View from another Balcony

Mavis Dora Alvarez
Mavis Dora Alvarez

I’ve lived in this neighborhood for more than a decade. Barely three blocks from my house there’s a modern building, probably from the fifties. That building has a penthouse on top of its six floors.

It’s a spacious room closed in by large transparent windows, and beyond the glass there’s an open-air balcony. It offers an immense view of this part of Havana, facing the sea, facing the gulf, facing the horizon that seems near enough here to touch that almost perfect line.

I’m always astonished by it, always surprised, I who was born in a town in the middle of the mountains where the horizon is always on the other side of the street, and who didn’t discover the ocean until I was in love.

This cold, or rather chilly morning in February, the aristocratic penthouse balcony and I met each other for the first time. The International Book Fair is in Havana and literature is having a party, along with those of us who believe ourselves to be literati.

I came here to listen to some lectures that I suspect will be quite interesting. Several specialists, very prestigious in their fields, are going to give their points of view, defend their responses, I should say, to a well substantiated question: How has art and literature participated in the historic counterpoint between the vanguard and tradition in the Cuban nation?

That’s quite a question…and here I am waiting for the debate. There are about 10 minutes to wait and I’m still leaning against the wall on the penthouse balcony.

The beauty of the landscape dazzles, it’s a gift to the eyes, tired from so much asphalt, so many iron gratings and wooden slabs, of metal closing off the entrance to outside curiosity. But the light leads our sight up over the tops of the trees that are so old with such old roots excavating the ground, that lift up the streets and sidewalks of this old sector of Vedado. And then my glance leaps over the Malecon sea wall and goes on out to sea.

I look far out, until I stumble across that almost perfect line, a black stroke against the perfect blue of the sky. Then I think that perhaps on the other side of this line they also may be looking back towards here, and that maybe there are other gazes like mine and eyes like mine and also questions like the ones that I ask myself from this balcony.

The curving of the earth creates an optical illusion and on one and the other side of that virtual line are people with the same question: Why are we so distant, being so close?

They have given notice that the lectures are going to begin.

I pull myself away from the sea, from the sky, from the horizon and from loves distant and close by.

Now it’s on to the counterpoint between the vanguard and tradition.