July 23, 2018 – Havana
The one I empathize most with is the bird.
I don’t think of myself as a very emphatic person, in general. Recently I showed Leïla the pilot of Rick and Morty. She didn’t find it funny, she said that Rick is very abusive over a little kid and there’s nothing funny in it. Me I never thought of it this way and always found it very funny. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t think I’m a very emphatic person.
When I try to feel what other people feel I tend to do it at a pretty intellectual level, I try to understand, and normally I fail. Of course I do feel other people but I tend to think I do it less naturally than most and more naturally than just a few others.
Still, for some reason I think I am empathizing with this bird.
It lives in a cage which is, at most, one square meter. It’s not a particularly big bird so I presume its cage is kind of ok. For sure it’s bigger than other cages I saw containing bigger birds. There are two branches inside the cage, one is in the sun and the other in the shade. The bird, that I’m calling Victor, goes back and forth all day from a branch to another.
I think no one in the house enjoys Victor’s prison particularly. Actually, I think both Randal and Letitia are ignoring him most of the time. It’s not like a dog you can interact with, for which you prepare food for and that rarely you pet a bit. Victor doesn’t even sing. On the first day Randal told us that the previous bird was a great singer but this one is not, at least for now.
Neither Victor seems to enjoy its condition particularly. It’s not a mammal so I have some troubles interpreting its body language (dogs are easier) still I have the feeling he’s not having a great time. The average house dog lives clearly a way better life than the average street dog. Tamed dogs get better food and perhaps even some cuddling from time to time whereas street dogs eat little and get beaten. Sure thing is street dogs can go wherever they like, as opposed to house dogs that are prisoners when very young and after tamed to the extent that they don’t try to escape anymore. Still, I feel the relationship between humans and dogs, at least in the houses I saw, is a sort of symbiosis. Perhaps, in the case of pets (as opposed to, for instance, guard dogs) is the beast that’s getting more advantages.
Sure thing this happens in the contemporary environment because of centuries of genetic engineering on dogs. Still, today it seems that house dogs are kind of having a good time.
On the other hand Victor seems to me it would have a way better time outside the cage. There’s surely not lack of food around here for it and it doesn’t seem either that the cage is keeping him way safer than he would be outside.
As I said I am empathizing with Victor, which means that I feel like I feel what I think he feels, although he’s probably feeling something else. I don’t like feeling imprisoned in a cage for no reason whatsoever and knowing I’d have a way better time outside. Therefore I thought to wait until the last day and set it free. After all, after setting it free I’d probably think it’s having a good time which would either make me stop empathizing or feel like I’m having a good time, which I like.
However actually doing that would imply creating troubles between Andrea and these people. We’re here because an old school friend of him is the son of Letitia and given how he acted so far I’d assume they may have some kind of relationship still ongoing. This is to say that I can’t assume that leaving this place any interaction with this people would end.
So I decided not to free Victor.
Apparently I evaluate more a very very thin social link between Letitia’s son and Andrea than Victor’s lifelong happiness. Still, I’m empathizing with it, which makes me uneasy.
Then as any good philosopher, after discarding the option of actually doing something, I started pondering on the matter. In particular, I tried to figure out how come I’m empathizing with Victor and why I think it feels unhappy in the cage.
The answer I gave myself after some thoughts is that the cage, metaphorically speaking, scares me like hell and somehow if feel like I’m in it already.
Since I was very young I’ve been thinking of leaving my parent’s house and being a traveler. I thought of going here and there and living a good story material kind of life. I left my parents house when I was 21 and the next year I left Italy. I’m not planning to come back long terms and I’d like to keep moving quite a lot from country to country, although having met Leïla makes me consider the option of being a tiny bit more rooted. Still, my life is not great story material, most days are boring. I attend lectures, make my job(s), drink beer and go climbing.
