When I arrived in Havana, even without taking off the dust of the road, the first thing I did was to find out where I could buy something to eat. I was really starving, like any other Cuban innocent who gets to the capital. And later, just later, willing to satisfy other basic desires, I asked where I could learn writing. (I could not do like Lezama: “the book is the first bread of reasonable man, then comes the lamb. But the lamb is Inevitable”.) Obviously , people laughed at me, or so I thought.
I walked several blocks, lengthy and dazzling blocks, and arrived at El Vedado neighborhood. I saw the Presidents Avenue, the corner of 23rd and G Streets and I entered, as if I was in a party, a place people call literary cafe. I repeated the same question, but there nobody laughed. They all stared at somewhere, put out their cigarettes, slowly frowned, as if it cost a lot of work, and said nothing. I thought they were sad guys, judging by their apologetic faces and the languid and famished speech of their conscious-involving languages.But today, of course, I think different, but at that moment, like many others have done throughout history with their respective capitals, I told myself: “this is Havana, do not let it go. “
And although the existential shipwreck and plaintive snob of the cafe ended up getting me bored in a few hours, at least it helped me to find a place where writing was taught. I crossed the street and saw a crumbling and dirty house with green tiles. I asked again and they told me that it was the Faculty of Communication, and added that, among other things, I could study journalism there. Then I said I did not want to be a journalist, I just wanted to write, nothing more, and I was told that if I wanted to write the best I could do, as a sensible Cuban, was going to the College of Arts and Letters to study Philology, but that sounded too hard to me, with too much academic glamour and also with too much sexual freedom, and I was not prepared for it. Then I got scared. I was as scared as in one night of the Special Period, when I woke up in the middle of a blackout and there was no one in the house, and of course it was dark, dense, a death corridor, and next to me there was a red oil lamp, which was dying to the beat of the air of Matanzas bay.
I told the story on the doorway of the site. And with a lot of fear in my soul I collapsed. I fell down in the middle of 23rd and G, in the heart of El Vedado, and henceforth I could never recover myself. It was a very hard blow, which only found relief when someone, a soft voice of secretary, resolved at a stroke the dilemma:
– Do you want to be a ranked writer, or just the other?-Obviously, lady, I want to be an important writer.
-Then you have to go to Arts and Letters. There is no other place.
And right there I said that I was not going there, that I wanted to stay in that half-ruined house with green tiles; in a faculty that evidently lived of the past, and possibly that was the question for which I was choosing it, because, remember, I was a hopeful provincial boy, who almost collapsed in a blackout, who loved the sea when still literature had not corrupted me, and that, like all good and bad Cuban felt fondness for lost causes.
I do not know why people complain so much, and argues they should pass much hard and stressful evidence, where breath can be cut with a table knife. I think they overestimate and inflate their navels, and look smiling and satisfied and then look again without reasonable words and with their swollen eyes whisper: “We are the chosen people, the ones that will reverse in a few years the body of national press, and will infuse the media all the magnificent irreverence of our generation. ” Actually, taking the journalism career did not demand me any effort, not even the slightest one.
The secretary, with harsh nobility, made me sign some papers, patted my shoulder, and without examination or any formalities or presentation declared that I was the new acquisition. Certainly, no one noticed me much because everybody is, at some point, the newest member of the course, which made me doubt my contemporaries. So far, I had digested within this country thousands of books, and that should be reflected somehow in my face, and they, in some way, should have noticed it and have made at least a slight bow.
But it did not happen . Although after my registration I sat at the bottom of the class, I felt I had taken the bull by the horns, the boat by the propeller, the news by the lead, and that without mishap in a few months I would be receiving a prestigious literary award, to make difference from early.
But life, which is very unfair with provincial people and makes them spend twice as much work and countless hardships, refused me the favor. And I had to start to receive information note, and then interview, then another series of genres as difficult as the first ones. Teachers talked about objectivity, impartiality, the Ulibarry method, that a man can not speak that way, that that phrase does not sound to me. By that time I had gained some consciousness, and I told myself with complete insecurity: “this people are raving”. I say with complete uncertainty because it is very likely that it was me the one who was raving, or sinning of absolutism, or being an upstart rebel, an introspective storyteller.
And during that entire long course I never heard of literature, or anything related to it. Only once, at the beginning, a bizarre teacher approached me. I had ended my first and suffered interview, a total chaos, but the teacher, what a surprise, enjoyed it (or so I thought), and gushed over me like a daisy in winter ( I find no more accurate simile), and she began extolling the text, and I glimpsed in a jiffy, the “July 26” and “Juan Gualberto Gómez”, and she continued and found images of impact, and I modestly grabbed the “David Award “, and she read aloud to the whole classroom, nothing more and nothing less than two synesthesias and an hyperbaton excellently used , and I could not bear it more and I skipped over the Cervantes Award and stood up in Stockholm, at the Swedish Academy, receiving, with the same face I had in the literary café, the Nobel Prize and arguing for Borges and Carpentier, and the teacher stated that all that was marvelous, sple ndid, colossal, and added that I, unhappy citizen of wild areas, had failed the test. I got an F, a horrific anseriform bird (let us say a red ink duck).
And that embarrassment happened to me, a man who just stole books (I no longer do it) and made women to fall in love with me through readings; made them to forgive me through readings; unraveled Cuba and the world through readings; admired dead people through readings. Of course, I said nothing; I did not mention sleepless nights, just leaned the brain to the board for a few seconds. I was heartbroken, and since then, to put my fury away, and for elementary respect to the teacher, I got an idea in the shape of armor or an armor in shape of idea: literary prizes are a cancer. That’s because I have not won any major award. Anyway, when I win it, if I could, the prizes will be cirrhosis or gonorrhea.
Although to tell the truth , thanks to that same teacher, I, that did not deserve not even an ephemeral rag of the colony for my marks, had my first work training in Juventud Rebelde, a newspaper that seems nothing to me today, but which at that time was the glory, with its implacable smell and overnight hustle and its slow access to Internet. And t here, in those pages -apart from a teen poem in a magazine from Matanzas -, I had my first publication. I s avored the name, the load I was carrying for more than twenty years on printed paper. I called the family (very quietly, not to be ashamed in front of my colleagues) and for a moment I dreamed again. I was, as always happens in these cases, the sensation of the neighborhood: the damn editor, Lucien de Rubempré, the gap in collective transcendence.
That ultimately was a great comedy. Today I laugh alone, and go back to review, with extreme kindness, my first and scrawny information note. There were just ten lines on an impossible subject. Truly, I would have wanted my first journalistic credit to respond to another work, like having narrated, for example, the fear I felt as a child when I was alone in an apartment with a blackout, with the sign of an era, or when I looked to the sea without knowing exactly what that upset and seductive spot was.
But of course, that is what I had wanted. And that’s what most people had wanted (including readers). Now I’ve grown up a bit, and I know I do not want anything (and that readers do not want anything either), just being absent of classes and putting forward a good excuse.
A good excuse, of course, is a sick relative, an unexpected indigestion. You should never confess that you change classroom for books, neither for Champions League matches, nor for El Publico theater, or by Bertolucci´s films in Chaplin Cinema, nor because you are breaking your head, now that you are young and can be forgiven, trying to figure out how to reinvent Cuban journalism aesthetic without bureaucracy to perceive abominable ghosts.
Sleep loss is not necessary either. Dream is lost by more trivial things. And in the end there will be, according to what I recently read-five hundred million communists Chinese who all this give a damn to them.