Teoría y práctica de La Habana. Rubén Gallo. Barcelona: Jus, Libreros y Editores. 2017. 288 pages.
Divided into eight chapters, this set of chronicles seeks to playfully depict one of the multiple realities that, in the present day, continues to characterize that incessant frenzy that marks the typical rhythm of life in Havana. And, beyond the abuse of the stereotype at the moment of depicting personalities, environments, and places, or the intimate reflection of the chronicler, the nightlife of Havana comes forward as the book’s central character, letting us see the sociocultural complexity that unravels in this urban space. As is well said on the back cover, “Havana…is a huge mirror,” and it is precisely this drive between desire and reality that is unleashed in every page of this book. After reading it, the content also leaves behind an aroma that’s hard to describe; an aroma what spreads between the urge to romanticize a hard reality and the melancholic aura that the chronicler tries to affix through his testimony.
From a first approach, running the risk of falling into reductionism, the book can be read as a series of impressions, reports, and escapades that the author, a Mexican-American professor confesses after a six-month stay in post-Soviet Cuba. But, faithfully following the impositions that have marked the historical development of the so-called Pearl of the Caribbean, we must recognize the existing relationship between desire and otherness, strongly influencing the construction and exploitation of cultural capital on the island that is addressed in this work. In other words, Cuba constitutes a game of mirrors that allows for the projection of the desire of all those who have lived firsthand “the cursed circumstance of water everywhere,” as Virgilio Piñera warned in La isla en peso [The island in weight] (1943). In the frame of this work, Havana is a reflection of the author’s most intimate desires. In this way, we must read this book with the greatest of caution in hopes of sounding out what was desired in its imagination.
It is also in this sense that the chronicles position us within a privileged space that restricts but, at the same time, detonates the infinity of possible relationships that the writer establishes with his surroundings, above all, around ephebes, cultural agents, transvestites, and other representations of Havana’s nocturnal fauna. With a free style that does not entirely succeed in emulating the coloquial characteristics of Cuban speech, the description of adventures eroticizes just as it objectifies the symbols that are already understood as clichés of prostitution, the nighttime carnival, and the culture shocks mediated by the precarious economy, governmental corruption, and bodily materiality. Interwoven among temporal leaps, dialogues, and personal particularities, these literary collusions pass through an unavoidable process of commodification: he who pays is he who desires. And he who pays the most can afford the luxury of desiring more; in this particular case, of possessing, if only for an instant, the sculptural bodies of those young Cuban men who unfurl a highly marketable masculinity before the fantasies of the West.
University of Pittsburgh
Translated by Arthur Dixon