February 2010

Once during an interview that I gave to the Daily Listín, of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, I told the journalist that revolutions, in relation to the family, were like a volcanic eruption.  When it starts to shoot out rock fragments, they fall spreading outward, some further away than others, each one taking a different trajectory, others simply swept away by the lava.

All the people that I love most are dispersed in different parts of the planet. If there is a problem in Madrid, I shudder to think that my younger son may be nearby. If there is a blizzard in France, I pray to God that it’s not where my other son lives with his wife and children.  If something happens in Rio de Janeiro, I plead with all my might that my oldest granddaughter is not there nor in the area. And in Chile, where just now an earthquake measuring 8.8 has struck, I go crazy if I don’t immediately get news, because my niece whom I adore, her husband and children, and a lot more Chileans who are part of my family, are in Santiago.  In the end, I spend my life praying to God to keep them safe and let me see them once again.

Today the first report of the earthquake in Concepción stunned me because it is not very far from Santiago and the magnitude of it was intense. Until I got news, I could not calm down even a little. I’m still not entirely calm, because communications are extremely difficult for me, I have to hope that they will communicate by any means possible.

Forgive me, but I had to have this catharsis. I have begun to receive news of my family, but I have many friends whom I love in that part of South America. I would like to know that everyone is safe, that if anyone is injured they recuperate soon, that they recover from any material losses as soon as possible, and that God has mercy on this nation as well as on Haiti.

Translated by: Tomás A.

If, during work hours, you pass by any part of the city where there is a Civil Registry, you will notice the long lines of people waiting, and others passing time, sitting around the sidewalks and in the surrounding parks of those areas.

Similarly, if you walk near The Commerce Warehouse, in Old Havana, where the Spanish embassy offices of application processes are located, you would also see a large number of people waiting in the main doors of this building and in the portion of the Malecón right in front.

This is all due to the fact that a great number of Cubans are trying to fulfill application processes with the hope of taking refuge under the Law of Historic Memory, or the “Law of the Grandparents” as it is popularly referred to.  It is calculated that by years end, about 150,000 Cubans will obtain Spanish citizenship.

Let us remember that the first major wave of migration occurred during the years of 1960 to 1962.  About 230,000 Cubans left the country.  The second occurred between 1965 and 1973, with a total of 330,000 people who left between the port of Camarioca and the Freedom Flights.  The third, through the Mariel port, was in 1980, when an opportunity arose for 123,000 “Marielitos” to migrate to the US.  The fourth wave occurred in 1994, known as the Rafter Crisis, when about 90,000 Cubans fled the territory in precarious, flimsy, and improvised vessels.

As an interesting detail, I would like to add that before 1959, there were only about 30,000 Cubans living in the US.  Currently, 1.2 million of our compatriots are situated in different parts of North America, out of which 55% reside in Miami Dade.  The rest, completing the statistic of 2 million, live dispersed throughout Spain, France, Sweden, Iceland, Chile, etc.

Without a doubt, what is occurring right now in our country, to my judgment, is nothing other than another Mariel, but this time with Spanish Castanets.  Olé!

Translated by Raul G.

Every Sunday from 6 AM to 9 AM, there is a program on Rebel Radio that plays music from yesteryear.  I like to listen to it because they play lots of songs from the 50’s and 60’s.  Also, that way I give maintenance to an old RCA radio from the 30’s which I inherited from my mother and that I guard it like a real treasure.

I love to listen to music.  Besides, that’s the day I go ahead and dance by myself, like Isadora Duncan, while the program lasts and that way I also get to do some good exercise.

I have called the station on innumerable occasions, trying fruitlessly so that they could please me with playing “Campanitas de Cristal” (‘Crystal Bells’) by Olga Guillot.  I could ask for many others but I do it on purpose so they will give me a logical response.  I always receive the same one.  “You will hear it as soon as we can get to it.”  What is certain is that, up to now, they have never been able to.  But today I called very early, so early that it seems as if I woke the person who was on guard in the station and, not very pleased, he responded: “It’s that we don’t have any records from Guillot, they are broken.”  What an absurd way of excusing himself from saying, with bravery, that it was just simply prohibited to play her music, just like it was to play the music of so many other great Cuban singers whose voices we have to stop listening to because of senseless decisions.  How can we intend to have the world open up to Cuba if this very government has no intentions of opening itself to anything?

Translated by Raul G.

Here they euphemistically call a document issued by the Bureau of Immigration and Aliens a “White Card.” without which nobody can leave the country. I have close friends who have been waiting for this famous card for years, while they renew their expiring visas, over and over again, from the respective countries to which they wish to travel.

Today a simile occurs to me, with regards to my head. It turns out that for many years all the people who have cut my hair, sooner or later leave the country, leaving me in a constant search for hairdressers. I’m a busy person, so I don’t have time to spend waiting my turn for hours. The state-employed hairdressers in my country leave much to be desired. I refer to those paid in Cuban pesos. (Well, the others are Cuban too, but convertible. This means that they are of equal value to dollars, plus even a little more.) Most of these establishments have poor lighting and lack water, so they have to use what is collected in large containers. The good products are scarce, and in most cases we have to take our own shampoo. All this, plus the inconveniences of transportation, has led many women, and even men, to seek the services of private hairdressers. Men have it even worse than we do, because barbers practically disappeared with the dinosaurs.

Some days ago, I had the immense pleasure of having my older brother (who is outside Cuba), send me some commentaries about my blog, which I still haven’t had the pleasure of seeing in person, since I don’t have internet.  Among them stood out one from an old neighbor, the best hairstylist in all of Nuevo Vedado.  A nice woman, modern, intelligent, and a tremendous stylist.  She at one time was the person who looked after me, cutting my hair in a movie hairstyle, while I laughed and had a marvelous time with her lively conversation.  One day she was gone.   She had left the country.  Later, I met another marvelous person that not only cut my hair, she also dyed my hair and styled my hair, she came to my house to offer her services and between cups of coffee we became great friends, we were like sisters.  She never forgot my kids’ birthdays.  She also left, taking our kind friendship with her.  During my fruitless visits to the private hospital to look after my dentures, I met a spectacular stomatologist who never was able to take care of anything due to lack of supplies, but we made friends and she came to perform the role as a hair dresser.   She did my hair in an authentic Garcon hairstyle.  During quite a lot of time, I could show off my nice haircut until she also left the country.  I continued by giving myself my own haircuts.

Then, about four years ago, a very showy lady with the air of someone from Seville moved to my block.  She proved to be the stylist of the ICAI and, as we became friends, she started to give me my new look.  She told me her troubles and little by little I was learning how alone she felt and that she felt an enormous urge to to join her only daughter and grandchildren who were living in the USA.  One fine day she, too, left and once again I found myself on standby. Now, finally, a beautiful creature whom I love like a daughter, passed a course in hairdressing and has taken me in, but it won’t be for long since yesterday I was a witness at her wedding and soon she will be off to Spain with her new husband.

Fortunately, these post are just read here on the planet where I live, otherwise the queue (line) to the doors of my house, would join that of the bakery on 26th Avenue.

Translated by BW.

A few months ago, walking through Old Havana, passing through the gardens of the Fuerza Castle, I was struck with unspeakable pleasure, beholding some centuries old trees, which though battered, showed hints of new growth.  At the base of them some signs explained that they were being rescued by the Office of the Historian, after being downed by the recent hurricanes — although they did not go through the capital, their strong winds left severe damage. The fate of these trees, if treated the same as most, would have been conversion into firewood. Fortunately, the Historian of the City learned of these plans and showed up at the place to rescue them.

Sidewalks on both sides of them, until 23rd Street majaguas covered with red and yellow, whose shadows refreshed our harsh summers. Today this avenue missing about two hundred trees. Kohly Avenue also looked at length white oleanders along with providing the gardens of houses, without the ugly fences and metal plates that today cover a beautiful view. In addition the Utility has been sent to cut people so ignorant and irresponsible that they have done is decimate and sometimes make them miserable stumps. While not mentioning that those who truly have destroyed all sidewalks and streets have been the Gas and Water Company of Havana.

Exactly the opposite happens anywhere else in the rest of the city.  The neighbors have unleashed their fury against the defenseless trees, blaming them for the deterioration of the sidewalks and the dirt from their falling leaves and flowers, cutting them down and burning a countless number of them with oil.  Apparently they prefer streets and sidewalks covered with papers, cans and every kind of trash that they themselves throw there. In Nuevo Vedado, when I came to live there at the end of the seventies, all the parterres of Avenue 26 were planted with pink oleanders.  The sidewalks on both sides up to 23rd Street, were covered with red and yellow hibiscus trees, whose shade relieved our hard summers.  Today in the avenue about 200 trees are missing.  Kohly Avenue also had white oleander along its length, along with the gardens of the homes, without the ugly fences and metal plates that today cover the beautiful view.  In addition, the Electric Company has sent people so ignorant and irresponsible that they have decimated  the trees, sometimes turning them into miserable stumps.  Not to mention that those who have truly destroyed all the sidewalks and streets have been the Havana Gas and Water Company.

