Closed for Demolition

Photo: Francis Sánchez

[I have decided to publish, before this blog is closed down, some texts that I didn’t publish at the time because it was practically impossible to do it because of obvious difficulties or because as time passed I doubted that it would be the best idea. Due to recent events,  I think it is best not to leave them unpublished. They are the following texts: the article “Guatacas” (Hoes), the poem “La palabra Abedul” (The Word Abedul) and the documents “Carta abierta a un amigo” (Open Letter to a Friend) and “Aclaración al lector” (Clarification to the Reader).  The last work that must be published on this blog is “Cerrado por demolición” (Closed for Demolition), which will appear in three parts or submissions: “La cosa en la red” (The Thing in the Net), “Puntos negros” (Black Points) and “Nosotros y las nubes” (We and the Clouds).]

I. The “Thing” in the Net

When I opened this blog, only some five months ago, I told the story of a night full of nightmares, the time that my wife almost collapsed and I was at her side for us to survive impotence and frustration together for reasons that are explained in the post “Mass Layoffs. Dissolve the public?” Now this blog called “Man in the Clouds” is closed down or nailed to the air with this article which, under the title “Closed for Demolition” I plan to publish in three parts or submissions, after I have once again lived through a night of horror.  Cuban television has just shown, at the top hour of eight-thirty at night, a new chapter of the series “The Reasons of Cuba”, with the title “Cyberwarfare”.

I had promised myself to try to never hurt, much less attack, other people in my writing, as well as to not defend myself from that type of low blows when I became a target because of my points of view–to encourage personal disagreements or mudslinging, supposedly among intellectuals, is an undertaking of destruction and ethical poverty in which the principal investors in immobility and censorship are accustomed to place their ample resources, betting on empty, on despair and generalized revulsion–but it seems I have no alternative but to break the second of my resolutions and defend myself. I will do this because essentially it won’t even be self-defense, which is a luxury impossible for me to properly undertake given the very excessive and even abstract disproportion between my attacker and myself.  It seems the critical hour has come and I want, while I still can, to denounce injustice and put my ideas and my position down in writing.

The faceless apparatus of the political police accuses me, among the few “independent bloggers” that exist in Cuba, to be in the pay of the United States government. “Cybermercenaries in Cuba” wrote an invisible hand on the Google search engine and, to the horror of my family, I do not know which shady search engine could have produced as a result of this television program showing a page of my blog on the small screen. Enrique Ubieta, who often shows up to defend the powerful “Raison d’Etat”, author of some book he was asked to produce and director of the newspaper “La calle del medio”, at one point says to the camera that this is obviously some ambitious guy who, like somebody who sets up a fried food stand, is trying to get through the economic crisis very easily by getting on the Internet for money paid by Washington. It is unbearably false that my blog be shown here, even a single page for a fraction of a second, but it happened and I saw it, and the most horrible part is that it is linked to my profound impotence.  I don’t have to say that I have never set foot inside the USA Interest Section in Havana, nor have I earned or aspired to earn a cent for writing or recording my ideas on a personal blog.  A blog that began one day in search of my own breathing room as a marginalized intellectual. A marginalization whose degree has increased a lot since, in early 2007, I published my text “La crisis de la baja cultura” (The Crisis of Low Culture), loaded with a strong dose of social criticism, at the same time as those events that some have called “the email crisis”.

To write, create and reflect, defending the hypothesis of full internal freedom, is something that I have had since I was a child, like breathing.  But it makes no sense for me to try to run faster than the lies, since a larger truth is common knowledge, atrocious and popularly incorporated into people’s daily survival mechanism in the face of despotism and the Mystery Syndrome in Cuba:  the key is not to predict the problem you might get into, but the one the want to create for you.  I, like any individual, lack legal mobility inside a monotonous system, and the most I can hope for is that they pardon my life in order not to air dirty laundry in front of third parties. The structure, the true apparatus of power, works in the shadows.  The convictions and activities that any individual may be involved in that show any degree of rejection of the system will be just one set of little crystals under a magnifying glass, a microscope or a telescopic viewer, according to each clinical evolution.

Some months before, a video had leaked through–circulated on a flash drive to another–that was of a conference given to some colleagues by a specialist from the Ministry of the Interior, entitled “Enemy Campaigns and Policies for Confronting Counterrevolutionary Groups”, in which the theme of the new technologies was addressed.  On the topic of the blogosphere, he made the following comment:

“They want to create in our minds the concept that the blogger is a kind of enemy of the Revolution. If we take on the bloggers now, we will really make an enemy for ourselves.”