I do many independent projects with the narcissistic aim of doing something that leaves a footprint. I’m scared all of them will dissolve in a soap bubble, that I will find a PhD and tame myself behind a desk for the rest of my life. Or even worse I might not be good enough to get a PhD and could end up returning in Italy or somewhere else.
This kind of fear, with which I’ll surely bore you more in the next notes, I shall call The Cage, the fear of being pointlessly stuck in a loop, like Victor.
I could spend a lot of time bothering you about myself and how I grow up fearing the cage and feeling very special about that. Still, as a matter of fact, you don’t and shouldn’t give a fuck. Therefore I’ll rather talk about another person you might be interested in. I felt like he also fears the cage and feels like in it already. I don’t remember the name so I will call him Cuba because he was calling me Italia.
Yesterday I and Andrea were going to take a shared taxi around 7pm local hour. Now I know something better than before about this thing so I can explain to you. Private taxis are taxis you take for yourself and bring you where you ask. Shared taxis make a fixed route back and forth. If they have room for you they stop and you just tell him a place. They say yes if they are going in that direction and no if they are not.
Shared taxis cost 1CUC no matter where you go. Private taxis are to be negotiated and on average are way more expensive, in particular for tourists.
We arrived at the closest “stop” of shared taxis and we found four persons waiting there as well. Cuba said hello and introduced himself, he was noisy and was touching us a lot, something I’m not comfortable with. He was visibly drunk and probably also high, he was screaming a lot and moving a lot back and forth. His two friends were more relaxed. The three of them said a couple of things in Italian, expressions memorized for tourists. Cuba’s girlfriend was some twenty meters away telling taxis to stop. We didn’t interact at all with her.
After a few minutes a taxi stopped and Cuba told him that we were six, four going where they had to go and two going where we had to go. He also said we would have paid 6CUC total (i.e. the standard fee per head).
The taxi just left.
This scene repeated more than once and in between those taxis Cuba screamed and complained and touched me a lot (Andrea doesn’t speak Spanish). I can’t say I understood all he was saying. All of them talked with a strong Cuban accent and very fast like natives of any language use to do with each other.
There was no way I would have been able to get all he said. At some point I had the impression he said something about the girl being a whore and that we could have banged her in turns spending 1CUC each. Of course he said this before saying she was his girlfriend. I just didn’t make any comment like you should do when people make certain faces and say certain things.
He was trying to make us feel uneasy, I don’t know if he did it on purpose or not. He asked if we like the island, we said yes. He said the island is pretty but small, that he never had an opportunity to go traveling like we are doing. This because in Cuba there is no money and people are poor and they can’t protest for freedom because there is a lot of police and no one wants to take those kinds of risks.
He made various gestures tilting his neck and pointing at his head while saying this to underline how being stuck in the island was driving him crazy. Also, he repeated more than once how luckier we are then them just because of where we’re born.
It could have been a very uncomfortable situation but luckily enough if you know how to behave you can find a place everywhere. I said, in Spanish “It is a matter of opportunities. I’m sure that you, just like me, are working a lot since you were 15 but now I can afford to make some trips and you can’t and this is fucking unfair”.
With this sentence his behavior somehow changed. He told me he works with tourists selling them fake Cohiba, not Italians though. He said he has a cocaine addiction and that he smokes a lot of weed which is very expensive here (it actually is, even for my standards). I said I thought it would have been 20 years for possession in Cuba, they say that’s bullshit they tell tourists.
Meanwhile taxis kept stopping and leaving. I asked how long had they been waiting and they said half an hour, before we arrived.
I have two hypothesis on why taxis were behaving like this. (a) at that hour and from that distance, for some reason, taxis expect to get more than 6CUC for that route, even shared taxis, even from Cubans. (b) Cuba lied and they didn’t, in fact, wait so long before we arrived and taxis were expecting more because of seeing us, tourists.
