The Soul of a Country

By Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES – While looking for images of Cuba to illustrate my posts, I found a CD with a compilation from various persons for a photography contest.

As I reviewed the files, I found myself opening and closing the folders hastily: each photo showed me a deplorable or grotesque scene.

I opened another folder and found again a character, an angle, a combination of elements that no one would ever want as an object of contemplation. Something repellent that is only captured as a denunciation, in a kind of scream.

But Cuba is not just that, I thought, and I continued opening photos, trying to find, to recognize, my country.

It was like those sex scenes where there is no way to find tenderness, legitimate surrender, noble feelings. That subjective and non-transferable vision of the carnal experience that is not possible to capture with pornography.

I have always said that portraits are too violent (and incomplete) a reduction of the act of existing. It is almost never possible to capture the movement, that confusion between what the soul contains and what it projects, everything that makes an identity, unless magic conspires and the precise moment arises where energy transcends matter.

A beautiful person may not be photogenic. And no portrait will do them justice. But with regard to a country, a city, if its houses are broken, its streets here and there flooded with garbage and sewage, if there are signs of neglect even in the most majestic buildings, the places we used to admire (that struck us with the endearing and exact force of memory), how can one portray that Cuba without, at the same time, losing the sense of reality?

I have friends, born and raised here, who claim to have no pleasant memories of their lives before emigrating permanently.

However, it seems so strange to me, because outside the visual aggression imposed by witnessing decay, one has the freedom to sweeten, with all the veils of distance and longing.

Something similar to those filters now used in selfies to cover certain or supposed imperfections.

Like every morning, I make my way to the market and the bakery, and in that increasingly distressing survival itinerary, I see the faded buildings and the dirtier pavement but I also notice the majestic presence of the trees and their resistance against everything; I see people fighting against state abandonment with whatever they can. Every effort to build in a place we have been made to believe is a transit station is commendable and counts as part of the landscape.

When I think of the happiest moments of my life, I immediately remember when my son was three years old and we were able to live in a rented apartment in Alamar, after four years inhabiting one of those old houses in Old Havana, with a door to a narrow street from where you couldn’t see a single tree.

To the east of Havana, the contrast is so gratifying, and when it rained, my child and I celebrated that tender green in the vegetation that illuminates the atmosphere and is like a welcome to the water. Every day was a celebration.

I cannot say that what I have experienced when I have been able to leave Cuba is not impressive and remarkable.

But the great events that have defined me have indeed happened here.

And when I recall them, I don’t feel like I’m in a geographical place but in a state where events, beings, emotions converge. It is a direct encounter with life.

I understand that comfort has substantial weight and also, of course, the legal recognition of dignity.

But anyone who left, already an adult, lived their first kiss here, shared a sunset on the beach with someone, rode a bike, kept vigil with a group of friends on the malecón, shared someone’s pain, began to question existence, to rebel against a political system or against providence itself. How could they say that nothing they lived here was worth it?

That does seem to me a violent and insincere reduction of any biography.

Today a friend was enthusiastically telling me over WhatsApp about the possibility of renouncing Cuban citizenship with the new migration law project.

It seemed so sad to me. I see Cuba as a living being languishing against its will and not as the responsible one for our misfortunes. To blame it for the sense of immobility (even of suffocation), in a land that continues to bloom every spring giving us the real perspective that change is a natural condition, that we are not the exception to universal laws, to dialectics, or to history, is not only immature but self-destructive.

Watching an interview with Catholic priest Alberto Reyes, I was moved when he said he was proud of Cubans “because they are a people that resists dying.”

Nowadays, the word “resilience” is used a lot, and I think it contains a more subtle element than physical or willpower resistance: something constituted by divine attributes (immanent and sometimes unrecognizable), working in the dark, like the seed under the ground. And also, by the intangibility of faith.

Even if that faith only seems to push us to keep up a body, the cohesion of a family already divided by exile, joy through the most sardonic jokes, and to persist in laying foundations on what seems to be sinking. The etymology of resilience also projects into the future because it implies the ability to recover from traumas and regain the initial state. I see no better word to define Cuba.

Read more from the diary of Veronica Vega here.

Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.