November 2010


Last night, on the television of my planet I was watching a newscast of Telesur*, which has become fashionable, not for its content (very similar to ours), but rather for the number of images (which we are not accustomed to). I was able to see, almost with amazement, what happened in many of the polling stations in Haiti.

Ballot boxes tampered with and thrown on the floor, with plenty of ballots, some already used by voters, scattered everywhere. Disorder and confusion reigned in the midst of an election. I do not understand how it was possible to conduct it, in the tragic setting of a cholera epidemic and in the aftermath of the earthquake, from which, incredibly, they haven’t begun to recover, despite immense help received from many countries

Moreover I was shocked to hear early on the news, on shortwave, that international agencies were satisfied regarding the outcome of the election.

I asked myself one question immediately. How is it possible that this chaos, called an election, has been approved by the OAS, and not the well-organized and freely carried out, democratic and transparent election in Honduras, with the high participation of the people who expressed their civic will?

*Translator’s note: Telesur is a Pan American Television network, headquartered in Venezuela, which was started in 2005 as a project to present the viewpoint of international and regional leftist intellectuals.

Translated by Ricote

Once again this year, our friend, who does not like to go backwards nor drive long distances, invited us to take her in her car to El Rincon and back again, to lunch in a very good paladar – private restaurant – in Santiago de las Vegas, as a gift for my birthday

We left about 10 in the morning to allow a little time in the sanctuary and to investigate a bit, on the way back, looking for onions, as they are very rare and expensive in the city.

I noticed, with pleasure, that after a year, those broken roads had been repaired. We hypothesize that it was because of the proximity to the upcoming Saint Lazarus’ day.

clip image0063During the trip, we were able to observe that many people were walking from the last bus stop in Santiago de las Vegas. Others climbed aboard carts pulled by pairs of horses, carrying twenty people. It was almost a medieval vision. Improvised flower stalls were on both sides of the road, and in the doorways of some of the houses were tables full of plaster images representing Lazarus, Chango, and some other deities. Also the odd stall selling pork, just hanging there, without any refrigeration. The day was cloudy but very hot.

The most pleasant surprise was upon arriving at the church. Newly painted, and with very well tended gardens. I immediately noticed the absence of the sign that was on the front door last year, spelling out some of the prohibitions with regard to dress and conduct, for those who wished to enter the temple. The church was filled with believers, despite being almost twenty days before the awaited celebration. Many young people and children, as well as a large line of people of all ages, were waiting to receive the blessing. The altars of Lazarus and the Virgin of Charity were filled with flowers and candles. A young woman dragged herself to the altar, fulfilling a promise. I was extremely comforted to note that, despite the years of prohibition and shortcomings, the popular faith is growing every day.

Translated by ricote

Translator’s note: December 17th is the day of Saint Lazarus, the Patron Saint of the sick (also known in the Afro Cuban culture as Babalu Aye). Pilgrims come from all over the island, some crawling hundreds of miles, to the Sanctuary of Saint Lazarus, in the El Rincon neighborhood at the southern edge of Havana.
November 28 2010

Today in the United States the day is called “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving. All the retailers nationwide attract a great number of women who stand in line in front of the large stores starting in the earliest hours of the morning, to be the first to get the items on sale. Meanwhile, most of the men stay home in front of the television so as not to miss the football games.

It is known as “Black Friday” because the stores earn their highest profits on this day, turning the ink in their account books black.

Here on my planet, the turkeys brought from North Carolina, USA, despite the famous blockade, are dying of laughter in the freezers of the hard currency stores. The cost per pound is about 3.50 in CUC’s or nearly four dollars US. You already know the weight of the smallest turkey. So there is no increase in special odors nor aromas, wafting over from the neighbors’ ovens. Given the truth of what I’ve said here, there is no tradition of it, but how could it possibly take hold with such limitations.

