Some days are better than others. No one can deny that.
Today is a great day, a high point for me, because today I became an official contributor to Babalublog.com. This feels like a homecoming, and a lottery prize.
Babalú is my virtual home, my island without a dictator, my neighborhood, my family. It’s a very special place, where painful truths are much easier to deal with. Our struggle against tyranny over there and those who aid the tyrants over here is made bittersweet on this virtual island. Without the shared effort, the struggle would seem too quixotic, too hard, too frustrating. But there is comfort here, and fellowship in the midst of horror. Knowing others are rolling the boulder up the hill over and over and over is a great comfort. “At least I’m not the only Sisyphus,” one can say at the darkest moments. We also celebrate triumphs large and small, and good news. There is also plenty of laughter. A Cuban place without humor is not genuinely Cuban. That has been proven conclusively by the Castro brothers, both of whom are exceptionally un-funny, and, at bottom, totally un-Cuban. Pesados. Requetepesados. Bofes. Requetebofes.
So now I’m here on the list, at home, under my Cuban nickname, my apodo, “Tres Fotutos.” Why that name? Many reasons, too many to list. Perfect names have infinite meaning. Nicknames become the person, and vice-versa, in many ways. But they do require some explaining, or, as our landsmann Desi Arnaz used to say, some esplainin’…. So, some brief meditations are in order.
First meditation: Fotuto. A very Cuban word. We didn’t call car horns “claxons” (the proper word officially accepted by the Real Academia Española ). We didn’t call them “bocinas” either. No. We had “fotutos” in Cuba. Apparently, it’s an old word, and as Cuban as they come, derived from the vanished tongue of the natives our forebears wiped out: a “fotuto” was a sea shell used as a trumpet by the the Tainos and Caribes. We Cubans loved the word so much that we turned it into a verb: fotutear, as in: “me fotutuó ese imbécil en el semaforo; le voy a partir la cara” (that idiot blew his horn at me at the traffic light; I’m going to punch his face) or “oye, fotutéame tres veces, y saldré pa’afuera como un relámpago” (honk your horn three times for me and I’ll come as quick as lightning) We also turned it into a noun for an event, when many cars blow their horns at the same time, as in “se formó tremendo fotuteo cuando Adela se paseó por el Malecón con su vestidito rojo.” (there was a great honking of horns when Adela strolled down the Malecón in her little red dress). And also into a noun for someone who likes to lean on the car horn a bit too much, as in “voy a matar a ese fotutuero de requetemierda!” (I’m going to kill that %$#@!&%! hornblower).
Second meditation: Tres Patines. What a role model! Is there any fictional character from the pre-Castro era funnier or more representative of Cuban-ness than José Candelario Tres Patines? What a name: Three Skates, the very essence of Cuban Exaggeration Syndrome . We exaggerate everything, constantly, without limits. José Candelario had one more skate than anyone would need. Superfluity was his very essence, and ambition his chief flaw. What a character: always in court, always on trial for some crime that involved the creative interpretation of someone else’s careless use of the Spanish language. He’d find some way of twisting people’s words to his advantage. Tremendo. A perfect character for a radio program named La Tremenda Corte But he always got caught, too. And he was always found guilty, and fined hundreds of pesos day after day. Justice and injustice, all at once. Theater of the absurd: Kafka in Havana. Tres Patines was everyman, the ultimate Cuban, always too clever for his own good, always itching to find his way around rules and regulations. And always punished for his transgressions. “Aqui como to’ los dias,” was his greeting to the judge. “Here, as always.” When the Castros and Che came along, Tres Patines had to leave too. Aquí mas nunca. Here no more No room for humor in the Revolutionary “people’s court.” No extra anything, either. Nothing used to be more Cuban than having more than you needed, or being funny. That was the old, vanished Cuba, of course. In Castrolandia, no one has enough of anything, lest some relative brings it from abroad, and laughter is always in short supply. Humor can’t be purchased or imported, ever.
Third meditation: Multiple personality disorder. I’m three different people. Maybe more than that. But in public, at least, I have three very distinct identities that seldom overlap. I’m a historian and professor who studies religion in the distant past and writes books with lots of footnotes. I’m also taken for an “author,” or a literary figure because I’ve published two metaphor-riddled memoirs without footnotes. And I’m taken for a professional Cuban exile too, a half-crazy refugee always wrestling with the Beasts Over There and all their sycophants everywhere, always seeking to inflict permanent damage on that Kingdom of Lies that was once my homeland, always “bleating,” as Jonathan Yardley bemoaned in his Washington Post review of my latest memoir.
Mr. Yardley was mistaken. And he can go do his own self-colonoscopy by sticking his head where it truly belongs. Bleating is for sheep, not for Cubans. He has no clue. We Cubans don’t know sheep from Shinola. And we don’t bleat; we blow our horns. Fotuteamos.
There you have it. Fotutearé hasta que se derrumben los muros del Reino de las Mentiras o hasta que me derrumbe yo. I will blow my three fotutos until the walls of the Kingdom of Lies come tumbling down, or until I’m the one who collapses.
Thanks for providing this fotuto, Babalú gang, you heaven-sent gang of fotutueros.