March 2011

Another story for distant granddaughters

In the small island Largarto Verde, everyone lived happily. They had almost everything, but people wanted more. They longed for it so much and with such strength that one day a handsome man showed up, speaking soft words to the wind that caressed the ears of the islanders. His name was Delfi. Soon he gained the trust and respect of the naïve lagartoverdianos, who had little and poor experience in political matters.

Young Delfi felt secure, admired and feared. Little by little he started gaining control of everything: first the houses, then the businesses, the animals and the money of each and every one of the inhabitants of the island until he gained control of their thoughts. Some noticed this pretty soon and were able to escape; others decided to trust and were trapped in the middle of the greatest inertia while Mrs. Apathy slowly swallowed Largarto Verde.

Time went by and there was nothing left to do. The spell was beginning to crack, but all exits were already closed and Delfi was the only one who could order the gates that communicated with the great oceanic wall that led you to freedom to open.

When everything started, Bighearted Grandma was still very young. She thought that if she stayed she could prevent the evil from expanding or at least she would try to stop it from reaching her family, but it was not like that.

More leaves from the tree of time inexorably fell. The new family and the new friends withered as well. New members were born and some others died without her being able to be at their side and as time went by she was lonely once again.

One day she found an angel and asked to borrow his silken wings so she could fly, and fly, and fly and meet her granddaughters and see her children who lived far, far away next to the stars. When she returned to Lagarto Verde she had to return the wings and now she has been waiting so many years that Delfi, who is now very old and with a lot of ailments, mistakenly leaves the doors from the big wall opened so grandma can get the crystal boat with platinum oars that she hides in her house, go to the blue water and row, row, row until she meets her loved ones again.

Translated by: Alegna Zavatti

March 24 2011

There Is No Truce

Yesterday afternoon when I went to visit a friend I saw an enormous slogan written on a wall on 13th Street between L and K in Vedado (and with the cost and scarcity of paint!). I immediately thought: It’s true, for fifty-two years we haven’t had a truce.

When we are not running after potatoes, we are desperately searching the neighborhood high and low looking for someone to sell us powdered milk, or standing in a huge line to wait for the expensive bread to be ready, because the other is much cheaper but they only give you one per person and besides it’s inedible.

Suddenly my thoughts turn to the terrible earthquake in Japan and its aftermath and the unrest in the Middle East with so many wounded and dead, and the extreme hunger strike of the students in Venezuela a month ago, etc. etc. I tell myself: good grief, how selfish am I, with everything that is happening to those poor people and I’m thinking about bread, potatoes and milk. After thinking about I speak again: yes, it’s true, but they know that their nightmare will end, because despite all their troubles they have defense mechanisms to address them, they have hope and can fight to change things.

We do not. Our realities, unknown not only outside our borders but practically speaking to the majority of our own people. The information media are under tight State control. The day there is change and the truths see the light, the majority of people who survive here are not going to want to believe it. They say that a lie repeated over and over becomes the truth. This is fundamentally what I mean when I say there is no truce.

Back home, I’ve been thinking: Apparently, since Owen, Marx, the already failed experiments in the countries of Eastern Europe and now the much publicized XXI Century, or whatever you want to call it, socialism is a useless gift presented in a bad wrapping.

March 27 2011

Glaring spelling and grammatical errors are common on my planet today. I think it’s cause, among other things, is the haste with which they have created teachers who, in most cases, have no vocation and see this as the only solution to their situation. They choose this option in part because they haven’t made good enough grades to go into other careers.

One of the most common grammatical errors is the misuse of prepositions. For example, when you say “the war OF all the people,” in reality what you want to say is “the war AGAINST all the people.” As you can see, this changes the meaning entirely.

We could mention many more examples, but the list would be endless.

A friend told me that her granddaughter, a studious girl from a family of professionals, told her sixth grade teacher that she had written on the blackboard the “revel” army, instead of the “rebel” army. The girl, exercising great prudence, asked permission to approach the teacher and whispered in her ear: “Ma’am, excuse me but “rebel” is spelled with a “B.”  The student returned to her seat and at that moment the teacher, raising her voice, addressed the rest of the students saying, “Good grief, Taimí says that rebel is spelled with a b. It is written with the V of velde, “I love you velde,” like that Spanish poet.

The young girl in question was as red as a beet, and the rest of the students, right at the teacher’s face, broke into gales of laughter that cracked the walls of the neglected classroom.

Translator’s note: “velde” is not a word.

