City Without Light

Daisy Valera

Photo: Caridad

This is the city crisscrossed by lambs
These are the streets where their baas are lost
These are the walls, witnesses of blood
This is the earth that absorbs the violence
In the vortex of this city
something flees, seeking refuge
A hand grabs the whip
but the lambs become silent
and they move away from the city
toward the convulsed limit of anger.

–“Los corderos del silencio” (The Lambs of Silence) by Juan Eduardo Bernal Echemendía, a poet of Sancti Spiritus Province (Cuba)

I returned to my home town of Sancti Spiritus, but just for six days.

It is a city that I’m incapable of missing, except when walking through its streets gazing at the red tiled roofs and elaborate ironwork of past centuries.

…or, when I walk among the cobblestones, free of any man trying to undress me with his eyes.

Living in the Cuban capital, with its abundance of newspapers, so different from the rest of the country, I’ve developed the habit of buying all the newspapers I find along my way.

I stumbled on Vitrales, a cultural supplement serving the province here. The edition was one from between January and April of this year, but with pleasure I paid the 50 centavos (two cents USD) with the certainty that this would make my outing complete.

In it I found a page full of poems. One of them I’ve shared with you. I’m crazy about poetry; it’s the most cultivated literary genre in my hometown.

I avidly read an article about caricatures and another one concerning the painting of a an artist from Trinidad, to the south of the provincial capital.

But nowhere in the in the entire supplement could I find anything promoting cultural events taking place over those months.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I know full well that there are few efforts aimed at promoting the different demonstrations of art here in Sancti Spiritus.

I came upon the local office of UNEAC (the Cuban Writers and Artists Association), now almost in ruins. Rumors have been circulating that one of the dancers of the Liz Alfonso Ballet Company had hurt her leg on the rotten stage of the city’s main theater (really the only one).

In short, there are almost no events for the city’s residents, who are full of boredom in their houses every night.

On pages 4 and 5 of Virtuales was a controversial issue: the architectural deterioration of the city.

The journalist wrote about the slipshod practices of citizens who try to remodel the colonial houses of the area without respecting them as national patrimony. He commented on the need to impose fines or implement other protective measures.

But who’s going to fine the Ministry of Culture for converting two of the city’s emblematic buildings into cheap “dollar stores.” Those two historic structures (the Hotel Perla and the Colonia Española Building) could have been made available as cultural centers or other forms of leisure?

Things will only get worse now that the government plans to slash the budget for culture, entrusting the weight of those activities to private undertakings.

In Sancti Spiritus, the catamaran of cultural development ran aground a long time ago.

I escaped my childhood city fearing that the boredom here would crush my spirit.

But what I feel today is guilt. Perhaps I should stay here to prevent such beautiful marble buildings from being turned into stores – with me marching, holding up signs or chaining myself to their columns.

But I didn’t do that. Maybe one of these days I’ll muster the courage.