Leonid Lopez

HAVANA TIMES — The jester is on the tightrope, with the king looking at him from his throne. The jester, blindfolded, has to guess his every step. The king — in ecstasy — anxiously waits for him to fall. Who reigns higher? Who’s the fool? Who’s bones are broken even before the fall? (1)

I keep plodding forward, one step following the other. I don’t know what else I can do.

Supposed “massage” parlors (advertizing themselves with sensual photos), “love hotels,” small semi-lit businesses; young smiling girls in front of intimate bars, inviting passersby to come in; young guys dressed like executives who let you read in their eyes that they’re nothing but pimps. This was the street I used to walk down on my way to my Japanese course.

Those classes were at the YWCA, which had a school for teaching Japanese to foreigners who wanted to enroll in Japanese universities. With a head like a grill, and my brain like a barbecue, my dormant epilepsy returned one morning on the train. My laughter tried, unsuccessfully, to find time to exercise itself.

I couldn’t understand the logic of the language, which seemed to be assembled from disjointed pieces. I was hammered to the bone by its three vocabularies (“hiragana,” which is authentic Japanese; “katakana,” words assimilated from other languages; ??and “kanji,” terms inherited from China, which are found in Japanese and Chinese writings in Japan).

This was all made worse by the speed of the class, which raced along at the same speed as the people crossing the main streets at rush hour.

At lunchtime I would go for a walk. On every block there’s more than one place to eat, and you can find a convenience store every two or three blocks. Then you have the large buildings, the convention centers, karaoke bars, music stores and video rental shops, huge food markets and department stores. In short, it was like many big cities.

The difference is perhaps the dominance of so many prefabricated buildings, ones with no frills or varieties of color. To my amazement, there was also a total absence of people begging. Where did the homeless people go?

Even what I’d seen of the dark side of the city seemed well organized and clean. Where was the landfill to which the city hauled its filth?

Then too, there were the Japanese faces, flooding every corner, fast and self assured, faces, especially faces with hard eyes, eyes without life. It was as if the end was their goal, not the path that would take them wherever to reach their desires.
I would try to read their faces; surely they were guarding something that could only be made out by a sharp eye. But it was too early to draw conclusions. Maybe there wasn’t anything to prove. Like anywhere else in the world, people were doing what they could to stay alive, and little else. Still, I had the suspicion that some particular instinct spurred life on here.

During the period of my course, I walked around much of the town of Osaka. I adapted to the signs in Japanese and sometimes it seemed like Spanish infiltrated into the Japanese voices. Reality became armed with illusion and took form, as the only substance at hand.

One day, without knowing how, I came to recognize myself in the streets. It wasn’t the familiarity gained from the day-to-day grind; yet, at times, I would rub my eyes as if waking from a dream. Rather, it seemed that everything there was pushing me to one side, leaving me there – indifferent and almost comfortable. The city began to enclose itself around me, putting my desires on the same level as its poses.

A certain tired reassurance led me from one place to another. Undoubtedly it was me, said my pulse and my anxieties. On the other hand, I was unfamiliar with my own self. I couldn’t say who I had been in the past, or what certainties anchored me to this existence.

The court jester climbs down from the tightrope. He has repeated that routine hundreds of times. His body is prepared for any error. However no training is sufficient to deal with the eyes in front of you that don’t look at you, those that only stop at some point between your voice and your silence.
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(1) Recalling the film The King and the Clown, by Korean director Lee Joon-ik

 


Leonid Lopez

Leonid Lopez: My parents named me Leonid because I was born in Cuba on the same day that Leonid Brezhnev, the ex-Soviet president, arrived in Havana. Today it’s a name that is no longer fashionable. I lived in Cuba for 34 years and have now been in Japan for five months. Some of my ideas have changed but I continue believing in two: I believe in the importance of being able to choose, but also that happiness is the responsibility of each person, and nobody can grant it or deny it. Cuba seemed like a good place to grow up, later it began to be like a mother that devours her children. There are those who believe in the homeland; I believe in goodness. Wherever that exists I can have my nest. Now it’s here with my wife, tomorrow, I don’t know.

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