March 21 2011

A friend who lives outside my world called to ask the question we’ve all been asking almost daily: How long do you think this is going to last? I answered: Unfortunately, this is like church marriages: ’till death do us part.

What could I wish for more than for the end to arrive right now. I don’t have a lot of time left and I have lost lots, perhaps the most important time in the life of any human being. But I try not get my hopes high up. As a nation we have allowed many things to be taken from us, among them, the most important ones: our dignity and our civility. There is induced fear that has driven most to accept without public argument the unfair and extreme measures imposed on us. This, together with the daily hardships to which we are subjected due to the lack of money, food, etc., has prevented people from thinking that by the simple fact of doing nothing against, but also nothing in favor, it would likely be enough

The censorship imposed and to which we are all subjected isn’t enough; most people self-censor themselves creating a sort of civic paralysis that corrodes us inside. We are sucked into our daily hardships. If we add to this the lack of communications with the outside world, the lack of short wave radios, the extremely expensive international phone service, the almost impossible access to the Internet, we are basically isolated. On the other hand, the information we get about the earthquake in Japan and its consequences, the brutal repression of the Libyan dictator against protesters, etcetera, etcetera, we feel selfish for thinking about our day-to-day. Even so, we keep asking the same question: for how long.

Translated by Jay Stgo

March 18 2011

On my planet, if something has been very efficient and consistent, information about it is manipulated all the time, bringing us only one aspect of it. But ultimately by introducing another news source, Telesur, the population has been very impressed by the new format, which departs enough from that which we are accustomed to, leaving us dazzled by it.

New scenes, new presentations, elegance in its commentators, more images, in short, everything that has hooked viewers. But if you look closely, you’ll see it is more of the same. The information provided is biased, the speakers seem to take sides in news content, and voice-overs are substituted for reporters on site, who are rarely heard, as these are replaced in the studio.

Also its slogan gives us a lot to think about. Our North is the South. No friend, north is north and south is south. Or is it that you also want me to change the cardinal positions? Have they perhaps that lost their compass? In short, you may walk around the thing.

Another small matter that bothers me is that presentations of the sports section, with regards to baseball they never talk about it at all. However, about football, which is also a professional sport but with no tradition on our planet, they give a great deal of information. Amen to the comments of the gentleman newscaster who looks like a pirate in a modern suit, who presents the major part of this news and when he salutes he does it military-style. I respect that the majority of people who say they enjoy it, but as far as I’m concerned, I’d like to see both sides of the coin.

March 17 2011

There are different ways to travel on my planet: one is through official channels, this is the most expeditious, the passport in this case is red, just by chance. Another is scientific or cultural exchanges. This is currently the most common way, given the great number of artists and scientists who travel, and the passport is blue. Another, the most hazardous, is the personal, the most difficult and expensive. Perhaps there is another but I swear I know nothing about it.

I want to talk to you about cultural exchange, because as an independent artist, this is the one I’ve used the most. For this, the first thing is to find an institution dedicated to art or related and get an invitation, addressed to you and sent to the agency that represents you, where it specifies that you are invited and they will assume all the cost incurred, including a round-trip ticket. So begins the journey.

On receipt of this letter of invitation you must go to the institution to which you belong to complete the rest of the requirements: The consent of the institution, accompanied by a passport (if you have a current one), photos, stamps, effective for the paperwork etcetera, and most effective, cash for what you need to do. Once approved, you will go to the next in the chain of command where you will also must be authorized by the director of that institution. If you are a plastic artist, or artisan-artist, you will also have to pass through the Ministry of Culture. Once you are found to be in conformance with them, you take your papers to Immigration which has the final word regarding whether or not you will fly. If you are accepted, your application will now take the same route, but in reverse. Once you’re back to where it all started, they will contact you by telephone to tell you that your request is now pending approval from the country you plan to travel to.

Then, you should take a deep breath, if you are a believer you should pray and pay attention to your purse to cover the cost of the visa and the airport exit fee. These are, irremediably, in hard currency. Of course maybe you will be lucky and can get some pocket money, in case you have any little problems. You will travel nervous and scared, because you know you don’t have so much as one peso for anything extra. Once the ship ascends to the heavens, and you see the clouds out the window, you will know with certainty that after three months of procedures and paperwork you are finally travelling.

