November 2012


Old view of the city from El Morro.

We have spent more than fifty years hearing talk of “the enemy.”  All the blame for our deficiencies is charged to this, just like all the evils and misfortunes, product of carelessness, inattention and neglect, also go to his credit.

With that idea they have tried to hypnotize and “idiotize” the population of “our beloved planet,” and regrettably, in many cases they have achieved it.  But in spite of all that, when someone thinks about emigrating, it is always to the country of the “enemy” (USA).  Also on occasion to others, which they use as a bridge, in order to achieve the same end.

Many of us have resisted letting ourselves be influenced by such fallacy, but even so, due to all the notoriety that precedes the matter and to the prejudices sown around it, we take care not to fall in the ideological trap, and to pander to the representatives of power.

Just a few days ago I received an e-mail from a very dear American friend, where she announced to me the visit of a friend of hers of the same nationality who wished to get to know me, and in turn he was the bearer of a gift that she was sending me.  I was very satisfied to meet him and to report that the friend of my best friend, was a charming “enemy.”  Empathy soon arose between us and it remains for us to meet next time.

Last Friday afternoon, this one invited us to go to see the traditional ceremony of “the cannon shot,” a custom that exists since the epoch of the brief English occupation, when at exactly nine at night, they closed the doors of the walls that protected the city, and that they now recreate with a pretty representation in the Cabana Morro Tourist Complex.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well restored and preserved is this emblematic place, thanks to the work of the Office of City History, the only state entity, that without fear of being mistaken, we can say has been busy rescuing and conserving some of our traditions.

We had a great time in the company of him and his parents.  It was what could be called a beautiful night of “walking with the enemy.”

Translated by mlk

November 25 2012

My husband, who is also a blogger, likes to gather stories and compile statistics. On one of the many days I have to go to Immigration with the son of a friend, whom I am representing, he decided to take us since he had gotten a little gasoline for his new thirty-five year old Lada.

As the lines in that office are always endless and the clocks seem to have stopped, Fernando amused himself while waiting for us in the car by compiling two curious and impromptu statistics. In the three hours he was parked on a stretch of 17th Street in Vedado, he observed that one out of every three people who walked along the sidewalk on the left was a woman of mixed race.

At the same time he was compiling another statistic. Of the seven “buzos” (“divers” — men who collect recyclables from trash containers) who passed by, one caught his attention. After removing all the discarded items from a large dumpster designed for that purpose, he left empty-handed, mumbling to himself. Fernando, who was beginning to get bored, stopped him and asked what had happened to cause him to complain.

“The problem is that there is no trash to collect,” he said. “If people don’t have money, they don’t buy things, and if they don’t buy, they don’t have anything to throw out.”

My husband, who can be quite straightforward, then said to him, “If I were you, I would go through the trash bins in Siboney*. I am sure you will find what you are looking for there.”

*Translator’s note: A well-to-do suburban neighborhood of Havana.

November 23 2012

I got up a dawn to go to America Arias Hospital, more commonly known as Maternidad de Linea. I was there to accompany a friend who had gone to terminate a pregnancy. Just like everyone else, she had been given an appointment for 7:30 in the morning.

This beautiful Art Deco hospital, designed by the architects Govantes and Cabarroca with some Romanesque-inspired influences, still retains a few of its original light fixtures which denote the year of its construction, 1930. Notable also are the beautiful granite floors with their motifs of contrasting colors. The wonderful stained glass skylight, in danger of being lost, still bathes the walls with soft pastel light, while the allegorical sculpture depicting motherhood on the first floor stands in front the main entrance to the building.

In the large waiting room, whose entrance faces H Street, we found ourselves among a large group of patients and those accompanying them, who had been there since early in the morning. The murmur of voices was growing, filling up the space. Suddenly, a deafening noise like the roar of an engine was heard coming from the adjoining the room. This caused those present to raise their voices in order to be heard to the point that the noise became unbearable. Then, the scrawny woman in a custodian’s uniform, who was supposedly keeping order in the place, shouted, “Quiet in the room!”

I had to keep from laughing. I went up to her and quietly asked, “How is it you are asking people to be quiet when in the other room there is a noise that sounds like it is coming from an airplane?” She smiled and said, “They are doing some construction and what you are hearing is equipment removing the debris.”

I looked through the glass door to the other room and was astonished to see an artifact that looked like a small tractor sliding with great effort over those wonderful floors and almost grazing the central columns of the main entrance.

