October 2010

In reality, I like the haunted nights, and once a year a Halloween wouldn’t be a bad thing. But…

Here on my planet, the nights are no longer bewitched, in fact almost all are full of witches or witchcraft. They tell me that to celebrate Halloween in other countries, the children dress up, go out to walk through the neighborhood with their parents, going from door to door looking for treats. Here, they knock on the door at any time of the day or night and take off running, and when you look out to see who’s there, there’s no one. You don’t have any candy for yourself, much less to give away. As for film premieres, when we go out in the streets we can see, without even buying a ticket, several horror films: The Haunted Bus; The Assault in Broad Daylight; The Rage at the Bakery; The Onion Ghost; Life for a Little Trip; In Pursuit of Potatoes; The Chicken Pilot, etc.

Tobe dressed as a witch or a demon, is nothing out of the ordinary, in fact it’s a daily thing. At least these are the references copied from video clips. So tomorrow will not be an extraordinary day on my planet. Witches and warlocks will head out into the streets, to face our daily demons.

Happy Halloween to all of you!

My friend tells me that he arrived late and tired to his house, and he leaned back on the living room sofa.

Then his usual friends started arriving. He led them to the basement, where his cellar was. Three spotless rustic tables and benches were all the furniture of the room, which had a very pleasant ambiance thanks to the Spanish bodegón decor.

Soon the three tables were taken. On the tables were various kinds of tapas, full of ham slices, cuts of Galician chorizo, anchovies, eel al ajillo, and delicious Spanish tortilla. All of these were paired to the excellent wines.

Cachita, a regular at the place, possessed maybe by the spirit of a Spanish dancer, left the bench and started dancing and applauding between the tables. Soon everyone was singing in unison. As the bottles emptied, the heat went up. Everyone laughed, singed, and partied, expressing all the joy that a Rioja wine can give. Suddenly, two police vehicles arrived, called maybe, by a resentful neighbour who wasn’t invited. When the police officers opened the vehicles’ doors to push the cheerful guests in, Julito, shaking his head and leaping off the sofa, woke up: Everything had been a dream.

“Only in dreams,” he told me. “How could I have a small business at home, even if I were authorized? Where was I going to get the hams, the wines, and everything else ? Maybe I could have the tortilla, but sometimes you can walk the whole city and not find potatoes. If they liberalized private businesses for real, I could import the wines and the charcuterie. But they will never do that, at least not during this regency. Anyway, for as long as I dreamt, I had fun. Dreaming doesn’t cost a thing!”

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

The underground parking at the Old Plaza when it was being torn down.

Again today, as I walked around Old Havana, taking care of problems and taking pictures, I was struck by the innumerable signs that have been put up showing before and after.

If these signs were meant only for people under forty and with little culture, I would understand. But they seem to have forgotten that there are still some of us who are over fifty years old and, furthermore, who were born in this city.

Since I was a little girl I often visited Old Havana, because my stepfather, who was the best of fathers to me, would frequently take me to visit his clients. I went up and down Obispo and O’Reilly Streets innumerable times. The former was full of elegant shops with exclusive gifts, tailor shops, jewelery stores ans large pharmacies, as well as banks, restaurants and cafeterias. All of those businesses had owners, so they were beautifully decorated, well-lit and clean. it was a pleasure to stroll around those streets. O’Reilly was more a street of big banks and stores. There was a store, Potín, where they had delicious sandwiches made with chicken and asparagus tips, as well as french pastries, chocolates and bonbons in beautiful gift boxes or sold by weight. Of that pleasant store all that remains is its name inscribed in the granite of the floor at the entrance of the miserable and dark rat-hole it has become. So, why isn’t in that place a before and after sign, as in many other businesses, which for the most part have disappeared and in whose place small parks have been improvised. It is true that the Old Plaza’s restoration is almost finished. The only thing missing is the beautiful art-nouveau hotel that, when the revolution triumphed, was converted (like almost all the other buildings around) into tenements and later into ruins, its beautiful front being miraculously saved.

There is a huge sign in the middle of the Plaza that reads Lest we forget and it shows some ruins and earthmoving. This dug-out earth was a big underground parking garage above which there was a park. In the seventies some smarty decided there was no need for it and it was torn down. Many years later, in its place they built a park with a big fountain. In the old days, all the buildings around the square had been stores and businesses very well-tended to by their owners.

