Leaving El Morro, in front of a different building with a pretty pink façade, I asked our taxi driver if he knew why todas las banderas vuelen al medio. I had already shot the photo at the fort so I would not forget to find out from a PR insider, lol.
«Porque Nelson Mandela,» he told me.
Sal didn't need me to translate, and I sat back against my seat. It is a long ride to our hotel in Condado from Viejo San Juan. I thought about the palimpsest of every time, how this trip started in Sally's ennui and then gathered steam with the striking & the juvenile delinquent and the eye, after which it became the victory I would snatch from the jaws of The Nutcracker, now when we squint and hold it up it to the light someday, it will be marked by the faint scratchings of Nelson Mandela's death.
I mean, he was 95, ok? But the time is here, as are we.
When Mandela was in a coma, a few months back -- maybe it was in the summer? -- I told Mari that I thought it was terrible, impossibly sad, that he was languishing at the end of his long life in a vegetative state when he had already spent so much time in the suspension of prison.
Mostly what I think about, when I think about Mandela's life -- about apartheid, the demonstrations of the 80s, the pariah status of South Africa, about violent resistance & guerilla warfare, of all those guys at Madison who tried to get laid because they knew the word Amandla -- is Stephen Biko.
I always think about what it means that the goverment of South Africa -- its oppression condemned by the whole world -- was perfectly satisfied to shuttle a middle-aged man off to prison because of his active role in a conspiracy for an armed insurgency. It always felt to me like Mandela was there as an example, only, like the time Garçon asked me if I would leave that mouse trapped under the bowl as a message to other mice who might come. Why else would they keep him around, depriving and disenfranchising him there in the country which convicted him of treason and sabotage, even as he was a beacon for the rest of the world?
As it happened, Mandela endured as a message of what was right, and rightness prevailed, but it was a very long time and the people of South Africa were cut off from that messaging for ages. I had not realized to what extent, really, until I saw the Sugarman docu, but yes.
During that same time, a young man was busy engaging in a resistance which was not violent, not yet, but intellectual and appealing, a narrative rooted in the ideology of liberation, in a way which appealed to students, to young people, to a consciousness of revolution, how Biko spoke to the entitlements of humanity, and the inherent deprivations of apartheid, the outrage of its minority rule, and good luck with this sentence which I will stop here without actually ending it to say: That this same regime in the same time had this young man killed, beaten to death, covered up, lied about for 35 years, it says something about the codex of oppression, something terrible & truly important that I have not lived long enough to have the words to express. Maybe some day, if we hold it up to the light.
The reason I am incomprehensible in three languages is surely due to the formidable inferencing skills of those people I love. I'm doing ok here, though, charming & disarming. Sal can not believe what people give to us because of me, 24/7, the way people make way & the petals strewn at my feet. I have never been here, but I feel like I never left. Je vous adore, je reviens.