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Leonid Lopez: My parents named me Leonid because I was born in Cuba on the same day that Leonid Brezhnev, the ex-Soviet president, arrived in Havana. Today it’s a name that is no longer fashionable. I lived in Cuba for 34 years and have now been in Japan for five months. Some of my ideas have changed but I continue believing in two: I believe in the importance of being able to choose, but also that happiness is the responsibility of each person, and nobody can grant it or deny it. Cuba seemed like a good place to grow up, later it began to be like a mother that devours her children. There are those who believe in the homeland; I believe in goodness. Wherever that exists I can have my nest. Now it’s here with my wife, tomorrow, I don’t know.

Keeping Warm Without a Fire

January 15, 2013 | Print Print |

Leonid Lopez

HAVANA TIMES — It was cold. And the cold isn’t deceptive. It doesn’t sneak up on you cautiously. It hits suddenly. It is in itself paralyzing. I like the cold.

I arrived here in Japan on a December 30th. I was wearing a thin threadbare coat that never promised to provide much warmth. Near the bus stop there was a sign that indicated the temperature: 55 degrees.

It wasn’t bad for my first day of a serious winter. I thought the temperature was agreeable, even nice. But the larger issue was my still not being sure what had made me come so far, nor did I know how to act once I was here. I could only think about what was happening to me as I looked for the bus stop.

I asked for help from some Peruvians, but they — suspicious and afraid — told me no without letting me talk any further. I understood they thought I was going to ask for money, but I continued and explained that I was only looking for the bus stop that would take me to the hotels. They apologized, and one of them tried to show me where it was.

There I was, a young guy who looked like a beggar, clearly a foreigner, and completely lost. But we finally made it to the bus stop. I looked at the schedule and saw that the next one was coming in 25 minutes. A Japanese man approached me and, in his language, asked me what I assume was if I knew which bus to take. I pointed to the schedule with my finger and his face seemed to express his sorrow for me having to wait such a long time.

I didn’t understand why 25 minutes seemed like such an eternity to the man, I was used to it since my sense of time was different. I wanted to tell him not to worry, that it wasn’t anything for me for, but I couldn’t think of a way to make him understand. In any case, he walked away and disappeared as if absorbed into the background.

Well yes, I said to myself, this was a situation that represented my story, calm and quiet. That had been my first tourist bus, since at that moment I was a tourist – strangely enough. I made my way to the hotel looking at a landscape of gray buildings that didn’t seem very welcoming to a larger world. But for someone like me, a person coming from the underworld, they made it so I didn’t feel so alienated.

Then I started to reconstruct what I had experienced: the airport in Havana, the waiting area, the Cuban who was going to Italy and who told me about his life. I remembered looking at the stamps in his passport and seeing that that wasn’t his first time traveling. He already knew what it was like.

Then there was the plane to Amsterdam, the huge airport where I hardly left my seat for four hours while waiting for my flight to Japan. Because I didn’t want to miss that flight, I wasn’t really able to enjoy my first step into the world of stained glass.

Next was Japan, with its the narrow corridors in the airport, the English that I didn’t understand when it was spoken by the Japanese immigration official. I recalled the contempt of his boss because I could barely communicate the reason for what I was doing there (hell, I didn’t really know myself). “I came to see my girlfriend” – that was all that I could think of saying.

At the hotel they spoke very clear English to me. My reservation had already been made. Instead of a key, they gave me a magnetic card. I supposed, from what I remembered from some movie, that the card must have been for opening the door to my room.

I swear I tried every possible way, but the door wouldn’t open. I was beginning to feel horribly ashamed (my first clear feeling) when a cleaning woman came up to me and opened the door just like that. Inside was a huge bed and a table. In the drawer were copies of the Koran and the Bible.

There was a floor lamp as well as a panel with buttons, which I played with by turning the lights in the room off and on while lying in bed. Plus there was a bathtub.

That was the first time I had ever bathed in a bathtub. The automatic toilet had a heated seat and a bidet included – my first smart toilet. I tried to understand how the heating system worked, but I wasn’t in any hurry. Inside was a nice coolness. I almost preferred it to the heat that I didn’t know how to control. I had had enough heat in Cuba. But I succeeded at adjusting the temperature and set it at a warm 72 degrees.

I took a bath in hot water, used the bathroom and washed myself using the bidet – not bad. It even seemed like I knew what I was doing. Fatigue was pushing me forward.

The cellphone that my girlfriend left me so I could call when I got to the hotel was lying on the nightstand. I was almost envious of the inert quality it possessed. I remember that this was why I jumped into the bed, with it on one side of me, and started talking to it as if it were my girlfriend.

I melodramatically told it that I would travel half way around the world again to see her, and then I fell asleep, though it was a dreamless sleep.

I turned off the TV with no problem by pressing the button on the remote. But where was the hand that was holding the remote that controlled me? Where was I?

From the window I could see a small forest of tall dense trees, the curve of the hotel, a parking lot, and the blue and cloudless sky. When I was a child someone used to sing about how there was no sky bluer than the sky in Cuba. But from this window, there was.

But I didn’t care much about the sky. I went to sleep. A hand somewhere had pressed my button. Another hand had taken me to the hotel bed. But I had to get up and act as if everything was real until reality finally hit me in the face – like the cold.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    Very nice. I hope you continue to chronicle your earliest experiences. What do you mean when you say you are from the “underworld”? I would also like to know what you find to be the most striking difference between Cuba and Japan. I look forward to more of your posts.

  • Andrea Tompos

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I also hope that you will inform us about your life in Japan as a Cuban. Enjoy yourself there.