By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – My partner is very talented. She started playing with books, craft paper and coloring pencils, ever since she was a little girl. She dreamed of writing and becoming a painter. She managed to make the latter dream come half-true.
She is a painter who studied at an arts school and missed the opportunity of a lifetime when she turned down going to study at the ISA (Superior Institute of Art).
She has put on three exhibitions, although her main source of income is commercial work, using the patch painting technique. She is registered on the Artist Register and has a contract with the Cuban Fund of Cultural Goods. This allows her to sell her paintings to foreigners. Art can be sacred, but you also must eat. Unfortunately, sales have diminished to zero during these times of COVID-19 with no tourism whatsoever.
Maybe it was this and the fact that she knows me that her dream of becoming a writer popped up again. A few months ago, she started writing poetry and joined an important literary workshop in the province: “Faktoria de letras”. It’s led by well-renowned poet and storyteller for children Nelson Simon.
As I’ve already mentioned, she’s quite talented. Her poetry is intimate, with a lyricism full of beautiful images that reflect different emotional states. Loneliness, fear, hope, struggle, passion…
She wants to publish her work, be read and I tell her to be patient. Literature is a side career and almost nobody can make a living out of it.
We live in fast-paced times, when the world prefers documentaries, series and movies on Netflix, YouTube channels. They want sources of pleasure that don’t involve them having to use their brains.
In Cuba, people entertain themselves with gossip on social media, timba and reggaeton music, and the “Weekly Package” of audiovisuals.
On top of all of this, Cubans fight a daily war just to live another day. I see huge lines every day, people waiting to get food and basic essentials. It makes perfect sense that the exhaustion of struggling to survive might kill any thirst for reading.
There are few readers in Cuba, most of whom are writers and a few others here and there.
Book fairs are nothing more than a propaganda show to make the world believe that Cubans are readers. Yes, many Cubans do go to the fairs because we don’t have many entertainment options. Moreover, the Havana Book Fair always has a festive air.
It’s trendy to buy a handful of books, mostly for children. Just because we want to be “cool”, but I’m sure they probably end up in a corner. In the best of cases, their pages remain untouched, waiting to be read like Penelope waited for Odysseus to return to Ithaca. In the worst of cases, it’s a direct journey down the toilet. Let’s not forget that toilet paper is in shortage here in Cuba.
It’s a bad time for literature. A time when bookstores are empty.
Marti once wrote in a poem: “once I have my bread, I can write.” Stemming from this quote, we could say that once Cubans have their bread guaranteed and can live without literary censorship or bad writers, maybe then and only then, will many Cubans take care of more spiritual affairs such as reading.