Backstage at Carlos Varela (& Other Religious Experiences)

[tweetmeme source=”connergo” only_single=false]Hi folks. Remember me? It has been a while and I’ve missed writing for the pure joy and fun of it. But between meeting deadlines for MEDICC Review and A Contemporary Cuba Reader, working on the coffee table book Harlistas Cubanos with photographer Max Cucchi, contributing my monthly column to Insight Cuba, and other (marginally) paying gigs, I haven’t had a moment to muse or grumble.

I’ve also had to make time to start salsa lessons (apply axiom: ‘better late than never’) and check out some new places for inclusion in the app; arrange some badly-needed donations; give presentations to students on study abroad programs here; and get my game on in our weekly bike polo matches.


So Here is Havana has languished. And for the three readers anxiously awaiting news from my world, this post won’t help much since what follows wasn’t written by me – although I was integral in germinating the idea, playing momentary muse to the writer in question.

Dedicated readers (I’m assuming there are some, along with the aforementioned trio?!), will recognize this guest post for the anomaly that it is, a first, in fact, since I started Here is Havana in 2009. I have nothing against giving space and platform to other writers; indeed, it would take some of the pressure off me to continually produce original, interesting content. The thing is, I don’t often come across writing compelling or thought-provoking enough to include. About travel or love or politics in general? Sure, but not about Cuba. As you may have noticed, a lot of writing about this place is either didactic or dogmatic (‘preachy and screechy’ in Conner-speak), or simply too light – in detail, truth, analysis or characterization (see note 1) – and downright skewed. Sometimes I stumble across good writing and insight (e.g. Fernando Ravsberg), but about topics I’ve already covered (e.g. Cubans and their dogs; questionable fashion; the local penchant for piropos) or that requires laborious translating/editing.

This paradigm was shattered when poet, producer, and political animal Juan Pin Vilar read me his piece Backstage at Carlos Varela. He calls it a poem, but to me it’s more of a short story, complete with narrator, plot arc, conflict, and resolution (of a sort). This distinction sparked a writerly conversation about craft; what’s harder to write – short story or novel; and what characterizes each, to the visible boredom of the non-scribes in the room. I adore these kinds of exchanges since they make me feel part of a community of writers, something I longed for horribly, achingly for years here.

Compañero Vilar et al help fill this void and if more writing like Backstage at Carlos Varela, comes my way (especially from writers like Juan Pin who have no internet access), I’ll be happy to publish it. Already I can hear him yelling at me in his loud, but loving Cubano way: ‘CONNER! Deja la muela, vieja!’

The floor is yours, poeta (English translation follows original Spanish):

Backstage at Carlos Varela
Por Juan Pin Vilar
for Ernán and Wendy

La religión y yo nunca hemos tenido lo que se llama un romance, ni siquiera nos relacionamos como vecinos que intercambian tazas de azúcar. Sencillamente, nos queremos. Anoche, de algún modo, entramos en contacto sin tocarnos. Frecuentamos miradas, frases cortas y guiños, siempre manteniendo la distancia generacional. La religión es infalible como el tiempo, es el tiempo mismo si se quiere, pero yo represento la escupida de Dios. Con él intercambio ideas en momentos triviales, instantes en que nada trascendental ocurre. Extraño los espacios diversos y me detengo en la cima de la montaña rusa de Busch Gardens para pedirle que no me entregue. Que lo impida todo. Como aquella tarde, en Baltimore, cuando dejé olvidada mi chaqueta Levi´s sobre el promontorio blanco de Edgar Allan Poe.

La religión suele ponerse complicada mientras gotea como víctima. Es abstemia y la cultivan bebedores de sombras. Ahora que no bebo lo comprendo. La religión está en los labios de Yanina: en el silencio triste de su Patria. Quizás por eso, y por suerte, no nos debemos nada. Avanza por un camino diferente al mío, y aunque los dos conducen a La Habana, no puedo decir que coincidamos. La religión tiene todo el tiempo del mundo para memorizar. Tiene células de elefante. Pronto comenzará a olvidárseme el presente y todo será recuerdo.


Religion and I never had what you’d call a romance; we weren’t even neighborly, borrowing the occasional cup of sugar. We simply needed each other.
Last night we connected in some way, without touching. Over and over again we exchanged looks, repartee and winks, forever maintaining generations of distance. Religion is as infallible as time; it’s time itself if you like, while I’m just God’s spit. With him I swap ideas, in trivial moments, flashes of time where nothing transcendental happens. I miss those varied spaces and stop at the top of the roller coaster at Busch Gardens to plead with him not to take me. That he stop it all. Like that Baltimore afternoon when I forgot my Levi’s jacket on Edgar Allen Poe’s memorial.

Religion itself is habitually complicated while dripping like a victim. It is abstinence bred by drinkers of shadows. Now that I don’t drink, I understand. Religion is in Yanina’s lips: it’s in the sad silence of her Fatherland. Maybe this is why, luckily, we owe each other nothing. It follows a path separate from mine and though both lead to Havana, I can’t say we agree. Religion has all the time in the world to memorize it. It has elephant cells. Soon it will begin to forget today and it will all be a memory (see note 2).


1. Many readers write in to tell me they like Here is Havana precisely for its lack of preach and screech.

2. I am an extraordinarily reluctant translator and only endeavor to do it – especially when the words in question are from other writers – when there’s no other choice. I welcome readers to submit a better translation…



Filed under Americans in cuba, Expat life, Living Abroad, Writerly stuff

7 responses to “Backstage at Carlos Varela (& Other Religious Experiences)

  1. Ro

    I like your guest poem/story and your translation! I would just tweak the following:
    “Es abstemia y la cultivan bebedores de sombras.”
    It is abstinence, and it is bred by drinkers in the shadows.
    “Quizás por eso, y por suerte, no nos debemos nada.”
    Maybe this is why, luckily, we owe each other nothing.

  2. Ro

    And it was nice to get your post in my buzón — I missed it!

  3. How can I make a donation? I read this blog faithfully, though I’m an infrequent commentator. I have read about your monetary struggles and have always wanted to do my part. Steven Culp turned me on to this blog (I love his writing as well) and I’m so glad he did. So, Help me out here.

    • What a lovely offer!! Ive emailed you PayPal details., Ill thank you personally in the acknowledgements once I get a book deal (but Id advise not to hold your breath!)

      [she says as she rattles the virtual tin cup]

  4. Gorgeous, Gorry: “Like that Baltimore afternoon when I forgot my Levi’s jacket on Edgar Allen Poe’s memorial.” Po’ thing, that Poe! To be donned by bella’s [un-?]doing! I’m sure the Levi’s jacket made him feel like a real mod’ easy rider. Myself? (O Po’ Money!) –I found my Levi’s jacket (someone else’s) floating in a Venice canal (just in time, since I was starting to get chilly [circa 1987]). We leave things for strangers & stranger things happen. Ah, viva.

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