Where Building Isn’t Art

By María Matienzo

A fever hit Cuba compelling everyone to become a professional or intellectual.  Photo: Caridad
A fever hit Cuba compelling everyone to become a professional or intellectual. Photo: Caridad

If my brother had wanted to become a carpenter, he wouldn’t have been able to; not because my craftsman grandfather’s death occurred unexpectedly, but because my grandfather wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to teach him.  He didn’t have a workshop, or the raw material (wood) to work, or a way to obtain it.

But if my grandfather had been a farmer, he wouldn’t have even considered convincing my brother to follow in that family tradition.  My brother would have had to become an engineer, a doctor or something like that.

What happened is that in the second half of the 20th century a fever hit Cuba compelling everyone to become a professional or intellectual.

Into the trades only went the dim-witted, the mentally ill, criminals and reformed prostitutes.  To say in public that you preferred to be a bricklayer, house painter, plumber, trash collector or fireman was enough to be singled out for ridicule, and -in some extreme cases- even punishment.

Moreover, your mother and father prepared you from the youngest age to become a journalist who would win a distinguished award or a great doctor that would discover a vaccine that would immunize humanity from some deathly plague.

No one imagined any of their offspring becoming a construction worker or an efficient secretary.

I knew a family that lost a hundred-year-old cabinetmaking business that had been handed down from generation to generation.  It hadn’t made them millionaires, but it gave them enough to have lives free of major difficulties.

I also knew a baker who died with the secret of several pastries, and a mother who was greatly saddened when she found out that her only daughter wanted to be a salesclerk in a cosmetics store.

The only ones betraying this notion were some musicians or artists who, perhaps supported by influence and power, or by the force of their talent, were able to slip through the bars of prohibitions.

All this is to say that my mother would have been happy if my brother had wanted to become a lawyer, writer, architect or dentist.

Of course this too is a supposition, because my brother belongs to a generation that -without giving it a second thought- is only interested in having money; and it doesn’t matter from where or how they get it.

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.

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