Beyond the Minister, Beyond the Writer…

Osmel Almaguer

Abel Prieto. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago I attended a literary presentation that featured writer Abel Prieto Jimenez as the guest. I stress the title “writer” because — although we all know that he was the Minister of Culture and currently functions as an advisor to the president of Cuba — his presence there was due only to his role as a scholar.

His credentials include his novels El vuelo del gato (The Flying Cat) and Los viajes de Miguel Luna (The Voyages of Miguel Luna), as well as a series of essays of great lucidity and reflective depth on diverse topics of Cuban literature and life (as far as I know these have never been assembled and organized into a book).

In addition to literature, the presentation also touched on humor within that field, a facet into which Abel has also undoubtedly ventured. This time, however, when everyone was expecting the reading of some hilarious passages from his novels, or a story about a curious anecdote in his creative process, he came up with something that, though serious, left the audience laughing.

These were essays in which he took on the responsibility for analyzing and comparing what are called Cuban “counterrevolutionary” jokes with those that used to be told in the Eastern European “socialist camp” before its disappearance.

He proposed some interesting ideas and noted some basic differences between “Russian jokes” and Cuban ones. He pointed out that in the latter “there — almost — never exist hidden characters” and that “the situations recreated don’t have a colonial nature.”

He also alluded to the historical importance of jokes as being cathartic – especially when we here in Cuba went through that stage called the Special Period crisis. He further discussed that characteristic so typical of Cubans of laughing at whatever causes us to suffer. It seemed to me that his intention was for us to learn from the mistakes of others and from the past.

As he spoke, I looked at him straight in the eyes (the small space of the room permitting) to try to connect with him, to understand him. When you look at a person straight in the eyes, you can get a lot of information. It’s no wonder that it’s said they’re “the windows to the soul.”

In them, or rather in his expression, a kind of aura was formed around the person, reflecting suffering and happiness, peace and anger, kindness and the love that exists inside.

In these I found a man convinced of the words he used, a person attentive to everything around him, an altruist, a thinker tormented by the task of communicating that noise that sometimes forms the ideas inside one’s head.

He is a man who, though not thinking exactly like me (otherwise it would have been madness), I felt very close to spiritually.

At no time did I exchange any words with him, but when he was leaving he passed by me and said a very Cuban phrase to me accompanied by a handshake. It was as if he had been reading my mind all the time.