Now, after many years, they have realized that there is a lack of parking space in the historic center. Why don’t they add, on the huge sign, in the area where the ruins are shown, a label with dates that says during.

Translated by Espirituana


Every day, in the establishments where they offer any kind of service, in the shops, schools and even in offices, one finds staff who lack the capacity, knowledge and skill, for you to deal with them with any confidence, to a point that borders on excessive familiarity. Could they possibly think that in treating you this way they are being pleasant?

Wherever you go, it’s gotten so bad it’s a joke, you find people who address you with expressions like “Aunty,” “Moms,” “Old lady,” “China,” and so on. They are incapable of respect, cannot respond appropriately to a question put to them, because for the most part the lack any understanding of what respect it. And in general, they don’t take any responsibility for the answers they give you.

For two months I’ve been calling the National Archives once a week. I signed a sort of contract with them two months ago, and paid in advance, as required, for them to do some research. Every time I call the same person — I know it’s the same person because it’s the same voice — tells me, “Nothing yet Moms.” When I rebuke them, stating my rights, she says, “We don’t have enough staff Moms, to do what you want.”

Today, once again mustering my patience, I called the Archive and the same voice answered, and said exactly the same thing. I asked her name and very quickly, as if I’d attacked her, she answered, “Sorry Moms, I don’t have to give my name.”

“What? Then you are working there illegally?” I said. “Look Moms, I have to hang up,” was her response.

Given the situation, I plan to go there to meet with her in person, her and her immediate superior.

Tomorrow, Sunday, we will be celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of our TV on my planet. We came after the United States of America, the first country to have this technology.

One of the pioneers of this new communication medium was Gaspar Pumarejo, who introduced it into our country and into the family home, turning it into a large studio for the presentation of programs. He was undoubtedly the pioneer and the one who most contributed to its development along with the Mestre brothers.

In the fifties, our TV had reached a high level and had the most advanced technology of the time. There were many programs which established the standard. The subsequent increase in advertising and design are inextricably linked to television. They pulled off some stunts, like broadcasting major league baseball live and direct (using a plane flying over our skies to catch the signal), to the delight of a people who, for the most part, love this sport.

Today, the television in our planet is not even a shadow of what it once was. Tedious, boring, vulgar, politicized to the maximum. Messages and slogans abound between program and program, which causes many like me to use it primarily to watch rented movies. When you manage to an interesting, well executed program they repeat it over and over because of a lack of financial resources to constantly come up with new things to show us.

As José Saramago used to say, “It’s time to howl, because if we get let ourselves be carried away by the powers that govern us, and we do nothing to counter them, we can say we deserve what we get.”

Congratulations to the pioneers of our television, and all those who delivered it to is with much love, wherever they are now.

A very young friend, who recently graduated as a doctor, was traveling by bus with her boyfriend, also a doctor. They both were going to their respective workplaces, when all of a sudden she felt a burning in her neck. The shock of the assault paralyzed her, but not her boyfriend, who threw himself off the bus and ran after the thief. He was joined in the chase by two more young men and between the three of them they managed to capture the criminal. Hearing the screams, a policeman showed up, handcuffed the thief and returned the gold chain to the victim.

Days later the young doctor was summoned to the police station closest to these events, where she was asked to withdraw the charge. They had investigated the thief and found him to have no previous charges and to come from a good family. She told them she wanted to proceed with the complaint so that the situation would not be repeated. Then the prosecutor came to talk with her to try to get her to forget all about it, telling her she was partially at fault for being well dressed and wearing a gold chain, which aroused the greed of young people who didn’t have the means to dress as she did, and that was why she was robbed.

My doctor friend, very serious and offended, answered them, “So if a woman is raped or abused, she is also at fault for being beautiful and sexy? Does that mean the victim is the guilty one?” So things go on my planet; imagine for yourself when half a million people — forgive me, I mean victims — are unemployed.

That’s what General Máximo Gómez said about us Cubans, around the year 1890.

It’s true, it happens to us all the time. It must be something about the weather, the geography or the racial melting pot.

A few years ago (more than a few), I can’t remember when exactly, the Meteorology Institute missed a Hurricane and we were caught by surprise. Then we were in bad shape, but not as bad as with the storm we just had. This time, unlike others, when the risk of a hurricane has been exaggerated and the now famous cone became so big on the map that it covered the whole island, they played down the risk from the atmospheric phenomenon so much, that everyone went out on the streets as usual. Some went to work, others to school, and yet others did their daily pilgrimage in search of food. All were surprised by the storm, while they were on the street.

