From Julian del Casal (1863-1893) all he kept was the winterphilia.
Weekly chronicles long for months of Cuban winter so the pleasure of silence can reign supreme on streets which would barely feel like Havana after twilight:
[…] would that snow would begin to fall so tree rings and white caps on evergreen mountains would turn into the shroud of snowy folds we would all wear.
Storyline: After 1998, Cuban Christmases have become less and less worthwhile and plausible for me. The subtle and old glow of a December 24-25 Christmas Eve has been lost. Before, a certain floating sacrosanctness came from resisting the prohibition by official decree. Now the sadness has become all too tangible.
As Cuba blends in more substantially with the rest of the world, and as “demagoguery ” and “democracy” endure or elude or mockery, and as people feel more enthusiastic the day after or maybe the day before committing suicide, I instinctively realize our future is doomed to repeat the same empty and repressive performance.
We live in an uninhabited Havana forsaken even by languishing films like “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” which movie houses never failed to play ever so punctually at every year’s end.
December 2002 caught me by surprise at The International Book Fair in Guadalajara (Jalisco, Mexico). Starting the first days of the month, the city became filled with red flowers which I couldn’t name and ridiculously mixed up with all the artificial bric-a-brac decorations.
A civil servant and Cubanophile asked in good faith how revolutionary Cuba decorated for Christmas (the good man reminded me of a John Lennon Christmas tune). Back then, regretfully, I hadn’t a clue about the value of applying rhetorical diplomatic language, so I rebuffed him but later regretted doing so. I subsequently apologized with an e-mail and said, “we hang flags and miniature Fidel faces on our Christmas trees.”
Indeed, for the past couple of years, I have seen them once again at currency exchange locations in the city of Havana. They look like Christmas stamps of Comrade Fidel. The beard looks grey and is somewhat reminiscent of St. Nick. The olive-green fatigues are the Santa Claus uniform. The background is awash with a sea of human reindeer parading just in front of la Plaza of la Revolution.
It was the end of 2002 and a brave and soft-spoken poetess from Matanzas wrote me a poem about the embers and aftertaste of love as a Christmas gift; an unpleasant post-Padilla style nightmare flavor remains whenever I re-read her words:
[…] They cut short our childhood with empty slogans,
with tales of the sea and useless prisons.
They tore our hands away from building sand castles,
kept our legs from running ahead of death,
kept our voices from singing psalms, and our eyes from looking up at the stars.
They made us turn austere and sinister.
They wanted to erase our souls until all we had left with was weeping and rage
and the need to use memory as a shield to guard against so many lies.
Today everything is stuck in a void and a thickened peace clings to the night [….]
In December of that year, my friend the poetess and I had our 31st birthday. Joseph Brodsky was also 31 when he wrote “December 24, 1971” (the very year my friend the poetess and I were born):
[…] Void. But standing in front of the void you can see
a sudden light appearing from nowhere.
If only the Monster knew that the stronger he is,
the more believable and inevitable the miracle becomes […]
Meanwhile, the Cuban press recounts memorable patriotic events time and time again. Obviously, the State rejects the absence of memory: According to Ricardo Piglia, what’s in the boxing ring is fiction authors vs. state fiction. Just luck (bad) we are again reading recycled headlines and eye-witness accounts about the local Herod Fulgencio Batista’s bloody Christmas crimes which, despite being nearly half a century old, still seems useful garnish for the Revolution’s amniotic fluid.
From solstice to saturnalia, under papal license or puritanical prohibition, from mangers to despotism, or to the beat of Christmas carols or reggaeton, perhaps Christmas in Cuba lands me in a turn-of-the-century chronicle where a longed for millennium of winter would finally make it possible for us to enjoy the silence of twilight streets before they become Havana’s:
[…] what better shroud than snow for people who yawn from hunger and agonize from consumption?
From Penultimos Dias
Translated by: JCD (Merry Christmas, 2013)
30 November 2013