Eventually I told them hypothesis (b). I said it was making me feel uneasy that they had to wait because of us so we could have gone in another street looking for a taxi. The friends of Cuba nodded but he screamed not to worry about a thing, that a taxi is 1CUC and we would have paid 1CUC like them yes or yes.
His friends nodding makes me think that, at least, our presence was influencing this phenomenon, even though probably it was not the only cause.
We waited a bit more.
At this point even Cuba was a bit quieter. I have the feeling he returned to a normal attitude at that point. After my sentence, he had stopped completely complaining about the island being a prison and his life being very unfair with respect to ours. Rather he had spent quite a lot of time talking about his job and how unfair this taxi thing was. He even stopped a cop to complain. The dude just left saying it wasn’t his problem if all taxis passing from there were reserved.
I repeated that making them wait with our bare presence was making me feel uneasy. One of Cuba’s friend took a bottle of Havana Club and passed it to me, the other said on other roads, with our faces, taxis can easily be 30CUC, they insisted for us to stay. I accepted but told him we would have paid 1.5CUC each rather than 1. Cuba reacted seriously saying to his friend that this was making a change, 7CUC would have been clearly another story. I don’t know if he was sarcastic but I think not.
This way we managed to get on a shared taxi direction Old Havana. On it Cuba said something in Latin and explained to me that there are places in Italy where they still speak Latin. I told him it was bollocks and he insisted absolutely sure of himself “an Italian told me that” he said. He also said they used to have a car once and they destroyed it because cocaine. He made a gesture titling his neck to show the consequences of such crash and said they didn’t allow him to get a driving license until he would have solved his problem with cocaine, which luckily is now solved.
The taxi dropped them in front of Cuba’s house, a two floors building without a door whose windows have no glass and no other means to close them. It picked up a couple of more persons and left us in the center where we had a regular night, a couple of beers and some music.
Now that I wrote about it I think Cuba feels a bit like Victor, although I’m not empathizing with him. He was right, I’m way luckier than both of them and I was right, although I lied, it is fucking unfair. Although it is not unfair for some absolute principle of justice, I still feel it quite unfair because of how I’ve been grown up.
I think I, Cuba and Victor somehow feel in the cage, stuck pointlessly in a loop. They are perhaps more in it than scared of it. I’m lucky enough to be mostly scared. A part of me thinks I’m having the worst time because I’m a bit more aware and trying to avoid the unavoidable while being scared of it. The rest of me thinks that that part is a cunt and I’m just so lucky to have time and money to think of these things.
I don’t know if I’m going to do a thing for any of us. Speaking of Cuba I can justify myself by saying I have no means to do something for him, I wouldn’t even know what I could do for him, if anything at all. For not helping myself I have basically the same justifications. Speaking of Victor things are more complicated. Perhaps I should free it.
Ok, let’s try to conclude this delirium. Unsurprisingly enough already in the second note I am not talking much about what we’re doing and what we’re seeing. In my defense we haven’t seen much in this last two days. We have been home all day both days because of temperature and laziness, eating marvelous fruits and drinking beer. The day before yesterday we have been to a club.
It was a regular club, looking pretty much like any European club. Mario and Randal say it’s unique, the only one like that in Cuba, offering, by the way, a very safe environment. Yesterday, as said we have been in the city center having a regular beer and live music night, like all other tourists in Havana.
Now I’m drinking a Cuba Libre in front of the swimming pool, Andrea is in it and Randall sits at my left. In a while I’ll probably smoke a Montecristo bought in Berlin or join Andrea. I’d like to talk with Leïla but she’s not very reachable in this days. I think right now she is flying to the USA where she’s going to meet a lover of hers.
I’ll probably see her in a few days in Yellowstone or Yosemite, I keep confusing those names. I can’t wait to kiss her and hug her. Yesterday she had a little bit of an existential crisis that I’m not going to bother you with right now. I would have liked to be with her and support her but I was here so I’ve been with her only metaphorically, which is of little help.
