Marquez & Company
In Miami I go across Calle Ocho, then to La Carreta and Versailles; but I am really thinking of moving from island to island in a Royal Copenhagen cruise ship, if also being an earth person practising the Santeria religion. It’s life with the Marielitos, see. Cubanos, los exilios, everywhere. Miami Vice, too, as I am not far from Bayside. Old Blue Eyes Frank Sinatra, Al Capone, Gloria Estevan, Elizabeth Taylor: homes of the rich, the famous, across the waters. Oh, make-believe it all is. And indeed, the Santeria religion comes from Oriente Province in Cuba, no? Ah, Batista, “the handsome mulatto.” Mother-earth’s drums beating. Was Batista’s father pure white, not unlike Castro?
Revolucion! I hear.
Now bone-thin this woman, like coiled wire: she’s less than five feet tall; she comes and sits next to me and starts talking of a “virus” (she calls it). She’s from Little Haiti, she says. Do I know Vodou? Not the Santeria religion? “There’s more,” comes her distinct lilt, rhythm. And the word virus was written by her professor on her essay; he’s someone from an eastern seaboard university, she emphasizes.
“I asked him too many questions,” she says, beating at her wrist. “Not because I have AIDS, see.”
I make up my mind, I will visit Little Haiti. Miami’s still the purest Caribbean place, like nowhere else.
The Virus–she yet calls herself, this mock-humour; and maybe she wants reassurance; as she is homeless, stateless in Miami. She sulks.
But once more the shuttle-bus driver, Stavro, wants to take me around. Maybe away from her. The Virus pouts. In his fifties, Stavro can pass for a businessman, in the South only. “There are too many cultures in Miami,” he tells me, casually sort of. The Virus makes a face, a really sad face.
“Earth people are moving around, see; they’re now everywhere; they mainly come from Cuba to practise their religion here,” Stavro mulls. “This cult…” What cult? “Christianity and African slave spirits combined; maybe it’s what everyone’s longing for, freedom!” In America?
Stavro balks. “Here we’re all foreigners, amigo.” He calls me that, amigo. His smooth round face breaks into a grin. Traffic blares. A boat cruise is in my line of vision, even as I keep wanting to be a genuine earth person.
Stavro keeps talking: wants me to know that he recently migrated from San Juan Capistrano where he lived for thirty- five years; he once owned a beautiful home there; and he’d been happy in California.
Dance of the spirits, the Marielitos, note well. Do I really want to be on a cruise ship in Miami waters? The Royal Copenhagen…the waves keep rising.
Stavro tells me next that his wife became an alcoholic, so what could he do? He shakes his head and berates: “There were bad spirits in her.” He pulls at the steering wheel of the shuttle- bus, swerves hard; even as I think of the Virus again; then, of Stavro’s wife left behind. Oh, Stavro wanted to exorcize her bad spirit; and is it why he’s come to Miami? Here he’s starting a new life, he says; but he pines for the good old days in California.
Do I also?
“See, I end up marrying again, now to my real childhood sweetheart,” Stavro smiles amiably. A new life in the making, I think. “She’s from Colombia; she’s now here in Miami with me.” Not from Cuba?
He focuses on the traffic ahead. “You can’t trust anyone in Miami these days,” Stavro adds, swerving against the oncoming traffic; he grips the steering wheel harder. “It’s Latin culture, it’s what I’m getting at, see.” He’s riveted, and I figure we’re safe, earth spirit and all. “My daughter,” Stavro goes on, moving down Ponce de Leon Boulevard, “she’s my only child…she’s still in touch with me. But it’s her mother she’s really close to.”
We’re heading for Coconut Grove, Coral Gables. We will return to Miami Beach later. Not to see the Virus again? Oh, Little Haiti.
“I once used to know Gabriel Garcia Marquez,” Stavro tells me next, as he drives slowly, and his eyes light up. I look at him intensely.
“Are you a writer also?” he tries with me.
“Marquez is from Colombia, see,” he wants me to know this fact, like eternal truth.
I must. Colombia is really his wife’s place of birth, no?
“A famous writer can do things to a people’s spirit,” Stavro continues. “You must read him, Gabriel Garcia Marquez,” Stavro emphasizes, one hand thrusting out at me. The ground dances everywhere in the unbearable heat in South Florida. Stavro and I are no longer strangers. Odd, I conjure up the Virus again, and her professor asking the students in his class questions about where they came from. Not if they have AIDS? Did he really? The Santeria religion’s everywhere, I conceive.
Christ, I’m at a standstill. Stavro pulls the shuttle bus to a sudden stop. Real sudden.
We are here, he tells me.
