Cuba: A Poet, a Power Outage and a Taxi

Yael Prizant*  

Photo: Chris Stackowicz

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 13 — Today, some friends and I are going to a major happening.  Our friend Sinecio Verdecia Diaz and another Cuban poet are having a reading at a bookstore in La Habana Vieja (the oldest part of the city.

The event has taken on epic proportions: Sinecio was interviewed on Cuban television, on Radio Progreso, and for a prominent Cuban cultural magazine!  Major press for up-and-coming poets – imagine that in a city like Los Angeles.

Sinecio was chosen to appear on “De la tarde en la casa”, (roughly “the afternoon at home”), which airs at 5 pm in Havana.   He was interviewed about Association Hermanos Saiz’s work with young people, and his own work as a poet.

There wasn’t time for him to present (he memorizes his work so he doesn’t have to read it), but he described his writing process beautifully. He was calm, poised, articulate, and humble. And, we found out later, terribly nervous, mostly about coughing – he had a bad cold!

But here’s the heartbreaking part…. Due to the incredible housing shortage in the city, Sinecio, an only child, lives with his parents in Alamar.  Alamar is a state experiment; it is a super organized series of concrete, once well-equipped Soviet style apartment blocks just outside of the city.  At the moment, they’re “repairing” (more likely installing) cable lines in Alamar.

So, the power went out at Sinecio’s house around 10 am… and when the TV program was broadcast at 5 pm, his parents still had no power.  They called his aunt and she held the phone to her TV so they could hear Sinecio’s big interview, but they didn’t get to see it.  As Cubans always say, “no es fácil” – it’s not easy.

My companion and I took a Cuban taxi home last night.  The stacked collective taxi system here, in principal for Cubans only, is one I wish we had in the United States.  Most of the cars are pre-1960, super polluting (catalytic converters, anyone?) American dinosaurs and their conditions vary greatly.

They’re known as “maquinas” (machines) instead of “autos” and in order to take one, you face traffic headed in the direction you’d like to go.  You wave, they pull over, and you ask where they’re going.  If they’re going your way, you hop in with whoever else is already in the car and pay less than 50 cents for your ride. (The one we caught had three rows of seats/room for 8 and might’ve been a “woody” in California.)

But here’s the part I love most.  Those already in the car always make the newcomers sit in the middle.  Mini stoplight fire drills with each stop because window seats with a breeze are premium!

P.S.  Cuba kicked some serious ass at the Panamerican Games in Guadalajara – more than 100 medals!

(*) This is the fifth of seven pieces by Yael Prizant. The author has been traveling to Cuba regularly since 2003.  At home in Indiana, USA, she is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at the University of Notre Dame. She has been translating the works of Cuban playwright Abel González Melo and hopes to translate more plays for production in English.
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