Study, Study!

Alfredo Fernandez

Hailé Selassié. Photo:

A not so good obsession has forced me to delve deeper and deeper into the writings of the past for that compelling fact that sparks my curiosity about a historic moment in which I didn’t live but which I find as interesting as the present, which I don’t always succeed at unraveling.

For this, the book that is now helping me to remedy my strange relationship with the past is a classic of the interviewing genre, “Entrevista con la historia” (An Interview with History), by the brilliant Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci (1929-2006).

At the same time I’m attempting to incorporate myself into this no less incomprehensible present, kilobit by kilobit, with as many alternate formats of the Web as I can find.

It turns out that for one of the interviews in her excellent book, Fallaci went to Ethiopia in the early 1970s to interview the then “First Emperor” Haile Selassie.

It’s amazing how these days, the past and present merge in my mind, how the Havana of today resembles the Addis Ababa of then, and not because of their architectural styles, not for the corroded appearance of Addis Ababa or that same look of Havana.

Rather, what was striking was the identical recommendation made back then by the dictator Selassie and the one made recently by sexual democrat Mariela Castro Espin to two indiscreet and inquisitive women (one being made to that same Italian journalist and the other to a Cuban blogger).

Thus the first “recommendation” was given to Fallaci by the Ethiopian Emperor in that interview. More accustomed to his eternal flatterers, he gave no credit to the difficult questions posed to him on subjects such as the rights of the country’s citizens, the economy or the opportunity for youth to lead.

He responded to these with expressions of shock and invariably concluded with the mysterious recommendation that Fallaci should “study, study!” Outraged with the Monarch, she kept wondering to herself, “What do I need to study?”

Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), photo by Kaloian from Alma Mater Magazine

Several days ago, blogger Yoani Sanchez, using the 140 characters permitted by Twitter, posed a question to Mariela Castro (the director of the National Center for Sex Education) about the long-overdue delay of opportunities for Cuban citizens.

She was speaking of opportunities that for other people are as legitimate and necessary as the rights of homosexuals. Sanchez’s question was when will Cubans be able to come out of the other closets?

Surprisingly, in her response Mariela departed from her usually sweet style to react in the same forceful style as Selassie. She immediately recommended to the daring Twitter-blogger, “Study, study!”

To Fallaci, “The most irritating feature of tyrants is that they lack imagination,” as if for them others were forever doomed to the category of subjects.

Sanchez, contrary to Fallaci, accepted Mariela’s suggestion to the point of stating: “I will and I’ll do so even when my eyes can no longer distinguish the lines in the books and my rheumatic fingers can’t type on a keyboard.”

This to later keep alive the possibility of having tea with Mariela or even studying with her.