Her mornings have been the same for years: buy the flour “on the left” from the State bakeries, get the eggs from sellers who carry them hidden in backpacks, haggle for the guayabas in the produce market to give it her business. With the ups and downs that depend on the degree of repression against the “illegals,” she managed to maintain a decent home selling sweets.
But things have gotten too complicated: Twice she had to hand some cakes through the patio window as fast as she could, for her neighbor to hide, when the inspectors came. Thank God that doesn’t happen often! When she can she puts some little candies into the cakes; her sister, who has a successful little dessert shop, sends them to her from Miami. She started in 2000, doing everything alone, but with the years she hired an assistant and now has a modest business that supplies tidbits to a good part of the neighborhood.
She tells me all of this with an infinite nostalgia, a healthy envy of her sister on the other side who has managed to “get ahead.” I ask her if she thinks Raul Castro will allow some economic opening, facilities for small businesses, licenses and the minimum breathing room to make life easier. She laughs, but her eyes look like she wants to cry. “I’m old, chica, it’s all the same to me, I got tired of waiting.”
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.