December 2011


Graffiti by an anonymous artist.

If you think about it, Cubans really have very little to celebrate.  But the mere fact of being alive, being healthy, and feeling real desire for change, are sufficient reasons to do so.  Let us decorate our houses to make ourselves feel better and joyfully welcome visitors, and under no circumstances allow ourselves to lose the few traditions that we have, those traditions, which, despite wind and tide, have remained alive in the hearts of all.

Last night, walking down some of the neighborhood streets, I observed with satisfaction that, despite shortages and high prices for Christmas items, many homes are decorated and lit in celebration of the holidays.  Even just a few years ago, few people dared to do this; the majority placing flags in front of their homes to celebrate another anniversary.

In the past, we alone adorned our balcony with garlands.  Now, on my block, at least four houses are decorated with lights and that was sorely missed.

Besides handing out flyers advertising gastronomic offerings for the 24th and the 31st of December with Santa’s face on them (grapes and more!), the new paladares are all decorated with Christmas themes, adding some life to the neighbourhood.  Even five years ago, this was unthinkable.  Now, I hope and believe that this will be unstoppable.

Every time you meet someone in the street and you greet them, even if they don’t know you know, they will greet you with: To your health, and to change.  It might be said that in these times the greatest desire of all Cubans is that these openings continue and that a great transformation take place in our country, once and for all.

The door of totalitarianism has finally been opened just a crack; our duty is to continue to keep on pushing so as to open the door wide.  We still have time, it’s coming to an end.

Translated by: jCS

December 21 2011

Patchwork, Rebeca

Because of the 492nd Anniversary of the Villa of Saint Christopher of Havana, between the many television programs dedicated to this celebration, Hurón Azul, of the UNEAC (Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), presented some interviews with renowned architects and artists, where they poured out their opinions about the deteriorating image of the city, the beautiful lady coming to less.

Some of the views expressed that, effectively, at present, due to an uncontrolled profusion of little ground-floor businesses, the cast majority of them improvised, depressing small shops (a derogatory term to describe them), are not due only to the bad taste and scanty resources of the owners, but more to the total absence of control and lack of demand that they at least present a small project plan to the managers in charge of granting the licenses or permits.

Undoubtedly, this could also be caused, by the urgency of the government in offering an escape route for the population, before the massive layoffs and their growing disapproval and the hopelessness, accentuating the impossibility of the State’s ability to offer them other work alternatives.

The urgent need of the citizens to cover the basic necessities has made these stalls proliferate in an uncontrolled manner, using doorways, stair landings, gardens and even sidewalks (mostly common-use areas), in those that unfortunately abound in bad taste and precariousness, consequently contributing to making things more ugly in the already abandoned city that formerly was considered one of the most beautiful in the world, and that survives miraculously, going through half a century of indolence and abandonment, without the Cuban authorities having done the least thing to preserve this beautiful heritage inherited by the district and the republic, that is the city of Havana.

Its decadence started very early, back in the 1970s, when they closed up and plunged into total abandonment premises that belonged to local shops, bookstores, stores, and department stores, whose owners went into exile, or else those of the people who stayed were confiscated, while some were subsequently handed over by the State for housing without the necessities nor demands that the future owners undertake a minimum of effort to make them habitable. Thus they urgently tried to solve a problem that years later led to a larger one.

Now, in this new anniversary of the city, they have sounded the warning once again, before the growing fear that they are continuing to lose the architectural value that made Havana so famous.

Translated by: BW 

November 22 2011

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Many thanks to those who have followed “Por el ojo de la aguja” (The Eye of the Needle) for almost two years, especially for the comments that have helped me to make improvements.

I hope to not let you down and continue to count on you so that “mi planeta” (my planet) will continue to be read around the world.

May the changes that we all dream of become realities, and not, as they have been so far, purely cosmetic.  Best wishes for health and prosperity for all of you.

Translated by: jCS

December 25 2011

Today, December 3rd, we celebrate the Day of the Doctor in my world.

