HAVANA TIMES, March 8 — When I was a little girl, I remember having seen my mother standing in the kitchen doorway on more than one occasion with a depressed look. When I would ask her what was wrong, she would respond, “It’s that I don’t know what I’ll cook today.”
I would simply shrug my shoulders and then scamper away to play. It wasn’t a serious concern for me. I figured she would come up with something.
Now I’m the one standing in the kitchen doorway with that same expression and the same question.
I don’t want my anguish seen by my husband – who long ago gave up his dream of accumulating enough paintings for an exhibit and painting small landscapes in search of a formula that would attract tourists (who knows what formula, the laws of the market are so mysterious, so capricious!).
I want my son to shrug his shoulders and scamper away to play on the computer, where there reigns a world that is less rigid, with less voracious laws. So, I contain my exhortations when I’m about to yell at him to save electricity…when I’m about to scream that I don’t even know how we’re going to pay the light bill.
Since I don’t have a way to print my scripts for the radio program where I work, once again I won’t be able to collect my full pay (which, of course, not even when I receive it in its entirety is enough to stretch to the end of the month).
“How did we get to this point?” I wonder. For several weeks I’ve felt like each patch of solid ground simply appears, like by miracle, just when I think we’re about to fall into an abyss. At night I’ve had nightmares and I wake up struggling with my asthma. I remember that Van Gogh once spent the money sent to him by his brother for food to buy frames for his paintings, though something gnawed implacably in his stomach and he saw everybody in one single color: yellow.
I remember Isadora Duncan, the US dancer who along with her mother spent days eating only tomatoes with salt… I remember Saint Francis of Assisi preaching love and compassion while he wandered the streets shoeless and with his stomach never full. This was because he left a space for that void, that chance to live from day to day without accumulating things, like the birds do.
So, this reason for which people in the world work, hold stable jobs whose wages allow them to feed themselves, dress themselves, educate their children, and even save a little to enjoy an occasional trip, is this so bad?
In the 1980s I had the privilege to go on vacation at the Varadero beach resort here. I stayed in a hotel, paying for it with my own savings, the fruit of my labor as a telephone operator. Back then the world seemed more logical, but that’s been a while! Now I don’t even remember the pleasure of paying for a taxi knowing that I wasn’t infringing on money that should go for food.
I no longer remember what it’s like to match my clothes with my shoes because for years I’ve only been able to “enjoy the luxury” of owning one pair.
The other day a friend told me about her first trip abroad, many years ago: “That was when I discovered that stockings come in different sizes,” she suddenly told me. “What?” I asked her, astonished. “Sure,” she exclaimed laughing. I always thought that stockings were in a single size. If they were too big you could tuck them in, while if they were too small you could stretch them to fit. In Venezuela I found out that you could buy them according to the size of your feet! “
What could my son (born in the middle of the Special Period crisis) know about any of those details so distinct from the eternal abstinence we practice, the eternal goal of enduring, waiting, with some sporadic escape into a moment of delight (like a cup of Nestlé ice cream that for long periods we’re unable to savor and that I’ve never been able to buy with my wages).
This was until Bernardo de Quintival, a pupil of Saint Francis of Assisi, said that abstinence can only be practiced in relation to what has been consciously experienced. Suddenly I understood those old people who talk so much about food and even hide money — their own or stolen — to be able to relish taste, going so far as to hide cookies and candy. I understand their uncertainty about their next step; it could be one into the void.
I understand their voracity for all of the sweetness they had refused during the time they worked hard, very hard, for a better tomorrow. For my mother, that tomorrow was in that distant blue line that she showed us from the roof of our building. It was the line that we would travel by airplane and that would carry us to the candies, toys and clothes with the fragrance of “outside” (so similar to that scent in today’s stores where they sell in hard currency, though these are “inside” the island).
The circle closed when my own son told me that he doesn’t intend to live in Cuba…that he has everything thought out about living in a country “with a future.” He asked me if dinner would be ready soon, and he returned to his kingdom that only requires a binary code (and electricity). Meanwhile I haven’t figured out what I’ll cook, and he still has the pleasure of ignoring my fear, that of not seeing the ground beneath my next step.