The presenter doubtless was alluding to the process of criminalization that, before the Internet and blogs, over time had made against other technologies that had empowered people:  video cameras, video cassettes, computers, printers, mobile phones, to give just a few examples, as well as concepts such as civil society and branches of science like sociology.  Which reminds me that, in 1998 when I got my first computer with a printer connected, a cultural assembly registered a complaint against the “danger” that was in my house, which was made by the director of the provincial library. The operating strategy, nevertheless, apparently was going to suffer a radical shift, going from the supposed precaution of a private meeting to the public offensive tactic of the establishment of a new prohibitive code that, following the war manual, reduces a problematic social reality to an epithet, a discrediting term for a person who asks for rationality, but gets echo, euphoria, unconditional repudiation: “cybermercenary” is the new word that overwrites so many other terms that have historically been put in the mouths of the masses.

The day after the previously mentioned television program showed, the newspaper “Granma”, official organ of the PCC (Cuban Communist Party), would publish an even more inclusive and horrific accusation, which apparently left me before the masses labeled just as one more venal soldier, but with all the colors of the typical beast for whom the hunting season never expires in public spaces:  pro-Yankee, traitor, terrorist, in other words a monster ready for lynching, packing and sending to hell.  In a provincial town like Ciego de Ávila, where I live, going to hell is not a very long trip. These processes of demonization had already begun long before, with a harassment that became progressively less veiled. Now it is the spying, vigilance and persecution I suffer all the time. A meeting was even called by the First Secretary of the Provincial Party at which intellectuals and journalists were exhorted to avoid me.  One fine day somebody robs me, takes my cell phone out of my wallet.  Another day someone comes to let me know they have been recording and filming me. From one day to the next a literary activity that some careless promoter was kind enough to organize for me and my family is cancelled.  Suddenly the television, on the program of March 21 previously mentioned, puts a moral price on my photo.  And finally, as a climax, “Granma” publishes multiple accusations, which are also so exaggerated that I am able to refute them all at the same time.  Luckily, the activity of a writer and the social reflections made on a blog have the objective of staying afloat, of opening oneself to scrutiny, letting the light in that so bothers those who live in shadows and speculation.  So instead of saying “lie” a thousand times, I can limit myself to asking in what part of my texts I have advocated any of that which is imputed to me here:

“These bloggers […] have exhorted people to rise up in Cuba, have promoted violence, support the Cuban Settlement Law, justified the blockade, deny that the most reactionary sector of Miami is the enemy of the Cuban people, say that the case of the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles is a smoke screen and even go so far as to openly express [sic] the change of the political system […].”*3

The latter reproach is very confusing since the editing evidently failed, but it is worth doubting if, in order to straighten out the text, the “official organ of the party” would be willing to do without the Marxist dialectic that has theoretically justified the Cuban political system and which recognizes in social relations a non-linear process, an object of permanent transformation.  Would it be inhuman to live according to the universal maxim, so romantic and absolute, of “change everything [everything!] that must be changed.”  Or rather is it not monstrous that someone can decide what everything is for everyone?  An identical paradox was presented to intellectuals in June of 1961, in a meeting at the National Library, under the banner of “Inside the Revolution, everything. Against the Revolution, nothing” (this year is the fiftieth anniversary of this event), so that these [intellectuals] could entertain themselves for a long while “sucking on this stone”.  Life would show that no one was going to find an escape from the rhetoric of power, no one except the subject master himself, much less intellectuals with the “original sin” of not being of the proletariat or revolutionaries and, meanwhile, they could give each other as many exclusions as there were stars in the sky and political power could be concentrated.  Well, for good reason the “words of the intellectuals” are not known, although the ‘I’m afraid” said that day by Virgilio Piñera is still quite explicit.

