Subject for a Bolero

Maria Matienzo Puerta

Omara Portuondo.  Photo: Caridad
Omara Portuondo. Photo: Caridad

I feel nostalgia for a sonorous city that I’ve never known. Havana -according to a friend- is full of jazz, son and bolero singers, who crone equally for lost love as for the pleasure of good rum.  That is a Habana located far removed from what I experience; it is one with a projected image that makes us appear to be what in fact we are not.

That’s how I am.  It’s easy for me to yearn for something different, especially what I’ve not experienced or what I’ve not had.  It’s not envy; it is just a certain melancholy that I allow myself from time to time.

It’s like the heaviness I feel in my chest when I think of my grandfather who died a few years ago. Death is one of the things we never accept.

Whenever I see nostalgia appear in my window, behind it comes hope…or resignation.  That happens to me when I look back.

Despite the little access I had to e-mail, at first I struggled to maintain ongoing correspondence with each of my friends who left Cuba with the slim chance of returning for a long time.  Or, in an outburst of curiosity, a friend and I would look on the map for places we would like to visit.

Now I realize that sometimes it’s necessary to let life flow, without caring how far we move away from what we want, understanding that friends will leave to make room for others.  Today I’m close to believing that places choose us.

However, there are moments when the good fortune of resignation is not enough.  I don’t have an explanation. I simply feel alone, even when I know I’m a woman over 30 who doesn’t need a jealous father.

Then I begin to comfort myself in another more concrete way.  I tell myself: “Don’t you know how many Cuban families are separated by the sea? – how many people hope to see a friend, a mother, a son, an aunt or a cousin? – how many people have not lost the hope of reuniting?  What am I doing thinking my luck will be any different?

But it’s been seventeen years that I’ve not seen him even in my dreams.  I hardly remember his face or voice. He’s not even a ghost.  In 1992 he left to find a better life as a doctor in Nicaragua because what he had here wasn’t enough.  I understand that.  He wanted to eat and dress better.

What I’ll never understand, though, is why the forgetting and indifference came with the distance.

Trying to be fair and considering his reasons, it could be he was afraid not being able to return to his house and his family; or that he didn’t have enough time; or that he was simply fleeing the nostalgia -which I’ve inherited from him- that caused a certain sentimental paralysis in him.

I pose the questions in my mind, and I respond to them in my own way.  Silence continues to mark the separation, and neither e-mail nor letters help out.  Despite the times I’ve attempted to make contact, my efforts have been in vain.

And now I continue longing for other devices. Perhaps if I’d been born in that fantasy city -the one my old friend spoke about to me- the load would have been lighter, because distance is a good theme for a bolero.

Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.