Pinareña habanitud

By Jesús Arencibia Lorenzo


My friend D, who was already in philosophical readings and social questions while her contemporaries did not finish releasing teenage naivety, gave hesed to accompany me on my first independent trip to the “big” city, the day when I was supposed to enroll in journalism at the University of Havana (UH). It was the last week of August 2001.
As befits any Pinean guajirito that had never led to only one city of more than two million inhabitants, the initial blow was astonishment. Fear and wonder. How to learn the streets? How to distinguish the guaguas routes for each site? And the people, the habaneros, who would surely look over our shoulders at those of us who came from mud to the chest? What about the prices of things? What about the possible assaults?…
But luckily the UH and its Faculty of Communication (FCOM), then located on Avenida de los Presidentes (G), between 21 and 23, showed the kindest and best-made face of the capital, the exclusive Vedado, where the country’s most valuable cultural circuit is concentrated. There, once I got off the transport in front of quixote’s chivalrous metal nudity, I began to deface my own quoted endothes and widen the thought, because, as a wise teacher would warn us some time later, the university “is useless, except to think.”
To give me, the Haban geography began by giving me that: thought, elementary understanding of the country and the world, that provincial pre-university teaching – yet and that I had a formidable one – could not provide me.
On the 21st floor of the student residence Lázaro Cuevas, the famous F and 3rd, then quite derruida, I had my first aerial view of the city. It was quite spacious, because the room that touched us had no blinds, instead there was a rectangular hole in the wall, ready for anyone who wanted to kill themselves. Our first task of carpentry was therefore to look for cartons and boards to plug that hole when it rained.
From the scholarship – one semester in F and 3rd, another in the Bahia Reparto and four years in 12 and Malecón – to that empire of “imagination against the norm” that was the Faculty, our daily paths were branching out, so that we began to see the seams and retreats to the old city: the majesty of Vedadense together with the overcrowding of Centro Habana; the mansions of Calle Línea next to the concrete boxes buildings of Habana del Este; camels, surreal rolling monsters, gobbling and vomiting hundreds of people at each stop; the struggle, the daily “bisne” so that more than two million Cubans – in the official and floating population – survived day by day without planning their future too much.
Together with Randy and Salas, my permanent roommates during the race, we conceived a distributive system of food, studies, worries and chimeras that we call “real socialism”, because, unlike the well-known in Eastern Europe, this one was socialist. Over the years, far from “demerengage,” it became unbreakable brotherhood.
Salas encouraged the trio to see and feel the ballet for the first time. From her queen’s box of the Grand Theatre of Havana, we reveled many times with the splendid greeting of Alicia, who did not yet give the institution its name. Randy dragged us to meet and practice theater in a college amateur group. However and its absence of air conditioning, we attended again and again the Trianón, the exuberant theaters El Público, under the baton of Carlos Díaz; the most famous of all: Santa Cecilia, shocking lyrics by Abilio Estévez with massive performance by Osvaldo Doimediós.
Over the years I have understood better than the sad decline of this woman immersed in the work of Abilio, I could illustrate as few symbols the collapse of the city, the country and the illusions that we have been suffering, inexorably, in this island surrounded by slogans and blockades.
I graduated. I stayed as a journalism teacher at FCOM and editor of Rebel Youth. And I started a twelve-year pilgrimage for rents, friends’ houses, borrowed rooms, legal and clandestine scholarships, home to wife and in-laws, again rentals, inventions, hardships, until the return, with new wife and waiting for a child, to my endearing Pinar del Río: adventures that they would give in themselves for a novel.
And always, in the background, of anguish and beauty, of dream and exhaustion, Havana, which I do not resign myself to writing “La Vana”, as a sharp master; but neither did “La Buena”, as the most idealistic would like.
Pregnant with the same deformations as the rest of Cuba, but in an incomparably higher temperature and pressure, the metropolis at times seems, with Elisha, “the place where it is so well” and at every turn announces, with Dulce Maria, the “last days of a house”.
The undulating stone waist that distinguishes it, instantly squeezes as if it wanted to suffocate the irreverent crowd, and instantly relaxes, as if it could be a launch ramp to the illusory geographies.
In Havana I grew up, dreamed, loved and uneded. I wanted to rage and I’ve been generously loved. From there I went out to look at some of the world, and in it I developed the modal verbs of my professional passion: learning, teaching and writing.
And now, which I draw my days between Vueltabajo and Holguin, the five-hundredth is not only a stopover on the way, but a bride never forgotten, who, for many reasons that do not fit in a chronicle, I will not fail to worship.

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