Many people on our planet know of these feasts through illegal CDs that circulate from hand to hand, with the Maria Elvira and Este Noche Tonight programs, which feature program breaks that always make you salivate, with the supermarket ads enticing you to buy a wide variety of products at incredibly low prices, especially as compared to here. So, although as much as the majority of people on my planet would like to enjoy this tradition (everything about this holiday is well received), we find it absolutely impossible, not to mention that we need to save the little bit that we have to celebrate Christmas Eve, which has been imposed by popular will, despite the fact that they have wanted to move the celebration to the beginning of the year.

My husband and I celebrated yesterday by drinking a toast, with the softdrink Tu Cola, in the house of our friend the poet and Regina. Our budget would not stretch any further, but we hugged, and we expressed our gratitude to God, for enjoying with each other such a beautiful friendship. We did the same thing by telephone with friends who have left us on this planet, where every day, not just Fridays, is black with gray stitching.

Any day is good to give thanks to God or to life, as each person wishes. The important thing is to be thankful for the gifts received. Among them, mainly family and friends; all who have encouraged us during our existence.

The mere fact that you can see the sun every day, is enough to give thanks. Being healthy is most precious and, if we add to it, the joy of having a beautiful family and close friends, I think it’s more than enough to constantly be grateful.

It is true that this beautiful tradition was never adopted on our planet, because before the night obscured everything, we already had many beautiful traditions, but I’m sure that if time had not paralyzed us, today we would have a Thanksgiving Day, because even though it has nothing to do with our history, neither did baseball and we adopted the sport and made it ours.

Therefore, from here, I send warm greetings to everyone who reads me, and I wish for you with all my heart a very Happy Thanksgiving.
November 25 2010

Never before have I thought of the old saying my grandmother repeated so often.

She was a living storehouse of Spanish popular sayings, which we inherited from the mother country and that enrich our culture.

I once heard a professor of Marxist philosophy say that in his saying there were all the categories of philosophy. He always started his classes by spouting off a popular refrain in the classroom.

For many years, on my planet, to be the “outside lamp” has been a daily practice, invoking an unqualified solidarity. Every so often we see a group of doctors on television, departing for some “brother countries” to bring medical care and even medicines. All this is very laudable. As is helping the victims of earthquakes and other cataclysms, but what we can’t lose sight of is that the first duty of a doctor is to “those at home.” Often you have to trek from doctor’s office to doctor’s office, to find a doctor who can give you a prescription, or take your blood pressure. The same thing happens with drugs, most of which are often unavailable.

We can say the same thing about teachers, international aid workers, and even social workers, who are sometimes sent to teach the citizens of other countries, or to change regular light bulbs for energy-saving ones. It’s not as if that is such a hard thing to do. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have any work for them to do. We also have artists who have turned themselves into “street lights” for the official propaganda. The case of the singer Silvio Rodriguez, who appears in a TV spot now advocating for the so-called Five Heroes.

We worry a lot about what happens in other countries, and we turn a blind eye to what is happening right next to us.

That famous saying once again comes to mind: Light in the street, darkness in the house.

Translator’s note: The old expression “Light in the street, darkness in the house” means that someone is out more than they’re at home.

November 22 2010

The Temple and its Ceiba Tree

Monument to the Engineer Albear (who designed Havana’s water supply)

Paseo del Prado and the Fausto Cinema

Cupola of the Capitol, seen from inside

The corner of Obispo and Mercaderes, in Old Havana

(Photos by Rebeca)

Congratulations my Havana, on your 491st Birthday.

The official (and only) press published it: next year in the month of April the Party Congress will be held. The only item of business will be the economy. What?

The first announcements that the long-delayed Party Congress would finally be held created many expectations. The president’s remarks destroyed what little hopes had been raised, among some believers. Nothing will change. No one dares to bell the cat, even though the cat is old and sick, everyone is too frightened to approach him because they have to look out for his long, sharp claws.

By the end of the year, the people of my beloved planet are facing the recent increase in the price of fuel, new increases in food prices, new electricity rates, the decline of public transport, the uncertainty of massive layoffs, in short, how to celebrate with renewed vigor another anniversary of the victory.