I responsibly proclaim what I believe comes out naturally in my work:  I would never associate myself with hatred or the shedding of a drop of blood; I do not approve of the blockade against Cuba; I reject any type of terrorism, fundamentally state terrorism.  To express myself against all terrorism would lead me to be, for example, against the type that promotes revolutions by blowing  up bombs in movie houses and parks, against the type that tries to destabilize governments by putting bombs in hotels, against the type that organizes paramilitary squadrons and causes people to disappear, against the type that converts society into an artificial political web capable of functioning millimetrically to produce the expatriation or social death of anyone whom it doesn’t like, against the type that sends out crowds to surround a man in his house with his family only because he thinks differently… By the way, regarding my rejection of violence, in a section of my poem collection “Epitafios de nadie” (Nobody’s Epitaphs) (Ed. Oriente, 2009), the poem “Medallista de plata” (Silver Medalist) about the sabotage of that Cuban plane in Barbados says: “[…] On what island, of what random face / did the assassin ask quickly quickly for a ticket? / It was forgotten here in his luggage. / Never open it again. The gold is for the sea.”  In the same book, as a matter of fact, two other poems about such tragedies in contemporary Cuban history do not appear, since they were censored:  the sinking of the tugboat Trece de Marzo and the events of August 1994 which some call the Malecón Uprising.

Many sectors or social groups have been categorized as traitors or fifth columnists, also lumped in a group, according to some strategy of doctrinal hardening, sometimes within something as simple as to say, “Whoever doesn’t jump is a Yankee.”   These have included those young men who had to hide away to listen to the Beatles, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, poets of family life, ecologists, street artists of the eighties, hip hop singers, and a long list of others, each one in its own time.  Over and over, we members of the Cuban family have been variously called “scum”, “country-sellers”, “worms”, and have apparently been worthy of repudiation, stonings and kicks, receiving and passing on the baton, the black speck.  At the same time, in order to restrain that plurality embodying ideological differences and social criticism, frequently the traitorous pretext has been used by people who adopt a field of intellectual action that is internally mined because they were supposedly making up a scenario for a foreign invasion.  A very notable Inquisition-like scene was set up against the authors of the books “Fuera de juego” (Out of the Game) and “Los siete contra Tebas” (Seven Against Thebes), prize winners from the UNEAC 1968, in poetry and theater, respectively.  The “Declaration of the UNEAC”, signed November 15, 1968, and given out as a prologue to the poem collection of Heberto Padilla, demonstrated a mechanism that would remain essentially active, an overgrown apparatus that marks people and works for their circulation with an untimely meaning.

“Now then:  whom do these books serve?  Do they serve our revolution, slandered this way, hurt by such means?  Obviously not.  Our revolutionary conviction allows us to point out that poetry and that theater are our enemies, and their authors are the artists they need to feed their Trojan horse at the hour when imperialism decides to put into practice its policy of warlike frontal aggression against Cuba.”

Manuel Díaz Martínez, a member of the Poetry Judging Panel, tells us that, after a lot of maneuvering to avoid giving the prize based strictly on literary quality, the executive leaders of the UNEAC met with the different members of the panel to explain to them the problems that had come up with the books in question and there, at that time, Félix Pita Rodríguez in his role as attorney general, played the last card, the lethal disintegrating ray one, saying: “The problem, comrades, is that there is a conspiracy by the intellectuals against the revolution.”  Díaz Martínez reveals: “Before such an accusation, I asked to speak and I requested him to give out the names of those “conspirators”. He didn’t give them.  What existed was a government conspiracy against freedom of opinion.”3  Although Félix Pita didn’t say them, the names of those intellectuals would become well known in the following years, due to the weight of the suffering and ostracism that some of them, “counterrevolutionaries” like José Lezama Lima and Virgilio Piñera, would endure to the end of their lives.

I reject and denounce the epithet “counterrevolutionary”–the term mercenary is included a priori; it is always around the house–that they want to apply to me as a pretext for repression, for eliminating the right to live in a nation and a culture that are alive and open, because I practice an intellectual policy of resistance that is not that of collaboration, or of silence, or of exile; it is perhaps best described as existentialist. If it offends me, it is because it is untrue, the same reason for which I believe the term “revolutionary” intellectual is invalid since it, with a functionalism and a reductionist and exclusionary axiological economy, has been used to deny the natural rights of the artist or the intellectual–uncomplicate him, dehumanize him, emptying his thought and work–in the period following the triumph of the Revolution, inside Cuba.  Both reductions are resonating figures that follow the same selective pattern, since they inform, more than on the particular qualities, on the will for power that dominates a social field reduced to its minimum expression.

