I was born twice. Same country—two worlds. The first time I was delivered into a feudal family in a time that no longer was; the second, I was hurled into a revolution in a time that was never to be. I was brought into the first world in 1934 by a white doctor, into the second in 1952 by a black soldier. Eighteen years separated the two births, but in the tropics time moves on its own accord, unrestrained by the unimaginative inflexibility of numerical sequence, so the chronological progression is meaningless, if even discernible, and those years remain suspended in my memory, hazy silhouettes fixed against the cacophony of human frenzy, music and gunfire.
Cuba provided a vivid and dizzying introduction to life. Exuberant to stridency, aimlessly intense, hopelessly inchoate, pretentious and jejune, the island floated in a sea of noise, movement and ebullience as if engaged in a mad dash towards some imperceptible but irresistible destination. Speed of thought and action valued above clarity and accuracy in an unceasing feast of sound and color, presided over by a scorching sun, moderated only by the tenderness of the trade winds and scented by the perfumes of the tropical night.
My father had no noble title, but he certainly was a feudal lord. Luyanó was the largest industrial neighborhood in Havana, a sprawling continuum of working-class poverty sprinkled with lower-middle-class clean shirts and aspiring hopes. In the midst of all this our house stood out, an early-nineteenth-century structure that had been the country residence of the Count of Villanueva, a Spanish grandee, and our street properly was named after him. It was a large, solid, and spacious construction, converted into a school in the days of Fidel Castro, with windows covered by eighteen feet of wrought iron from floor to ceiling, and a main double