Wednesday 5 November 2014

Pieces of Me, Pieces of Havana

How infallible is memory? How fallible is it? How adept are we at retaining and reviving certain moments which, due to their mere ephemeral nature, should have been long forgotten?

Memory is to me a series of framed tableaux vivants we make up and smash as we go through life. The smashing is unintentional and unconscious. The frames are not silent but do have distinctive voices, from tenor alto to inaudible whisper. They are not motionless, but their movements go from sudden spams to en pointe acrobatics. When we try to reconstruct these broken scenes the pieces do not always slot in the same places as before even if the representation at the centre of them is the same.

It follows that sometimes memory is a trickster. It sneaks up on you, unannounced and weaves a web of confusion and uncertainty around you. Was I at the stadium that night or did I watch the game on television? Was I part of the thousands of spectators willing our team to win the final game of the play-offs, or was I tucked in what had been until recently my parents’ bed and which now gave warmth and comfort to my mother and grandmother? I sometimes can remember clearly the roar of the Industriales supporters as if I had been there at the Latinoamericano stadium with them, screaming at the top of our lungs as our team came from behind to tie the game five runs apiece. And so we got to the bottom of the tenth inning...

Certainties abound in my recollections of that unforgettable balmy, Cuban-winter night of January 1986, too. Fact one: Industriales had not won the championship for sixteen years. The last time had been a year before I was born. Fact two: the right-handed pitcher on the mound for Vegueros, the visiting team, was the most lethal forkball pitcher we had ever had in Cuba, Rogelio García. Fact three: on first base, after having singled to right, was a very promising, young outfielder, Javier Méndez. Fact four: appearing in the final episode of this baseball drama was a veteran, left-handed, first baseman...

Memory is to me a series of framed tableaux vivants we make up and smash as we go through life. The shards of the broken scenes I have been able to put together throw back at me images I know to be truthful.

The left-handed, veteran first baseman's grip on the bat, about half an inch between both hands.

The number 40 on his back.

The blue shirt with white trousers, traditional colours of los azulejos.

The left shoulder raised higher than the right one, as he tenses up.

The first pitch.

A ball.

The traditional squat (the hitter).

The walk around the mound (the pitcher).

The pitcher's grip on the ball.

The first two fingers wrapping themselves around the seams.

The release.

The pitcher’s wrist snapping.

The ball’s slow journey towards the plate.

The batter’s right leg’s inward movement.

The swing.

In sport, there is always a silent moment before release. It lasts all of a nanosecond. In its infinitesimal nature are contained the pent-up emotions of a thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of spectators. It is the trajectory of the football as it heads towards goal after being struck by a forward who has just danced his way through the opponent’s defence. It is the killer knockout punch delivered by the boxer as the gloved hand moves quickly away. It is the last couple of inches before the diver’s perfectly straight body breaks into the placid water of the swimming pool.

That silent moment was present that January night, 1986. Was I at the stadium or at home? Memory has a habit of showing itself not in the way we remember it but in the way we sometimes want to remember it. Occasionally I have seen myself sitting on the stands watching many supporters in front of me balancing perilously on the fence, waiting. Waiting for the swing.

The swing. Was there ever a more majestic, more regal swing? Was there ever a swing that carried with it the hopes of thousands of spectators for whom the wait was finally over?

The swing. And then, the voice of one of the television commentators: “there goes the ball, it’s going, it’s going, it’s going, it’s GONE!!! Industriales campeón!

The silent moment as the ball flies higher and further. And then, pandemonium.

Memory is to me a series of framed tableaux vivants we make up and smash as we go through life. The smashing is unintentional and unconscious. The frames are not silent but do have distinctive voices, from tenor alto to inaudible whisper. They are not motionless, but their movements go from sudden spams to en pointe acrobatics. When we try to reconstruct these broken scenes the pieces do not always slot in the same places as before even if the representation at the centre of them is the same.

The events on that January night, 1986, however, were as truthful as I have told you tonight. To paraphrase Dylan Thomas: “The ball you hit out of the park, number 40, Agustín Marquetti, has not yet reached the ground”.

© 2014

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 9th November at 10am (GMT)


  1. Memory is indeed a trickster. Shaped by our experiences, our understanding (or its absence), and to no small extent what we want to remember.
    Mind you, even knowing that, there are memories I hug to myself which bring me comfort on long cold nights (literal and metaphorical).

  2. Memories and what brings them back into focus are like magic. Fleeting sometimes.. then like a flood - things come back in full force. I like your use of "trickster." It is indeed.

  3. Memories are sure there, may never think of them for 50 years and then something comes and you do, they are always there though.

  4. ha. that is a pretty cool memory...i remember watching kirk gibson limp out to bat for the dodgers after getting hurt...and the hit...

    memory does creep up on us...and pop back to the front when we least expect it....

