Aesthetic Firefights

Dmitri Prieto

Lenin High School

Cubans are a very aesthetically oriented people.

“Cute child”/“ugly child” is the basic dichotomy and the starting point for the “values” instilled in the majority of Cuban children.

At least that’s the case in the urbanized western part of the island.

Perhaps this is why when I studied at Havana’s prestigious Lenin High School, from 1986–1989, we all had to maintain a certain aesthetic in the dormitories.

Or better said, “aesthetics.”

The plural form had nothing to do with cultural relativism, multiple narratives or postmodernism—not at all.

“Aesthetics” were ornaments, like plaster fish figures (my first esthetic), wine bottles filled with colored water, plastic shampoo bottles or spray-cans (preferably from a capitalist country).

These were put on top of our dressers and in the windows of our rooms (for some reason, people especially liked to put spray cans on the ledges out in front of their windows).

The quality and quantity of these aesthetics was a sign of the respect deserved by a dorm room, therefore each student had to have their esthetics.

Paradoxically, the presence of the capitalist aesthetics was not penalized, probably because the aesthetics from “socialist” countries (the USSR, Bulgaria, etc.) weren’t so popular.

During moments of contentious fun, all of these turned into munitions for aesthetic firefights.

Through the gap between the ceiling and wooden partitions that formed our rooms, students would fling aesthetics into their neighbors’ space. Sometimes these would hit someone in the head, which would of course end up cracking (usually the aesthetic rather than the head).

I remember once we took buses from Lenin High School to the Latin Americano Stadium for a baseball game between Cuba and Korea (I don’t like baseball, so I don’t remember who won). But when we got back to the dorms at around 2:00 am, we had a special mission.

On our floor, we didn’t have enough aesthetics to show off. Therefore the floor leader charged us with the task of going up to the floor above ours, whose occupants hadn’t gone to the game and were peacefully asleep. The aim was to get some of their aesthetics and bring them down to our rooms.

I remember how most of the kids absconded with spray cans. I went along but I only grabbed a small wooden vase.

Then everybody put the cans in our windows, and I put the vase on the dresser next to my bed.

Paradoxically, it seems that the people upstairs didn’t even realize that someone had stolen their aesthetics—or at least they never found out that we were the ones who did.

The cans remained there until the end of the school year, and every time I looked at them I got a good chuckle remembering our late-night adventure.

The presence of the vase helped me to get respect for the “good esthetics” of my dresser. But over time it gradually got beat up since it became a favorite projectile in our aesthetic firefights.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

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