The game of taking turns in power allowed inside such limits carries with it too much feigning, pretense, hypertrophy, traditional debate of the appropriateness of social criticism, a problem that soon became written in the annals of academia as exclusively applying to the topic of the function or the “role of the revolutionary intellectual” in society. The art of simulation, needed to survive, would lead many to cross the waters of that obligatory ideological baptism while barely touching them, adopting an essentialist vision of accepting the stereotype of such a mark in a decontextualized form.  Manuel Díaz Martínez himself tells that, in the meeting of the Judging Panel at which a final decision would be made, he defended his proposal, declaring that “Fuera del juego” (Out of the Game) was critical but not counterrevolutionary–actually revolutionary in its criticism”.

This synecdoche could be justified for the hypo-statization of the figure of the “revolutionary intellectual” for the plain and simple flesh-and-blood intellectual, as has frequently happened, trusting that the rights earned for one, for the only existing or really accepted one, are going to be extended as if by contagion to the rest. This modest aspiration, nevertheless, perhaps hides in the end a conflict with the humanist tradition, when one tries to make obsolete an ideal model, on which have depended a good part of the achievements of Western civilization–to which the process of Cuban nationality  belongs, however much this might be sometimes denied–in which intellectuals not only represented themselves to themselves and to others, like mirrors facing mirrors, but who aspired to express, catalyze, assign prerogatives, rights and rich possibilities of all of society as a whole.  In this sense, the social and critical relevance of the intellectual is going to be subject to the universal norm of the average common man, because he thinks or exists, nothing else.

But the degree of ideal communicability and criticism that the advocates of a Manichean, convenient, simplifying power structure in Cuba unfortunately seems to be being reduced, more and more, to zero.  Desiderio Navarro, in his presentation  “In medias res publicas” (In the middle of the public thing) presented at the International Conference “The Role of the Intellectual in the Public Arena” (organized by the Prince Claus of Holland Fund held in Beirut in February 2000), stated regarding the Cuban situation:

“[…]the criteria for correct social criticism would not be [whether it is] the truth, but rather the degree to which its attention to detail, scrupulousness and rigor correspond to a certain measure of what is necessary or advisable. […] To not criticize the whole or to criticize less than is necessary or advisable is not a reason for condemnation and exclusion.  This shows that “zero”, total absence, is in reality the ideal degree of social criticism.”4

So neither does the favorite strategy of official refutation accept within the public domain that any ideo-esthetic platform be established for debate unless it is not vertically controlled. In practice, this reaction has been made into law: close the social contract to the human being, discrediting his will as if he were a micro-organnism that obeys an infinitely superior infection process.

“The most frequent manner of attacking critical interventions by the intellectuals in the public sphere is not, as one might expect, pointing out the negative consequences that their critical statements could supposedly have or, even less, the demonstration of the supposedly erroneous nature of these statements, but rather the attribution of reprehensible hidden intentions to their authors […].”5

I am not falling off this cloud now.  I knew the risk of being, of “inhabiting the language”, even those limits broken and contaminated by an alien reality.  Limits where there is always a lack of oxygen for the creatures that struggle to keep the heat and tremor of their dreams.  One day a beloved successful writer taught me: “I only start wars I know I am going to win.”  This author, of course, had arranged to get in and out of scandalous activities without being unworthy of a certificate of confidence that is only issued from the vision of the winners.  But true success is never the presence of anything, or proof of life, at least never in that despicable sense, not visionary.  On the contrary, I think that if the plan for my freedom is condemned to failure in the small and circumstantial sense, it must move forward toward it in the larger sense: “I can no longer be free/I will enlarge my prisons.”6  If indeed our common home–although not the largest of those we live in–is history, country, a language of our present and shared being, it seems inhabitable for the people who are completely defeated and must leave outside their excess suffering, even having fallen; the imponderable of being can make us endure before the door.

Notes:

1 The program was transmitted o the Cubavisión channel on March 21, 2011, and retransmitted on other channels the following day.

2 “The Reasons of Cuba”. Cyber warfare: mercenaries on the net”, Deisy Francis Mexidor, in Granma, March 22, 2011, p. 5.

3 Manuel Díaz Martínez: “Brief Inside Story of the Padilla Case”.

4 Desiderio Navarro: “In medias res publicas”, in magazine “La Gaceta de Cuba”, no. 3, May-June, 2001, p.43.

5 Idem.

6 Verse by Manuel Altolaguirre.

Translated by S. Solá

March 31 2011

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The Word Birch

Foto: Francis Sánchez.