If we add to all this, the exhaustion, disappointment, hopelessness, I think we will see very little reason to celebrate. And what’s more, the fact is the Party governs the destiny of our planet. And then we add to all of that this announcement that the next official Party Congress will have a single topic.

All this reminds me of an old Soviet joke: Two friends run into each other and one says to the other, “Comrade Ivanovich, why weren’t you at the last Party Congress?” “Caramba!” he answers, “If I’d known it was going to be the last I would have made a great effort to attend!”

Many have manipulated the meaning of this word. I have always found its implications exceedingly annoying, as I have refused to be unconditional about anyone or anything. I ran into more than a few problems in my old workplace defending this position.

I remember one occasion, when I was questioned in my work by the secretary of the Party nucleus because, speaking precisely about unconditionality, I commented that I didn’t feel unconditional about anyone or anything, much less a man, because, being human, we are prone to make mistakes. I was talking about ideas, not leaders. I almost got fired.

Today, listening the shortwave, the controversy was raging on our neighboring Bolivarian country — Venezuela — because of the unfortunate pronouncements of high-ranking General Rangel, who said that the armed forces are unconditionally wedded to the politics of the president. He was forgetting that the only possible and honorable marriage is with the constitution of the country — adopted by the vast majority of the population — which he is obligated to defend, as demanded by democracy. This unconditional matrimony, in my view, is nothing more than a miserable concubinage.

Next to my apartment building, in the corner of 41st Street in Nuevo Vedado, there is a kindergarten that has been there for many, many years,  My two children, with 12 years between them, attended there.

From my apartment I could hear the children’s voices and laughter, and sometimes, the screams of the seños — the caregivers, who are not teachers. I became accustomed to hearing them and thought they were funny although, on occasion, their nonsense towards those who cared for them bothered me. Suddenly, it was 3 months or more, when the silence and the neglect of the place disturbed me. The area is on a corner which has beautiful trees and because of that, it makes it a highly desirable place to build those nasty low-cost houses that have been spoiling the architecture of the neighbourhood for years.

Yesterday, when I was walking from the market, I was struck by the state of a daycare in this neighbourhood that had been completely abandoned for 2 years. It was said they would remodel it but, far from it, they have left it to drift. Windows are missing glass and in some cases there are only marks where windows used to be. Wild grasses cover the ground all around. There is not a single sign indicating that they are repairing it nor is anyone watching the premises.

On my way home, I encountered a woman who is the director of kindergartens in this neighbourhood. I asked her what will happen with the one next to my house. She told me it couldn’t reopen because there were not enough children. Only two had been registered. She also commented to me that this situation is repeated in all municipal areas as the child population pyramid is very low. As you know, it is the same in Europe. But for different reasons, I replied. She paused and said goodbye. I realised she had memorized the official party line.

It was an afternoon like any other. The bus was full of passengers, with their tired faces and lost stares, going back home, after a day of hard work, or just working hard trying to finish the day.

Everything was normal: occasionally slamming on the breaks, loud conversations, deafening music coming from the last rows, the same as every day. This bus doesn’t go through the tunnel, it goes along a highway bordering the town called The Ring. Some people had already gotten off the bus, others took a seat. Almost everyone left was going to the neighborhoods of Bahía or Alamar.

Suddenly, in one of the darkest and most deserted stretches of road, two men get in the bus, they take out knives, one starts threatening the driver, while the other threatens the passengers. Soon, they go from passenger to passenger demanding their watches, gold chains, cell phones, money and anything of value. A lady who seemed reluctant was treated especially harshly. One of the robbers told her: Now, since you were such a pest, you have to give me your clothes too: the poor lady arrived home in her underwear. This happened just two weeks ago.

I remembered what the police officer told my friend, the doctor, when she was robbed. It’s your fault too, because you were wearing nice clothes and a gold chain.

I hope those unlucky folks, who were robbed and degraded, will not file a report at the same police station where the police officer mentioned in my previous post (see “The Victim’s Fault”) works.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

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