Friday, May 26, 2006

Thank you Andy Garcia

Ninoska Pérez Castellón pays tribute to Andy Garcia and The Lost City.
`The Havana of my dreams was a city of lights'


I vividly remember the first time I read F. Scott Fitzgerald's essay My Lost City. Although his nostalgia was for me a familiar feeling, New York and his era were far from anything I could identify with. Then I came upon the sentence: All is lost save memory. I started to cry. I knew then, that my lost city, the beloved Havana of my childhood, would exist as long as I struggled to remember it.

Memories for an exile are everything. Yet for us Cuban Americans, whether we came as children or were born here, memories have to be recreated. Mostly during long talks at the dinner table with our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and from old family photographs that in time become our remembrance of a world that once existed and is now an illusion.

The Havana of my dreams was a city of lights. Not the garish neon lights that once were abundant. I remember crisp bright sunlight sneaking through the crevices of wooden shutters, intensifying even more the colors of old stained-glass windows. Dusk brought upon the city an amber glow that had the familiar warmth of a long embrace.

This time the tears came back as I heard the words: ''Havana has never known darkness at noon.'' The words pronounced by the senior Fellove in Andy García's film The Lost City were his affirmation that the revolution had become merciless, that Havana lay mortally wounded.

Some say that life is composed mainly of dreams, though few dare to turn them into reality. For years García carried Guillermo Cabrera Infante's script, knocking on every studio door in Hollywood without letting himself be discouraged. Despite the rejections, García persisted, convinced that this film was really his personal struggle to hold on to the soul of his people.

The Lost City is an epic. Yes, Cabrera Infante set out to write the script, but his passion for Havana made him write a poem instead. García dared to turn a poem into a movie. And as with every great poem, it shakes us to the core. It makes us quiver with emotion. The actors pains become those we have lived, real and imagined. The love is mesmerizing.

It is the love that comes once in a lifetime and is never to be forgotten. It is the tragic tale of two people who desperately love each other, but time is not to be on their side.

A tale of love that like the tide is never ending, returning to the shore sometimes to caress it, others to punish it with the intense fury of passion and betrayal. The Lost City is the story of a family that became trapped in the turmoil of a bygone era. Of a revolution that turned brother against brother. It is a story we know too well. We recognize it in the heartbreak of leaving behind all that was familiar and dear to us. It is the light we long for, the intensity of colors no longer there, the soft breeze that still caresses us when we close our eyes.

The Lost City is not fiction. It is as real as the experiences lived by generations of Cubans in the last 50 years. It is the story of a world that crumbled before our eyes. It is the profound sorrow felt in a goodbye that might have seemed temporary but became as final as death. It unveils the evil that destroyed families. But it is also proof of the resilience of a people crushed by the ambitions of tyrants.

Fortunately, The Lost City is also a movie to set the record straight. To do away with myths like Che Guevara: a cold-blooded murderer whose victims were real and their loved ones are still around, serving as a constant reminder of his callousness and the incomprehension of those who still wear his image on a T-shirt or a watch as if he were Mickey Mouse.

Thank you, Andy García. Thank you for being true to your roots, even if it is not in vogue. Thank you for the extraordinary music, for the poetry. Thank you for recapturing our lost city. A city we will always recreate in our dreams and preserve in our memory with the tenderness of the lonely children we will forever be. Refugees who, despite the generosity of America, will always carry the bittersweet burden of a lost city somewhere in our souls.

Ninoska Pérez Castellón is a talk-show host on WAQI-710 AM Radio Mambí

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