The last bolero

Eighty years old. Forty of them working in the docks, and another 20 working on a fish factory. But wait. Don't let your mind be fooled by the nude torso, nor by the skin and bone looks. Summer temperatures in Cuba are high. And when you are at home and don't expect any visitors, you make yourself as comfortable as possible. And the asthma doesn't help either. Walking two blocks to the hospital for your regular visit is a demanding task, which you face as calmly as possible, stopping several times along the way. And when you arrive home, extenuated, and you look at the mirror and see only half of what you were, you have one of two options, either you give up, or you keep on fighting, believing in something.

For Gilberto, this means believing in yourself, in your work, in your capacity to leave something valuable for your children and grand-children. So you try to control your breath and focus on the tasks you have imposed yourself. Copying your boleros and your short stories to new notebooks keeps you alive, with a sense of mission.

Composing boleros, his passion, started while working in the docks. At night he would carefully dress himself to join the Cuban nightlife. Always well dressed, with good manners for the ladies, his life gave him all the material he needed for his boleros. After writing the lyrics and composing the music by ear, he visited a musician to translate his ideas into musical scores. Success came in the form of recorded discs and many Cuban singers and groups singing his music. And its success extended overseas. But Cuba is Cuba. A unique country. Offering unpaired beauty along with adverse life conditions. And Gilberto was just another Cuban.

Nowadays that musical tastes evolved, his music is less heard. Boleros are less fashionable. Cuban youth doesn't want to hear old and innocent lyrics about love. They want explicit lyrics and a fast paced rhythm in music. And royalties are getting smaller and smaller each day. Especially those from Europe.

Even with his physical condition, when we look and talk with him, one cannot avoid feeling this powerful sense of dignity. He has adjusted to its life conditions. He does not ask for anything. Except for the royalties for the recordings of his music made by a Spanish producer, some years ago, which left Cuba with a promise still to be fulfilled.

Latter in life, his passion evolved towards written histories, some of them hitting the radio stations. Sitting in his living room, amid his musical scores and notebooks filled with lyrics and stories, he grabs another notebook, a pen, and starts copying one of his short stories. He tries to play a tape with a radio recording of one of his stories, taped by one of his grand-daughters some time ago. But the radio doesn't work properly. He concentrates on his writings. In the hope that, with them, his daughters and grand-children will have the opportunity he missed. He is living his last bolero. And the female role is played be life itself.