March 13 2011

Patchwork by Rebeca

When I was an office clerk I would have nothing to do with March 8, International Women’s Day, finding it false and ridiculous. That day in all the workplaces the men would act like clowns wanting to seem nice and friendly. The same ones who, on the other 364 days of the year, would push past you in the line for the bus so they could board first. The same ones who would undress you with a look, considering it their right to besiege you with compliments, some of them quite racy, making you feel uncomfortable. Fortunately not all of them were like that, but those were the exception.

But on this day they would approach to offer you a flower and prepare (I don’t know if they still do it) a surprise party, arranged by the union, which afterward they would mark “complete” in the activities plan.

This time International Women’s Day has another sense. In the United States, the State Department paid tribute to ten brave women from different countries, whose daily work for freedom, gender equality, and their struggle for a better world made them worthy of such a distinction. To our great pride, Yoani Sanchez was among those selected. I felt happy for her and very flattered to be able to follow the emotional awards event, through Radio Marti on the shortwave. They aired a telephone interview with her, because she was prevented from traveling, having not been granted the required travel permit without which it is impossible to leave our beloved planet.

March 11 2011

A friend told me something unusual happened recently in a sugar mill, one of the few left on my planet:

The Director of the mill was on the verge of a heart attack because the transmission belt required for the mill to crush the canes had broken and there was only one technician in the whole province who could fix it, as this was a rare failure. The official in question sent a notice to the province saying that if someone didn’t come to fix the belt they would have to stop the mill without having finished the harvest.

That afternoon he received a telegram saying: The Ambassador of Korea is coming at 10:00 this morning. Right then they forgot about the belt and preparing for the bash. They started whitewashing all the tree trunks bordering the roads where the Ambassador would travel. The prepared a group of school children to welcome the important visitor, although they had no idea where to get some Korean ditty for them to sing.

They mobilized all the women millworkers to get old covers from Bohemia magazine, and to decorate the room where the ceremony would take place. The nearest art instructor was urgently sent for to teach the kids a Chinese dance, but it was closer than it seemed. They put false sisal braids on the children and used old files to make Chinese hats. The girls were all given folded paper fans to make the whole thing as authentic as possible.

Despite all the difficulties, they overcame them with great effort and on the following morning everyone was ready for the ceremony to welcome the distinguished visitor.

At that moment a battered old car arrived, kicking up dust, and the children began to wave their flags and fans. Heard in the distance were the first chords of the anthem when out of the car came a tall man, stocky, sideburns, dressed in greasy blue overalls.They say the recent arrival shed some emotional tears at such a reunion: Just arrived was the empatador de correas!*

*Translator’s note: The joke in this post is that “ambassador of Korea” and “fixer of belts” (empatador de correas) sound very similar in Spanish.

March 10 2011

Yesterday I ran into a former colleague, who now contracts out his services in exactly the same ministry where, very young, we started our working lives.

Then I realized he was being careful about what he said, because as we hadn’t seen each other for years, he felt a certain discomfort about what my position might be regarding the current situation in the country.

He started to talk to me about the blockade. Embargo, I corrected, thus putting my cards on the table. Then he confessed that he was advising precisely the company that imported food, and said that as of four years ago, our country was currently the fourth largest trading partner of the U.S.

It’s quite clear, I said, when you go to the hard currency stores you always find on the shelves more than ten products from that enemy country, some with the flag and everything. It’s the same thing in the pharmacies in hard currency, you see a variety of medicines from the same country. So, I demanded, “What is the blockade?”

“The one our government has imposed on our pockets,” he answered.

March 7 2011

Photo: Rebeca

A few months after the much talked-about new licenses for self-employment, what has spread the most are small businesses selling food, some new paladares — small private restaurants — and small snack bars. These last, according to the regulations, cannot have tables or chairs, and do have been renamed by ordinary people as quick-stops.

Cubans, in a desire to break into this new and coveted opportunity, have not hesitated to prove once more their initiative, putting makeshift counters in their doorways where they display their offerings. The customers choose to eat standing or sitting on the edge of the curb.

Photo: Rebeca

Some of the new businesses are better equipped, one can sense they have FE (Families in the Exterior), because they have more resources to establish themselves.

Advertising photo

Artisans have also taken a step forward, putting little tables with their work in the doorways of their houses or on the sidewalk.

Others have used the space intended for a car, which is conspicuously absent, converting it into an attractive shop. In general, the majority of citizens, especially those not too young, want to believe that this new possibility will improve their status. The oldest of us remain a little skeptical, because we have already seen this film before.

March 5 2011

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