By Carlos Lechuga  (El Estornudo)

Photo: El Pais

HAVANA TIMES – The first time that I saw snow I was in Marseille, finishing the postproduction of my first film, in the company of my photographer, Calzadito. It was a grey afternoon and, without any notice, from out of nowhere, it began to snow. A snow drop fell and quite comically, the pair of us Cubans with heavy coats went out onto the balcony and we took some photos. As it wasn’t a lot we weren’t able to throw snowballs or roll around either.

Calzadito scraped a little snow off the cars and tried to make snowballs but that didn’t work out very well. Both of us had very little money and a very limited diet: every day we ate some sort of cheese sandwich that was called Contadino.

The truth was that Calza and I provoked a lot of suspicion in the small neighborhood in Marseille where we were staying. Poorly coated, always dying of cold and moving around, with nothing to do, we looked like some Middle Eastern terrorists (or at least that’s how they treated us).

For thirty years I had been awaiting the moment to see snow. I had seen it in the movies, I’d read about it, including having listened to the song interpreted by Miriam Ramos that went something like: I’m not going to see the snow… I’m never going to see the snow… but when it happened, when I felt it in the palms of my hands, it deceived me…”

It was a very strange sensation.

The second time that I saw it snowing was in Chicago – in a cinema festival. A premier. I was about to present Melaza, in one of the theaters of a cinema complex of a shopping mall, and in one of the halls on the last floor I encountered an elderly lady. She still hadn’t joined the line, nobody was there to see the movie; however, the little old lady was sitting there on a bench, with a tub of food on her lap, feeding herself before the production.

I said to myself “she must be Cuban”. I remembered how the Cuban grandmothers wouldn’t want to miss a single movie in the Havana Film Festival and thus took their lunch along. She was surely Cuban. I approached her, introduced myself and we began to converse.

It turned out that the woman, who had some very silver grey hairs, was called Ana and was the daughter of the Cuban poet Mariano Brull – no less. Ana was a die-hard movie buff and she never missed Cuban cinema whenever she arrived in Chicago.

Having left Cuba in the early sixties, she didn’t hold a good memory of the interrogation she had to go through in the airport. Although, very mischievously, she told me that on being strip searched she still didn’t know how she was able to fool the authorities and get through with a Picasso.

She couldn’t stop laughing. Nobody could take it away from her.

Having lived outside Cuba, she had children but was now alone. The kids were far away, and very busy.

And despite being in the US, she had kept up the classic Cuban habit of going around with a tub of food. During one point we spoke about Blanche Zacharie (who was family) and her book ‘The Marti that I knew’. Her eyes shined.

At one moment, through the window, I saw that it started to snow. It seemed that Ana saw the awe in my face and took the opportunity to tell me an anecdote of Marti and the snow – that I can no longer recall.

That cold night, while it snowed outside, the sun and the sugarcane at the start of the movie served us well, as us Cubans in the theater were a little cold.

At the end of the movie, Ana and I said farewell; I then watched her vanish into the cold whiteness.

A little, curvy, hunched over Cuban body in the middle of the freezing night.

I never saw her again. I don’t even know if she’s still alive.

On returning to the hotel, that night, I stood in the snow, thick this time, and I wrote the word Cuba. I don’t know why I did that.

With time I continued traveling, almost always for work and sometimes I witnessed the phenomenon again. Being in Norway, I had the opportunity to go to visit my friend Nicolas in Lillestrom.

My friend, a real joker, was the only black fellow in the neighborhood. Nicolas had changed, his joyful, carefree spirit, had disappeared. His skin was lighter, grayish, and his face was somewhat absorbed all the time.

His wife Inga and his daughter received me with a lot of love. They placed me in the room that was underground. On the ceiling, there was a small window where you could see the snow that was there outside.

Above the bed where I went to sleep there were hundreds of seals and paper prizes that were the daughters on account of her being a horse trainer who’d won many prizes.

At one moment; I don’t know whether it was late or early as the climate was very strange, I peeked out the window and saw a deer. A little deer. This made me feel very sad. How had Nicolas survived here? Didn’t he dance Salsa? Who did he talk baseball with? His wife liked woman’s handball…

Anyway, the thing is that, in the morning, Nicolas took me to the forest to hunt hares. I know that it sounds odd and it appears even worse, but this is how it went. Two Cubans with shotguns, in the middle of the Norwegian forest, alongside a Norwegian couple that took a dog along. The dog was in charge of searching for the hare and of enclosing it’s escape route so that it ran in front of us. It was then that it had to be shot at… and that was that.

While we trekked through the snow, I tried to open myself up a little and thus get Nicolas to open up too. To see if he was okay, I could have helped somehow with my warmth from having recently arrived from Havana. Yet he was more closed than a padlock. At one point I said to him: “bro, I don’t know how you deal with this climate. The coldness of the air, the people.

Nicolas bore a faint smile and told me: “at first it wasn’t easy, but little by little I became accustomed. Now I cannot imagine myself living far away from this. Here in the forest I find my mushrooms and fungi to eat… and when the girl was little, playing with her and making snow angels was something very special.

Inside the forest we only heard our footsteps and felt the taste of our lips on the canteen. A canteen that I had tried to fill with an Añejo 7 Years that Id brought him as a gift and which he ended up filling with a homemade red fruit liqueur…

I didn’t want to interrogate anymore. I felt wet feet and dirty snow stuck to my boots. That was when Nicolás looked at me and said: “Carlos, you are wrong. You have a very confused head. I don’t have to dance, or drink rum, or be aware of what’s going on there [in Cuba] to know who I am. I am Cuban, but Cuba, with capital letters, in which we all think, those on the inside and on the outside… this Cuba does not exist. It’s an idea. And, like all ideas, today you may have it and not tomorrow. Today it can be a beautiful idea yet later on no…”

I don’t know why I bothered. I stopped a second and he kept moving forward. His steps in the snow looked immense. Dogs were barking. A bug passed and he pointed: he took the red eye from the white rabbit.

Now, here in Havana, about to end 2019, it starts to cool down. Most friends are in their provinces, celebrating with families, and the meeting bar has been left empty. I hate the melancholy of the 24th and the 31st.

I think of Cuban friends who are in the snow, far from this land. Some of them may find happiness in being away, being in a different setting, a scene of foreign films.

They say that each snowflake is different – special.

I look at this comedown of mine and I appreciate that it doesn’t snow here.

There are not enough coats, the houses were not designed for the snow… nor people’s characters…


10 thoughts on “Cubans in the Snow

  • I just got back from Cuba I’ve been there for the second time and I will return I love the people they are very friendly I was a little sad to see the living condition there are in. I will keep returning to Cuba and visit as much as I can, packed with things they don’t have or having a hard time to get they are so thankful for everything.

  • Loved your writing! We just returned from Cuba for the first time. It is a country full of beautiful, lovely people and we hope to return soon!

  • First time this Cuban boy saw snow was…
    When I boarded a plane straight outta basic training graduation and landed in Fairbanks, Alaska in the month of March. You can keep your snow and ice, doesn’t interest me one bit.

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