Coconut Grove, downtown: I get off at CocoWalk, and meander along. Blacks have been living here for centuries, I’ve been told, repeating this to myself. Bahamians, first- comers…they still are. A tallish black woman comes near me, she’s in her late twenties; she moves languorously…as if circling me. “Here poor Africans live alongside rich whites,” she says to me, as if it’s all I want to know; she saps her face with a handkerchief because it’s so hot. More humid than before.
She walked all the way from downtown Miami to be here, she tells me with an unexpected casualness.
Imagine that. Not like the one who calls herself the Virus?
Glenestine is the woman’s name; she breathes hard near me on the sidewalk, like our appointed place. Her lips are peeled, burnt-looking, and white spots I focus on. She emphasizes each word in a strange way; her eyes flicker strangely. Ah, Koombai, a festival outpouring of the spirit, I must know about. Really know about? What about the Santeria religion? See, Stavro said, I must indeed come here.
Glenestine says though nearly everyone’s black here, they’re truly American: they are, at the festival; there should be no mistaking this. “But at one time everyone was called a Bahamian–the original settlers,” she adds.
“Koombai,” I repeat to myself.
Am I Cuban? Glenestine wants to know. Oh, Canadian?
She comes closer to me, edging sideways. Will I take her back to Canada? She’d met a Cuban cemetery-worker who’d been to Canada, who told her Canada’s a cold country. “The people there must be cold too, no?” Glenestine’s face appears darker, against Canada’s cold, I imagine. Earth-spirits are still talking.
At once I invite her to come to Canada with me, with a sudden new instinct or impulse. “I’m not trying to pick you up,” I say, to lighten the mood. Ice freezes the bones, blood vessels also, I consider. But the heat keeps sweltering. “What are you doing here?” Glenestine indeed wants to know, with another flicker of her eyes.
I try to invoke Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Stavro yet being with me, Colombia or all of Central America and the Caribbean.
Glenestine tells me about walking to and from Miami City…to be here, her feet padding the asphalted ground. She gets up at five each morning to start her journey before the heat becomes really unbearable; see, she must be punctual for her English class. Hey, are you a writer? She doesn’t take the public transit; she wants to lose weight, to keep her figure trim. Really trim. And thin? In the afternoon she walks back home, another two hours. Imagine, eh!
CocoWalk’s shops, stores: a sprawling plaza with a Hollywood replica and planetarium. Arnold Scwharznegger. Elizabeth Taylor. Marilyn Munroe. Fast-food places, health stores; bistros and bars light up with “Howl at the Moon Café,” everything from the Sixties, sure. Avant garde artists all, I invoke. Amuse myself thinking. Wanting to be.
“What do you do when you get home?” I ask Glenestine; my curiosity knows no bounds.
She’s still thinking about Canada, she says. An essay she’d written for her English teacher–about a special place she’d visited. Philadelphia or Pittsburgh? She’s concerned about her punctuation, the commas, things being out of place. She wants more than a D grade; but she knows she will get only a D. Fatalism.
I tell her not to worry.
“Oh?” She looks at me with a glare, accusing.
Others saunter by, a genuine Hispanic air now being everywhere. Even as Glenestine is thinking about more places to go to. The one calling herself the Virus, she’s also going somewhere, don’t I know?
Glenestine tells me about the house she lives in, passed on to her by her father; and she doesn’t ever want to get married. “What for? I don’t want anyone to control me,” she says.
She shows me an essay she has written, one on twisted paper with black spidery-looking handwriting on it. “It’s what I must do to improve myself. I want a grade higher than a D.” And am I still with an earth spirit?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez somewhere still in Colombia…not in America. Really a hundred years of solitude? Stavro plans to come back for me, he said.
Dully I look around, as Glenestine now calls Canada the Arctic.
“What kind of people are Canadians?” She indeed wants to know. Then, “Are you really Canadian?” Philadelphia now in her mind’s eye, and a cousin she might have visited there living on Benjamin Franklin Boulevard, she wants me to know about (maybe because she thinks Philly is close to Canada). I study her peeled lips, whiteness against black skin. And people still sauntering, going by here in CocoWalk, the many shades, complexion: ochre, beige. Palm trees waver. The Caribbean tropics indeed: mangrove, and more trade winds. Will it be another hurricane season?
Coconut Grove had once been underwater, Glenestine tells me.
Ah, there was a hurricane not so long ago when the vegetation had been flattened. Why didn’t the earth spirits help then? My thoughts are strangely wandering, erratic even.
Glenestine keeps focusing on me, and insists on asking: “What kind of people are Canadians?” Indeed earth spirits are everywhere, I want to tell her. She murmurs to me next, “Two places I must visit soon.”
She sucks at a bottle of spring water, and inhales. “I want to visit India.”