I guess I will have a chance to tell you about her uneasiness in the close future. They are similar and different from mines and make me think a lot. I hope I’ll also find a way to support her with them while being abroad but I’m less optimist about that.
After I finished the previous note Letitia showed us the main Cuban journal. It is 4 pages long and she said half of it is a lie. The publishing house is in front of ours but no one works there. Rather the director lives in it. On the 21st of July it titles “Cuba no volverá jamas al capitalismo”. Letitia says it is so small because paper is expensive and there are few news. I don’t know if she meant few things happen here or that international news doesn’t get here.
Yesterday I was in the swimming pool and Randal was watering plants. He told me that the main news arriving here about Italy are immigration problems. I told him I think they are mostly a rhetoric not to talk about actual problems and that immigrants mostly come to work. He replied that even if they come to work they take Italians’ jobs because they accept a lower salary. I said they take jobs Italians don’t want.
To this, surprisingly enough, he replied like this, in Spanish: “Ah… So it is pretty much like here. You know a lot of people from various areas of Cuba come in Havana to find job. 20 people live in one apartment in Old Havana and do jobs that the Havanero doesn’t want to do. Most of them are cops and farmers. The Havanero doesn’t bother they are around here because they do jobs he doesn’t care about”
Then we agreed that the situation is not so different after all, he actually said “Imagine people from the south of Italy coming to the north to find a job, that’s what happens here”. If you’re Italian you may find this surprising. I told him that’s precisely what happens and we agreed that policies about this are a complicated matter. He told me that, for instance, the state here is controlling this, if you want to move in Havana you need an address and/or a three months permit (I’m not sure I understood him correctly).
For sure he “changed his mind” also to please me but I’ve been surprised to hear of such a phenomenon in Cuba. Just like I’ve been surprised to hear, in that very conversation, that some people here live with 20CUC per month. I think it can happen because the state grants some goods every month and you need money only for the rest. They say those granted goods are not enough and in fact old people that can’t work starve unless someone sends them money. Still, it might be the reason why some people can live with 20CUC per month.
In a while we will eat some more delicious fruits and some of the rice we saved from this afternoon, we didn’t save any fish, sadly enough. Later we will go downtown, either in la Plaça de la Revolucion or at a ceremony called Cañonazo. This ceremony is a residual from colonies. Back in the days they used to shot a cannon at nine to tell everyone the gates were closing. Now they make a celebration every evening out of this.
Both options seem to me pretty uninteresting but this is what Havana has to offer apparently, we will google for more. I’m forming the idea that Havana, like all cities I saw, offers pretty little interesting things to do, at least for people like us that don’t get enthusiast so often. It is always about your mood and more often than not our mood is not enthusiastic. I will tell you again about us being boring people later on, now I have little space left.
I just had a conversation with Randal and Letitia about the embargo. They say things were slowly normalizing with Obama and there was hope for it to get better. Now with Trump it’s not going to happen anymore. For Randal everything was better with Obama and it would be better without embargo. According to Letitia it is better without Americans because they don’t care about traditions and they would destroy arts and crafts in here. She agrees there would be more money with them though.
Still, everyone agrees changes are happening. For instance, now you can buy a house. Before you had to give secretly the money to the owner and then officially “exchange” residences. Back in the days, according to Letitia, you would have ended up on the street if caught doing this. Still, Letitia also said it’s 20 years for possessing weed so I’m not sure.
Quite frequently but not that frequently you see manifestos about communism that are pure propaganda, according to Mario. The seaside is full of garbage and we have decided to switch off the air conditioning because I was getting flu cause cold and dust. More often than not you don’t get water from the sink.
I think this is not all but it is quite a lot of stuff. Now I’m going to get back online hoping Leïla is landed and willing to chat. Thereafter we’ll eat something and go catch a public taxi to somewhere, hoping to get a not so regular evening.
Andrea says rocking chairs are fucking amazing and dislikes cuba libre.