Something strange happened to me one night in Santiago de Cuba. We were there on holiday for four days, escaping the attack to the senses that Havana had been by taking a seventeen hour train ride to the opposite side of the country. Santiago, although hotter, was more manageable. Our casa was in the city centre. At night, with the milder temperature, we longed for music, Cristal beer and dance. Most of the locals were in the street, in balconies or with chairs outside of their doors to catch the still breeze. I danced with Enrique. Like many before, he asked for money, or a beer or something but I already knew the rules of the game and refused. I was in a cheerful mood – I had received a dance class and a maracas lesson in a slightly odd Casa da Musica and felt solidly there, in that place, mindful. I was also slightly intoxicated. Cuba’s music is distinct, usually marvelous, relaxing, happy. You know Buena Vista Social Club. That is what we had been listening to that night, as well as for the past ten days. Chan Chan, and Comandante Che Guevara were in our bodies and the tip of our humming tongues.
We decided to go home around half past eleven, our usual time, as breakfast was set for nine. Any later would mean we would get out into the burning sun, so we had early nights. I had the beginnings of a cold too. Run down and tired by body decided to get a cold in the hottest place on earth and I had to go with it. As we were walking back, through the centre’s back streets I heard, as some children played football in the street and we crossed near a church, a song that was familiar to me. Well, the song was not exactly familiar; I recognised the feeling first. It is a feeling that is difficult to describe. The best I can do is to term it a feeling of intensity, as if the muscles, bones, veins, organs, blood were comfortably occupying all the space available to them. Many people might not like that feeling, but I do. I find there is a roundness to it that I find aesthetically pleasing. Maybe that is it, maybe I am trying to write about aesthetic intensity.
We have only moved one second from my first hearing of the song. I listened for another second. Yes, it was Zbigniew Preisner, the score composer for Krzysztof Kieslowski’s films. He is so distinguishable for me. What was his music doing being played in Santiago? Moreover, who was playing this music? I was secretly hoping it was from the television, that in some weird communist connection, Fidel had decided that on that day a national channel would programme The Double Life of Veronique (my favourite).
For Sigmund Freud, das unheimlich, the uncanny, is a feeling where the homely appears strange, threatening and scary. Yet, in is famous essay, he also acknowledges the contradictions of the term, how it means both homely and unhomely. In an alien place, I heard something that spoke to me very deeply and, thus, the street, the church, the children and their ball, the night, became home.
The uncanny is a feeling, something inside provoked by the outside: we perceive and experience the uncanny, but things are not uncanny in themselves. Freud also plays, in his essay, with the idea that, in experiences of the uncanny, all is not what it seems. He connects this to the eyes, to the act of seeing, and blindness through an analysis of E.T.A Hoffmann’s tale The Sandman. But there is no reason why the uncanny cannot be related to the ears too. As I was looking around trying to find the source of the music – and note we are moving very slowly, only two seconds after the last second have elapsed – I moved around, quickly. WIth my jerk, I moved my handbag, which was, of course, in my hand. My ears are a lot more accurate than my myopic eyes so I notice, instantly, that the sound had changed as my hands moved. I put my ear to my bag. Yes. I took my phone out: some marvelous chain of actions – quite complicated, it must have been – had unlocked the phone, initiated the music player application, and selected the Van den Budenmeyer Concerto in Mi Minor. I made that place home.
This is the music I heard: