Fortress in Ruins
"A fortress in ruins: All that is meant to protect us is bound to fall apart, bound to become contrived, useless, and absurd; all that’s meant to protect is bound to isolate; and all that’s meant to isolate is bound to hurt." — from Calendar, a film by Atom Egoyan
"One can almost say that when belief in an object or a cause comes to an end, this object or cause returns to chaos and becomes common property. But perhaps it is necessary to have resolutely, forcibly produced chaos and thus a complete withdrawal of faith before an entirely new edifice can be built up on a changed basis of belief." — Hugo Ball, Flight Out of Time
1 Straits of Florida
Over the Straits of Florida a professor asks How is your Spanish and you know that you do not belong. In the airport a mob presses near the entrance, their faces sweaty, pleading, rapturous. In socialism's last fortress your heart is full of hope. You think Am I different yet?
2 Gains of the Revolution
The streets are the most beautiful that you have ever seen. They hold the decay that you have yearned for, the shadow of history whose shade you have sought. You photograph the billboard that proclaims Tenemos y tendremos Socialismo. In the villa you find an American who advises you They all want money don't talk to anyone. His wife is pregnant. Another American follows you into the bathroom saying Comrade we must defend the gains of the Revolution. A guide points to the Kalashnikovs in the harbor We do not want people coming into our country without permission.
3 Toilet Paper in the City
The sunlight is a blade severing past from future. You walk through the streets of cobblestones and palmleaves. You must be tired, comrade, because you cannot remember your childhood. There is no toilet paper in the city. The people purchase the words of El Commandante to take with them into the bathrooms. You walk past the children and old women begging. They must already be dead because their voices haunt you. The museums dream the island and in the dream you are sleepless. Outside, teenagers follow you into restaurants asking for a free meal. You are ashamed of them. On Calle Mercaderes, you are sick and you must sit down. You look around to see if you are larger than life, yet.
4 Stains on the Carpet
On the third morning, you wake with a new resolve to find the truth. Bearing cameras, you go to a village. You go into a living room to photograph the stains on the carpet. You see a neighborhood baseball game and instead of cheering you take a picture. A beggar holds out his hand for the camcorder and you pay him a dollar. The people pay tribute to you. Spontaneous demonstrations are organized in honor of your arrival. A man blocks your way on the street hailing you as his conqueror. The police take him away, apologizing for the inconvenience. That night you go to bed feeling ugly and alone. In point of fact, you are ugly and alone.
5 Photographs of the Moon
Congratulations! You have become friends with one of the natives. You pay for everything of course. The two of you go one evening to the city's most ancient fortress El Morro. The moat is a crater. The walls are mountains. Without photographs of the moon you would not how to see this place. It occurs to you that El Morro is the most modern edifice in the city. You wonder to your friend How many times have the walls changed hands? The pale eye of the lighthouse crosses the harbor and the rooftops of the Old City. The cracks are all around you and you do not love them as much as you thought you did. You hear the echo of laughter.
6 Shit Falling on Shit
It is the ghost of Reinaldo Arenas, the world famous dissident writer. You want his autograph but he walks away. Ah, my old prison he says. Here I crossed the drawbridge with a compass, a watch, some pills. All in my ass, of course. The harbor glitters like a field of coins. The people gather at the low walls of the Malecón, to scoop up the coins that turn to water that runs between their fingers. There I read the Iliad to murderers who understood its violence better than all the professors Reinaldo says. There next to my ward, I recall those furious discharges, those incessant farts, shit falling on shit, the smell of it on my clothes and in my hair . . .
7 Humor in the Situation
You have had just about enough. You feel like a Marxist again but the feeling does not last. Salsa wafts over the walls and you go to the bar for a bottle of rum. A tourist mistakes Reinaldo for El Commandante. Reinaldo replies No I have escaped but El Commandante still waits for his rescue from the tower that he built. You begin the see the humor in the situation and a giggle is born in your throat. The bartender says I hate you and takes your money. Your friend is gone and your pockets are finally empty. Reinaldo says Go home.
8 Money in Baskets
The farewell begins with the giggle. Nothing can stop it. The slogans cannot stop it. Nor can the monuments. The prisons cannot keep it. Nor can the hotels. The blockade cannot stop it. You walk through the streets of the Old City giggling and knocking the hats off the heads of police. You sit at the tables of Danish tourists in La Bodeguita del Medio and drink their mojitos. They punch you in the nose but they cannot stop the laughter. Soon the Danish tourists are laughing. You lose control of the tone of your poems. Soon all the tourists are laughing and George Washington flutters in the street like a dying bird. The waiters and prostitutes gather the money in baskets and take it all to the Plaza of the Revolution. There is thunder.
9 Plaza of the Revolution
The ministries are empty. White curtains shudder in the breeze. Salsa and jazz play over the loudspeakers. El Commandante stands at the balcony where he has delivered a hundred speeches. El Commandante waits for his ghosts to arrive, keeping time by stamping his foot. Heaps of money burn in the Plaza of the Revolution. You go in the airport with the other tourists laughing. It is time to board your plane. The ghosts stand on the runway wishing you were dead. The palm trees bend in the wind and noise. The seawalls collapse and the black mouth of water opens wide. The people wait and wonder what happens next.
10 Kalashnikovs at the Turrets
Home. In the evening you watch images of a childhood on TV. You think that it is your childhood but it is not. On the subway you open dark newspapers and stare into their distance seeking omens. There are the lost Soviet cars, the boats in the harbor, Kalashnikovs at the turrets, old men in the colonnades, palmleaves on the cobblestones, etc. etc. etc. Someday you will bore a waitress with the story of how you drank Hemingway's daiquiri in La Floridita.
About the author:
Jeremy Adam Smith is a writer and publishing consultant living in San Francisco. His work has previously appeared in Fourteen Hills, San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Chronicle, Cineaste, The Nation, Other Magazine, Watchword, and numerous other publications.