• Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

PROLOGUE Take-off 2, 9 pp

E-mail Print PDF

The “Throw of the Dice” and the Events of Tuesday, Sept. 8, ‘98.

Her day is done and it´s time to board the smallest, cheapest taxi she can stop, trying to make it to the bus station in time for the four o´clock bus. But the traffic is heavy and the taxi cab driver as engaging as most of them seem to be, at least as far as she´s concerned, though properly speaking I must now refer to “me” in view of the fact that the synchronicity of events I´m about to refer to has just happened. It was as if the “dice” (in my nomenclature, the combination of texts I´m having to sort out) had fallen upon the table, every which way, adding their own choice of elements besides the ones I was about to let “my old self” recount. I was already sure of my choice and what would come next when, suddenly, one of the dice makes a flip right in front of my nose, beaming its smile of perfection from my knee up to my soul.

“You mean to say today and not tomorrow is the Virgin of Charity´s day?” I exclaim in ecstasy at my new found hope.

“Yes. I know because I just lit a candle in front of her statue early this morning,” the driver of the cab retorts.

“A yellow candle?” I put in, knowingly...At which, he smiles infinitely delighted. “Yes. Of course. It was a yellow candle, of course... But I´m amazed to hear you mention her name...”

“No, not at all. Para nada. Nothing to feel surprised about. Perhaps this is her way of thanking you for your thoughts, just as it is another way by which she has shown me today that she will be there for me as long as my thoughts do not deviate from the importance of her work... A santero who read me the caracoles [that´s the sacred shells that are used as a kind of spiritual X-ray] told me she often takes hold of me, so maybe this is her way of saying thank you to you as well...!”

His glee could not have been greater at hearing me say this, and he began to tell me about his plans for a ranch, the animals he would keep, like deer and quail and maybe ostriches, as well, and how he was saving to buy it... “You´d better buy dollars,” I warn him. “Oh, yes, I have some right now...” (But for how long, think I, ...patting the little bundle inside my duffel bag...) [Re-editing in 2011, the changes appear as dazzling as the similarities with this remote and yet not so distant past!]

“Well, let me tell you now...For me today she did this much... During the past seven months I have gone by this one building two doors from where I usually stay when I come into the city. Two doors away. Seventy times in seven months or twice that many times have I gone by the entrance to this language institute that I now find has been right there, on that spot, for the last thirty-five years. But, for some reason, or several combined, never until this very morning had I finally taken the initiative to go into that place that beckoned to me as a likely source of work... I mean work that will pay me so that I can sustain myself and those who depend upon me --since work there always is, come payday or not.

“And, lo and behold, it looks like they´ll have all the work for me that I can handle. So she has truly done a miracle for me today. Oh, milagro de milagros, of all miracles! What better way to thank me for all I´ve sacrificed in order to be able to continue singing her songs so freely, when few if anyone would listen. She has truly blessed me on this, her day, which is doubly her day since it is at once the eighth of September, Day of the Virgin, and Tuesday, Ochún´s most holy day of the week. Tuesday, September the 8th. That´s twice her day in one day and twice my luck on her day!’’

The traffic remained heavy and I could see that I would miss the four o´clock bus and run the risk of not reaching the market in time to buy Ochún her sunflowers, yellow roses, sweet honey and chocolates that she loves and amber colored candles. Carried away by our affinities, we talked about my comadre´s most recent dream of the city we had known in our childhood and adolescence. I began to tell him the story right after he asked me if I ever planned to go back to Havana.

--Well, I wasn´t planning anything of the sort, actually; but, as it turns out, my comadre who was recently there says she was dreaming some nights ago that we were both there. She says as she was walking down the avenue where the Hotel Sevilla still stands she heard a most heavenly piano music coming from its site. The melody took her in its wings and she found herself gliding all the way to where a black pianist performed outstandingly inside that old Hotel. His fingers, however, never touched the keys but seemed to slide smoothly an inch above the keyboard. Still, the music flowed on, and on... She was so excited by his performance she called me on the phone and another woman writer, who, in this dream of hers, was also living in Havana. But, once we had arrived at the site of the virtuoso performance, we were disappointed to find no music or magical pianist.

