Trains carry some sort of nostalgia: Minding the gap between oneself and the platform, between the path and the picture that starts popping behind the crystals. Reclining on the seat, you let your eyes get lost on your mobile screen and forget about the people, the children (british children didn’t learn to cry like babies in America do), the cold, the dogs… One goes static in any seat of a train while the landscape outside bifurcates itself.
The year begins and I feel the absence of my people, of my new ones, of my land and, above all, of the infinite blue of the sea. Insularity is a watermark, an immovable constant. On this island, also finite, the edges do not know distances. It's Saturday, January 5 and I'm on my way to Brighton.
London is always the first stop: Victoria Station, my first destination after arriving in the UK four months ago. The countdown hits the thought. Carpe Diem, I tell myself.
London is a festival for those who listen, a carnival of languages and accents, a show of talent in the corridors of the oldest world’s underground. The soundscape is amazing: the discounts of the stores, Brexit, the rent increase, music, Megan and Harry, the rustle of the bags, the doors opening, the steps in the rain ... The city is a perfectly desynchronized choir.
I play with my schedule in the margins left when I’m forced to change from one platform to another. I have learned to take the risk of arriving on time. The train to Brighton departs from platform 18, at the east end of Victoria. Movement. In the window the greens are combined with the random white spots of the sheep grazing in the field.
The moment before getting off the train is a routine: scarf around the neck, closed coat, hat on the head and gloves on the hands. I checked the phone in my pocket, the backpack closed and grabbed the suitcase. Pass the ticket, exit the station and locate a bathroom. Rummage your pockets and try to find the 20p you need to go to the toilet. Nothing. Contactless’ life deprives us of cash. Its coldouside , it’s always cold.
A homeless man and his dog are laid on the pavement; girls in skirts (its less than five degrees celsius outside) laugh on the sidewalk. A drunkard shouts while seagulls squawked like music in the background. In the UK, witnessing seagulls is not a certainty by the sea; but it is in Brighton.
The Marine Parade street is my first vision of Havana, of a Havana that could be if a bucket of investment and effort rained on it. It reminds me of the malecon, that architectural sofa on which the Cuban capital lies. The street lamps, the passers-by, and the ocean. It’s like a poem to my longing.
The Brighton Palace Pier is illuminated and reveals a path that leads to happiness, an oasis of entertainment for families, a bottle of adrenaline for those who, like me, love roller coasters, carousels or the tickle in the belly that produces the fear of falling.
Newly wed couples kiss on the Pier for their photo album, just like the Cubans do at La Chorrera, where the malecon begins. The brides, here, endure the cold while posing with their snow white dresses before the camera. They walk in heels and smile as if it were spring, until the photographer makes a sign and they return to the shelter side.
The seagulls, as if they were Hitchcock's birds, 'hunt' potatoes, churros or the hot-dogs from the hands of the visitors. Eating fish maybe has become old-fashioned for them.
Modernity is a stigma in Brigthon. Its colors, its #loveislove, its people (without distinction of gender or creed) wearing panties and heels as a tribute to the adaptation of the Rocky Horror Show at the Teatro Real. The spirit of Kemptown seems to cover the city with its vision of color, vintage, multiculturalism.
The invitation to get lost in The Lanes is tempting. It is a tissue of small microworlds that are disposed in interlaced labyrinths. Each one has more than ten different businesses: restaurants, cafes, bookstores, tailors, tattoo studios and vinyl record stores. This has made it the most hipster city in the world, according to a study by the company MoveHub.
It's hard to find a McDonalds, a Costa, a Primark ... Let's say Brighton has its own personality, and it's appreciated.
In a day of clear blue sky, of that celestial that deceives the mind and makes you believe that outside people melt under the sun, the Cuban friend who welcomed me in Brighton invited me to know the university where she is studying a master in Communication for Development. We both are in the UK thanks to the Chevening Scholarships granted by the British government. Privileged and grateful.
"Half of my heart is in Havana uh na na ..." I had felt it close in places like The Cuban, in Canterbury, or like when my chest squeezed to see “the flag of the lonely star” in Bristol, at a place called " Revolution of Cuba". But few things take me back to my homeland like the guaguas (buses). British regulations established the permissible capacity of people according to the place, for sanitary reasons. But in my island, the largest of the Antilles, we do not believe in things like personal space. We say "imperialist hoax" to everything that indicates that the bus is full when there is 20 cm between people’s bodies. We are,as a result of our history and circumstances, a compact, united people.
It is easy to understand my surprise when riding in an articulated bus in Brighton, similar to the ones caught by those who travel the streets of Havana, at three o’clock on Monday morning-where people go in silence.. in their own thoughts. Strangers here rarely talk to others for no reason.
At the University of Sussex, however, the air is different. Its buildings are located in the areas of the South Downs National Park, being the only one of the UK located in a protected area of this type.
The architect Sir Basil Spence dream of a university city made of bricks, with cylindrical forms on a green lawn. It is almost a deja vu, a similar image to the University of the Arts (ISA) of Cuba. As if Sir Spence had had a coffee chatting with the Cuban architect Ricardo Porro and the Italians Roberto Gottardi and Vittorio Garatti, and they had agreed to make clay shrines for education and culture.
Once again, the recurring feeling of being at home.
And finally ... you. I came to Brighton just to see you, to wet my feet on your shore like a blessing of new year, to fill my lungs with salt and cleanse my demons of sadness. I put my hands to my mouth to prove that you are the same, no matter where you are. I opened my arms to you, as always, and I felt wrapped in the foam of the waves.
The sunset was a light show on your clean, horizontal silhouette. The windmills in the distance, the golden reflection on the water, the barking of a dog ... The dreams of return and of the future. The sea, again, filling my eyes; but with lines of happiness on the face.
Coming back, said Benedetti, is also a way to find yourself.