Now on television they are calling for responsible cutting, but where are the institutions in charge of protecting the trees, of properly cutting their roots when they are in danger of breaking the sidewalk, of pruning their branches while taking care not to damage them. Anyway, I wanted to save the last remaining tree on my block and I was tired of calling different numbers at Green Areas.  When I spoke with one they would successively tell me to call someone else. I was about to give up when I managed to communicate with the department in question and they told me the only thing they could do was fine (with a paltry sum) the neighbor who was killing the tree, but they could not protect it.  Furious and disappointed, all I could do was cover the wounds all around the trunk with damp earth and bandage it with a strip of cloth, the best I could think of to try to save it.  Months later another neighbor finally poured oil on their roots.

Mary Carmen is a very nice woman, active, enterprising. She was a dancer before she was a bureaucrat, and a good one. She now lives, retired, in her home, which with much, much sacrifice could be rebuilt. She has good taste and is very hardworking, so that whenever you visit you will find everything in perfect order and cleanliness. She has enough time for everything: She reads, watches TV and even visits her friends.  Not long ago she went through a real nightmare caused by an invasion of termites in her apartment, due to a street tree that was sick and no one took care of it, so the unwanted insects made themselves at home in all the neighboring houses as well.  Mary Carmen discovered it one day when she went to open the door of the closet and, with a tremendous CRASH it fell to the floor.  This alerted her, and she immediate took on the task of finding and seizing the undesirables.  She discovered that more than four of her interior doors had been totally eaten away.

Now comes the hard part: finding a carpenter, who also has wood and is not expensive, as she barely has enough money from her retirement to get by. After several tries and frustrations, she finally got hold of someone who could frame doors. Her brother, who lives outside of Cuba, sent her some money to help; she got the rest by making some crafts to sell.

Good news! At last the doors were mounted in their new frames. But happiness, they say, stays but a short time in the house of the poor. Early one morning she discovered that the doorways were swollen shut, and she had new house guests. The carpenter had cheated her. Now penniless and disheartened, my friend found a most practical solution. She removed the frames again. Now all her interior doors are sliding doors. She herself runs them sideways as needed, they simply don’t have frames and are carefully propped against the walls.

Translated by: Tomás A.

There is a lot of talk on the street about how bad things are. There’s a shortage of products, transportation is failing, agricultural goods are scarce and the few things that are available are very expensive, etc., etc., etc. Some jokingly say that if you want to get enough food, put a basket in front of the TV during the news hour.

I am an older person and, therefore, with considerable experience. I’m tired of explaining to my friends who innocently fall into the webs of these fallacies that they simply do not have to any of the foregoing. That no one can criticize or compel them, as all this is entirely voluntary in nature.

I believe that it is better, instead of sweeping a stretch of street, not to dirty it in the first place, and leave the cleaning to the employees of Aurora (the organization charged with these tasks), who are paid to do it. To boycott repudiation rallies is an act of morality and civility. Nobody can make you scream nonsense or throw stones at a person you don’t even know, just because they think differently than you. That says more about the person who does it, than the person it is directed at. As for voting, almost no one has bothered to read through the electoral law that expresses tacitly it is a right, not a duty, therefore you can, without fear of committing a crime, not exercise your right to vote. I would be the first, if it became a duty, to go to the polls.

The only reason I want to explain these ideas is so that, when people have a clear definition of these concepts, they are perfectly free to act as their conscience demands, and leave a little less blah, blah, blah, in places where words fall into the void.

This time I will tell you a little about myself. I was born and raised in a family where women ran the show. My grandmother, a wonderful woman, good-looking, very austere and tolerant, taught us from an early age to be respectful to Aunt Concepción.

This aunt was the matriarch of the whole family. She had one son, and her husband was a traveling hardware salesman, portly and good natured. She took my grandmother and her four daughters into her big house, because my grandfather — charming, cultured and good natured — was very bohemian and was self-employed. I think he invented free-lance, so fashionable today, but something that didn’t allow him to take responsibility for so many commitments, with the stability it would require. My aunt saw to it that all the women in the family studied and became teachers like her.

My mother was also a teacher.  When she became a widow, she went to live with her aunt, taking my brother and me along, of course. Naturally we also studied teaching. I really wanted to be something else, maybe a journalist or an architect, but Aunt Concepción rejected this, arguing that those were men’s careers and a woman who studied in those fields would always be at a disadvantage. It was nothing, that’s ‘how things were then.  My sister was able to study at San Alejandro, the school of painting, somewhat against the wishes of the family. They imposed the condition that first she had to get her teaching degree. I too wanted to study painting, like my sister, but because I was three years younger, and in San Alejandro they painted with models who posed nude, they didn’t let me.