She looks at me. Am I really Canadian? “So I can walk barefooted…like the people there.”
“And to eat goat meat.” Really in India?
“You can walk barefoot right here,” I say.
Glenestine wants to wear the long clothing that goes down to the ankle like the people do there, as she’s seen on TV.
“What about the goat meat?”
In a Cuban restaurant, La Caretta, I’d eaten a heavy Spanish rice fare, and strips of meat mixed with white and brown beans. Cookup. Not goat meat cuisine? Glenestine will indeed visit Cuba one day, too, she hopes. “All the real spices are there,” she smiles. The Marielitos: spirit-of-the-earth people, those Fidel Castro sent from Cuba’s prisons to America; they are close to Glenestine, maybe. Fidel wanted them to be in Kennedy’s America only, far away from a Bay of Pigs Cuba!
Glenestine adds: “I want to taste real spices more than anything else, like they have in India”
“What about Cuban restaurants here?” I prompt.
“They don’t have real spices.” She looks almost shriveled now because of the heat.
“Born in the USA,” cries a man pushing his wife in a wheel chair not far from us, as I look at them. And maybe instinctively he knows that I am from somewhere else; he mimics a Bruce Springsteen swagger, guitar in hand. Oh, he waves an American flag also.
Greenwich Village of the South, Coconut Grove is. Ah, places I’ve come from, and must return to, as Glenestine keeps asking me about Canada because the heat’s getting to her. Getting to me too.
Arctic cold, I hum to myself: like a respite…everywhere.
Down the street the Bruce Springsteen imitator keeps going, pushing the heavy steel wheel-chair.
Glenestine tells me she’s lucky not to be afflicted with AIDS.
Unconsciously I wonder about the one calling herself the Virus. Where’s she now?
Stavro is yet reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he tells me. But he’s now more curious about my background, where I really come from. It’s my insistence on Canada, only. “What kind of people are Canadians?” he drills, as if taking a cue from Glenestine. Not from the Virus?
Then, like an afterthought, he says Miami’s next hurricane season will soon be here.
We move along in the shuttle bus, and he talks about the Snowbirds: French-Canadians, who regularly come here despite violence being done to tourists. Such is his own state of being in solitude, Stavro wants me to know. Really know? “The Snowbirds talk about their hockey team all the time,” Stavro mutters against the noise of the traffic. “They always scream and shout for the Canadians to win! Why, eh?”
Then he laughs.
I simply shrug.
French-Canadians settle in condos to watch the waves rise fifteen or twenty feet high in the southern tip of Florida, I’ve heard. It’s Stavro’s turn to laugh. Really laugh.”Nothing is strange here any longer,” he looks at me bracingly. Earth spirits are still dancing, I imagine. As Yiddish voices shout about Israel’s changing politics too. Indeed, Miami Beach is alive, not only because of what everyone calls “gentrification”. Posh hotels with disco-like clubs springing up everywhere, even with stucco walls and some with more intricate interior designs. An old Jewish man whines next: “The Marielitos are driving us crazy, they give me dirty looks all the time.” He coughs, sounds adenoidal. Splutters, “They shouldn’t be here. They must go back to Castro, go back Cuba!”
Stavro begins whirling the shuttle bus along Dade County: Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, West Kendall, as if to get out of here for good. Ubiquitous palm and coconut trees I look at. Soursop, mango, and avocado trees also. Let the Everglades remain as it is. The alligator farms will survive another Valuejet crash.
Odd, I imagine being a Snowbird because I’m really from Canada, see. It’s the Arctic cold in my spirit, I want to say, which keeps the people north together. Stavro laughs, telling me again about Marquez because his wife’s really Colombian (as if I doubt him).
Ah, somewhere Glenestine laughs, I hear. She’s determined to get a higher grade in her English assignment, as she walks faster to downtown Miami in the sweltering heat. More white spots appear on her lips, like special identifying marks.
And the Virus once more: her genuine Haitian voice comes to me, not strangely: “I’ve heard from the University of Miami. It’s a private institution I’ve applied to come to. But how real is the University of Miami? Though all you hear these days is about the football team, the Dolphins. But in l961 they started accepting Blacks here. Now students come from every part of the world, though mostly from the Caribbean.
“Some come from South Carolina and Georgia too. So where does the Caribbean end, you tell me? Now President Clinton says he too is a Caribbean man,” she grins. Subtropical trees spread out wide evergreen leaves amidst spruce and pine. Earth spirits…once more.
Canada’s winds howling, with another winter coming: all in the Great White North. Which is why I’ve come south, as I am unconsciously seeking real spirits, I think. Stavro merely insists, “Try reading Marquez, he will tell you all there’s to know about who you are, or who you want to be.” Canadian as I am? “Read him up there when it’s really cold.”
