Carnival in Appearance

Veronica Fernandez

Carnival in Havana. Photo: Irina Echarry

I had a chance to go by and see my friend Margarita this past month, a visit that I had owed her for several months. So, I decided to take advantage of things being slow at work.

Margarita and I have been friends for years. We worked together when I had just begun working, back in the ‘80s, at an office of the Ministry of Culture.

My friend Margarita is an excellent dance specialist who rose from an entry-level job to a nationally recognized position owing to the merit she has achieved in her field. She isn’t one of those people who advance thanks to friends, “getting along” or offering money. She belongs to that small group of people who advance thanks to their professional performance.

Because of this I trust many of her opinions since they’re based on her excellent knowledge and experience from the work she has carried out for over thirty years of her professional life.

When getting to Margarita’s home that morning, I was surprised to find her upset, because she’s the type of person who’s always upbeat, optimistic, cheerful and confronting life with the saying “bad times, smiling face.”

I didn’t have to ask her about the situation that had her so depressed; she immediately made me sit down in an armchair in her front room to tell me the story.

She commented to me that she had heard on television that they would be holding a carnival this summer in Havana – news that had taken her aback given all that it implied.

Anyone who is somewhat distant from the Cuban artistic-cultural context perhaps cannot realize or feel the weight of this information, but to Margarita this was something completely unexpected.

She explained to me that events cannot be presented with the sole objective of fulfilling a plan, though adding that this activity had never even been announced among the proposed plans for this summer.

Therefore the processions and floats had not rehearsed even once, the necessary food services dodn’t exist to fill the demand for those upcoming days, and nor were there guarantees as to the availability of audio equipment, platforms, lights, police officers, transportation, etc., etc.

But she was also worried about the severity of our climate during the month of August, with high temperatures that can cause serious damage to people’s health. After listing to all those concerns, I noted that — one again — I had no choice but to agree with my friend. Those reasons were enough to make any responsible person like her feel upset.

Margarita and I fully agreed after having analyzed each one of those aspects. What is going to be carried out is in fact only a carnival in appearance, and it would be better not to have it at all than to do that.

“What is done must be of quality. I’ve never heard of anything that threatens to discredit the cultural environment of our country so much,” she commented.

It’s true that many people are on vacation during this time of the year, especially students on summer break, but this doesn’t imply discrediting the Havana carnival, killing it completely.

I’m of the opinion that things should be done well or not at all. That has always been my motto. I think the same as Margarita, that there’s an abysmal distance between the Havana carnival of three decades ago and what they do these days.

There are many reasons, ones basically having to do with a lack of resources, but others that stem from a lack of vision and national identity. Our traditional popular festivities have degenerated into drunkenness, poor behavior, the proliferation of delinquency and gatherings where the music that hits our ears is well inferior to the sense of Cubania that should characterize these celebrations.

For a few years the authorities in charge opted for carrying out carnivals in February to avoid the month of the most oppressive heat – that can leave us exhausted to the point of fainting.

Why not continue with that alternative? Why not just hold carnival even if it’s every five years, but one that’s respected and that at least resembles the true carnival of Havana that many knew and that was among the best in the Americas and the world? Is it perhaps that we don’t want to conserve that valuable patrimonial seal?

In fact, now is the time to recapture and preserve our traditions. This was one of the guidelines that appeared in the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party last April, but if we’re not able to take into account this aspect that is so important for the cultural environment of a nation, then what we can expect of the rest?