--“Where´s the negro with the piano?,” we protested. It seems my comadre had been carried away by a ghost that only she could see and hear. And you know, I think there´s a morale to that story. It certainly applies to her notion of starting a publicity agency in Havana --a warning bell for me as well, taking my own brand of fantasies into consideration. Yet the extraordinary thing is that according to her dream I was living in a magnificent house in the Vedado section of town, a detail that piqued my curiosity.

--“And did this house have a blue dome?” I ask her, as if already knowing what the answer is going to be. Focusing on the dream she then says, “Yes, you´re quite right, the house had a blue dome and arches, gardens enclosed by a black wrought-iron fence, heavy and tall! The motions of her arms and hands described spaces that I had known in childhood. ‘It sounds like the building I used to dream of refurbishing, where years ago I imagined starting that school I had in mind-- the one of all the buildings I went to school in throughout Havana that I had loved the most. So who knows… Anything can happen. But the part about the phantom pianist and his music is not to be forgotten. I should not be surprised, however, if, in spite of all my misgivings, I were eventually to find myself living there (part-time --like most things these days) in the heart of the city where I was born, seventh generation Cuban, thirteenth generation Floridian --at least (from St. Augustine, the oldest City in the United States)-- grandchild and great- grandchild of mambises (the “liberators” from Spanish rule)...

I rattle on-and-on as any Cuban will once he’s given an excuse to get going on the topic of his ancestral home. For all that matters... If any of it matters, after all, which probably “it don´t,” seeing that time must have a stop and that the latest version of “The Flood” apparently has begun to fall... All the same, for reasons that have been remarked by sociologists, and commented upon --although I remember not to what effect-- Latin women in the States develop a very strong sense of “lineage.” I suppose, when one´s nose has been stuck in the mud, the tendency is to hold on to the memory of a time when one counted for something. Hija de algo. A time and place where you knew to what and to whom you belonged, and what belonged to you... knowing full well where you came from and, so, where you were meant to go, how one was meant to behave...what duties were your own and not another´s, and --generally-- what you might expect from others, as well. If such a time ever really existed and is not merely the result of nostalgia for the unknown we have assumed as known.

At last we’ve made it to the bus station, five minutes too late for the bus I meant to take but with enough time to put a first bite of the day into my stomach. “I will light a candle for your ranch,’’ I promise. He gives me his phone number, case I need his services any time... “Just hold on to those dollars,’’ I say...knowing full well, all the same, that the inflation rate always keeps ahead of the peso´s devaluation and that land is several times more costly in dollars now than it was twenty years ago. (After all, the devaluations inside our “emergent markets’’ is more than nominal since it is not only the national currency that has been devalued in relation to the dollar, but those very dollars in relation to themselves. But, I reflect, in terms of his land-wish project, “deflation” is bound to work in his favor, in the short run…).

He smiles radiantly, trustingly, wishing me all the luck in the world, which is to say all the “work” that I can handle.

At the bus station´s cafeteria, a smart looking eighty-two year old woman who has kept watch over my belongings challenges me to guess her age. Sixty-five, I say, not wanting to exaggerate either way... She smiles proudly, then congratulates me with heartfelt emotion for the Virgin’s miracles on that special day of hers. What greater, better “miracle” than to have found at least the promise of work. “You who are still young,” she tells me while I glow at hearing anyone call me ‘young,’ “and with so much faith, you have the world ahead of you.” Yes, no doubt, just as yesterday no future had been left in my own mind and the past appeared as good as dead.