One day a long time ago, I drew the word birch

to my favourite and beloved poet Herberto Padilla,

the word which he could never climb in such a short life

the place where we had gone running to with our eyes

so little we cut ourselves with the crystal of the dead

One day I gave him like a saddened thief

new words, undomesticated

like iron knees

transparent embraces

that bow to the touch along with the spike

hard mouth of distant almonds

One day I said to him the word Rest

stop walking on the ground

because this is the greatest marvel, that of the trees

don’t leave alone into the dream,

don’t exasperate alive before the crowd

And the word Stay

you don’t have to prove where we spend the nights

you don’t have to say anything else

until the stars speak.

[Note the shape. The gaphics has to form a tree.]

 Translated by: Ivana Recmanová

March 31 2011

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Hopefully Cuba Deserves It

Photo: Francis Sánchez

Trapped by the crowd, he had his back pressed against the wall of the movie theater. Everyone was shouting, demanding an attentive response, as if he could extricate himself and easily take some phrase in that scandal with which he’d been squashed.

In the rarefied atmosphere of the night, plus the collective agitation, and the fear and horror in his eyes, it seemed like he was reenacting the scene in which the volunteers force the child Marti to say “Vive Spain!” so he won’t be killed in front of his mother.

I didn’t know now how they threatened him.

I came to him and, without saying a word, I only passed my hand over his head as if he were smaller than me.

The others, disappointed, gave me a look that is given to a stranger who has walked onto the wrong film set, before smiling with an air of superiority, turning back to the interrogation. It seemed they were torturing him, suffocating him with technical appraisals.

I had to say that this film, “Marti, the eye of the canary,” like “Suite Habana” and “Madagascar,” was humanly perfect, great, no less than a sunrise, simply a song of those gagged by pain and despair. That he, Fernando Perez, the lanky gray-haired filmmaker, was just a very special child behind his glasses, and that was considered the most relevant secret that could be drawn from the bottom of his work.

When they took him by force, I wanted to scream, so as not to go without knowing–though there was a danger that the others heard–that I received his message and retain the compromising letter, the discourse on freedom of expression, and that I thanked him for putting his ear to the ground to understand the sounds of nature that are the words of the poor.

“Hopefully Cuba deserves it,” was, in reality, the only thing I said.

From my Diary of Dreams.
Written at dawn, 11 January 2011
Photogram of the film, “Marti, the eye of the canary” (2010
Director: Fernando Perez

January 11 2011

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Formal Resignation from the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC)

In Ciego de Avila, Cuba, 24 January 2011

To: Whom it may concern.

Subject: Formal resignation from the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC)

Disclaimer: I don’t care to detour to particular and depressing facts, being the last drops, and perhaps less than could have overwhelmed my disappointment.

Message: If there are reasons to spare, today there are words to spare.

Francis Sánchez
Writer
Ciego de Ávila – Cuba.

January 28 2011

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Clarification for the Reader

“Man in the Clouds ” is my personal blog. My expectations are based on fulfilling the natural mandate of God to live and express myself as a rational social being, like any creature with free will. I believe my right to think and share my thoughts is a universal inalienable right. I am open to sharing, in this sense, works that are literary, informative and of a diverse nature, including from other authors when appropriate.

I have not the slightest chance of regular access to the internet, not even to email. I cannot read, much less moderate, the comments that readers leave on my site, though the latter doesn’t interest me. Although I would like to post more often, it’s impossible for the same reason.

Opening this blog and making my thoughts “visible” has had a very high cost to me in my “real” life in Cuba, in an inland area and a province where there is no tradition of this kind of independent action. For now, I will not describe the consequences. Suffice it to say that certain defamatory comments, certain personal attacks, are only the tip of the iceberg that weighs on me and my family.

I believe I can summarize the human dignity offered by Christ as an ethical basis in which I aspire to remain firm, a consistent being. And, as I myself expect, in this blog I can expect my work to be censored and must adjust to that.

I have never belonged to any political organization.

I belong to my family, period.

As an intellectual, the cloud I am in is just as easy: literature, freedom, and the agony of living inclined to goodness and truth.

Although tomorrow I could feel myself destroyed, reduced to less than dust, whatever happens, whatever is said, whatever is done to me, I believe that the clouds or the beauty in which I rest my thoughts will not let me contradict myself.