I have a doctor friend, with twenty-five years of experience, specializing in psychiatry, with good results, according to the acknowledgement of her pacients, which is what really counts, who this year will be in her house baking cakes to be able to survive, while in her ancient place of employment, a polyclinic in Central Havana, they will hand out flowers and make speeches, with out taking into account that of the five psychiatrists who work there, only one of whom kept their job, while the other four, including my friend, were let go.

My friend is still young, not yet fifty years old, and has vast experience in her field, is divorced and has two children to take care of who are still studying. It is inconceivable that a doctor’s knowledge and experience would be wasted in this way. I understand that if this polyclinic had too many psychiatrists, something I doubt as this is an overpopulated city in which people do not enjoy the best living conditions, they should have had the others sent to other health centers where they could have used them. The sick who come in search of medical help almost always have to be attended to by inexperienced foreign students, who in some case cannot communicate very well with them, because they do not speak our language correctly. In general, this is not well received by those who come seeking medical attention, when our government shows off by sending so many doctors on foreign missions.

Is it that, since people here the do not have life insurance (it doesn’t exist), they come to practice on us as if we were guinea pigs? What’s certain is that already this is causing discomfort among people; we like to be well served and to be in the presence of an experienced doctor, from whom the students next to them can gain experience, rather than practice on the sick.

Nevertheless, my congratulations to all these hardworking Cuban doctors who take the bus (guagua in “good Cuban”) or bicycle to their hospital or polyclinic, who have shifts too often, who work with many difficult materials and who even so are kind and professional with the patients (as they should be), receiving a lower salary than an employee at Aurora (a business that sweeps the streets) or a fumigator. To all of them, my deepest respect.

Translated by: Meg Anderson

December 3 2011

Rebeca's patchwork

María is a beautiful woman in our neighborhood who, every afternoon, very made up, is out walking her dog, and each time that I see her I can only think of Chekov.

Today she woke up with her body in pain, a little cough and feeling chills, so she decided to go to the polyclinic nearby.  Once there in the emergency room, she was attended to by a young doctor who, upon seeing her, immediately sent her to get blood tests.  When the results came back the doctor, not wasting any time, had her admitted to the hospital and covered her with a mosquito net to isolate her, saying that she had dengue fever, and he immediately informed her husband, who was in the waiting room.

When the ambulance came, they told him the husband couldn’t accompany her, but he flatly refused to let his wife go off without his even knowing where they were going to take her and both of them gave up going to the hospital and returned home.

Not even an hour had passed when a doctor and nurse showed up at the couple’s house to tell them that they had to go with the nurse. Faced with the insistence of the husband and his refusal to let her go alone, they agreed to his accompanying her. This time there was no ambulance, it was a closed transport from some State company, and inside there were other patients they had collected along the way. Maria said that this improvised transport drove like a kitchen mixer through the streets of the city, making stops to pick up others presumed ill, until it was almost like a crowded bus.

Finally they arrived at the old Covadonga hospital where, in a ward crowded with patients, they lined up to be treated. Maria asked who was last in line and said she had the impression, for a minute, that they were handing out beef, because the line was just as long as at the ration store. Her turn finally came and they sent her for tests, this time it was foreign students who were drawing blood; they poked her several times until finally they got it right. Sore all over, she huddled with her husband and waited patiently for the results.

After a while a doctor came and told her, “Ma’am you can go home, you don’t have dengue fever, you have a simple cold. Do you feel well?” “Perfect!” she replied, though she was quite dizzy, but fibbing she added, “I never felt better!”

She motioned to her husband and once she lost sight of the doctor Maria said that it reminded her of her early years at the University when she was running track and field as they made a rapid beeline for the Covadonga exit, and grabbed the first old taxi they saw to get home-sweet-home as fast as possible.

Fortunately, she’s well. She told me of her odyssey herself while, with her accustomed elegance, she walked her little dog, parading past my house.

December 7 2011

Yesterday afternoon we were going in our old Lada (Russian car) by road to a house of a friend who had invited us for dinner.  Since she lives in a beautiful building on 9th Street, very close to the Malecón  on a very high floor and they had announced the fireworks that they were going to launch from the Flotilla of Liberty, I thought it would be very convenient; from this height we could watch them in all their promised splendor.