Big tree branches were blown down by the wind, broken glass was flying through the air, as dangerous as that is. Flooding forced all public transport, as bad as it already is, to stop, and many people including school children had to go back to their homes on foot and soaking wet. The daily journal Juventud Rebelde (from 16 Oct 2010) published an article saying that due to the intense rains, together with the wind and the accumulated damage suffered by the electrical network, some areas of the capital were severely affected. Many electrical poles fell down, which made the system collapse and provoked a 24-hour blackout affecting most homes. Also, don’t you think that, in the published article, changing the order of the factors does change the product ?

I believe that once again the saying that I have used as the title to this post became true.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

The great actress Greta Garbo knew to retire when it was time, in the splendor or her beauty and at the height of her fame. A very intelligent choice which many don’t make, led astray as they are by their ego.

But today it is not the great actress nor the stubborn that concern me. It is that yesterday I came across a document from the old store El Encanto, which still lives in my memory, and I was shocked. I remembered and I always will, most of all how their slogan marked the beginning of each season, how we all had to comply, no matter if it was cold or hot: “It is summer at El Encanto,” or “It is winter at El Encanto.” This marked the season for the whole of Cuba, regardless of the weather report.

When I first arrived in Paris, in the seventies, people took me to the Galerías Lafayette, and I experienced a feeling of dizziness, not pleasant for me, because I had come from my planet, where the streets were dark, there were almost no cars, and the display windows of the stores were decorated with streamers and books on Marxism. I said to the person who had taken me, get me out of here because I am very tired. But are you dazzled by this store, she asked me? Yes, it’s very beautiful, I answered, but on my planet we had El Encanto. Then she said, what you are is very chauvinistic.

Today, looking at the photos of that great department store (the first in Latin America and possibly in the world, in those years) with its elegant salons, exclusive clothes, charming and well dressed employees, as well as their spectacular Christmas decorations inside the store, on the façade and in its windows, something I had never though of occurred to me: At least El Encanto disappeared in full bloom, as the actress of yore. It did not suffer the shame that of the other major Havana stores such as End of the Century and Flogar, just to name a few, that time, apathy and neglect have made squalid, turning them into caricatures of what they once were.

Today’s most important news was the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped in a mine nearly half a mile down for sixty-nine days.

If the work of the Chilean government, sparing no expense or technology, has been commendable, the attitude of the miners themselves has been fantastic; these men who grew up in difficult circumstances have managed to stay calm and even good-natured. They have also constantly received the support of families and friends, who have camped outside the mine and stayed, without moving, giving them encouragement and much needed hope.

Today is undoubtedly a great day for those families who will soon all be together again, safe and sound. The great efforts of the rescuers should also be noted, they have risked their own lives to go down and help in the ascent. Mario Gomez, “the GPS” as he is affectionately called by his colleagues, has done a great job because of his deep knowledge and experience of the mine. Tonight there will be celebrations and rejoicing in all Chilean homes.

Just yesterday was the birthday of Pedri, one of my two beloved nephews, half Chilean, half Cuban. Early in the morning I sent him my best wishes, saying that from now on his birthday would be inextricably linked to the day that a great feat was accomplished in his native country: the rescue of the miners of Copiapo.

Impressed, before so much wisdom, integrity, technological organization, and moral, psychological, technical and other support, I could not contain myself: “Oh My God!” how great it is that on my planet there are no mines nor miners!

Although the worn-out model hasn’t worked, not even for the country which recommended it, there are people who believe in the reincarnation of the liberators, and insist on implanting it, despite its failures, one after another, where they are copying it, they don’t react. Sure, there are those who took more than seventy years to realize it, others have taken more than half a century, but it seems that they don’t realize (unless it has slipped their minds), that they no longer know how to reverse such a great disaster.

This morning, listening to the shortwave, my blood froze, listening to the new measures taken, in great haste (before January) by the reincarnated one; when the new deputies are debuted it will be very difficult to act.

I thought, how is it possible, having examples so close, to insist on repeating what doesn’t work. But I was thinking of the ordinary people. These others think only of themselves; to perpetuate themselves in power at all costs. Then I realized that the famous outdated model worked very well for them. It doesn’t matter what industries fail, that negligence extends the length and breadth of the country, that violence reigns in the streets, that the press is muted by censorship. The only thing that matters to the reincarnated one is that his power endures.

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