March 31 2011

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At the Feet of the Virgin

Photos: Francis Sánchez.

The image of Mary, mother of Christ, which today makes a pilgrimage through the entire country announcing the message of the God’s love for man, came to the province of Ciego de Avila this Sunday, March 13, when it entered the town of Cunagua.

With the national tour of the Patroness of Cuba, the Cuban church celebrated the 400th anniversary of the discovery, in the Bay of Nipe, of the blessed image of the Virgin of Charity which has been venerated ever since in El Cobre.

So she returns to Cunagua, she who is also known as Virgin Mambisa, because of what happened here in 1952, then to mark the anniversary of the Republic. So this time, at the entrance of the village, a woman’s voice through the speakers recalled that event, citing the chronicles that were published over half a century ago:

“Procession circled the center at eight at night praying the rosary, confessions until two in the morning and a Communion Mass with 201 communicants. It had been in central Camaguey the most enthusiasm, generosity and charity. ”

Now, perhaps with no less enthusiasm and hope, the streets of the town in the north of Ciego de Avila province are filled again with devotion. From very early in the day excited residents gathered on both sides of the road.

The first Catholic communities from the rest of the province arrived in a convoy of cars, trucks and buses, and soon after the image of Our Lady arrived, escorted spontaneously by people all around her riding bicycles. Monsignor Mario Mestril, bishop of the diocese, said a few words to the crowd before the procession to the local temple where he was to celebrate Holy Mass in a warm atmosphere.

At the time of offering peace, the bishop made an exception in view of the significance of this day and didn’t skip, as is customary for Lent, inviting the community to exchange greetings. So I had the opportunity to wish the peace of Christ to those who were around me, including that large gentleman with the tight expression flanking me, who perhaps did not understand what it was and who, in response to my sincere attention, subsequently withdrew. Two days earlier, the most recent time I had been in contact, for just a second, with strangers, I had been robbed of my phone while boarding a bus, in an operation so professional that I was left in shock. For me, therefore, it was also a simple experience of overcoming fear, a cure or therapy of love for survivors that the Christian faith has always carried forward.

We share a day overflowing with signs. Faith in Christ the King is alive and, through the intercession of Mary, 400 years after the happy discovery on the waters of the Bay of Nipe, she walks the streets of Cuba.

March 17 2011

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I Dream of a Day Without Serpents

Photos: Francis Sánchez.

I have the excuse of two children so I can play outside. At home I say I’m going with them to please them and keep a close watch over them, the reality is that I escape, in this way, the tensions and the routine, or it might be, the idiotic world. Sometimes we just go out in the sun and kick a ball around. If it’s raining, we make goals in the street, with two stones on each side, and carry on like we’re in a swimming pool. But on the weekends, because school is out, we aspire to drastic solutions, one in particular: we take the road out of town. This we call “The excursion.” Usually then we add some boy from neighborhood, sometimes three or four if their parents give permission.

Clearly within the city there aren’t that many choices, nor within the family budget, to go looking for better options in other cities or resorts. However, we don’t think about that, we simply enjoy what we do. Riding bikes, in fifteen or twenty minutes we’ve “changed the channel” and are enjoying another landscape on our big screen. Instead of the chipped and stained colors of the houses, out there it is predominantly green, strongly speckled with flowers or chopped by the sharp gray of the rain, depending on the season.

We go looking for surprises. So we avoid the pastures which are almost always empty with their fences separating us from a slightly tentative plain. It’s more exciting for us to suddenly get visual pleasure, or that of the other senses, touch, smell and taste. We go after any dazzling fruit.

We discovered an abandoned coconut grove, where it appeared that every now and then people went to pull up some plant by the roots to transplant it – which explained the holes – to adorn a walkway or garden as is the custom now, saving people the anxiety, the distress of watching a tree grow.

We also found one day a city covered in weeds. We said it was the vestiges of an ancient civilization. R now, I am the only one who knows that it was a megaproject from the ‘80s sponsored by the First Party Secretary of the province: to make himself a “little beach” in the city, with the typical complex of a whole city hidden within an island, but with the unfortunate idea that at his own pleasure he would be able to divert a river, and that a system of canals would serve the town, and perhaps he might have managed it if the law of gravity hadn’t intervened.

