It could have been any given morning in a primary school in Placetas, Villa Clara, in the late 1970s. Because yours was the last classroom in the hall, you can peek from the back windows into the vast domain of the schoolyard. Right at the back, where a tall concrete fence surrounds the field, there is a white bust of José Martí and a nickel-plated pole where everyday the flag is hoisted, signaling the beginning of a school day. From the windows on the side, you can see the typical greenery, the pointy leaves of a mango tree, and tall avocado, or tamarind, or guanábana trees that grow in that part of the Caribbean, in that big piece of land that, you are told, was once called the most beautiful island in the world. And it’s there, in the middle of paradise, you hunch forward in your silla de paleta, attempting to draw a perfect acorn.
You have never seen, touched, or tasted one. But they’re found in Europe, and pigs eat them, you are told. For a child in Soviet Cuba, that is enough to dream about a foreign land. After all, it is not that difficult to draw them, just a slightly elongated oval shape, with a semicircle on top. The surface details and the right shade of brown depend upon recalling pictures of them you had once seen, maybe in that rare book Las maravillas de la naturaleza. It is a beautiful hardcover that you thumb through once or twice at a friend’s house, marveling at the full-colored pages, with photographs of all the places in the world you have never been. There are mountains and jungles, but also meeker images of the European countryside. In them everything seems perfect, like an acorn.