. Why didn’t the neighbor show the same perseverance in reporting the wasted water flowing out of broken pipes and tanks all over the city? For example, the tank of the electric company next to my building overflows so much it makes me think I have a spring under my apartment. Sadly, I know why he did it: his “fighting spirit” in the face of evil deeds doesn’t climb the stairs of the official out of cowardice, because the State’s tank has the impunity to squander water while his neighbor doesn’t have the right to enjoy a shower, and this seeing the collapse “to the bottom” has become, unfortunately, a national sport.
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.