Authors Around the World is a new series from the Restless Blog through which we’ll be bringing you interviews with global authors about the places they hail from.
With us in this first installment is Cuban author, photographer, and blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. Now a resident of the United States, OLPL (as he is known) is the webmaster for the blogs Lunes de Post-Revolución and Boring Home Utopics and the author of Abandoned Havana, a book of original photographs and short essays about Cuba, out now from Restless Books.
Here, OLPL talks with us about what Americans misunderstand about Cuba (and what Cubans misunderstand about America), what the Castros read, and "the beauty" of the island's "barbarity."
1. Describe your preferred writing space when you’re in Havana and how you write while you're away from home.
A very old house where I lived last year in the corner of 66th and 23rd streets, in the famous Buenavista neighborhood. After midnight, when neighbors remain silent, and Havana is as mute as its capital letter H in Spanish. Now, my homeland is my laptop. My preferred space to write is, by force, my own body. There's no home anymore for me. I hope my literature will take advantage of such intense isolation, instead of complaining from "northtalgia" as many Cuban-American writers do.
2. As a writer, what’s the most inspiring thing to you about Havana?
The beauty of its barbarity, the rhetoric of its ruins. Tons of tender details in the time of totalitarianism. People. I miss looking people in the eye and reading what's hardly hidden for me as a writer: how perverse and how naïve they can be. I haven't departed in many ways. If I realize I'm not there anymore, I will stop writing all of a sudden.
3. What about living in Havana (or Cuba) is most difficult to convey to people from elsewhere?
We are not there. Take a look at Cuban official suicide statistics, for example. We are anywhere else. Please, do not give credit to half a century of Castros administration. It's our fate as irreplaceable imaginary island.
4. What’s the first book you would recommend to a visitor to Havana who wants to understand the place?
Hopefully, Milan Kundera's novels and short stories. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for sure. Kundera is not only actual in Cuba today: he comes right from our futile future. Given that the Nobel Prize is denied to him for being obsoletely anti-communist, The Cuban Ministry of Culture should award him with our National Literature Prize.
5. What is your favorite idiom in Spanish? What is the most difficult word or phrase to translate from Spanish, and how would you define it?
I'm an idiot with idioms: all of them seem out-fashioned to me. But the most difficult word to translate from Spanish is a name: Rosa María. I dare not define it.
6. What’s the literary culture like in Havana today? Who are its literary icons, past and present?
There is literature and there is culture in Havana today, but there is no literary culture at all. Castroism has made it impossible for Cubans to create credible icons anymore. That's one thing we should be grateful for ever after these never-ending years of Revolution.
7. What do Americans misunderstand about Cuba? What do Cubans misunderstand about America?
Americans ignore that Cuba is not the victim in this equation, but the imperialistic radical right-winged State monopoly.
Cubans know more of America than most Americans: We feel that this is the country that has come closest to the concept of communism. That's why we keep coming here to the point that our population is now decreasing.
8. What do you think the Castros read?
I can publicly guarantee that Fidel Castro has never read a single book written by a Cuban author (while in university, he memorized many José Martí's quotes only to imitate his speeches). And Raul Castro reads Fidel Castro. That's it.
9. What’s an apt metaphor for being a writer in Cuba?
Absolute white, snow blindness, Alaskabana, a deserted desert, Habanalliteration, and other metafossil metaphors….
10. Tell us your favorite local joke.
There were many jokes in Revolutionary Cuba involving Fidel and the American and Soviet Presidents. But nowadays we laugh much less in Cuba. Then, the last joke I ever heard on the Island was kind of a post-modern meta-joke:
Fidel and Gorbachev and H. W. Bush suddenly died at the same time. They found themselves at hell's gates and the Devil cannot believe his own eyes: "What?! I guess now you are gonna tell me this is just one of those old Cuban jokes."