September 2010

The festivities of September 28 are almost here, the fiesta for the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. The carnival begins.

My block, the only one who cleans is Joseito, an employee of Aurora (the State agency for street cleaning), and some other neighbors clean their gardens and in front of their houses from time to time. But today, on the eve of long-awaited party, the most militant go out to clean up what any other week, with no shame, their children and grandchildren and even they themselves make dirty.

There are those, I know them, who do not clean even the cobwebs in their entryways, nor the piece of stairway that leads to their door. But today they’re out broom in hand to sweep the street. They trim the wild bushes that grow freely during the year, and whitewash the curbs. Always the same faces, some already very faded by age and frustrations.

Always having to fake things also leave traces in the face. Anyway, there are those who, in confidence, always on the sly, timidly complain how bad the situation is and how expensive everything is.

In their houses some have hung CDR flags and the much abused national flag. A neighbor, the teacher, as we affectionately call him, uses this day to do his wash and hang, from the balcony of his house, his beach towel which has the design of an American flag on it; no one says anything because they think he’s crazy. When I observe all that is happening in my neighborhood and in all other neighborhoods, I realize why this regime has lasted over half a century. Then I feel sorry for my country and embarrassed by my countrymen.

Dear Pablo,

So your CD is titled, and it is, indeed, very beautiful, and so I want to start my missive.

Since I met you many years ago, at your home, when I visited your then wife, Zoe, I appreciated you because I found in you a good human being, simple, a great friend and father, even with children who were not your own, but you took them in and loved them as such. I admired you for your songs and also for the life you led.

Later we met in Spain, and with your usual modesty, called me to help you in the shops, as you did not like shopping. You told me you didn’t feel like it because when you went to the Corte Ingles, they would put on your music as if they were waiting to see you come in to do it.You didn’t want to believe that this music, yours, was constantly playing, because they liked it so much, it was the fad. That amused me, because you looked like a surprised child.

A long time has passed. You left the neighborhood, we have run into each other casually rarely. I also met and became friends with Yolanda, a great woman to whom you gave an international dimension with the wonderful hymn to the love she inspired in you and that bears her name.

I followed your steps, from a distance. I never liked to harass celebrities. I keep my distance, not to confuse the true feeling with fanaticism or opportunism, both of which I avoid as unpleasant.

Your previous statements, like much of your actions, have made me see the sensitive and intelligent, but above all the honest man that you are. But these latest, Pablo, I do not understand. How it is possible that, after courageously dismissing men who are over seventy-five-years-old as capable of running a country, you come to say that these same figures that you dismiss as incompetent, you now ask them to make arrangements before they die, and what’s worse to name a successor.

Do you think this is healthy, for them to found a dynasty? Don’t you think that if these characters haven’t managed, in fifty-one years, to accomplish anything, that they will achieve it now in the little time they have left. Tell me sincerely, Pablo, don’t you also dream of a free country? Democratic? Where we can express ourselves without fear of reprisals, and have the same opportunities and that everyone with their knowledge and skills can find their corresponding place in society?

I trust in your rationality and intelligence and I hope that your statements will be more in accord with the times and the century in which we are living.

A friend who lives on J Street in Vedado, near the monument to Don Quixote, told me that a man she knows in the neighborhood told her the following story of something that had happened. It turns out that this man, already older, lives in a room in what was once a family house, and not having access to any sanitary services he takes care of his needs on a newspaper which he then wraps up and takes to a trash container to throw it away. He was leaving his room with the little packet in hand to get rid of it, when a passing cyclist snatched it out of his hand. He sat down on the curb of the sidewalk to laugh like crazy just imagining the tremendous shock that would overcome the thief on wheels, when he saw the contents of the takings from the robbery.

My friend L, currently living in the United States, told me that when her daughter went on vacation to my planet, she went to the Basilica of San Francisco in Old Havana, to attend a concert. When she had almost reached the plaza, a boy on a bicycle tried to snatch her bag, but she clung to the strap to try to stop him and another rider, who was following behind the first, was the one who finally took the spoils. She recalled that her mother, before emigrating, also had a similar incident with a boy on a bicycle.

Dani was walking along the Avenida de Carlos III, looking for Calle Oquendo. She was proudly wearing her brand new sunglasses, just brought into the country. At that time, when looking cautiously to the side of traffic to cross the street, she felt an itch on her face and was perplexed to see a cyclist carrying away in his right hand her pair of glasses. All she had left was the memory of having had them, plus a few scratches on her face.

These thieves are usually at the exits of the stores, usually in pairs, as if innocently talking. When you leave the place, bags in hand, they come to ask directions, or the time, or they simply bump the person in question and then, while they distract them by offering an apology, along comes another person and, BAM!, they grab their bags and pedal like hell.

So, if you get excited by the idea of coming to my planet for a vacation, keep your eyes on the bikes! Don’t let it come to close because, though it’s not a question of death, they might leave you like a plucked chicken.

While reading the document Restructuring the Workforce, and once again going over the list of self-employment trades to be authorized, I could not stop thinking about two fundamental things. First, how is it possible to dismiss more than five hundred thousand people of working age, and to tell them, as if they were simpletons, they  can join the private sector. What private sector would that be? The document does not make this clear. Would not it be more reasonable to first create a real and strong private sector, properly legislated, without falling into these almost insurmountable traps, which is what these exorbitant taxes are? On the other hand, when I read, one by one, the trades reflected in the paper, I felt indignation and embarrassment. Even in the Middle Ages no self-respecting government would be able to develop such a list such as that.

