(Taken from The Revolution Evening Post 2)
Very tall. Dyed blond hair, dressed in linen. Blouse, skirt and handbag. Big earrings. That girl is in her final year in Social Communication at the University of Havana. I know her. She was hitchhiking on Rancho Boyeros Avenue — or Independence Avenue — when I saw her, when she saw me. She smiled, we greeted each other, she looked at the time and crossed the avenue. She walked in my direction — the last time I met her was at the Superior Institute of Art. They had organized a panel with various intellectuals who held some talks about “young creators”; the theme was “The Five Gray Years.” It had been fifteen days since that encounter.
The girl with fake blond hair was long overdue, she would be late to the first round of classes. She said that. and all because she did not hear her alarm clock. A good part of the morning she spent reading The Initials of the Earth, by Jesús Díaz. When she finished, she said, when she finished she would start on The Color of Summer, by Reinaldo Arenas. I told her that at home I had three books of The Generation of Violence and could loan them to her: Steps in the Grass, by Eduardo Heras León, The Condemned of Condado, by Norberto Fuentes and The Hard Years, by Jesús Díaz. The girl said yes and also reminded me that I had promised to loan her the novel Artificial Respiration, by Ricardo Piglia.
I looked at the time. She was extremely late and though I didn’t want to, I told her. It hurt to let her go. We agreed to meet again so I could loan her the books. We said goodbye and stopped next to the median of the avenue. The light was red. She went up to a Lada and after getting in turned to me and made a slight movement with her hand. The girl with the fake blond hair was dressed to kill.
The Lada quickly crossed the intersection of Boyeros and Vento, and I remembered that that night the singer Frank Delgado was giving a concert. I’d forgotten to invite her. I decided then to run over to the bus stop to take the bus that was just arriving.
They smile at the camera. Half a dozen children in elementary school uniforms smile at the camera. Once the shutter clicks capturing the image, half a dozen children will be printed on the right side of a huge billboard, the one that stands alongside Independence Avenue. On the other side of the billboard, there is a faint reproduction of the yacht Granma, and a phrase in capital letters that covers more than half the sign: Fidel is a country.
From my seat on the bus I see how the phrase is outlined in yellow. He smiles. From the billboard — on a very dark green background — Fidel smiles. His face is notably wrinkled, his hair and beard completely gray. He smiles. In his military uniform, he smiles. He is standing and fills the right side of the poster; on the other side, printed in red capital letters, one phrase: We’re fine.
Blue. On the blue background on the left side of the billboard appears a blackboard with white traces. It’s impossible to read what is written, although this detail really doesn’t matter, just the overall composition, because the printed image is in a frame where the photographer has shown just a part of the interior of the classroom. In it, a group of elementary school students are being taught. How many? The figure really doesn’t matter, only the whole composition. In the space to the right of the billboard is a text. It’s long. I could read it and remember every word, thanks to the red stoplight.
Behind it is another billboard. But I can’t read the whole message, I just know it’s a variation on the first. Part of the warning is related to home ownership and the supposed loss of rights: It’s underway, with Plan Bush oiling the gears. Thankfully, we live in a free Cuba — this was the end of the sentence chosen by the publicists. We will triumph. A word written in white capital letters. In the composition the colors of the flags of Venezuela and Cuba fade and generate a pattern of continuity.
We will triumph. I read from my seat; the bus has barely gone through the intersection. Hugo Rafael Chávez smiles from the billboard. He wears a red shirt. He smiles and seems to be doing so for all the drivers and passengers who are on the Rancho Boyeros Avenue — or Independence Avenue. Once a designer friend told me that for the billboards they take into account the bilateral symmetry of the human face.
A woman. A black woman who almost died from a kerosene fire. She was one of the best athletes of the country, and she now has retired. In the middle of her sports career, she suffered a terrible accident. This woman surprised a lot of people. While undergoing the recovery phase and the cycles of physiotherapy, she went back to the arena and won several medals. This woman’s face, with the hard mark of scarring, smiles at the camera. They have also put a girl and a boy. After the camera shot, the image will remain printed, on a blue background, on the right side of the billboard which is raised a few meters from the Luminosa Fountain. On the left side, taking up more than half the space, is one sentence: Fidel is a country.
One part of my trip ends here. I get off the bus to transfer. It takes all day. A work day. One more.
A friend has sent a collective email in which he warns, parodying a refrain, that if “the Yahoo is smoking it’s because there’s a fire.” My friend has seen how there is now, on the access page for email, a photo of Fidel and several links that give the latest news about the state of health of the old Head of State and the Government. So he suggests that we change to G-mail, also a free email service, which, according to my friend, at least for the moment is apparently only that. He also recommends that we be on guard. It’s probable, he says in his email, it’s possible that someone can poke about in your virtual correspondence, for which he counsels that we put into practice a series of clever tricks to complicate the work for those little guys who enter and revise your mailbox without making noise, without your noticing them.
In a new email, another friend transmits a journal article about Internet censorship and all its variants. The text is accompanied by the name of the countries and the large companies that practice this sport. The article writer says that Cuba is among those who go to the head of the class. I answer this friend, thanking him for the mail and together with the automatic confirmation that the message has been sent appears the profile of the convalescing Chief of State and the Cuban Government and the links which take you to the latest news.
