Sunday 18th March 2018
I arrive home just after noon, from a 21.1-mile run. The effort leaves me gasping for air on the bathroom floor and clutching a carton of apple juice, which I grab from the fridge just before making it up the stairs. The bathroom window is open; maybe the other lodger or the landlord has just had a shower. The mirror is still misted-up. A cool breeze sneaks in. I stretch my tired limbs: legs, arms, hands, fingers. I pull and press muscles. I enjoy this instant of self-inflicted, marathon-training-related masochism. I take a sip from the carton of apple juice. The fridge-cooled liquid travels down my throat, the sugar rush leaving a much-welcomed, pleasant sensation and eliciting an unconscious moan. I get up, take my clothes off and step into the shower. I let the warm water fall all over me. The window is still open but for a second I just stand and soak in this moment: cool breeze through the window, hot water on my body.
The mirror mists up again.
Monday 19th March 2018
Just when you’re ready to press “delete winter” and select “fast forward to spring” on your very own customised weather app, a cold snap leaves the shed in the garden “wearing” its latest early-morning fashion statement: icicles.
When I get back home it’s still light outside. In less than a week the clocks will change again. Just like I have had to change my own “clock” in the last couple of weeks. Funny how life as an ex-partner becomes a series of routines one didn’t have before. Whereas a partnership entails shared duties, not necessarily explicitly stated but certainly almost telepathically agreed upon, a solitary existence demands the acquisition of norms and ways of being one didn’t even think one had in the first place.
Trainers under the radiator, along with some of my other pairs of shoes, jumper in one of the bed drawers, socks and underwear in the white laundry basket. The room is still small but it looks tidy. The world is better now.
Tuesday 20th March 2018
I went to see a Polish movie at the ICA tonight. It was called “Beyond Words” and at first sight it dealt with an issue close to my heart: a father-and-son relationship. Yet, thinking about the feature and peeling the layers off it after I left the Institute of Contemporary Arts, I realised that there was an overarching theme: immigrants and how they see their host country. And how their host country sees them, which is just as important. Mirrors do talk back. Michael is a successful Polish-born lawyer. Yet for all his perfect-sounding German that makes him blend in easily in 21st-century Berlin, he is still looking for a real identity. This identity conundrum is further complicated when a man, claiming to be his father, turns up out of the blue. The two of them spend some days together trying to work out trust-related issues. Michael’s father, a Polish bohemian with very unorthodox ideas about life in general, brings chaos into his son’s otherwise orderly life. Whilst at the beginning we see resistance from Michael to this onslaught, little by little he begins to relent and finally surrenders to the only link to his native Poland. At the same time there is another narrative going on. One which is just as important as the father-son puzzle. This subplot involves Michael and his employer and friend, German-born Franz. Asked by the latter to defend an African poet applying for asylum, Michael refuses on the grounds that the case is a lost one. In reality, it is Michael’s prejudices against the African man that stop him from taking his case on. In an ironic and sad twist, Franz reveals a hitherto hidden side of him. He doesn’t see Michael as an equal. Just like Michael doesn’t see the African man as an equal.
The film made me question my “Cubanness”. After 20 years in the UK, how much of Cuba is there still in me and how much of Britishness? As soon as I got home I scanned my new place for signs of “Cubanness”. Other than music and books, all I could find was a Cuban flag on the side of a jar of Cuban honey, kindly gifted to me by D. For some strange reason I also suddenly recalled some lines from Paul Muldoon’s poem “Cuba”, in which he never mentions my country, but does allude to Kennedy, “nearly an Irishman/So he’s not much better than ourselves”.
This question of identity and belonging, to me, was the main theme in “Beyond Words”. The (almost) demand on an immigrant to conform to a pre-established concept of authenticity. This concept can be laid down either by the immigrant themselves, or the host country, or both, following a centuries-old unwritten agreement whereby we do not deviate from our pre-assigned roles. Yet, what happens when we do? This is exactly what makes Michael’s father run away from his son when the latter cracks a well-known Polish joke. The words are Polish and so is the wisecrack but the man telling them… what is he? Michael’s father is not the only person estranged from something or someone. Michael himself is estranged from his culture. I don’t think I have reached that point yet, nor do I think I ever will, but certain attitudes do set me apart from what would normally be labelled “Cuban culture”. And yet, isn’t there an incongruity in that very term? For what is culture but an ever-shifting, always-forward-looking phenomenon? Am I to be only salsa, sun and sand? Who decided that?
I go to sleep and the last image before I drift off is that of a pebble thrown with intent and purpose across a lake by a child. The stone leaves a choreography of uniformly-shaped outward-fanning ripples.