By Alfredo Prieto
The Renaissance introduced the notion of impermanence, brevity and fragility to western culture.
Don Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas -a man never without words, and who embodied the spirit of his time as few others- was capable of writing anything from the most exquisite love poem to the most extraordinary profanity and scatology. In his moral sonnets, he reflected on life as “fragile and delicate,” and subjected it to the “laws of the flower.”
One of his contemporaries, William Shakespeare, the most brilliant playwright of all time, compared fragility with a woman, a male chauvinism that I do not share. Nevertheless, Shakespeare, a lover of dark soliloquies, had these words spoken by a brooding prince who had been crudely dislodged from ascendancy to power by a member of his own family.
Cuba emerged as the country that has experienced the recent greatest renaissance in the entire world. In the 1990s, when the food crisis hit rock bottom, the massive sale of hamburgers in many cafeterias was touted as constituting a stable source of protein for the citizenry.
Fragility devoured them. “They went,” as the popular saying goes, “like a bowl of candy placed at the gates of an elementary school.” Perhaps this was because they were officially baptized with a prophetic onomatopoeia: “Smack.”
A little later, when the Israeli micro-jet irrigation technology was introduced it was projected that banana and plantain production would be so prolific that the island would eventually displace Central America as the main exporter, after covering the island’s entire internal market demand.
Today, however, bananas and plantains have emigrated from the ration books, though they are found in deregulated agricultural markets, which are governed by supply-and-demand. The potato, sold as a state-monopoly, is the only fruit or vegetable that has remained rationed at a reasonable price at neighborhood stores.
Likewise, people say that the most perverse problem in Cuba is that its perfume does not have a fixer because there are neither whales in the region nor money to import their oil.
A downpour here can cause what a half-crazy academic friend of mine calls the “Stevie Wonder Syndrome.” After the rainfall (or during it), transformers burst, only to put one or several neighborhoods in the dark, without any clue as to when electric service will be restored.
Then there’s “Tláloc’s Torment,” named after the Aztec god of rain. He directs waters along streets such as Línea (in the Vedado neighborhood) or Fifth Avenue (in Miramar), where these thoroughfares are flooded until impassable. This is when St. Peter becomes rather ideological in the dry season of the year that is not his turn – heavy rains usually occur in May. Well, that was before global warming.
It is obvious that fragility here is another name for local government inefficiency and neglect. With a little foresight and even limited resources -employing a truck, a few shovels, and two or three workers- drains can be regularly unclogged and trees pruned without waiting for the imminent threat of a hurricane figuring in weather reports.
The Greek philosopher Parmenides of Elea defined existence as being “beautifully circular.” Seen from the tropics, he was mistaken, especially now that -as Quevedo and Shakespeare did – I am writing these closing lines by candlelight, following a fragile cloudburst that suddenly prompted me to hum a Stevie Wonder song.