At that moment a young woman dressed in a denim mini-skirt, that covered her only just above the legs, and a short tank top, that left her ample midsection and an odd tattoo right above her tailbone exposed, made an appearance to ask the ultrasound patients for their referral papers. “An odd look for a hospital,” I thought.

Motivated by the delay and the wait, I decided to go the the hospital’s management to complain about the noise and rude treatment, and to offer some suggestions regarding the inappropriate attire of some of the hospital’s workers. Judging by the look on the face of the director’s secretary, my complaint was not well received. As a justification she told me they were doing as best as they could considering that there was reconstruction taking place so that they could continue providing services not only to their patients, but also to other hospitals in the area, which were experiencing similar problems. She told me to file a written complaint with my name, address and ID card number, to which I responded that she could count on it.

Finally, at 11 AM a nurse popped into the waiting room to inform everyone that she was sorry, but that the exams would be further delayed because there was only one anesthesiologist in the entire hospital, and at that moment he was in surgery. After an hour they began to let in the restless and nervous patients based on their order they had arrived.

The uniformed woman blocked the door so that those accompanying the patients could not enter the exam area. Then began the skirmish to offer small gifts such as packages of cigarettes and little “empanadas de enfrente” in hopes they would be the key to get through the barricaded door.

Armed with empanadas and other treats, I managed to get to the second floor, where the procedures are carried out, in order to lend moral support to the patient like the other friends and family members who were doing the same, offering moral support to our patient. There I observed that approximately a third of the beautiful facility was closed off with signs saying “closed due to danger of collapse.” It also pained me to see how the construction workers mistreated the floors, carelessly dropping their heavy tools.

Nervously, I watched the coming and going of the only wheelchair, that was missing the foot supports and the rubber rims on the wheels, being used to bring out the patients who were coming out of the anesthesia. Finally, the creaking rhythm of that chair revealed my friend, who, happily, was responding well and recovering quickly from that painful mishap. The complete of our beautiful architectural heritage, which we left behind and whose abuse I witnessed for many hours.

November 19 2012

About six months ago I started to make travel arrangements for the minor son of a friend who lives abroad, and for that purpose she awarded my power of attorney to represent her first-born. I would like to note that on “our beloved planet,” for some things they are minors — for example to buy or sell, or to make a will — but for others, being imprisoned or executed for having committed an offense against national security, they only have to be 16.

The first thing I had to do was to go to the civil registry to get a documents proving birth, single status, lack of a criminal record, etc. This meant, of course, interminable lines, expenses to have them stamped, little gifts (i.e. bribes), and above all lots and lots of patience.

Once I acquired the national documents, I had to stand in more interminable lines, to legalize them (all paid for in convertible currency), at the State agency dedicated to this. Afterwards I presented them to the embassy that was going to receive him, in this case Spain, where the lines are amazing and the treatment offered is not the best. I had to go there several times because the information received was inaccurate and the documents asked for were difficult to get.

Once all the paperwork with the embassy in question in finished, then comes, in the case of males, the worst nightmare: release from military service.

Having already completed these steps, we just had to go through the crushing machine at the   Immigration Office. I have to admit that the treatment there is friendly. But it’s also good to note that despite this nice treatment, the efficiency isn’t the best, because almost all the personnel is new and is not well-trained.

You must come armed with patience and optimism, because you’re going to have to stand in those infernal lines many times: sometimes because you don’t have a document they didn’t tell you about, others because every time you go they ask for something new. In short, you have to go to the place many times, instead of the two times you thought: once to deliver the request and once to get the answer.

Thus, lurching along bad-humoredly from line to line, time passes and you become exhausted, and are paying sums you hadn’t counted on. None of them ask your pardon for the procedural blunders they commit, and they all act as if they’re doing you a favor and not violating your most sacred rights: to be able to freely enter and leave your own country as many times as necessary, without their preventing it.

Finally, today after so many months, so many mistakes, and so much physical and mental exhaustion, they have awarded to the boy I am representing his longed-for exit permit, to be able to be reunited with his mother, who lives abroad. This has been just like the case of another Elian, but in reverse.

November 21 2012

Yesterday was my saint’s day. I have not gotten excited about it for a long time because, with each passing year, I have had to say goodbye to many important people in my life.

In the 1970s I had to say goodbye to my three beloved cousins, my aunts and my uncles. At that time we were a very tight-knit, extended family, frequented by a large number of close friends. They later left one by one — my childhood friends, my first boyfriend, classmates, other friends… The face of the neighborhood changed and, for me, took on a feeling of emptiness. The changes taking place in the country both entertained us and drove us crazy, but they did not make up for the losses. Some things are impossible to replace.

