Before 1986 seldom had I ventured beyond the periphery of El Vedado, which I looked upon as the exact frontiers of the world. La Vibora resounded in my mind like an echo, incalculably distant and, in a way, dangerous. Through one of those twists of fate, what once was a neighborhood favored by the bourgeoisie and certain intellectuals, a symbol of the city's first major expansion in the Twentieth Century and a fertile land for experiments of colonial Neoclassicism and later of Eclecticism, had become a peripheral space, disconnected from the city, far from commercial and cultural centers, gradually losing its otherwise questionable exclusivity. Its style was no longer a cause for its prestige. The only things La Vibora contributed to my scale of values were the well-deserved reputation of its rock musicians and the never-waning beauty of its women. Therefore, its only attraction was its offer of adventure. And since I was never the adventurous type, by the time I was over twenty I was not yet familiar with that neighborhood -- other than having occasionally passed through it.

It was while looking at Amelia Pelaez's paintings at the Museo Nacional that I felt compelled to walk the streets of El Cerro and La Vibora, to walk wide-eyed into the houses of Old Havana, and to breathe with renewed vigor the city's beguiling atmosphere. Beyond style and form, Amelia's paintings revealed to me an environment that was the hallmark as well as cause and consequence of a way of life. If such a revelation had anything to do with the topic of discussions on "identity" that used to pop up at every intellectual gathering at the time, then I was willing to "identify myself" with an environment of which I had been a parasitic consumer for two decades.

it was a house like all others in the city, yet different from all others. It had two white columns, two single columns with an Ionic air. Two columns rising from the sea propped up the entire house -- the boat-house, the cloud-house, the frieze-house, the island-house. Two columns like two groans such as the tide makes when it withdraws at dawn. An angel is shipwrecked in the living room. His laughter is like ephemeral crystal dust. He arrives at the shores of the house transformed into a fish. And the party begins.

the fish: its shape, its renunciation eternal. The fish: its trapeze eyes, its rhombus fin -- its radiance, its trail made of refractions and wily bubbles. It takes a dance step and leaves a mark in the lady's heart. It woos her, invites her to leap, to lose herself in that black hole which the fish's limpid and ephemeral wake has become -- a door into another space and another time. A frontier suddenly multiplies in the wood of the furniture, shining like a mirrored surface. The party stops. The waltz, suspended like a cascade of postcards, spills its notes among motionless feet.

I expected Amelia's house to be yellow, like one of her paintings. I even thought that Amelia didn't have a house, that she had always lived inside a painting. It seemed to me ridiculous and profane to take a bus to Amelia's house. Because no one takes a bus to go to a semi-abstract landscape, to a still life, or to a colonnaded interior. Can you imagine riding a route 37 bus through a maze of a collage some call Havana one afternoon in March 1986? Can you think of anything more incongruous than a Hungarian-made bus and a bunch of yellow flowers in a neighborhood with the inexplicable name of La Vibora [the Viper]?

That's why I felt strange taking a bus the first time I visited the house at Estrada Palma 261. The sun -- it should have been spring, but here it's nothing more than the beginning of summer -- crushed the city against the hot earth and enveloped it in a fume that dissolved perspective and fragmented objects and people. Everything was volatile and unstable, almost immaterial. Going through the lower section of El Vedado it seemed as if the bus were flanked by walls that blocked the view of the sea or kept me from wondering what lay beyond the nearest corner. I was afraid of going nowhere. Of making a senseless, aimless trip in a city that was like a carousel inside a kaleidoscope. I had experienced all of that before, but I didn't remember the details.

the angel, sleepless, sings, showing off himself solicitously. In front of the mirror the woman smashes the landscape with a sudden blow. Right now the angel's proximity is her only shield. Meanwhile, beyond, the smoke of a passing ship draws a parabola of coal. With this gesture the flow of dawn begins. The woman runs to her tempera colors; she wants to save all of that glass in her memoirs. The angel, dressed as a rubber plant, rushes through the arboreal night like fire. Naked, he lacerates the inner fist. Tied to the lattice gate, he defends the commotion the pupil enjoys. It was the final bet, the autumnal loss. No one saw him leave, riding a white horse, barely kissing the ashes with his trail. There was no halo in the stalking that was about to begin -- jealously. Dawn arrived like a soft-textured chalice.

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