The Road to Rome?

By Maria Matienzo

Havana is collapsing and many just go on singing.  Photo: Caridad
Havana is collapsing and many just go on singing. Photo: Caridad

I neither have nor need a pretext for my desire to write about the things that weigh on me.  It must be something like this when one has cancer.  That’s not my case, but I imagine that it’s a constant pain in the affected organ, so that even as you tell your friends that everything is okay, you only do so gritting your teeth.

And that agony might be greater when you are expecting some results from a treatment or test that you’ve undergone, but then nothing happens, nothing at all.

I know that’s a bad beginning; talking about death and misery (ugh, it couldn’t be worse).  But the fact is I can’t avoid it any more.  Havana is collapsing and many just go on singing and I can’t just wait for something to happen, because nothing, nothing at all ever really happens here.

Right this very minute if I go out on Monte Street the atmosphere suggests what the name invokes; the columns; the elderly; cheap women; drunks or beggars proposing anything that comes to mind just to survive for one more day; clandestine outlets and vendors whispering about their product.

There are a few stores which sell in hard currency, and several others which sell in national money (MN) with their window displays of bad taste.  There are the places that have been set up for those who sell things independently, or to sell plants, or cane juice; a stall for target shooting.  The shouting vibrates from one end to the other; ham sandwiches or cookies are sold in national currency practically in the middle of the sidewalk by food service workers dressed in black pants and shirts of Cuban white (grey in any other part of the world); and finally, the dirt, the bad smell, the garbage, the noise, the grime, the filth, the dust and the sewage run-off from sites that have been left in ruins due to a fire, or negligence or simply as a result of the passage of time.

At night, the story becomes still rawer.  The odors are still there, and as in a postwar city during the hours after curfew, the only thing that matters is sex: men searching for some cheap favor, be it a teenager, a dwarf, a cheap whore, a transvestite or even a squirrel if it would respond to them, or if any lived among the columns of Monte street.

Reina St. in Central Havana. Photo: Caridad

Yes, I already know that I’m a romantic, clinging to the past, an idealist, but it pisses me off watching my city fall apart.  It hurts me that I don’t even know exactly who has the power to decide about its reconstruction, or what intentions they have for dealing with what was formerly a cosmopolitan place (which I never knew).

It may be that all the responsibility lies in the hands of the indifferent, who have no fear of shelving a proposal in a drawer because their hometown is well protected from the waves of migration.  Or, even worse, it could be in the hands of those who conceive of it as a great tourist center only inhabited by the elite where the prices of the cafes and the shops are prohibitive for natives to enter.  In that case all of a sudden we could find that instead of a city we have a museum.

Therefore – to whom or with whom do I complain?  Do I still think that an omnipotent being known as the State (it could just as easily be called God) is going to solve everything?  Does any solution exist that is not apocalyptic, hysterical, and leads to our demise?  Are there any solutions at all?

Sometimes I think my illness simply has no cure, and if I decide to avoid Monte and go down Reina Street, or via Neptune or down the 10th of October St. we’ll run into the same ruins.  It seems as if here all roads here lead to the same place, which isn’t exactly Rome.

It’s the story of “The Good Pipe” which, in addition to never reaching the bottom, you don’t know why you began.  Meanwhile, my fight goes on; I don’t throw litter, not even biodegradable trash, and at least I write about the subject in order not to be one with the band of the indifferent, or maybe in order not to get used to the smell of urine.

Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

One thought on “The Road to Rome?

  • Maria,

    I live in Chicago (USA). Reading your story brought me a sense of Irony. The neighborhood live in is different than yours only that no sane person would dare walk around in it. Yet this country is “rich”! I do not leave my house except to get in my car and go somewhere else. Murders and shootings are the norm. Most of the teenagers sit in the corners selling drugs to addicts I call zombies, because they are the walking dead. I am educated, make decent money, but chose to move here because it angers me this place exists. I did not want to leave the poor inner city just because I got lucky enough to make it to college and get get out. But I can no longer stay here, it is too insane. I have means to move. Others who dont are stuck and have to raise their families if not in this urban prison then another one like it. Like the situation in Cuba the urban ghettos in the US do not happen by accident, are deliberate constructions.

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