Eventually, new families came along, and with them new friendships grew. Our own grew after my sister and I got married. Later, my sons and her daughters were born, and some part of the lost happiness returned.

The 1980s arrived, then the 1990s, and with them the blows that once again broke up the already decimated Cuban family. Once again I had to experience the pain of seeing those whom I loved most — my sons — leave. My three beautiful granddaughters were born outside the country, granddaughters I hardly know.

Many of my new friends have also left, and many others want to. Nevertheless, God has placed in my path wonderful people with whom I have recently established new bonds of friendship and love, which I hope endure.

Yesterday was a beautiful day, in spite of all that is going on in the country which concerns us. The new people in my life came over to congratulate me and to share some very pleasant moments. Those who could not come did so by telephone or through email. Ultimately, against all odds, I had a very happy birthday.

November 15 2012

Ceramic by C. Monzó

On my planet the news media is always talking about Puerto Rican independence groups, but they always fail to mention that their members make up only 2.6% of the population. As a result, the misinformed inhabitants of my dear planet think that this represents the feelings of the entire Puerto Rican people.

At every opportunity they bring on some independence party leader, as well as some artist (always the same ones), and give them air time and media coverage which is denied to the average person. I completely understand that minority opinions must also be heard and taken into consideration, but those who govern must govern for everyone, and their representatives are always and invariably chosen by a majority of the voters. This has long been the case in those countries in which democracy is practiced.

I do not understand why they defend these foreign minorities here and never take into account those of the their own country. If they took into consideration the results of the last elections, they would realize that we constitute 20% of voters. And that is only if we assume the results released by the regime itself are reliable. If you take into account the abstentions, annulled ballots and those who do not go to the polls, it is clear we make up a substantial portion of the citizenry who, by choosing these options, have demonstrated that we are not in agreement with the current system. If an insignificant minority of a neighboring country is so important to our leaders, why don’t they extend the same consideration to those who represent the opposition in their own?

I think that after the recent elections in Puerto Rico, where it has been demonstrated that the will of the vast majority of the people is to become one more state within the union, they should not continue with the same old story about seeking independence for this country in the United Nations and forming groups to support its calls for sovereignty — something which is the sole responsibility of its citizens, who have just expressed their desires through sovereign vote.

November 10 2012

Sloth

Once again, a large swath of Nuevo Vedada saw its electricity cut off for almost eleven hours yesterday in order to replace worn-out electrical poles. I believe that in the end they replaced four. A great achievement really. As a result, the hard currency stores in our neighborhood — the majority — remained closed for the duration of the thinly-veiled blackout. If you needed to buy something, you had to travel far from home to find it.

There was electricity today, but La Mariposa was closed again, this time for more than two hours, because it was fumigation day. It was disconcerting to see all the employees of this establishment sitting in the park, patiently waiting for the smoke from the burnt petroleum they use as a fumigant to clear so that the store could re-open. This can take up to two hours.

I kept on walking in search of one of the two small hotels in the neighborhood. These were built to house patients from ALBA* countries, as well as their families, during their post-operative recoveries. Since this exchange has been suspended, they now serve as modest hotels whose guests are usually athletes. On the premises they have small but quite well-stocked stores.

I arrived at the Hotel Tulipán’s store at almost a quarter to ten, when it is scheduled to open. To pass the time, I decided to go to the cafe to have a coffee. The person at the counter apologized and told me that there were only two ceramic cups, which were being used at one of the tables, so he would have to serve it to me in a paper cup, if I was willing. I said that would be fine, but asked him why they had only two cups, considering this was a relatively new hotel. The problem, he told me, was that a request had been sent in, but the company had not yet responded. That’s the difference with private hotels, I told him, since the owner would have gone to buy more cups before they had run out.

I finally returned to the store. It was now a quarter after ten and they still were not open, even though through the glass doors I could see the employees standing around. There were now five of us waiting outside. The assistant manager arrived and an employee then opened the door to greet us, without looking at us or saying anything. A young man, who was also waiting and appeared to be in a hurry, asked her why they were still not open, and she, without even looking at him, said that the calculator was broken.

I continued on my journey and saw a kiosk which sold items for hard currency. I wanted to buy a big carton of juice to take to a sick friend. When I went to pay with a twenty, the employee calmly told me that I would have to come back later because he did not have enough change.

I returned home confused and frustrated at not being able to get anything I needed, thinking that it does not take a hurricane or an embargo to destroy this country. Sloth is taking care of that fast enough.

