Events of a distant nature have an abstract, even occult quality in Cuba, as of things glimpsed through a scrim of fog. Last June, Granma, the country’s only newspaper, reported the death of Whitney Houston four months after the fact, like a suddenly declassified state secret, in an edition otherwise devoid of anything resembling news. (Granma features plenty of statistics, state and municipal documents, decrees, ‘human interest’ stories and recipes for pork. News, not so much.) The paper was keeping its readers current with the latest tweaks in Holguín poultry farming, and running Fidel Castro’s memoirs.
I have only spotted Castro once, 12 years ago, at a patriotic rally on the Malecón: a new statue of José Martí was being installed. Martí’s new replica pointed an accusing finger towards Florida and held the repatriated boat child Elián González in his other arm. (‘What on earth are you doing here?’ I asked a Cuban friend in the crowd. ‘If we come to this we get the morning off work,’ he said. ‘Also, a free sandwich and a T-shirt.’) Castro didn’t address the rally. The keynote speech was given by what appeared to be a Cuban Girl Guide, in a green uniform.
The statue of Martí has migrated to a traffic island in front of the Cupet-Cimex petrol station at Calle 15; it was originally planted below the cliff where the Hotel Nacional sits. At least I think it was. I’m not really sure. I spent much of 2012 in Havana writing my own memoirs, and the fact that I’m not sure only adds to the dismal impression I had as I was writing them that memory is never anybody’s friend.
Photo: Michael Eastman at Le Journal de la Photographie