  5. Sometimes I can remember something that happened a very long time ago (decades) like it was yesterday, and other times I find myself trying to remember other things. Great post, thanks for sharing.

  6. Very impressive writing, CiL.

    The craft, the style, the motion all blend well to form a montage of words which the reader is compelled to continue and not to pause until the end has been reached.

    And, the memory of which you write is a wonderful one.

  7. that sounds like a cool game and i find it fascinating how we can remember some things to the tiniest detail and also can recall the mood of the moment exactly... others blur with the years...

  8. I really can't comment other than to say beautifully written!

  9. The older you get the clearer is your memory of incidents that occurred many moons ago. Now let me think, what WAS it I wanted to remember yesterday?

  10. Y con la edad aumentan los recuerdos de tu infancia y juventud, es una buena cosa reconstruir tus vivencias.
    No soy aficionada al deporte.
    Saludos y un feliz fin de semana.

  11. When I worked - Child Protection - I needed to know a lot about how memory works (I had to do expert witness stuff, to back up children's recollections and explain how memories can blur, but that doesn't mean children are actively lying.)

    There are semantic memories (procedural stuff, like learning to drive, peeling a potato) and episodic - which is hugely subjective.

    And when episodes are repeated over and over they blur, making it difficult for a child to describe an incident when ...

    (Which makes it essential that funding for expert witnesses to back up children in Court shouldn't be cut!)

  12. Thanks for your comments. This memory was triggered off by the following clip

    Straight away images from that night came flooding my mind. One of the tricks that memory plays on you is that sometimes we are absolutely "certain" that what we rememebr is faultless, there are no holes in our story. And yet... and yet... When you start poking that grey matter of yours, you discover that things might not have nbecessarily happened as you thought they had. However, that homerun in the bottom of the tenth inning. That was real and I can still my fourteen-year-old getting all choked up and emotional.

    Have a brilliant weekend.

    Greetings from London.

  13. What a wonderful piece of writing!

    Memories change and shift until it's hard to know what it is we remember...

  14. I have resantly watched a scientific serie about the brain. It is even worse then I thought. We can´t trust the brain at all. I guess taht is why I take so many pics. Photos don´t lie as much as the brain.

  15. Nice memory... I have a few baseball memories from the majors and from my childhood. I have been wanting to travel to Cuba to ride the train, now I will have to add visits to ballparks

  16. Memories can be wonderful and painful at the same time...

  17. Memory is a strange thing, isn't it?
    A fragment of a long forgotten tune...a fragrance...a name you haven't heard for years...any of these can bring it flooding back...and with it all associated emotions.
    It can, indeed, be a "trickster"...

  18. I'm planning a trip to Cuba next year. Am excited about visiting Havana. I wonder what memories I will make?

  19. I love this baseball story that is really a story of living, really living.

  20. Some memories remain vivid, no matter how many years pass. But sometimes, we choose to remember an altered version of a memory. Revisionist memory, I call it. It's easier on one's ego to remember the things we wish we'd said, the things we wish we'd done.

    As for baseball, I have some vivid memories of games I attended many years ago. Like the time a virtually no-name player pitch hit for the Senators at the top of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded. The Orioles were ahead by three runs. That unknown-to-us pitch hitter hit a grand slam, and our Os lost.

  21. Memories and so sweet and sustain us when the memory is all we have left of that special time.

  22. Thanks for the memmories! I was a small kid by the time, but i still recall the unforgetable Don Pedro "El Mago" Spetién (his son Rafaél was a placekicker for the Dallas Cowboys, years later), shouting at the TV his classical "Se va, se vaa, se vaaaaaaaa y se fue!"

    Baseball... I have a lot of memmories about it.. excellent ones.. the view from The Hill, reading the catcher's suggestions.. looking the first base manager.. concentrating.. strenght, with the glove hiding your fingers so nobody can see what you are sending.. the snap..the whiplash from the arm and just watching.. no thoughts.. just the trajectory of the ball and then....

    Really fabolous!
    As I said my friend, THANKS FOR THE MEMMORIES! ;)

  23. PS: As you said, memmories sometimes can be triking.. You mentioned 1986.. I was talking about 1972, when thnx to the Marketti's HomeRun Cuba won over USA the mini Workd Series in Managua (Nicaragua). Else, the keybord can be triky too.. the correct name of the legendary Baseball narrator is Pedro "El Mago" Septién (and of course, his son Rafaél Septién, a placekiker of the Dallas Cowboys during 9 years)

  24. This very topic is a huge ongoing issue between my sister and me. She believes in only one possible version of a memory, and it must be entirely fact-based. When I try to point out that even facts are malleable, her ears shut down. Things were the way she remembers them. Period.

    So thank you for providing the alternate view, which is so much more realistic.

  25. It's amazing the things we remember! Not only that--it seems that sporting events play a serious role in those memories.

  26. Cuban, I leave you something you will certainly enjoy.




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