Dreaming in Cuban
By Cristina García
This year I've attempted to read books based on my upcoming travels and I've mostly been disappointed in my selections. But I appreciated this one. And I loved Cuba so much.
More insights about the book from the author in this Q&A.
"Outside, the afternoon light is a dark, moist violet. It's a matrix light, a recombinant light that disintegrates hard lines and planes, rearranging objects to their essences. Usually I hate it when artists get too infatuated with light, but this is special. It's the light I love to paint in.
Last semester when I was studying in Italy, I found the same light in Venice at carnival. It surrounded an impossibly tall person cloaked in black and wearing a white eyeless mask. The person dipped and circled like a bat in a square behind the Piazza San Marco. I was afraid to stay, but I was more afraid to go. Finally the light chased him down an alleyway and I was released from his spell.
The light was also in Palermo at dusk on Holy Thursday. Slaughtered lambs, skinned and transparent as baby flesh, hung evenly on rusted hooks. They were beautiful, and I longed to stretch out next to them and display myself in the light. When I returned to Florence, I began to model nude at my art school, something I'd vowed I'd never do. As I posed, I thought of the transparent lambs in the violet light.
Sometimes I ask myself if my adventures, such as they are, equal experience. I think of Flaubert, who spent most of his adult life in the same French village, or Emily Dickinson, whose poems echoed the cadence of the local church bells. I wonder if the farthest distance I have to travel isn't inside my own head. But then I think of Gauguin or D.H. Lawrence or Ernest Hemingway, who, incidentally, used to go fishing with my Abuelo Guillermo in Cuba, and I become convinced that you have to live in the world to say anything meaningful about it.
Everything up until this very minute, as I sit at my desk on the second floor of Barnard library, looking out over a rectangle of dead grass, and beyond that, to the cars racing down Broadway, feels like a preparation for something. For what, I don't know. I'm still waiting for my life to begin."
(from Pilar, pp. 178-9)
Many unsent letters from the matriarch of the family, Celia. I liked the 1942-1949 series the best. As in, they hurt my heart the most! A few:
The Civil War came and went and now there are dictatorships in both our countries. Half the world is at war, worse than it's ever been before. Death alone is reliable.
I still love you, Gustavo, but it's a habitual love, a wound in the knee that predicts rain. Memory is a skilled seducer. I write to you because I must. I don't even know if you're alive and whom you love now.
I asked myself once, "What is the nature of obsession?" But I no longer question it. I accept it the way I accept my husband and my daughters and my life on the wicker swing, my life of ordinary seductions. I've begun teaching myself French. Tu Celia"
The familiar is insistent and deadly. I study the waves and keep time on my wicker swing. If I was born to live on an island, then I"m grateful for one thing: that the tides rearrange the borders. At least I have the illusion of change, of possibility. To be locked within boundaries plotted by priests and politicians would be the only thing more intolerable. Don't you see how they're carving up the world, Gustavo? How they're stealing our geography? Our fates? The arbitrary is no longer in our hands. To survive is an act of hope. Celia"
" Mi querido Gustavo,
I've been reading the plays of Molière and wondering what separates suffering from imagination. Do you know? My love, Celia"