Wednesday 4 May 2016

Urban Diary

No, there’s no blue plaque here.

Unbelievable. He lived here, as I understand.

Well, nope. No blue plaque. Maybe one day…

Maybe one day, I repeat to myself. Maybe one day… Have I got the energy to start a blue-plaque campaign to honour and celebrate the life and work of one of Cuba’s foremost writers? One who made London his residence for decades?

I have come out of Gloucester Road tube station, looking for number 53 on the street of the same name. A slant of late afternoon sunshine slides down the white-washed columns in this well-off part of southwest London. I am on my way to the Goethe Institut to watch the premiere of “Victoria”, but first, I need to catch at least a glimpse of what I believe to have been the house of the late Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

I find it easily, sandwiched inconspicuously by terraced houses on either side. I want to take a photo of it but realise that the owner has arrived at the same time. Only one of us is the intruder and after a short Q&A regarding the non-existent blue plaque, I turn around to resume my walk. Not, though, without first stealing a photographic moment. After all, I convince myself, it is what Cabrera Infante would have wanted.

The Gibara-born man who fell for Havana and its charms as a twelve-year-old would have approved of my small transgression. He built an outstanding literary career on writing about the myriad characters who challenged the status quo, whether before or after Fidel. His best-known work, Tres Tristes Tigres (literally, Three Sad Tigers, after a famous Spanish tongue-twister) was a homage to Havana’s night life. Drunkards, drug-addicts, prostitutes, pimps, artist and politicians filled up its pages.  It is only fitting that I have stopped outside his former abode as dusk envelops me and a magenta-tinted sunset magically furnishes London. The shadows grow longer. I want to explain to the owner of the house that the man who lived here, at 53 Gloucester Road, was often compared to James Joyce (TTT was at some point called Cuba’s answer to Ulysses) and yet I have always found that comparison misleading. Joyce focused on diurnal Dublin, whereas Cabrera Infante centred on Havana at night.

I tramp down Exhibition Road recalling what appealed to me best about Tres Tristes Tigres. It was not just the plot, or lack of it thereof, or the seductive atmosphere of the bars and cabarets Cabrera Infante’s characters frequent. It was, above all, the author’s tribute to language, to the beautiful and often misunderstood - occasionally ridiculed – Cuban vernacular.

With the fast-disappearing sun behind me I ask myself again the question: have I got the energy for a blue-plaque campaign? Maybe one day, maybe, one day…

© 2016

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday7th May at 6pm (GMT)


  1. I hope you do. I'm pretty sure you will, eventually. Cuban artists and writers and simply the culture and personality of Cuba need to be brought to the daylight. I hardly ever hear anything about Cuban life. So I hope you do...someday.

    I will definitely look up Guillermo Cabrera Infante. What I imagine of the nightlife of Cuba is very small compared to what it really must have been.

  2. I absolutely love your new header!

  3. A beautifully expressed tribute to an author I now need to find out more about.

  4. Interesting image you choose for the header today. Made me wonder how much trouble it took to get the bike over the fence :)

  5. I hope you do.
    And thank you for the introduction to an author I did not know.

  6. I probably wouldn't have seen the plaque but I did see this post. This is fine a tribute to a favorite author. Thanks for the introductions to Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

    I love your new header photo!

  7. You have introduced me to a writer of the night world! A world of fascination for me as I wrote in my little novel about my taxi driving in Honolulu through the night. I recognize a great talent that I must meet in your words. Here's to the transgressives of great soul!

  8. You've interested me in a writer I know nothing about. I'm off to Google him.

  9. A new author for me too. Maybe one day shall come soon enough.

  10. Another new author to explore. What do you think of the English translations of his writings? I like you new photo at the top of your blog!

  11. Your Guillermo Cabrera Infante sounds like a man who lived in fascinating places during interesting times, CiL, and your piece here makes me curious to learn more about him and his writing.

    I have read bits and pieces here and there regarding Havana nightlife during the pre-Castro era and, had I been a man living in the 1940s and 1950s, I surely would have wished to witness and to explore it. Perhaps, I will read what Infante had to say of it as my means to get a greater taste of it.

  12. So interesting. I have to confess not having read him before. I am so glad to learn of his name. Thanks for kind comment. I am just extremely tired between my work life and writing life--work life mainly--and also want to focus in writing life on some manuscript projects. (Also I am exhausted by U.S. election issues.)

    Take care, .k.

  13. This is beautiful, whether or not there is a blue plaque. I shall now look up Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and that is at least something.

  14. Lovely shot! Haven't read him, but he sounds interesting. Love your new header photo!

  15. With the thawing of relations between the west and Cuba this might be the time to launch something like this. As if you haven't got enough other things to do!

  16. Guillermo Cabrera Infante - got to read more about him. Thanks for another well-written piece, you always manage to stir the imagination as well as a desire to read more about your chosen subject. The new header picture is great, too.

    I hadn't heard of TTT or it's obviously illustrious author...yet now I find myself totally intrigued by Havana's night life. I'd love to learn about all those experience that magical city by night, and feel a part of the excitement!
    And I love your picture of 53 Gloucester Road...a fitting abode for such a talented writer...and yes, there definitely should be a blue plaque here!

    Thank you for a really interesting post.:))

  18. That sounds like a book I Should look out for....

  19. Thanks for the intro! Sounds great.

  20. I couldn't find Three Trapped Tigers in the library so I looked it up online and it is 40-70 USD. Now I'm really curious. One review that I read said that it was a nightmare for translators because every word has a double meaning. Yikes! Have you read this book in English?

    1. Sad tigers! Not trapped. Thou the "t" works better than an "s"



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