Seated on a yellow sofa, the writers Leonardo Padura and Sergio Ramírez chat about the newly independent Cuba.
—In 1913, only in Havana there were more cars than in Madrid and Barcelona combined.
—Cuba had at that time about five times more GDP than Spain.
To understand that “miracle” they cite several books, but above all one entitled Cuban Counterpoint of the snuff and the sugar, an anthropological essay on the two treasures of the island. Then, the writers will enter the FIL main hall so that Padura, 66, will be presented with the Carlos Fuentes medal. The Cuban novelist will speak of the historical fatigue of his generation, of the great drama of exile and that for him living outside of Cuba would be an exile. Although he has more cousins in Miami than in Havana, the author of The man who loved dogs he has never left the island.
Padura smokes Cuban black tobacco and cannot stand saccharin. He made it clear in the morning during interviews with the press, when they brought him some packets of the bloody sweetener: “This is an attack! Brown sugar, that’s what I want ”. For a second, the almost Tibetan serenity with which he will face the rest of the promotion day seems about to be broken. The sugar substitute, according to Padura, is fatal and ruins the taste of coffee. In his house in the Mantilla neighborhood, the same one that his father built sixty years ago, he has an old Italian Mocka machine. It is a small model. Only two cups come out. One for him and one for his wife Lucía, who has also come to the fair.
The couple has been in Mexico for a month. He arrived in Guadalajara this Saturday from Isla Mujeres, a tiny jewel, barely four square kilometers, off the coast of Cancun. Padura was invited to give master classes for a doctorate from UNAM and since they are by videoconference, he has decided to give them from the beach. “The Mexican Caribbean is one of the best in this country,” he said when crossing the zebra crossing that connects the Hilton hotel, where he is staying, with one of the fair’s entrances.
Upon reaching the door, at the security checkpoint they ask everyone if they have lighters on them. As the writer answers yes, the order is to throw it away. Post-pandemic controls are up. The lighter or FIL. The dilemma is solved by the press agent by putting us through another door with guards who are less attentive to the great danger of arson readers.
In a black leather fanny pack, Padura keeps a kitchen lighter. It is the only thing he found when he arrived on the mini-island in the Mexican Caribbean after his first lighter was confiscated at the Havana airport. This time, he did not want the same thing to happen a second time. He is also delighted with the cumbersome contraption, shaped like a pistol the size of his hand: “It’s great, it works even when there is wind in the street. It also works very well for cigars ”. Padura smokes more cigarettes than cigars. Always Cuban. His favorite brand is Popular. But due to the shortage of supplies on the island, for this trip a friend has got him a few packs of H. Hupman.
Before lunch, the author of Heretics just four cigarettes have been smoked. Try to exercise every day. During the pandemic he lost six kilos but now, he says, he is “fatter than he should be.” For many years he played baseball, his first passion above literature. He recently bought a treadmill like the one found in gyms and has proven the formula that works best for him so as not to get bored on the treadmill. “I put good series on the tablet but I’ve already seen, like Breaking Bad O The Wire, because as I already know the twists of the plot do not distract me ”.
When he finishes the recording of one of the interviews for a television program, he tells the interviewer a detail of his next novel, the continuation of his police saga starring Mario Conde, that taciturn policeman, disenchanted but honest. It is the story of Alberto Yanin Ponce de León, killed in a knife fight between Havana pimps in 1910. The son of an ondotologist member of the Cuban gentry, Yanin was the black sheep of the family. Padura has recovered this story from an old report on prostitution that he published in an official magazine in 1988, shortly after having already published his first novel. “I have to say that in that magazine I published what I wanted, when I wanted and to the extent that I wanted. It was a great apprenticeship to establish the profession of a novelist ”.
For the last act of the day, already with the Carlos Fuentes medal on a blue jacket and a Mao collar linen shirt, the writer is sitting at a lectern signing books for his readers. With many he kindly talks about the characters in his novels. A young woman compliments the style of her handwriting. When another boy tells him his name for the dedication, he raises his eyebrows when he hears his name is Hugo Chávez. He has written to all of them on the first pages “for my dear friend …”. Everyone except the reader Hugo Chávez.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.