Fulano? She is in Guanajuato. Menganita? At the Boston Ballet. Ciclano? With Maurice Béjart. Zutanito? Up a small staircase in Miami. Esperanceja? Things have not gone so well for her. She’s giving ballet classes in Barcelona. And so it went as I spent the day with five friends, all former ballerinas with the National Ballet of Cuba, two of them for certain, part of the enormous masses who have settled “outside.”
They did not have to close the doors behind them, in contrast to most of the oddballs in the arts. Doctors are penalized for leaving the country, and that penalty increases and is extended to their families if they “desert” while on a work assignment or on an international mission. It is the same for university professors, military officials and mid-level managers. They must wait for five years after leaving their former professions before asking permission from the appropriate ministry if they want to travel for personal reasons.
Getting back to the conversation with my friends (remember that the microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm), none of the ballerinas about whom I inquired, all of whom had been more or less successful, had considered returning home. When their longing becomes too great, they put on an album by María Teresa Vera or VanVan. On that weekend they were stuffing themselves with pork and black beans.
“You lose so much,” said one of my friends, who had spent twenty years complaining about Madrid’s weather. “You miss your family, your neighborhood, friends, different places. It’s very hard.” The daughter of my friend, who was no longer a child, had studied management, owned her own apartment and car, and preferred to vacation in St. Petersburg. Her own mother tried to convince her to come to Varadero, but she preferred the Maldives.
I pointed out to my friend that, if she were in Cuba, her daughter would be living with her, she would be struggling with mass transit, and would know the Maldives only from magazine photos. She regained her composure and sat down. I praised her figure and asked if she was “doing something” (weight lifting, botox, liposuction). No, none of those things. Just an organic diet and skin care because of the dry climate. She told me she was using Mercadona creams. Judging by the results, some brands must be better than others. It was disappointing to her that I looked my age.
“If you think about it, were are the losers. We had to leave everything behind. I had to deal with the disapproval of others. That is no longer the case, but when I left, it was. And no matter what you want, it is never the same. It is what it is,” she said with conviction.
I think I understand her. Feelings of longing and rootlessness can be very strong. As everyone says, the food is not the same, the sky is a different color, and so on. I don’t have these feelings. My spiritual emptiness is of a different sort.
“We are all losers. It is just that it is less noticeable on you,” I said smiling.
August 20 2012