By Manuel Talens. Translated from the Spanish by Ernesto P?ramo and revised by Ron Ridenour
Axis of Logic
In a place of Havana, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen, etc., etc. Like this, paraphrasing Cervantes, I could today begin this piece that was suggested to me by the recent interview granted by Hugo Ch?vez to Cuban television, in which he concludes his intervention before the cameras by quoting a phrase by the Argentinean Miguel Bonasso: ?Now [Fidel] has indeed a quixotic profile? [*].
Quixotic profile. There have been many painters and artists that throughout four centuries dedicated an important part of their work to capture the figure of Cervantes? hero, that the features he created remained fixed in the collective universal subconscious as the Don Quixote par excellence. The readings of my childhood, especially those about the Knight of the sad Countenance, always took me straight to the abridged edition of Luis Vives Publishers, which was part of the learning material of so many Spanish children and which I still treasure today. What impressed me more about these images was precisely the sharp profile of his features and, especially, that fiery look, like a watchful eagle which allowed us to see most of the white of its eye.
It is amazing the way life sometimes manages to reproduce the designs of human imagination so well. Little could Gustave Dor? have imagined when he drew Don Quixote in the second half of the 19th century that at the beginning of the 21st, reality would replace fiction in the person of a gentleman commander ?quixotic as they come? who, since his youth, has spent his nights from clearing to clearing and his days from turbulence to turbulence undoing wrongs and fighting for the galley slaves of the land.
Computing is a marvel! It has only taken me a few minutes to put together the photo-montage that I offer here to the reader. Fidel Castro, still convalescing from a surgical operation is the resurrected image of the stoic and long suffering Don Quixote of my childhood readings: the same beard, the same eyes, the same nose. How strange is the destiny of this man, which has allowed him to become the reincarnation of the noblest personage of fictional literature, in practice and in image. However, the codes that have led him to such a metamorphosis were there from the very beginning and for everyone to see. It was not for nothing that the first publishing enterprise of the Cuban Revolution was to produce a massive edition of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, a political gesture, which shows to what extent the young leader realized then, that through quixotic imitation ?the culture acquired from books put to the service of an ideal? would lead to the creation of a new Guevarian man (when I say ?man? I also refer, of course, to women)?that is to say, those human beings so generous, so full of solidarity, those obstinate and brave internationalists who, nowadays, are the seeds from which germinate the new Cuban generations.
I will keep on quoting Cervantes. Idle reader, thou mayest believe without any oath the veracity of an incident that I had the fortune of living during a very warm June day, like so many others, in Havana.
We were four friends. The newscaster had informed us that the cyclone Arlene had just passed without much incident through the western end of Cuba. Our plans, therefore, did not have to change. Mid-afternoon we hired a car to travel to Villa Clara on the following morning to visit the grave of Che Guevara. However, before that, we wanted to enjoy the night in Havana. The four of us took the wide avenue that goes from the Palace of Conventions to the sea front. It was getting dark and the sky was full of clouds. Very close to Street 28, it started raining. The raindrops, at first shy like little girls, started slowly, then got very animated until they lost all shame. One thunderbolt fell from the sky, then another, and in a matter of seconds, the heavens opened completely and a universal flood fell upon us. The tropics are like that, excessive to the extreme.
A blackout left the city in darkness and the streets soon became turbulent rivers. Caught in this chaos of surprised motorists, our car moved inch by inch. Suddenly, a new lightning bolt illuminated the area and before our very eyes an extraordinary scene was taking place. A small boat was moving with the current and competing with the motor cars. On the bow, you could see the name of the boat. In red letters it said, ?The Cuban?, and on board a cheerful and intrepid mulatto sailor was tirelessly working the oars, in order to get who knows where, perhaps to a romantic assignation in a nearby borough.
It was a fleeting image, but one that remains engraved in the mind forever. It was also a lot more than that: it was the titanic effort of that navigator, unflappable in the face of adversity, that conveyed the quixotic determination of a people forged in the daily struggle against all kinds of difficulties and who, under the guidance of a postmodern knight, has faced the most terrible tests for almost fifty years without ever surrendering; of a people who are neither afraid of empires nor of cyclones; of a people, in short, who are as invincible as Don Quixote.
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