On December 31, we didn’t have water in the building. Only cumbia from the Colombian neighbors’ loudspeakers, cumbias and ballenatos to welcome in 2019, the year 61 of the Cuban revolution, my third year in New York.
We made Cuban fritters with cassava and sweet potato, and a leg of pork about which we knew someone would say that “here the meat does not taste like Cuba’s,” but he or she would eat it with tremendous gusto.
There was no water and I had to bathe with a red plastic bucket I have hidden under the bathroom sink, foreseeing a post-Soviet or North Korean apocalypse, or that the cistern be contaminated with feces as was the case, 400 summers ago, in the building of a friend in Alamar, Havana.
Damn it, to think I had traveled so far, literally, not figuratively, to end up taking a bath with a bucket on New Year’s Eve. But that also has its charm. It has always been easier for me to dream when I’ve gone through a piece of bad luck.
That’s why when I left Cuba my ideas were left aside, it was enough for me to stick my head out the old door of my old house in Lawton to listen to the street calls and the tribulations of the bread vendor, the bread they called “fainted” because of its disheveled appearance, today a delicacy for people in a Havana that yearns for flour. A story that a Quixote could tell at the foot of a three-week-old heap of garbage. Because my life was flooded with the blockade, the double blockade, the triple blockade and the tsunamis of stupidity. One day you could write the great novel of the pause, of the unhurried pause, about the country I said goodbye to.
After the experience of the bucket of water, which led me to a long reminiscence of the schools in the countryside, and daily life in a house without a shower in Havana, I ended up celebrating the new year with the very famous “Bajanda” of reggaeton musician Chocolate, which ended up becoming the musical theme of the Cuba of 2018.
Some friends put it on the TV and from there we went on to the version of “El necio,” Silvio Rodriguez’ anthological theme, by Chocolate. In the video, Chocolate is driving on a Florida highway while he sings that he will die as he has lived, a complete fiesta for the semiologists of the future, who will surely map the unpredictable paths the discourses related to Cuba have followed.
But then you discover that something bad, very bad, is happening inside you, a miserable louse, because when you hear that, and some part of your body says that it is not so bad, when something starts to emerge, like an alien, that could be the seed of a repartero soul; you realize that you are one step away from putting in the living room of your house the kitsch picture of an almendrón and a mulatto woman; that the longing is doing its thing without you being able to do anything to avoid it.
In Times Square, meanwhile, two million crazy people waited for the arrival of 2019 under a cold rain, as cold as the water in my plastic bucket. I don’t see the fun in standing there for hours on end, without being able to go to the bathroom to wait for a glass ball to descend from the top of a tower and in this way the East Coast officially attesting to the start of a new turn of the Earth around the Sun.
But people have a lot of fun, they put up daises, like in the Jardines de la Tropical, and the crowds of people wiggle their hips, sometimes with Anglo-Saxon rigidity, others with Latino enjoyment, even from the characteristic introspection of Asian tourists, more aware of the selfie than following the rhythm. A friend who has been to these celebrations confessed to me her strategy: using disposable diapers for adults. Otherwise, it is impossible to endure all those hours, with that cold, and without public toilets.
It’s difficult for me, and it’s someone who bathes with a bucket who is saying it, to see the attraction in such a practice. But at midnight the wait is worth it, they throw 3,000 pounds of confetti and people kiss each other like in the love of happy endings.
This is how the year ended in this small corner of the world. We already have another 365 days ahead to dwell on our existence, to talk and live silly things, to believe that existence is much more serious than what actually happens, to pretend that it is possible to transcend the damn circumstance of bathing with a bucket and not with a shower; and finally, 12 months later, to meet again with our essences, the usual ones, even here, under the fireworks that illuminate and make magical the last night of the year in New York.