HAVANA TIMES — Here in Cuba, if any extenuating circumstance provides some measure of relief against the waning of desire, the fatigue caused by the sun or an environment that exudes abandonment, it’s the conversations one hears involuntarily.
Forced to change a few bills in CUC currency for regular pesos to avoid being ripped off by venders at the market (who never want to pay them at the official exchange rate of 24 pesos), I was waiting my turn in the long line in front of the Cadeca (money exchange stand).
Very close to me, two women were ranting and raving about another one for whom they had worked for as domestics. The apparently despotic employer, their ex-boss, didn’t deserve the least bit of sympathy.
Suddenly, a newspaper vendor who was going by on his bike caused the chatting to stop.
“Hey, give me a Granma,” shouted one of the women.
The salesman then said no by shaking his head, causing the woman to shrug and respond sarcastically: Well, what am I going to do, they’re yours.
The man, who had changed his expression, smiled and handed her a paper. Reacting as if he had been offended, he responded: “Mine? If they were mine, I’d burned them all up.”
The woman who took the paper then looked at him threatening, “Do you know what you’re saying?”
All of this had caught the attention of several people.
The vendor held his gaze and repeated with emphasis: “Yeah. If they were mine, I’d burned them!”
The woman, suddenly looking at him with a malicious and conspiratorial expression, lowered her voice and said: “Don’t you know how expensive toilet paper is? What do you prefer I wipe myself with!”
The man reacted with sudden seriousness saying, “But this causes colon cancer.” He then revealed his ink-stained fingers. When I finish work, you can’t imagine the stench of kerosene I have on my hands.
At that point, people’s attention began to ease up. The man went away on his bicycle, on which stuck out the huge red italicized word “Granma.”
I remembered one time a newsstand vendor was urging people to buy the Constitution of Cuba “for the softness of its pages.”
I thought about the high ecological toll and the domestic role played by the press in Cuba for many years (ever since toilet paper started to become a luxury here).
I also thought about recently seeing a copy of Palante (a kind of humor magazine). Just by looking at the cover one could determine if it deserved another alternative use.
The newspaper “withstands whatever you put on it” is a well-known maxim. But I wonder if it’s worth the sacrifice of so many trees, or the efforts of all the lawyers who go through verbal acrobatics to deny in one legal article what’s asserted in another… or the risk of even further scraping away the sense of words, swelling both skepticism and iconoclasm while producing crushing generalized indifference.
And now there’s the additional risk – a very serious one, if it’s true what the vender said. It can also give you colon cancer.