May 2010

In my planet, as in many others, lots of things are chased after.  But the difference here lies in the fact that we are pursuing much more and at the same time are being pursued ourselves.

For example, right now rice, that simple grain, has more people chasing after it than Jack Bauer himself.  The popular intelligence network constantly informs us about where we can find that grain.  Sometimes it’s in this supermarket, or that one, etc.  But if you don’t have a car (with a powerful and working engine), you will surely arrive late and there won’t even be a single grain left for you to take home.

With much hype, our planetary newspaper continues announcing the production of rice, but the truth is that only the press can see this.

Every once in a while I’m able to get some.  They tell me it was taken from Palco.  People, this is a diplomatic supermarket (at least in theory) where everything is more expensive than in other places.  Everyday Cubans (those who have cars are athletes or famous musicians) never buy there, for the journey of getting there consists of traveling through multiple provinces.  It’s located in the most intricate space of what once was the Biltmore Building, now known as Flores (which translated into English means “Flowers”- ironically, there are none anywhere around it).  It’s located very deep into the town, almost in the sea.  Despite all these difficulties, a diplomatic friend of mine told me that last week they had imported packs of rice and those Cubans who found out took 5 or 6 bags.  She couldn’t step out of her shock, she told me that only in the 8th season of 24 (the TV show) had she seen so many people chasing someone or something.

Translated by Raul G.

That is what my planet’s Ministry of Public Health says.

And it is exactly this same sector which confronts more hygiene problems.  I’m only going to share some images and their places of occurrence.

Excerpt from the Granma newspaper.

Observe the bulk distribution in small shops of Pinar del Rio of milk for kids up to 7 years of age:  A jar, a funnel, and a deep plate to catch anything that falls out.

Public bathroom, Offices of Identity Cards, located in the Embil building.

Hallway in the waiting room of a family doctor, 24th street, Nuevo Vedado.

A picture is worth more than a thousand words!

Translated by Raul G.

Today I once again had to go to the La Lonja del Comercio in Old Havana. This time I took my sister, who suffers with her knee and has little mobility.

There, in a place behind the building, are all those citizens who have been called for interviews or to submit petitions for Spanish citizenship, based on having a grandparent from Spain. My sister was in the latter group.

When the time of the summons arrive, they call your name and surnames. They show you to a room where a tall black man, very nice, gives you a series of explanations about how to fill out the documents or even helps you with something new (which is not his job) in case you’re mistaken about some data.

He then explains how you must submit the papers, the order of the waiting line, and tells you, now, those who have the petitions can go into a little room, where it’s very crowded and hot, as if you were riding in those buses called Camels, only the advantage is, these Camels are going to take you to Spain. Up that point it went very well, but then the problems started:

In the case of grandparents, like mine, who never became Cuban citizens, who never worked for anyone (they were self-employed), and who never registered with any governmental office, how can you get a document that proves they were Spanish, but without it you can’t do the paperwork. You have to show the presence of a grandparent in Cuba, they say, but isn’t it enough to show the birth certificate of their daughter where the grandparent shows up as the person who wrote it? Is it not enough to have a marriage certificate of this grandfather, with the grandmother of the applicant? Or last but not least the death certificate and the cemetery papers that show that the grandparents died and is buried in Cuba? Is there any change that in 1912 there was artificial insemination and the Internet. Then, gentlemen, how could my grandfather have accomplished all these acts of presence without stepping foot in the country?

Now tell me the truth: You don’t believe that if the Spanish here in our homeland, given so many difficulties of establishing themselves, we would be the descendants of God knows what ethnicity. Nothing, when the forms and the paperwork are finally finished, if I am successful, it wouldn’t be more than chopped meat with olive oil.

I have often commented about those who seem to have no sense of being rooted to anything nor any respect for anything and who use their energies to convert the city to a dunghill.  However, to my delight (and to that of many who think like I do), today I was struck by an image that suddenly appeared in my path.

I got off the bus in that place known as La Verbena, located in the municipality of Playa, a place where many important routes cross.  I was walking towards 8th street on Miramar.  I went down Lazaro Cardenas Avenue as a shortcut when suddenly I saw the skeleton of a tree emerging from the sidewalk across the street.  I quickly pulled out my camera and set out to photograph the site for my collection of “massacred trees.”  I was so pleasantly surprised by the image my eyes were capturing.  All I could do was take these photos which I share with you today.  This confirmed that despite the cruel reality of my planet, there are still sensible people who do anything they can to decorate their surroundings.

