A Day in the Life of Iván and His Moskovich
My friend Iván was born in 1986, is 29, and lives in the center of Havana. He is the one of the progeny of the latest wave of Cuban-Soviet marriages. In the decade following Iván's birth not only did Cubans extend the scope of their marital relations beyond socialist borders, but the Soviet Union and the socialism it sponsored passed away, going to a better place. And I say "better" because after 70 years of the Russian “Revolution,” the dimensions of "the worst" had devolved to levels difficult to imitate.
In an interview with the Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the author of the novel A Day in the Life of Iván Denísovich, the title inspiring this article’s, told the Russian filmmaker that the GPU did his grandfather in. The GPU, Cheka, NKVD and KGB were all organisations created precisely to drag the "worst" down to levels that would have shocked even their creators if they had survived the purging process that they themselves set in motion.
The end of Soviet socialism is a great quandary for those who cannot understand - like we, who dwell amidst its final, imitative throes - that systems of its nature are bodies constantly devouring themselves and the remnants of the remnants that ultimately end up destroying them.
After rounding Iván's home on Belascoaín Street, there is a tall house that suffered serious roof damage years ago but today still serves as a three-story home, taking good advantage of the time-worn columns still keeping it upright. The height of each dwelling, not surprisingly, does not allow someone who is 6 feet to stand upright. Iván is over six feet, and his girlfriend lives there.
Iván's Moskovich was given to his father, a hydraulic engineer, back in '85. For Iván it is something that has been with him his whole life. His parents had owned it for a year already when he was born.
A few years later came the Special Period and Iván's father, who by then had separated from the Ukrainian woman who is my friend’s mother, had to stow the Moskovich away in his father's garage, in the Santos Suárez quarter. From there it would be rolled out on special occasions during the early years, until it finally was never brought out at all, as the lack of fuel was compounded by the absence of rubber, its rusting chassis, and the destruction of its running boards. The only thing intact was its upholstery which, kept in a garage all those years, the darkness had protected.
Today Iván drives around Havana in his Moskovich, a car on which everything has been replaced, except the chassis and the upholstery, protected by his grandparents' garage.
Iván's Moskovich now features a Hyundai engine, a five-speed Lada transmission, Toyota front lights and Volkswagen rear lights, a Peugeot brake pump and a criollo (Cuban) clutch. Also criollo are the suspension springs, the whole system of couplings and gaskets, in addition to the engine mount. Criollo is the adjective transmitting that the part was made on a Cuban stoop by some handy and unemployed soul scraping by by crafting, using traditional methods, what Ford was churning out back in the 1920s.
The stereo in Iván's car is a Samsung, and the speakers are Sony. There was a time when my friend wanted them to make a bumper sticker that read “Soviet Proud”to put it on the back window, but his car is hardly Soviet enough now to warrant such a slogan.
On a typical day Iván earns $60, but he can make as much as $100 to $150, with which he helps his father, who keeps going to the office to calculate the amounts of water that are lost due to to leaks in Havana: around 50% of that allotted for the city. Iván helps his mother, who was born when Ukraine had not yet recovered from World War II, and today lives amidst a mess that must bring back memories of her childhood, judging by the ease with which she bears it. Iván also helps his girlfriend to finish her little room, whose height doesn´t bother her much, as she spends most of her time lying down.
Iván and I live in a world where you can't turn a page without finding something from the one before. In this world, all that exists is built in the footsteps of others who left, but never really disappeared, who were deprived of everything that might be of use, whose legs were yanked out of their coffins to have their shoes removed. A world in which what is not useful today, is superfluous, and in which love, beauty and immediate gain are unable to live separately.