This, as I already expressed earlier, will bring many social problems. Most likely well be a possible increase in crime: assault, robbery, blackmail, to name a few, directly related to the economy; not to mention the possible increase in the suicide rate which, although the numbers are handled in the strictest confidence, is already among the highest in Latin America. This, as I read recently in a great article that came to me in the mail, is putting the cart before the horse.

In my humble opinion, I think that once again they are trying to entertain people and sweeten the plight ahead somewhat. We already did something similar, at earlier times when popular discontent manifested itself. The result of this restructuring without creating the preconditions for it is something very like throwing more fuel on the fire.

Not all things on my “planet” are bad.  It’s true that almost nothing works properly and the dilapidation is very noticeable, but, in spite all of these years of frustrations, sacrifices, losses, and painful goodbyes, there’s also something that keeps going: friendship and the warmth among some friends.

A couple of nights ago we had the immense pleasure and privilege of being invited to a cordial evening at the home of a friend.  The main attraction consisted of a mini violin concerto, with which Maestro Evelio Tieles congratulated the host.

It was marvelous to hear that beautiful, impeccably performed medley by the famous violinist.  Beginning with Manuel de Falla’s Nana, he went on to present, note by note, a review of the most beautiful Cuban music of all time:  Veinte Años, Quiéreme Mucho, La Bayamesa, La Tarde, and, as a finale, El Mambí.

As marvelous as the interpretations of such precisely chosen pieces were, equally good were the conversations after, spanning the most varied topics.  We left feeling more than grateful for such an unexpected invitation, like one who emerges from a radiant shower of light.

This undeserved privilege was complimented by another invitation, last Sunday, this time extended personally by the Maestro: a piano and violin recital at the Basilica of San Francisco, in the heart of Old Havana.  The chosen setting couldn’t have been better.

On this occasion, the strings and bow plucked by Tieles brought us the whims of Paganini, those nocturnes by Chopin, and crowned the majesty of the repertoire with Schumann’s Sonata in A Minor, Opus 105.

It seemed as if sparks flew off the strings of the violin, to say nothing of the trial faced by Yamilé Cruz, the young accompanying pianist, who soared before the challenge imposed by the mastery of the multi-award winning Evelio Tieles.  It was a magical evening, wherein the absence of figures from the nomenklatura and propagandistic introductions was noted with pleasure.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

She is not beautiful (at least not according to the canon of dogs), but she possesses the 3 key qualities that convinced me to take care of her: she’s female, flirtatious and abandoned. I could not leave her in the street, and she was interrupting my sleep. However, I could not take care of her and her puppy, because I already have a mini zoo in my house. I spoke to many people attempting to persuade them to keep the puppy, but was unsuccessful. Everyone is too worried about the food, and besides, here in my planet there is no culture of keeping pets.

Unfortunately, ever day one can find an abandoned pet. This pains me. It is also worrisome, that with time, these animals will become disease carriers.

They say that we have a Pet Protection Society. The truth is that, like all of our other things, it doesn’t work. Sometimes I see modern cars with the Society’s logo, but when one calls to report an abandoned animal, they simply reply that there is no room for them.

Today, when I went to take her food, I learned that her puppy had died. I brought her to my apartment and before bringing her up we bathed her and removed all the fleas. My husband, having foreseen her arrival, made a little house for her. Margarita and my other dog Lucky (who came to my house under similar circumstances) smelled each other and barked at each other a little but soon enough it passed. Now they are playing together on the roof. Margarita seems sad, but grateful. She shows it in her body language. When we approach her she stands on her hind legs and wags her tail. I believe that soon she will feel at home, because this is the first time she’s had one. She was brought to the neighborhood by construction workers of energy efficient homes for medical personnel (microbrigades) to be a sort of night guard. She was baptized with that name. Once the project was completed they left and abandoned the dog. As of then, the neighbors began to take care of her.

On Monday the vet will come to vaccinate her and remove parasites. In the end, the pet is one more member of the family. Today I will sleep better after Margarita’s rescue.

Translated by: Lita Q.

Oil by Hubert vonHerkomer

Recently the talk on my planet is the imminent dismissal of half a million workers who are on staff performing work which, in reality, could be done by half as many people.

In the seventies, there was a large decrease in the staffing at some of the central agencies. At that time it was given the euphemistic name of rationalization. It reduced the payrolls. Those workers who were available, or surplus, as they preferred to call them, found work in other workplaces, regardless of the knowledge or experience acquired. In reality, it was no more than that, moving them from one place and putting them on another. Years later the number of new workers in each agency, is twice what it was.

Later, in the nineties, with the investment of foreign capital, some could go work for the newly created companies, bettering their economic status. It was a small privileged sector, envied by the other workers. We all wanted to work in some company, even just to mop the floors. It didn’t matter what the job was, the thing was to be in contact with those unattainable dollars.

Now they say that the “redundant” workers can go to work in the private sector. And I wonder, in what private sector? Because up to now, outside a few private restaurants, the paladares, what’s left? What are their options?

Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to create and pass the first official labor law for the private sector, its regulations and options, before this mass layoff that will affect three times as many people, as for every individual who loses their job, there are at least two or three family members who depend on them.

What was the previous government thinking when they increased these payrolls, putting three people in a position that really only needed one. What I believe that we are once again turning the wheel.

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