This gracious image, which sprung up in front of me, lifted my spirits and gave me an optimistic push to get to where I was going.

Translated by Raul G.

Patch-work by Rebeca

More than half a century ago, this restaurant became famous because, among other things, of the affluence as well as the show business of that era.  It was the perfect place to relax and chat.  All in all, the place was popular due to its great cooking and cocktail bar.  As if this was not enough, its beautiful view of the Port converted the place into one of the most visited night-time locations of our capital, famous throughout all of America.

One of the most devoted clients of the place was Maria Valero, a beautiful Madrid native who enjoyed an incredible amount of popularity for being the youngest lady to take part in the most popular soap opera of the time: The Right to be Born.  She established herself in Cuban radio, finding her apotheosis in the character of Isabel Cristina, a role that Feliz B. Caignet wrote for her, which eventually converted her into a true Caribbean radio star.

Her death, from an accident on the morning of November 28, 1948 while she was crossing Puerto Avenue to admire the splendor of a comet in the sky, led to a true public mourning.

After many years of being closed, after the triumph of the Revolution, and having previously been a miserable inn, El Templete is now resurgent like a Phoenix.  But this time, not even the glamor of the celebrity world of this planet has access to it, unless a foreigner invites them, for besides showing its menu with prices as high as the very stars, their exquisite dishes are sold in CUC.  Almost none of us have access to such currency.

Note:  A huge “thank you” to my friend who gave me this menu, for she knows I collect them.

Translated by Raul G.

Today, I am sharing with you the following piece of work which my friend, Fernando, sent me and which gave the title to this post:

There exists a magnificent German documentary called “The Art of Making Ruins” which shows some ruins in Havana and the people who inhabit them.  Seeing it is unpleasant.  However, if we desire, its run time could extend beyond infinity, taking into account all the amounts and varieties of ruins that exist which grow in geometric progression.  If something has been successful during these 50 years and plus, it has been the act of destroying all that had been done before and converting it into ruins.

For our towns and cities as well (the case of Havana has been shocking), today the sugar, livestock, railroad, coffee, chocolate, tobacco, road, hospital, school, sewer and aqueduct industries are also ruins.  This national planet, converted thanks to the work and grace of the incapacity and carelessness of one grand ruin, tries to sell itself as such to the producers of musical video clips.  The ruins have been converted to a commercial product, of course in a currency that is freely convertible.  Some good ruins, along with some girls barely wearing any clothes, a few bottles of rum, and lots of music is what really sells.  Lacking any others, this seems to be the grand new product up for export.

Translated by Raul G.

In my planet the word “ocambo” is synonymous with being “very old”.

Without a doubt, I, just like many others, like dinosaurs.  By this I am referring to those giant animals that roamed the earth thousands of years ago and whose fossils continue to be discovered up to this day.

When I was a little girl, reproductions of these dinosaurs in the form of beautiful toys did not exist like they do today.  I only came to know them through books and comic-books.  Yet a rare species of this animal still survives in my planet, surely descendents of those who existed long ago.  They are the “ocambosaurus politicis cubinicis” and they lack the ability to arouse the scientific and cultural interest that their ancient ancestors have.

When they reappear at any given place, and our planet Cuba seems to have all the right natural ingredients to sustain them, they represent a turn towards the past, a real regression, the recycling of something completely obsolete and unnecessary.  In the course of many years they have proven their incapacity, for they are impeded by their very own nature from adapting to the changes that are made necessary by the new times in order to generate solutions for the current problems and to obtain necessary progress and well-being in the long run.

Taking this into consideration, the only option which we have left in order to recycle them would be to launch a good tourist marketing campaign that would appeal to those visitors who dream of seeing one of these giant living, or semi-living, animals.  But I don’t think they are really worth it.

Translated by Raul G.

On my planet one faces many obstacles and needs many documents to carry out just about any type of transaction, especially if it is anything that might make life a little easier

For example, I have been immersed in paperwork for more than one year for my Mariel with castanets.  During this long period of time, I have had to visit innumerable civil registries and all types of offices.  Also, along the way I have been sharing my acquired knowledge with all who are beginning the process.  Therefore I have decided to make a type of manual for domestic consumption, of course. For others it is purely an illustration.

1.  First, you must get up at the crack of dawn–the earlier the better.  Due to the danger such an early hour and the locations pose, it is recommended to go accompanied.

2. You should dress appropriately (if it is within your means), that is, wear a pair or slippers or cool flat shoes, so when the midday sun heats the pavement your feet won’t burn.