I began to study teaching under a special dispensation because I was younger than the minimum age, but I did very well on the entrance examinations, so I graduated very young, I mean very young, the youngest teaching graduate on record. I wanted and was able to start work immediately. The family did not like this, but I insisted, telling them that the degree was to be used, not just hung on the wall. Unlike a great-aunt of mine who after finishing her studies was not allowed to do anything, and once when she was doing the spring cleaning in her house, she took the diploma and threw it in the trash. At that time, not now, the trash was sorted in Cayo Cruz (its final destination).  A workman there stumbled across the parchment and, realizing what it was, mailed it to the Ministry of Education. They checked their records and returned it to my aunt Delfa, who upon receiving it from the postman’s hands, let out a scream of “Noooooooooo!” that they say was loud enough to be heard throughout Nuevo Vedado, in Vedado and in some other neighborhoods.

Time passed, and the year 1959 arrived, and everything changed drastically. Due to a ridiculous law, nearly all teachers emigrated or retired, even if they were still very young. I went to work at a ministry and I gradually assumed other jobs that had nothing to do with what I had studied, as did hundreds of people. Years later I began studying journalism, but just short of graduating I had to stop because I journeyed to Paris to work as a diplomat. I did a bit of broadcast journalism and now, as you can see, I am very enthusiastically writing on my blog.

This phrase is usually used when “everybody knows” something, or is supposed to know, or when nobody shows up for an appointment that was previously agreed to.

Well, here we all know or assume that everything has been said, but that is not the case, because when you hear complaints on the street it seems like the rerun of a film you have seen repeatedly many times during a half-century. For example, when it is said “now we are going to build socialism,” everyone asks “what have we been doing before now?” This is but one example.

Once again we have to deal with exhausted slogans, but this time the buzzwords are: rescue, recover, revive. They make me wonder, who let these things get lost? We’ve had fifty years with the same government. Who are we going to blame now? How is the embargo at fault for the uncultivated land; housing on the point of collapse, or already in ruins; countless trees missing from the avenues; neglected public gardens and parks; hospitals with broken windows, where panes of glass have been replaced by pieces of cardboard to seal them; sidewalks full of potholes; sewage spills everywhere; in short, the list is endless.

It is true that the citizenry in general is careless, and they throw garbage anywhere on the public highway, but I wonder where is the “New Man” we spent so much effort and dedication to create?

Now it is time, not to blame others, but to assume that these results are the products of our own actions.  It is worth asking, where did we go wrong? And to try by all available means to fix this situation ourselves, and not to wait for supernatural solutions. As I said, even the cat knows . . .

Translated by: Tomás A.

I think it’s a karmic problem. The thing is, whenever a need arises, straight away my hand goes up, as if it were on a spring. For sure, more than a few times I’ve regretted this impulse, but what can I do? It’s a question of temperament.

After a big nosh up, when everyone else is starting to doze off, I’m the one who takes the initiative and starts clearing away, and if someone else doesn’t take care of it first, I’ll start doing the dishes as well.

I remember the year 1968 when I had to travel to Prague, from Paris, where I was working, to sort out a problem that wouldn’t take me more than three days, and so I travelled with my return ticket already reserved. Basically, because I was leaving my young son for his dad to look after.

I arrived in that beautiful city one afternoon with a letter of introduction asking Cuba’s ambassador to Czechoslovakia (a friend of my husband’s) to put me up and and to do whatever he could for me.

They gave me a guest room on the top floor and warned me not to be alarmed if I heard grinding noises because a train went past the back of the house during the night.

Of course, I hardly slept. The sound of grinding kept me awake until the small hours when finally I was overcome by sleep.

Very early in the morning, I got ready for my planned appointment and I went downstairs to look for the ambassador’s wife, who had kindly offered to come with me. When I saw her I said “I’m all set”. She sounded a bit shaken and said to me “We can’t go. We’re tied up!”. “OK”, I replied, a bit sheepishly, “So let’s go when you’re not so busy”. And she said “It’s the country that’s being tied up!* By Warsaw Pact troops!”. That was when I looked around me and noticed that there were people nervously going hither and thither, not seeming to know what to do. Suddenly I realised that the grinding noise that hadn’t let me sleep a wink had been coming from the tanks and that the ambassador’s residence was located between the airport and the Soviets’ lodgings. Given the situation, for their safety, and while waiting for instructions from Havana, the ambassador had decided to bring to his home all the women and the children related to the Cuban staff.

All the Czechs who worked at the house had taken off, leaving us without a cook to see to those lodged at the ambassador’s house. And that’s when, once again, I put up my hand, and suddenly, as if by magic I found myself cooking for a household of nearly a hundred people.

My mini-break turned into a one-of-a-kind experience obliging me to stay in Prague longer than planned, until the airports were re-opened.

A word of advice: even after reading this post, if your heart tells you to put your hand up, don’t resist.

Translated by RSP

* Translator’s note. Rebeca Monzo uses a play on words here in the Spanish text. Spanish uses the same word , “ocupado” (occupied) both for being busy and for being physically overrun and occupied by a foreign army. Both senses of “ocupado” have been translated here as “tied up.”

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