We share a beer and hold court upon the world, two sweet looking ladies who trust the Virgin implicitly and hold politicians in utmost contempt: No future without a present, no present without a past. But for god’s sake let’s stop sacrificing the present for an unsustainable, unimaginable, uncontrollable “future paradise”! [Counter-reference to Wendell Berry’s ridiculing of the Paradise of the Future, hopefully shown in the Appendix –link here to Ivan Illich, Wendell Berry and Simone Weil, a Political Alternative for our Times. Link with ]

There was an additional, mechanical, delay on the way home so that, by the time we got into town the market was already closed. I thus arrived empty-handed at the foot of my bed where the Virgin of Charity’s effigy, painted a few years earlier as part of a “devotion’’ to her, stands guard above the headboard. Lighting the only votive candle on hand and some incense that is left, I thank her for her simple way of letting me know that what she wants from me is what others only rarely are able to offer --a testimony of her infinite gaze upon our souls, the ability to interpret her song, to voice it: “And so, because at last I have begun again and am set on the track, you shower me with your gratitude when, before, no measure of candles, incense, sunflowers, herbs, peaches, chocolates or golden coins, of dancing or praying, of sacrifices and cleansings could bring forth your grace... Only my concrete efforts to render a precise account of your Presence could bring upon your servant that simple gift of love. And save for me, on this day, and in this age, the kernel of our faith!”

Standing before the image of the Virgin diligently copied from the estampita that the young babalao from the Island had given me three years earlier, I did not notice just then that my own reflection coincided perfectly with the image I had recreated in vibrant water-colors --aqua blue and gold scintillating on her cloak, the waves roaring just beneath the heads of the three fishermen as they knelt in that pitiful boat, eyes imploringly raised towards her figure as it hovers radiantly above their heads and the turbulence of a frightening storm.

A couple of days later, as I stood in prayer once again directly in front of that glorious image solemnly inspired in a moment of both crisis and hope, ready to attack the keyboard with a new version of an old rhapsody I could hardly ignore, the marvelous “coincidence’’ of my reflection blending with hers upon the glass that protects her image, struck me just as the words once again came out of my mouth (but whose words were they, when all is said and done, since at that moment the “vehicle’s’’ identity has been perfectly erased):

“Let those who would speak for me learn to listen first: tell the Pope to stop and listen before he speaks in my name!”

[Que el que hable escuche primero. Al Papa que deje de hablar en mi nombre mientras no me escuche bien...]

[Various related materials might be collated here or referred to the Appendix that will follow the narrative segment of the work; for example: my letter of January, ‘97 to El Nuevo Herald during the Pope’s visit to Cuba, describing the proper scenario for a symbolic reconciliation of the Cuban nation, followed by Ramoncito Mestre’s answer, weeks after the Pope had left, telling me how the article would be considered for publication (in the next century?). This one of many incidents is part of the saga of my uphill quest to drive some sense into the opposing factions of right wing and left wing fascism in our age...]

Postcriptum to the Postcriptum, Feb. 3, 2002 As it turned out, La Maga never saw any work at all from the people at that institute who said they would have tons of it for her coming up very soon. Thus, that September 8th when she thanked the Virgin for the miracle of finding work at last, she had basically been made happy by a mirage that slowly evanesced. Yet the consolation of the mirage was a miracle unto itself. In the meantime, since first writing this Prologue and this penultimate proofreading today, the incommensurable has continued to unfold and the events of that day on the Malecón acquired an unprecedented, additional, mind-blowing supernatural interpretation I´m still unable to evaluate. To keep the faith is a matter of choice! Our freedom goes that far! Not such a terrible freedom, at all, Jean-Paul Sartre, if, as you say “freedom is what you do with what is done to you”!


Carlos to me in 1973: “I showed Don Juan your little note and he said to me: That --cabrón-- is your square centimeter of luck.”


Carlos Castaneda’s

“square centimeter of luck”

now in the form of

Marie Simounet’s* (* pen name to use?)

“Creative Autobiography”:

La Maga´Sway´s:

Includes: Tales of Prowess and Journey to Havana.

(other titles to be advanced after publication of the above)

Lyric anthology, in Spanish, El seno infinito…The infinite

womb. Lyric anthology in English…to be titled, published. Bilingual edition of a selection from both collections. Could be…

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 December 2011 19:52