By Eduardo N. Cordovi
HAVANA TIMES – When I was eight years old, my parents moved to the house where I still live, on the afternoon of December 31, 1958. It had just been built and we moved in, as renters, because it belonged to an old neighbor on the block.
My parents had the tradition of painting the houses where we lived, every year. This was the third house. They did this throughout almost all of the prodigious ‘60s, until 1968: the beginning of the so-called Revolutionary Offensive. This process followed the nationalization of large foreign companies and ended up eliminating small business owners and private traders. My house has only been painted twice since then.
But that New Year’s Eve in 1958, after eating twelve grapes at midnight with my parents, we went to bed.
Dawn had barely broken when we woke up to the triumph of the Revolution. From that moment on, everything was a surprise; the adventure of what was to come; the constant excitement, but nobody said it. We were still asleep, Gurdijieff used to say.
We lived in Lawton, a neighborhood in Havana’s outskirts, a block away from Dolores Avenue which now takes Camilo Cienfuegos’ name because it was the road he took to enter Havana, leading his cavalry.
Early in the morning, neighbors crowded together, on both sides of the street, all along it.
He traveled along the Central Highway, but he turned off, as everyone had hoped he would, at the junction with Dolores Avenue. Of course! He’d cross Lawton, his neighborhood, to pass in front of the public school where he was a primary school student with teacher Rodolfo Fernandez.
Fernandez was also my teacher. He would celebrate all of his birthdays at the school, as well as his wife Rosa’s birthdays – who was also a teacher-, and their wedding anniversaries. He made it a school tradition to sing a capella the Creole song “Pensamiento”, by Rafael Gomez Mayea (Teofilito).
Tell Fragancia I love her,
that I can’t forget her,
that she lives in my soul…
Go and tell her this,
tell her I think about her,
even though she doesn’t think about me.
Fernandez did something that I won’t try to explain, so as not to break this spell. Analysis harms magic, people often say. He destroyed my stage fright to go up to the board, and his school was a pleasant place, even though I preferred to be at home.
I was surprised to see just how many people live in my neighborhood!
A helicopter whizzed around in circles in front of the convoy. We had never seen one up so close! We could see the pilots and even count the rivets on the aluminum sheets! It blew up dust, messed up people’s hair and women held on tightly to the skinnier children!
He passed by us at last. Slowly. That was my first encounter with glory. He raised his right arm, greeting everyone with his hat, he had a fantastic smile, beard, long hair, and he was riding a white horse.
At no point did I think he would look at me. I didn’t even hold onto this hope! That was also my first, intimate and distant feeling of security and certainty about an event in the immediate future. Just as I thought! He passed straight in front of us and he didn’t even look on this side of the street.
Nevertheless, that man and I shared the wonderful memory of teacher Fernandez in that place in our hearts where we keep our dearest treasures.