A Telescope and My First Time in Cuba

Ariel Glaria Enriquez      

Antique store in Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — Though the things Cubans most crave have varied in dependence of the priorities and fads of the time and individual aspirations, a house and a car have been the top two since I have use of reason. In my case, it’s also been a telescope.

During my childhood in the seventies, Soviet household appliances assigned to people as work incentives prompted veritable quarrels at workplaces. Television sets, fridges and washing machines were people’s priorities, followed closely by fans, irons and blenders.

In the decade to come, after a house and a car, video cassette players were the thing. Those who owned these appliances formed veritable syndicates. It was the gold and silver fever era, when, at places with the subtle name of “Exchange Houses”, one exchanged a gold or silver object for the “right” to purchase an item at a hard-currency store. Many valuable family heirlooms vanished this way.

VHS players and audio equipment proliferated. This didn’t happen with homes or cars.

My family didn’t have to mourn the loss of heirlooms it didn’t haven, but my father complained about the Communist Party for the first time and I began to dream of owning a telescope. I was 15 at the time.

After my mother, my brother was the first to find out about my wish to own a telescope. It’s the first time I heard the phrase: “That’s hard to find in Cuba,” in connection with something I was interested in.

So I embarked on the Renaissance adventure of building my own telescope. The first step was to take apart my old Soviet projector, whose lenses I still have, with which I barely made out the spermatozoids I’d violently expelled after I began to resign myself to frustration.

A Soviet camara from the 70s and 80s.

I mentioned my mother was a communist. Well, my father was even more of a communist. They were separated. He lived far away and traveled a lot because of work. I spoke to him about the telescope the first chance I got. A barrage of questions was followed by a feeble commitment: “I can’t promise anything, remind me of this again before my next trip,” he said.

I had no way of knowing when he’d travel, so I decided not to wait and to continue with my Renaissance experiments, which almost always ended with the close observation of my restless passengers.

I went to the Havana Planetarium a lot during this time. In the dark, immersed in the contemplation of the firmament projected above me, I would dream of my telescope. There, one afternoon, reclining into my seat and stretching my arms over the back of the neighboring seats, ecstatic as a I pondered the ancient representation of the constellations, I had my first non-manual experience, which distanced me from the inaccessible stars and left me the earthly mark of lipstick.

Today, after a house and a car, the things Cubans want most are food, a plasma TV, an air conditioning unit, a mobile phone and all the technological contraptions designed for the home. As for me, I still want a telescope.

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