Monday, April 17, 2006

Of how I saw God one evening in Havana: God's Cigar By Manuel Talens*

Last year, in the month of June, when I least expected it, I saw God, and this is something quite uncommon for nonbelievers like me. But I have to say that miracles are something normal in Cuba. I was in Havana invited by the ICAIC to the IV International Congress "Culture and Development". That day, after lunch, I presented my paper sitting a bit nervously between two big figures, Danny Glover and the Brazilian Roberto Amaral. Afterwards, already calmer, I felt quite happy, because in spite of my dread of having to share a platform with illustrious figures, the audience was very receptive to my words. Ah!

At mid evening I received a note in my room, stating this: "Commander Fidel Castro invites you to meet him this evening. At 19:30 we will pass to pick you up together with other companions in the hotel's lobby."

Before continuing my exposition let me confess to the reader that I do not mingle with people who hold public charges in any administration, neither in my own country nor abroad. But there are politicians and politicians, what the hell.

Some say that Caribbean people are anything but punctual, but I bear witness that at 19:30 our bus was advancing through the streets of the Cuban capital with a multinational cargo of writers, journalists, academics, political scientists, politically committed entertainers and others who walk the cultural tightrope, who were making a fuss as if they were excited children before the imminence of the meeting. The wait was brief in the anteroom of the building which is behind the Plaza de la Revolución. And, suddenly, while we were admiring both Lenin and Martí’s bronze busts that are there, God showed up. Reality is usually more prosaic than fiction, as there was neither lightning nor the noise of thunderclaps nor did he shine with the aura of light that I recall from the pictures in the Sacred History books of my childhood. He rather adopted the aspect of a normal man, bearded of course, and had two eyes, not only one that sees everything from the inside of a triangle. But he was God, I swear it. He was dressed in military fatigues and was walking as stiffly as these electricity posts that border roads. And he smiled. He shook hands with us (I touched God!) and then we went on to a great lounge, which I recognized for having seen it in Oliver Stone's movie Comandante.

The audience lasted a long time. I didn't expect less at such an occasion. God was talking, and talking, and talking. We talked too, but much less. He is an affable, smiling and kind grandfather of exquisite education, with an intelligence out of any moderation, he loves mankind and, especially, is full of solidarity. He told us about his multiple battles, although not of those that happened during David and Goliath's days, but the recent ones, which continue to obey to the same logic, because now as yesterday they are fought between a few wealthy ones and the many underdogs who have decided to resist. I already knew these stories from my readings, though they always sound better on the lips of one of their main characters. Eisenhower, Nixon, Che Guevara, Kennedy, Kruschev, Allende, Reagan, the Bushes¡ came alive through the beautiful inflexion of his words, pronounced with a brilliancy that we the poor humans would love to imitate. Later, at midnight, we had dinner. No luxuries at all, fillet of salmon, a salad and another dish that I don't remember. Ice cream for dessert, coffee and a glass of rum. And to crown it all, God gave to each of his guests a Havana cigar. It was a majestic one, almost 8 inches long, and on its band of black, yellow and golden tones was printed: "COHIBA, La Habana, Cuba". I never acquired the habit of smoking and the idea of turning it into ashes didn't cross my mind. Carlos Tena and Gennaro Carotenuto, who were close to me, also put theirs in a safe place. On the other hand, the Argentinean Atilio Borón, who was near, lighted his without hesitation, but I must say that God gives him Havana cigars with assiduity and it is well known that relics, when they abound and people are friends, lose value.

We had a group picture taken and I managed to be behind God, to his left side, because the other one gives me hives. Later, he said goodbye after inviting us for another occasion, as fresh as if he was just getting up after a good night's rest. We saw him disappear towards the end of the corridor with agile steps of a salsa dancer. One would say that neither age nor arthrosis leave any mark on him, probably out of divinity. Neither then had I perceived lightning, thunder or an aura of light around him (damned Hollywood's movies, which always cheat us with their special effects!) It was three o'clock in the morning.

Two days later I returned to Europe. Inside my hand luggage, coiled in a few pages of Granma, I kept God's cigar as a trophy. The flight is long and I came in exhausted, anxious to go to bed. But before, while at the little entrance garden, I could not resist the temptation to unroll it and proudly show it to my neighbor. Then I went to the sleep of the dead while outside it rained non-stop. After breakfast, I started unpacking my baggage in order to put everything in its place. God's cigar was not inside the newspaper's leaves. I panicked because I figured out what had happened. Indeed it was on the grass, soaked in water and not as beautiful as when I had received it.

Five months have passed and God's cigar has only recovered part of its elegance under my precious care. But I don't mind. Derek Walcott said once that when we break a jar the love that assembles its fragments is stronger than the love that took for granted its previous symmetry. I am going to preserve it as it is the rest of my life and I will only smoke it when at last I meet with God in Karl Marx's Heaven.

The Spanish language original can be read at Rebelión.( )Translated into English for Axis of Logic by the author and revised by Mary Rizzo. God's illustration by Juan Kalvellido. All of them are members of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity.