It’s Saturday afternoon. The sky on Saturdays is mute, but resplendent. Below, in this convulsive thing that we call humanity, runs through the multitude of schedules, emotions, hunches. I am sorry to listen closely to that melody by Lisette Álvarez “One more Saturday, about Puerto Rico, one more Saturday…” It is those Saturdays with the custom of laundry patios, rows of clothes drying in the sun, the horns of visiting relatives , the instantaneous aura of classic songs in time for salsa, boleros, rock…a Saturday that in a drink of beer or rum-prohibited vodka, according to the wise-tastes of an urgent and naked glory, tastes of freedom, and more, with the turntable at a good volume using and burning the voice of the singer on duty, making him the choir and the room, full of the protagonists of the weekend.
Suddenly he lights the magic fuse to a family portrait. We can see the grandmother, the grandfather, with their indivisible matriarchy and patriarchy, rustic, full of wise expressions and proverbs that explain and summarize existence. Then the children, the grandchildren, the uncles, the partners of the uncles, the godmother, the godfather, the nucleus, the family and the exact caricature of the mismatched conversations that suddenly come together in the same divinity of the word begins: life opens the eyes, and it shines.
When Carlos Canales, narrator, novelist, playwright opens the story of MAI, which we review in these lines, he makes it a memory invested in a long road where many of his family talked, and talked to themselves. There, in that room that could have been, and still is, the living room of any Puerto Rican home occurs as in its frequent theme, existence. The characters they star in can, by themselves, star each of us. There are passports to many islands anchored in memory, we are reminded of that one, or that one during the Sunday visit there, for that land recited by Virgilio Dávila. The flashing batey with the laughter of the children, the smoke from the ovens, and the long table served in the language of affection. But MAI has other discourses of life that deserve to be defined, sunned, exposed. Just as Úrsula Iguarán was, MAI is the center of this story, she is a gravitational woman, she invites you to get to know her, to be close to her, to try to decipher her for the first time. For her everything exists; God and the devil, the common work of the spirits, is a hierophant, a mother, a grandmother, she speaks with a voice that anchors her in the transparency of always telling the truth and how she feels. From her, all those who surround her and her come back convinced that, by being called MAI, she has the last breath that leads them to continue forward, with successes and ravines, with tears or laughter, because she, MAI, has also been walker between your desires and passions.
The consummate matriarch, Mai is an oracle, the helm of the weak, a wandering discourse that stays up all night other doors that constantly open and close. She is also benevolent because, she has welcomed Papito who in the past was her man, or we would also say that Papito uses a constant that defines this family drama that can be anchored in any family and unmask truths and enigmas, of course, they are obvious truths, philosophical postulate brief, sharp, stylized to break the skin and leave us naked.
Each character in the story and in the play is an evident truth, a serving of chaos, a starry songbook of boleros lost in a vellonera, rum and coke and a few drops of lemon, a cigarette, one’s own or borrowed, and the thoughts, the acts, memory and forgetfulness, the chaos of taste, the sunstroke of abandonment… life…
The vellonera… another masterpiece that collects the breath of man? It could be, I have always felt the vellonera as a kind of minstrel in polyphony, dictating the broken voices that wander over and over again in thoughts, then the heart arrives, the soul is suddenly touched and the scenes of memory arrive, what what it was, what it could be, we even see the interpreters almost whispering in our ears what we feel like hearing. Once, Daniel Santos was on the verge of suicide, back in the Cuba of Prío Socarrás and the rich son of Sonora Matancera, near him, Varadero, the romantic and insomniac beach, melted beach of caresses between the distances of glass. He went into a bar and ordered his drink, the desire to cry and to die paired like warm and sonorous cloudscapes after a love break. The singer drained his drink of rum and jumped into the sea. Already, when the swell reached his chin, he felt the death rattle, the cold that was not the cold of the earth, of man and his instances. He swam to the shore as best he could, returned to the bar, asked for a pencil and paper and composed the beautiful bolero Bello Mar, one of the great successes of the Matanzas. Why do I say this? In MAI, the fleece is direct and becomes an instant mirror in the disheveled reality of the characters, who were and continue to be real. Each salsa or bolero song harasses the open-hearted discourse of what each of the family members who gravitate and oscillate under the verb of MAI lives. Music is a root sub-theme, armored and alone, since it is the loneliness and irresolution of each one of them, those read by life. Master life, how much does she say, how much does she do. MAI is his writing code and MAI has danced the tango of his misfortune; Gardel sang it without tears, but he lined up his body with them. Valentino, an actor kneaded by the beauty of his steps, danced it with a precision that only provoked applause. Later, he told us that tango is a sad thought that is danced. The rest, Diana, the necromancer, has been able to decipher with the tarot spreads, there in the remote corner of a building in New York; Allan Kardec’s currencies were speaking there, and the requested underworld happened to the gasps of those consulted. That spiritual world, that glass of water where unknown transits congregate, becomes body and presence in MAI. And also the very strong rule that God punishes concupiscence, laziness, the virazón that capital sins buzz like a jet of water against man.
MAI is a trance between all the realities of a lived family picture. But we know that self-evident truths lie in time and the past. All the past comes back like a wave, Jorge Luis Borges has said, and Tennessee Williams dared to reply in chapter 11 of his memoirs; “What is being a writer, I would say it is being free, it means the freedom to stop when you want, go where you want and when you want; it means to be a traveler here and there, it means the freedom to be, and, as someone once very wisely observed, if one cannot be oneself, what is the point of being nothing at all? To be free, as a writer, is to have reached the goal of life”, In this tidal wave, the author-director of MAI, from his character, has the main rules of the drama, summons the elements of love, pain and challenge, invokes the time and blows up the fate of the allegedly designated. In a particular magic, being free as an author, he dares to lead the subscribers in his family memory. It is free, under the premise in the word. It is Carlos Canales with the sign and mast of his freedom, the one he shares with us. Both in the story and in the work there is freedom and cause of memory, it outlines us with beings in constant sunset, unruly, undeserved fullness. They are beings who lived like this and who can be, the close memory of everyone with that relative who is asked, and that the answer seems to gravitate in the official version of the family, to avoid regrets. Therefore, they are also beings proscribed by happiness and fulfillment. Its outcomes present the surprise that the human condition brings when it gives us power, and when it takes it away. As in any of Pessoa’s poems, there is a dazzle to the indefiniteness, to the broken question, to the impossible, to the multiple assonances. It is said that Fernando Pessoa was a self-taught man, very curious, and incredibly thoughtful. This translates into his poetry, in which he not only shows us different perspectives on multiple topics, but also voices and styles. These even had their own biography; they are artistically complete identities that differ from the author’s voice, they have their own religion, ideologies and ways of seeing the world. Parallel? Something happens in MAI, which moves us to discover that multiplicity and the inherent variety of themes. And the weather, what about the weather? What time exists between that narrative, that theatrical dimension that you discover over and over again, the playful act of manifesting? Although Pessoa speaks in heteronyms, Canales assumes them with his own name, in person and existence, he knows how to unfold himself under the formula of the magician-here I am thinking of Melquiades under that encounter with Aureliano Buendía-sadness has its magic, and these beings forgotten by the happiness assume their pattern of soul and revelation.
I do not wish to be extensive, leaving new readers of the book to discover themselves, because there is no other word, to discover themselves in the testimony of MAI, and to recognize someone who has passed through their life, or nearby. Some name and surname will visit their memory, some lighted tunnel from the past returns and is remembered. Also, before I forget, he’s a membership. There are many rooms of a Saturday afternoon dissolved in the cardinal points of this brilliant piece. The daily limbo of our society is collected, enlightened in the material, dazed in irresolution, forgetting the world, and almost what we are; that reaches the family picture, and is projected.
That, savor our shared tragedy. Are we something? Is it true, our course? Perhaps that emptiness that runs through us like a desired sleepwalking makes us reflect on MAI, which comes to be something more than a biographical mirror. These dialogues as, and I repeat it again, evident truths reflect a people that is languishing, these dialogues surround a slow whisper of despair.
There is, as Michelle Tennyson of the University of Connecticut underlines in her prologue to the work that MAI collects and I quote “the reality of the Puerto Rican working-class family, as well as the particular variety of topics covered; specifically the conflict between conventionalism and modernity, as well as the consequences that this conflict has on society” There is a Puerto Rico that has changed a lot, from the same boiling point Now, it can be a Saturday afternoon, with the kids playing electronic games, or the girl in sleep with her cell phone telling a story, the room full, but with dissimilar conversations. Nothing has changed, only that time dictates itself with pauses, each day more worrying. I have to mention José Ingenieros, now deceased Argentine philosopher and psychologist; Men and peoples in decline live remembering where they come from; great men and strong people just need to know where they’re going. We need that, and it should be a creed if we want to prevail as a nation.
One last detail, MAI is essential reading, and without having given its next readers much notice, I close with a quote from the same work, knowing that the present and the future bode well for its author and, more than all, the message, which I have been decoding in my own way, as I touched it and experienced it while reading its lines, and under that freedom that Williams tells us about, I leave with congratulations, that return and search through the Buenaventura neighborhood of Carolina, today in serious nostalgic edges, today uncertain, today dreaming of returning to the revived. The neighborhood that has provided great lyrics for Puerto Rico, and the immortal Puerto Rico in Bobby Capó’s song, beyond the dream, the country we want. Lest we wake up and hear these words and I quote:
DAI: My mom, where? My mom, where are you? Where is my crocodile? I love my crocodile. Whoever messed with my crocodile is going to pay well, I swear on this one. Whoever caught it is going to receive a punishment from God because that crocodile is an apostle. He is the new savior of the world, the desired of all nations. Pharisees, confess your sin!
Let this fantasy not be our evident truth, our escape, our silence. !! Congratulations!!