3. Wear comfortable clothing, the older the better, because you are going to take a beating, what with the crowded bus, the heat, and when people carrying dangerous packages rub up against you.

4.  In the case of women, you should carry large bags; men should carry backpacks or brief cases, where you can stuff: portfolio with your papers and document stamps, bottled water, a handkerchief, toilet paper, a teaspoon, a small glass, an umbrella, a small flask with alcohol or cologne, a newspaper to use as a seat on the curb, and other miscellaneous things that could be useful to you. Definitely, place a few convertible pesos in your pocket in case you need to open doors.

5.  Once you are at the venue, you must find out who is last in line, and also the penultimate person, and the antepenultimate, just in case. Notice their clothing carefully so you can identify them later.

6.  A stranger who lacks the aforementioned objects might immediately draw near to you, and in a soft voice, might say, “Listen auntie, you want a place at the head of the line?” Be careful, this could be a set up where you could lose it all.

7.  Anyhow, even if you saw daybreak at the venue, a brawl will break out.  If you have a safety helmet, use it because those who butt in will try to create chaos because in murky waters...but you stay put, like a soldier, because as far as that is concerned, we are all experts.

Translated by HEFA

Once again, in a gathering of friends, one of those present related how last Friday she had attended a conference at the Asian House in the historical center of our city, given by a Japanese man about gardens in his native land.  The conference was enriched with the projected images of the magnificent gardens and landscapes of this beautiful Asian country.

Afterwards, the aforementioned speaker expressed his wish to go with his delegation to our Japanese garden immediately, since they had no other time on the agenda, and they remembered that when the garden was planned Japan collaborated on the design, and had even donated a sculpture, almost sacred, which is usually placed as a symbol in these gardens.

Right then, the rushing about started.  Emergency calls by cell phone from Havana Vieja to Calabazar so that they would prepare the conditions for the imminent visit. Needless to say, when they reached the place the employees were there, broom in hand, putting the finishing touches in order to receive such an honorable committee.

My friend, who was part of the representation of our planet, was appalled and embarrassed at the spectacle she observed with her eyes.  The garden was in a total state of neglect, not even a shadow of what it had been.  The totem was damaged, as if a madman had vented his anger against it with a sledgehammer.  She dared not make any comment, nor look the Japanese in the face.  They left in silence and in silence continued the return journey.

Later, someone said that the Japanese had expressed a desire to make a Cuban garden in his country.  Then my friend spoke, “I have in mind the design.”

She said, “I imagine, a large plot, with all kinds of weeds growing on their own, a few cans, empty cartons and plastic bags, scattered everywhere, some animal dung, and a beautiful sign that says you can walk on the grass.”

Translated by ricote

This statement is too emphatic, and also risky. To my knowledge, until now, on my planet only one thing seems to have come to stay; everything else has been vanishing, gradually or sometimes abruptly. Nor will this one thing be an exception.

A few years ago, before any of the countless transportation crises, to mention just this one, the issue that concerns me, it was decided to import hundreds of thousands of old and heavy bicycles. They even reopened the doors of an already obsolete factory to make these bicycles, to be sold to my homeland (“not a scratch” as some emerging teachers* say).

Because if in Holland everyone was using them, we could do no less. Of course in that country everyone also eats cheese and nibbles chocolate, but they didn’t tell us that. Thus, we saw grandfathers, grandmothers, children perched on the front of the bike with their two parents, one pedaling and the other clinging to the back as best they could, with the smaller children sandwiched between their parents, and also architects, military men, doctors, (some of whom had to get off the bike to climb the hill and then got back on). There was even a character in the higher echelons, now ousted, who, wanting to make himself congenial, used it for a few days to get to work. The seriously ill were taken to the hospital by bicycle, having no other means of transportation.  Not to mention the number of accidents where many cyclists lost their lives since at night, for lack of headlights, they moved like ghosts in the dark, which was made worse by the lack of lights in the city itself, turning many into veritable specters.

Once again we see long lines at the bus stops.  I hope this time there no longer exist, in the rest of the galaxy, bicycle factories closed for obsolete technology waiting to be reopened for business on our planet.   I remember a former youth leader, who today is also ostracized, who said: the bicycle has come to stay.

These artifacts, like many other things on our planet, will become part of the scrap heap of the involution.

Translator’s note:
*Emerging teachers: Cuba has responded to a shortage of teachers with the “emerging teachers” program, which puts high school graduates in the classroom with the expectation that they will “learn on the job.”

Translated by ricote

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