The last email I inspect contains an interview with the musician Frank Delgado. Like an enormous rock above the stage. Rolling. A trova-singer born in 1960 has returned to the scene accompanied this time by a band. Pure stamp of rock and roll, amplified. He has left behind, at least in a good part of the concert, the small format of the traditional Cuban music that accompanies most of this last performances. The concert surprises me, the new songs surprise me. He’s a guy with a sharp sense of humor, ironic, his themes go from the Guaracha style up to the most beautiful or sad songs. But this time he has come on the scene with a rock band, and the approach is strong, good. A lot of energy. A succession of themes where he has not stopped being the same ironic guy.
There are long-haired boys, beautiful teenage girls with the world at their feet and the boys under their thumbs. Some of them hum these new themes, almost all sing the rock and roll versions of them that are not so new now. However only a small group of teenagers dance. In between songs these teenagers request the old ones about the war in Africa, the marielitos, Cuban prostitutes, the garbage of the socialist system, the hard life, the long-gone ’80s, the Spanish and their investments there in beautiful little Cuba. The long-haired boys and the beautiful teenage girls had not been born or were only kids when the national territory was crossed by those strong winds; however they screamingly request these songs, and Frank smiles and asks for patience.
Except for the problems with the audio, I leave the theater thinking it was a good concert. I look around the lobby, and outside the theater. I don’t see the girl with the fake blond hair. Perhaps we would have returned together. Then I say goodbye to my friends.
A white background. On the left, on the billboard, appears the face of a young person. It forms part of a group that assaulted the Presidential Palace to execute the then president and take control of Radio Reloj. This young person was the one who took the microphone to communicate to all the listeners that the result of that armed movement was Batista’s death, the death of the dictator Fulgencio Batista, he said, in his own hide-out at the Presidential Palace. But he couldn’t finish the address since they cut the transmission. After abandoning the broadcasting station they killed him walking to the University of Havana. Every year Radio Reloj retransmits the address on the same day and the same time in which the failed attack occurred.
A white background. Toward the right, a sentence occupies more than half of the area of the whole billboard. I read it while I wait for the car traffic circulating around the traffic circle of the Luminosa Fountain permits me to cross the street in the direction of the bus stop after changing buses. He was a young man like you, brother, happy, enthusiastic. He was a young man like you.
The bronze statue of Lieutenant General Antonio Maceo and his horse. The silhouette of both is printed in high contrast, is a green drawing on a white background. The horse is stationary on two feet, and the Lieutenant General doesn’t lose his balance. They both are in a familiar pose of combat. To the left, on the billboard, occupy8ing little more than the half, appears a sentence. In red.
The bus leaves behind the few cars that circulate on Independent Avenue. An amalgam of images. Small flags beat around the snapshots that mark key dates from the Revolution of ’59 up to the new century and the millennium. The background of the billboard is a succession of horizontal bard: three blue and two white. Victory was, is and shall always be ours.
It doesn’t matter at what speed you are going, you can read these big black and white letters. “Ring the bell well in advance of your stop.” Says the sign fastened near the door. Should I push the button? It’s red. It has the drawing of a bell. I am the only one who needs to get off at the stop at the intersection of Vento and Independence Avenue. If I don’t let the driver know, he can keep going. As the warning says “in advance” I press the button to let him know I want to get off at the next stop.
I do it – fearing that the driver will be annoyed. I go to press it; nothing happens. I then walk up to the front of the bus and speak with the driver. He stops the bus. I get off.
A taxi passes by, smoothly, and stops. It’s an old Chevrolet, built before ’59. It’s not one with fins; it could be a ’54. Someone calls. Someone is calling me. It’s a girl, very tall, wearing linen clothing, dressed to kill. And I wait for her.
As soon as she greets me she tells me that because she didn’t know about it, she missed out on Frank Delgado’s concert. We have talked about music, and she knows that I have recordings of Frank at home. I tell her I went, that it was a good concert. The girl with fake blond hair looks at me. There’s a certain reproach in her eyes and she tells me that because I didn’t say anything to her, she wouldn’t forgive me unless I loaned her the books that I promised that morning.
It’s dawn. After apologizing, I tell her I’ll go with her. I walk to her house wondering about my trip to Bolivia . In my memory, scenes of where I was go by – Cochabamba, Sucre, Tarija – Climates and landscapes of very disparate characteristics. I also manage to remember faces, architecture, odors, the large size of the street dogs, the false local color, the marginal and hard Bolivia. I want to talk to her about the Cordillera of the Andes, of the very dangerous highway that winds along the slope, the dead that have been lost on the precipices and enclosed in the memory of the mourners. – because they are recorded with a cross and ghostly blue flowers on the very edge of the highway – about the only llama I saw that was behind a barbed-wire fence, about the taste of the cocoa leave juice; however, I only managed to remember and speak to her about the iconography of products and brand names that arose in every corner where I was. You feel besieged, I told her, asphyxiated, I said.
Although I think that happens only at first, until the body itself assimilates it, as if that imagery were embedded in the environment. It is the air, water, the ground you walk on. It is the environment, I told her. More than three thousand meters high, on the road from Cochabamba to Sucre, and in an area barely populated, from the van where I was traveling I saw a billboard. It was red and white. The girl smiled. I figured she knew what was behind the message of the advertisers. It was an advertisement for Coca-Cola, she said. A promotion for the personal-sized bottle, I told her This girl chooses it, it’s the best. She said so on the billboard. White letters on a red background.
Translated by Anonymous, Regina Anavy and Los Iguanitos