The Russians in Me

Ariel Glaria Enriquez

The Havana malecón  sea wall.
The Havana malecón sea wall.

HAVANA TIMES — Russian culture, which I consider one of the most original, great and generous cultures in humanity and which I had the great pleasure to discover at a very young age in Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Ivan Turguienev, Tolstoy, Chekhov and others who have charmingly brought me closer to the Russian spirit or soul; lies in such a distant past that it’s now possible for us to imagine this brief period which with humor – that was so frequently heard back then – I’ve had the ambition and also the courage to approach the Russians…

It’s a time that I believe has been under-analyzed and even intentionally forgotten by those Cubans who were at some point blind supporters of the USSR.

Of course, many details and subtleties which would only be understood within this certain timeframe didn’t make it into this article.  However, there is one because of its popularity that acquires a much broader and more complex meaning, which I want to mention, I’m referring to the term “Bolos”.

I’m not sure how exactly it came into being but I can assure you that it belongs to a moment in time when the word “Russians” could be interpreted as derogatory or anti-Soviet Union by ideologists in Cuba. Back then, if you didn’t want people to have doubts, you had to say “Soviets”.

Of course, this couldn’t go on for too long and it didn’t. However, the popular character, which then happened with the thousand ways we used to call the forbidden US Dollar, had already found a word that went beyond its original meaning to almost become a very creole aesthetic concept.

However, there were more. If the acronym “USSR” was used to describe the group of Soviet republics, this didn’t have much meaning for Cubans living on the island. It wasn’t just a few of our compatriots that were surprised when these republics later separated and were even more surprised when they found out that they had their own native languages.

This period in time, which as I’ve already said I’m trying to reflect and especially refers to the ‘70s, has some implicit wounds, one of them was to forget who we were back then to get to know others wrongly and expose ourselves to their same oblivion.

Or, which is the same thing, we didn’t only waste the material resources that we received for so long; we also wasted KNOWLEDGE, something which has put Russia back on the scene of inventiveness and culture, not this archaic stereotype that implies more threat than humanity which they call a “world power”.

Another aspect that has served as inspiration for writing this piece were the Soviet electrical appliances which, we can’t forget, we got hold of without a choice, this lack of freedom of choice created our trust in them at the same time and the kindest and highest praise. Like many of us found out later, this praise wasn’t far off from what the Soviets themselves thought about them.

Regarding my direct relationship with Russians, I’m happy to know that somewhere in this large country, there is somebody who remembers Central Havana’s three hooligans, a little bigger than him, who took him down to the reefs at the Malecon, fished out the best stones that we could from the sea floor and we showed him that swimming is easy and that you have to respect the sea but not be afraid of it either. All of this in exchange for one of the most beautiful smiles I can remember and one of the most pleasant and funny words that I heard in my childhood, which were shouted from the wall by the mother: espasivar.


Ariel Glaria

Ariel Glaria Enriquez: I was born in Havana Cuba in 1969. I am proud bearer of an endangered concept: habanero. I don’t know of another city, therefore life in it along with its customs, joys and pain are the biggest reason why I write. I studied mechanical drawing, but I am working as a restorer. I dream of a Havana with the splendor and importance it once had.

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