Translator’s note: A trade alliance of socialist or socialist-leaning Latin American countries, including Cuba and Venezuela.

November 7 2012

This Sunday, one week after the hurricane, the TV of our planet set aside more than 2 hours of the Arte 7 program to present Sandy’s making off, which emphasized the government’s effort and aid to the affected eastern provinces, especially the devastated city of Santiago.

The images shown after the hurricane are conclusive proof of how bad the living conditions were and how badly the most affected installations were, like the electrical and telephone infrastructure, the grocery stores and others.

It seems the TV program wanted to “cover up” the many growing commentaries about the government’s abandonment, instead emphasizing the revolutionary solidarity, praising the dispatching of food, maintenance brigades, doctors, etc, to the affected provinces. It is logical in situation such as this one, but when it becomes a routine practice, it is not normal. Undressing one saint to dress another is an old political scheme practiced for more than five decades.

If something is crystal clear, it is that there are no available resources to respond to any type of meteorological phenomenon the way the government propaganda wants us to believe.

November 4 2012

The dreaded Sandy arrived on our shores after having caused severe damage in Jamaica and Haiti. In her strong and organized path she left a trail of destruction and desolation in many eastern provinces, the most affected being Santiago de Cuba. After seeing the dreadful images of the damage caused, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the majority of the affected homes are in very precarious conditions, that many of them would have easily succumbed to a strong gust of wind. Some were simply turned into piles of rubble. Many roofs, ripped off of buildings, revealed their poor condition and fragility, the result of a decades-long history of neglect.

For the vast majority of the population it is almost impossible to maintain their homes, much less prepare for a climatic event of this type, principally because articles of hardware are sold in convertible currency and at very high prices. I also believe that I am not mistaken when I say that almost no one was able to protect his house in time because he did not have access to items needed to do so, such as hammers, nails, wooden stakes, plywood, candles, etc. Such items can only be purchased in hard-currency stores, and rarely with the other currency, which many people refer to as “throw-away pesos.”

The damage has been actually incalculable, the loss of human lives irreparable.  Now, the only thing that remains to learn is the bitter lesson and to see the way that those of us who fortunately didn’t experience damage can share what we have with this part of our suffering population.  For that the alternative blogosphere has provided homes for receiving help.  In these we sort, pack up, and label the articles received, with the goal of facilitating their subsequent distribution.  The help, logically, we extend in coordination with the church, being the most trustworthy and safe route.

From my point of view, Hurricane Sandy, has been with regards to Santiago, “The Matador,” — The Killer — who has come to give the final mortal blow to a bull already greatly injured by stabs and thrusts, received during these gray decades.

October 31 2012

Last Sunday we had to go out to attend to some matters, among them to collect a bit of money from the sale of some work. Another was to see a poster announcing a line of cosmetic products whose model is the daughter of a very dear friend of mine, and also one of my students.

This caused us to be a bit late, so we decided to have lunch at a very famous restaurant, which is located in the central commercial district on the lower floors of the Focsa building, where the posters we had gone to see were being displayed. Café TV is a large and comfortable place, whose decor has some something to do with television on my planet. Its walls are filled with photos of our most famous entertainers. Just past the entrance I noticed a sign that said taking photos was not allowed inside the restaurant, which I found strange considering that the people who go to these places, especially tourists, generally want to have some token remembrance of having been there.

A young man with the face of an angel came to wait on us. He very politely handed us the menus and a little while later came back to ask if he could take our order. He returned again and, with utmost pleasantness and perfect manners, brought us the beers we had ordered. We noticed that almost all the waiters were very young, possibly recent graduates new to this field.

The young man in question would then successively come and go, asking us if everything was alright, if we would like something else… in other words, everything one would expect from someone in his position. And always with his left arm behind his back, as they teach them in culinary school.

The food was excellent and reasonably price, too. Well-prepared and beautifully presented. Remember that these State-owned places, which charge in hard currency, now face strong competition from the private sector.

Finally satisfied, we decided to crown this very pleasant meal with the usual and indispensable cup of coffee. We motioned to the young man with the face of an angel, who immediately responded to our call. We expressed our satisfaction, declined the usual dessert, but asked if he could bring us two espressos and the check. Imagine our surprise when, in his very proper voice, he told us sadly, “I am very sorry, but the machine is fucked up.”

We left there stifling our laughter and noting that here was one of the differences between State-run restaurants and private ones. We also thought that the country itself is really a lot like the coffee machine.

November 2 2012

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