All day it stayed grey and rainy, with the arrival of the Northern cold front, and it didn’t improve in the afternoon.  When we were arriving at the area where she lives, we could see many more police than usual.  I supposed that it was due to the predictions that a great many people would be gathering at the Malecón.

Very experienced in these practices of repressing and counteracting any type of spontaneous demonstration, the authorities had taken methods to avoid any trace of them.

In practically all the parks and open areas of Vedado, the spaces were covered with tents, where they offered edibles and music.  But what most captured my attention was to see the group of X Alfonso, whose concert was first planned to take place on the Streets 23rd and G, putting up the platform and the equipment for it, exactly on the corner of 9th Street and the Avenue of the Presidents, or G Street, as it is popularly known, precisely where one can find the Maternity Hospital of Línea.  In my mind I couldn’t conceive, how is it a concert would be permitted, with the well-known speakers making so much racket, in a place where there should be silence, where woman are hospitalized just about to give birth, and there are recently born children, who mostly need silence and rest.

I could observe the proximity of the Havana Malecón, covered by people, that in any given moment, if the circumstances require, they could be easily be used as an outraged public, to repress any citizen demonstration.

We left the house of our friend before 10 at night, the time the concert was said to start.  I never knew if finally the fireworks could be seen.  The night stayed very rainy and my friend told me, today, that from her window she could see observe the small crowd that went to the concert.  What she says baffled her a bit, was to see the nurses approaching the makeshift podium and after a while returning to the hospital.  It really ended, as I could say, being really disconcerting.

Translated by: BW

December 10 2011

It isn’t a title of a movie or a novel.  It is a bar/restaurant/cafeteria, recently opened in the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood.

They opened hardly 15 days ago and all day it is completely full.  The hook?  Their prices and the quality of their offerings.  With this new example of private initiative, it is demonstrated that, when the businesses have owners and they have an open mind, things work.  Those young investors began working some months ago, to convert an immense parking lot, with the enthusiasm that gives them a feeling of being part of something, and they were transforming something little by little into a pleasant business, with great intentions, but comfortable, with good taste, good cooking and magnificent offerings.

Given that this is a neighborhood that is characterized by its large number of private home rentals, from 8 in the morning they start offering exquisite breakfasts, at modest prices, if they compare with the competition, and moreover, if you take into account that businesses where one can get supplies at wholesale prices still don’t exist in our country. New entrepreneurs are forced to acquire supplies in stores and farmers markets, where the rest of the population buys, something that keeps them from lowering their prices even more.

The success of this new establishment has obligated the competitors to improve their offerings and lower their prices a little, but even so, they maintain the leadership in this type of business. Other restaurants exist in the neighborhood, but more luxurious with an international menu of high-class cooking, whose prices are too high for the meager pocketbooks of Cubans.  That is why those are frequented mostly by foreigners.

Up until now, La Rosa Negra is the only place where they offer various types of coffee at 15 cents CUC* per cup.  The most expensive dishes, which are the shrimp and filet of veal, cost less than 5 CUC.  The drinks are prepared individually, a difference from the state establishments, according the clients request and almost all cost only 95 cents CUC, including the famous piña colada.  Here the price of a tasty dish of “Ropa Vieja” (a Cuban dish of shredded beef over tortillas over rice) with two sides to choose from is 3.95 CUC, and it tastes like what our grandmothers made.

Those young people are demonstrating what the initiative and drive of the citizen — crushed and hibernated for more than a half century — can accomplish; demonstrating now in a new awakening, that if it isn’t all as free as one would desire, at least they’re trying; that the only thing that truly functions is the law of supply and demand, also creating new jobs, to give the possibility to others to show their qualities and aptitudes, getting a better paid employment.

And, dear readers, let it be clearly understood, they didn’t give me a commission for this. It is just that these new winds of private initiative give me satisfaction and pride.

*Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies. The CUC, or Cuban Convertible Peso (which is NOT convertible on the world currency market), which is worth roughly one U.S. dollar, and the Cuban Peso, or “National Money” which is worth about 4-5 cents U.S. Salaries (rarely exceeding $20 U.S. a month) are paid in the latter, while many goods are only available in hard currency stores for the former.

Translated by: BW

December 13 2011

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