Glenestine trekking along in the heat and imagining places where she will eat goat meat and wear a dress going down to her ankle, which is what she really wants: like her life’s ambition, maybe. Yes, India, a far land… where everyone walks barefooted, she keeps thinking. And there where all the real spices come from. Did Columbus or Vasco de Gama also think of earth- spirits guiding them along?
“You’re here because you’re searching for some kind of exaltation,” says Janet from New York City; she’s newly arrived in Miami.
“You have to admit that about yourself.”
“As an immigrant d’you mean?”
“In Canada you’ll always be an outsider.”
“Even as a citizen…?”
“There are no citizens anywhere,” she makes a face. “In New York there are communities where you can find yourself, maybe. But not here.” Stavro has put her up to it? Cien Anos… Marquez, again.
Janet is white; she’s thinking hard. “Here in Miami it’s different; everyone comes from somewhere else. Maybe it’s how it’s always been.”
“What about the American dream?” I force the words out.
“You fall into this illusion, it’s a trap really, because you think you’re part of that dream.”
“Nothing’s real then?”
She makes a face, then pointedly asks, “Why are you really here?”
“I’m not after a green card,” I say defensively.
A hurricane warning again on TV, I conjure up. Coconuts from tall trees will be hurled off, like veritable missiles. Miami City Councilors indeed start telling residents to make sure the trees have no coconuts on them when the hurricane comes. Cut them out. Those trees mustn’t let off missiles! Keep the trees low to the ground. Remember hurricane Bertha?
“In the North,” I tell Janet, “there are stronger winds.” Yeah, by Lake Superior, where I once lived: same as writer Margaret Atwood.
Not ever in Colombia, close to Marquez?
Snowdrifts, hailstorms. A Québécois spirit is in me too, the Snowbirds: if only in Miami Beach. The ground swirls under my feet. Tropical breezes keeps coming with a full force as I brace myself for a hurricane about to lift me off the ground. What an experience it is!
But it’s a boat cruise I am after. And maybe it’s a real exilio I’ve become, see.
The palm trees keep swaying, bending their branches; but everything else seems absolutely still. At once I know I must return home, to Canada, like a promise I must fulfill. A real promise.
The man next to me at the airport, Anglo-American, is in his twenties; he says, “Canada’s a real meeting place, isn’t it?”
A scientist by training, he now seems uncomfortable because he’s leaving America for the first time: really on the Fourth of July. Soon he will be at the Pearson International Airport in Toronto…as we are in the plane high above ground. Like being on common ground, odd as it is.
Is Toronto really a large city, a genuine “meeting place”? he wants to know, looking out of the window over my shoulder. A conference on climate-change in the solar system he will be attending. We have our David Suzuki in the North, I tell him.
But it’s Castro’s again in the news, Steve tells me. “I’ve lived in Miami all my life,” he adds, and touches a lock of brown hair on his forehead. Has he met someone like Stavro…Glenestine, or the Virus? “What will happen in Toronto when I arrive there?” Steve wants to know; he’s nervous, he’s really unhappy about leaving the US of A. “Nothing,” I say.
“The crime rate…?”
“A few murders only a year.”
“It’s the Caribbean of the North.”
Climate-change in me, also; and it’s the plane’s whirring noise, as Toronto comes closer all the time. “Do you feel you’re coming home?” Steve asks me.
Odd, I think of Glenestine only now coming with to Canada with me. “Maybe,” I say.
The plane starts descending. The CN Tower, Skydome, other landmarks. But I think I am also heading out west, on another journey: yes, going across the prairies, then farther west, to stare up at the Rockies. A bear in the sky, with the clouds moving in a strange new formation, almost like forming a new horizon. Native spirit, I concentrate on. Maybe it’s what New York Janet wants me to contemplate, I think.
Ah, Steve sees the genuine earth person in me, all because of climate-change, bringing me back to earth more or less. And it’s a stranger destiny ahead as clouds keep moving, making me feel strangely alone. Los exilios everywhere?
Steve steps out at the Pearson International Airport with only a bag in his hand: being in a new country, away from America, he says, makes you feel nervous–not excited. “I hope to meet you again,” he adds. “Toronto’s a meeting place,” I reply, “but it’s not paradise.” Even as I take in Canada’s many lakes, rivers, tundra, virgin forest, mountains. Indeed, the solar system, everything coming closer. At once the directions we must follow, if by instinct only, as I point out to Steve what taxi he must take.
Cyril Dabydeen’s recent novel is *Drums of My Flesh* (TSAR). His new poetry book to appear is *Unanimous Night* (Black Moss Press).