Maria Matienzo Puerto

Powerful shadow. Photo by Liset Cruz

A specter is haunting the streets of the city but, unlike in the last century, it’s not that of communism.  It is a phantasm – one that makes the hair on the back of your neck bristle, or gives you goose bumps; or makes you feel like someone’s watching you, but when you turn to look, no one’s there.

Passionate over spiritualism, I believed that I recognized it in what is bearing down on us now like a wave: the mass unemployment of people (or should I say those of us who will remain “available”, to borrow from the euphemism of officialdom).  I believed, naively, that this was the ghostly form that lied in wait for us.  But it wasn’t.

I also thought that it could be related to the protests that presumably would come as a consequence of the reforms being made to the system.  This time I was even more naïve, and I was again mistaken.

Get that out of you head.  No one’s going to protest and those who do will be portrayed as part of a band of criminals paid off by the enemy.  That’s what a neighbor told me, and she’s experienced a whole lot more than me.

But I didn’t give up.  I continued my inquiry, until yesterday, when I almost stopped when someone gave me the answer.

He told me: “Maria, don’t talk to me any more about racism or machismo.  Don’t you realize that the opinions people hold at workplaces are different?  Haven’t you ever compared yourself to your boss and asked yourself how this guy has got so far without knowing the basics?  You’ve never asked yourself how so-and-so or Joe Blow arose from the ranks so quickly if all they have is a tennis ball for brains?”

And there, unable to close my hanging jaw, I fell out of my tree.

My friend also told me that, like in the quinquenio gris [the “five-year gray period” of repression of any inconformity in the early 70’s], there are still cultural officials who will question you about your religious beliefs, your sexual orientation or your ideology, without caring the least about your talent as an artist.  I couldn’t believe it, but he told me that he had seen and heard this personally.

Today is like a return to the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when by decree it was prohibited to give classes in culture or allow work in that area to homosexuals or believers in religion and/or different from the revolutionary doctrines.  Back then they were sent to agricultural work camps (or worse).  The authorities were again erecting a false morality and extremism.  Back in those previous decades that position included accepting only art and lifestyles that conformed to what was dictated by those in power.

This is what the so-call gray period consisted of, which in a poetic act someone reduced to only five years, though the actions continued long after the infamous words to intellectuals spoken at the Education and Culture Congress of 1971.  Many people are still living who can testify to what I’m saying.

Later, in one fell swoop, I discovered what the phantasm is that lies in wait for us.  It is the ghost of mediocrity that instills fear in everyone while encouraging the triumph of a few who know how to say yes so easily.  They are the ones now placed behind the desks precisely to say no —always no— to fresh and renovating ideas.

It is a phantasm that should be feared even when you don’t believe in ghosts, or when you might feel well protected from bad influences.  But now we’ll see how to confront it, be it head on dreaming of a death like in the movies; or simply avoiding it and trying to think that nothing’s more important than living to be over a hundred.

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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