Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES, Aug. 1 — During intense years of her life in Mexico — so intense that they produced a couple of outstanding twins for us — my daughter came into in contact with a troika of friends: Velia Cecilia Bobes, Rafael Rojas and Lichi. Through this opening I entered whenever I traveled to the Mexican capital.
I met the first two early on, but not Lichi. We saw each other for the first time in 2004 at Velia’s apartment in La Condesa, where we talked for a good while. That afternoon I noticed a certain restlessness in Lichi, as if he wanted to say something.
But when he took the floor, in fact when he took over the setting, I understood that what he wanted to say wasn’t just something, but everything, and for all the time that remained.
He spoke for two hours, elbowed by Velia who reminded him of one and another story that he went on to share with as much seriousness as humor. I remember him speaking to us about a horrifying battle between some sparrows and his sister’s dog in Havana during the Special Period crisis.
The birds were trying to get at the bowl of food for the dog, which had gradually been turning vegetarian, though the hound still proved itself willing to defend its meal at any price. Or I can mention his peculiar interpretations of the Gospels of history that included, among many other things, a virgin Maria with a crooked thumb and some completely disoriented wise men.
From that day on, whenever I went to Mexico I left a space for vacationing amid that exceptional triangle of which Lichi was an irreplaceable vertex. We would speak often and for long periods in his apartment in El Valle while he was invariably preparing a succulent lunch.
In those get-togethers I began to discover the person that my daughter had clued me in on, someone good from all angles. “It’s impossible,” Charlene said to me, “to speak poorly of him.” But I especially started to discover someone who insisted on seeing everyone as good, in each individual case scrutinizing all possible virtues – no matter how slight.
I remember we were talking about a detestable individual in Cuban culture, someone who had to their “credit” as many bad books as repressive deeds. So Lichi interrupted our diatribes to recall the fact that — while true, this person wasn’t a particularly good writer — he was in fact skillful in grammar – particularly in using punctuation. I broke up laughing, though the reality was that Lichi had made a supreme effort to endow this figure with some recommendation for heaven. And he did it with all seriousness.
I’ve read a good part of Lichi’s work and I believe he’s one of the two great contemporary Cuban novelists, certainly an unrivalled chronicler. “Esther en alguna parte” is wonderful. I read it twice, and I’ll read it again the first chance I get. Perhaps because Lichi was narrating pieces to me as he wrote them I lost the vanity of feeling like a pioneer. “Informe contra mi mismo” is harrowing, but at the same time it’s reminiscent of a Havana that no longer exists, and that’s why it stands as a unique testimony for historians.
However I believe that no work depicts the mental and emotional kaleidoscope of Lichi better than “La eternidad por fin comienza un lunes,” with its eccentric but so close-to-home daily characters who force us to believe that life is much richer and better than what we can see only with our eyes and intellects. It’s something more than the tatters rejected by time that were related by his unforgettable wife.
But for that there needs to be done something that all of us say we do but very few actually carry out: what Lichi has done and what situates him on this humanist pedestal that today we revere, he opened up his heart without resentment or reservation.
I became separated from Mexico somewhat since 2008. My daughter left to live in Chile together with her intense twins and her husband, who I got a chance to see thanks to a job I did at FLACSO along with another vertex of the triangle, the charming Velia. Subsequently my professional life veered off toward other commitments, yet I believe that in this long period I called Lichi two or three times and we spoke for a good while thanks to Skype. I always stayed informed of his health through the other parts of the triangle or when we were able to see each other somewhere.
On Sunday I found out that Lichi died. “To die” is a serious verb. It means that one leaves – and Lichi left. I’ll no longer be able to visit him in El Valle, or eat spaghetti with him or hear the story about the dog and the sparrows again. Certainly Rafael and Velia will feel the pain much more, as well as all his family spread around and who adored him.
Faced with the departure of a friend one always appeals to the overused option of saying that he continues living through his work and our memories. I’m not going to come up with anything original. That’s why I’ll imagine him with no merits for hell and too noisy for the paradise of heaven. I see him posed in a special limbo where he continues to receive friends passing through, and from time to time the virgin Maria with her broken thumb and the three wise men looking for the right direction – where someday I’ll go so that he can once again tell me the story about the dog and the sparrows.
I want to imagine him telling us what the magician Asdrubal said to the trapeze artist Anabelle when he was undoing the spell that took him to eternity:
“…my heart is ours…”
Publicado en español por Cubaencuentro.