From the NEA Writers’ Corner
No sooner do I towel off the tepid drops from an early bath when the usual sheen of sweat bursts out of my pores: my skin vainly seeks any cooling movement of the air. Awaiting me downstairs is an ounce of strong, bitter coffee, thick with sugar, as well as the yeasty course roll of my friend’s daily ration, which she gladly gives up in favor of a glass of lumpy home-cultured plain yogurt acquired on the grey market. Contemplating the dusty walk to the bus stop, the inevitable cynical banter with neighbors about the long wait and the cramped quarters of the bus that will bump us through the bay tunnel into Havana, I shift my thoughts to the purpose of the outing. A reading from Mirta’s new book, sure to be attended by a score of highly educated and outspoken women, who will fill the afternoon torpor with spirited analysis and witty arguments about the bleak reality laid out with wry humor in the pages of her novel. This is the reality that I must capture, not only the words of the author but also the context so unimaginable to the vast majority of U.S. readers. To do so I must immerse myself, return in my mind to the baking asphalt and the startling abundance of framboyán blossoms, to the complexities and paradoxes that are Cuba. This takes time. Calm. Freedom from the mundane stressors of university life. So what a gift is this grant from the NEA, which allows me to take a month and a half of this summer off, leaving me with time when I can hole myself up and let the sweat trickle through my brain, a moistly uncomfortable necessity if I want to get this right. And I do, more than anything, want to bring this writer into the light, transport my compatriots to the forbidden Caribbean shores, build bridges of understanding between our countries. Thank you, NEA; and readers, get ready to move out of your comfort zone, transgress the travel embargo, and get intimate with today’s Cuba.