Then the poor watercourse that could barely aspire to be called a stream failed such a demanding test, leaving an artificial beach that is no more than a puddle and some outbuildings mostly at the mercy of the grass. We played in a strange landscape where we certainly had the layers of other lost cities.

We get up to the most amazing things. The children are, of course, those who take on the most. I’ve brought only a knife, a pair of containers with water and little else. But Fredo de Jesus, for example, wants to live in a country where animals talk, where they filmed Alvin and the Chipmunks making it on the music scene, so he still has the ability to hear or believe that he hears animals talk when they are, or believe they are, alone. Perhaps a bird that has migrated from there… He also wants to be like Legolas, the elf from The Lord of the Rings and also use his bow to perfection.

Francito, like the magician Merlin, wants to invoke the spirit of fire with a spell and nothing else, putting out the palms of his hands to make a flame rise from the ground. His cousin, Enmanuel, older and without whom they can’t imagine a happy day, says, “the fire is beautiful.”

Fredo asks me if the shops don’t sell torches, and is this the time, when his mother isn’t watching, to make one. We share out trees and crannies in usufruct, between good and evil, pure and simple: everyone is good and has the right to believe that the others are ogres, trolls who must be expelled from the forest. We ride with care not to get a puncture. Francito makes the observation that in the paradise landscapes of movies you never see the spines, nor the ants, nor the tiny ticks!

Coincidentally, they all plan to graduate some day as explorers or conservationists.They collect amazements while I give a score on a scale of one to five. Almond shrubs in a sea of marabou weed and West Indian elms: Three points. Rundown bull without horns: Four. Giant centipede — any creature whose capture is effected without the use of a cap earns extra points — maximum score. Mashing and eating almonds by the ton ends up being our version of the coming of the dinosaurs to the green valley after the great cataclysm.

I let them talk when they get tired. This is the part where they share their experiences. Above all I keep quiet while it seems they cross the forest of social reality or rub against the dangerous edges. I learn. In particular I learn about the innocence that I would like to preserve even at the cost of my life, if it were possible. Today they travel the world freely and return.

Fredo offers his point of view: the dream consists of a great solution to all constraints. In dreams he has the freedom to be and do whatever he pleases. He says that when he wants to have adventures like Harry Potter, he uses his powers, the dream, and there you are. They agreed, but another notes that the ideal is to be able to leave, to earn money and get all the things necessary to live.

I remember a friend, a poet who spoke of the country as if it were a landscape that one passed through on the way to exile: the day you left you could come to visit, you could know it. They are happy to live in a healthy country, where there are no poisonous animals, where boa constrictors don’t swallow people, nor lions, nor crocodiles as in the Florida swamps and in Australia…

I think about what happiness is theirs, ignoring other environments which also grow at the expense of imagination and the Utopias, the literary the worst of all, and the morbid politics. My deepest desire unconfessed: that they not grow up. That they be good men, too. But that they walk among the snares of the world with firm step and not fall into the fallacy of being “useful to society,” where many end up turned into efficient deplorable instruments, those who become the long tentacles of injustice, like the opportunists, sycophants, snitches, bootlickers, always crawling under the dark cloud of power. That they avoid being poisoned by jealousy and the fear of living openly. That they never abuse, corner or humiliate another human being.

To Francito the argument of a harmless endemic fauna is especially appealing, as he is one of the few children who has been bitten by a Santa Maria Cuban boa, the almost extinct Cuban cousin of the viper that has a reputation for stupidity. (See photo above.)

It wasn’t too stupid, or it was tired, the sad specimen they use at the Cayo Coco resort for the visitors to take pictures, he took him out of a suitcase and even hung him around his neck. I insisted that he, ten at the time, not be left without an Indiana Jones souvenir, with such bad aim that, in the fraction of the second that it took me to turn on my camera, the boa decided to attack. Fortunately, as the doctor on duty at the hospital explained, there was no poison, but he refused to believe it. The photo, along with my regrets, would bring the victim an unexpected popularity among his friends in the neighborhood and at school.

“Watch out! How scary!” they exclaim running their eyes over the bushes. By now we’re at a natural pool in the bed of what was once a stream and should have become a canal according the Utopian agendas and absurdities of the bureaucracy, but they still don’t know that. Water collected since the last downpour remains among the stones.

They go swimming. Fear ties me to the rock from which I watch them. Splashing and laughing. What amuses them most is fleeing from a crocodile or an imaginary boa.

20 January 2011

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