July 2013


It was a peaceful, bright morning, the sea, as usual, shone splendidly with its habitual shades of blues and greens, the treetops swayed to and fro in the soft breeze.

The happy natives were all engaged in their daily work.  Suddenly, all the birds, in unison, took flight to the high sky, squawking.  Cats fled terrified in search of safe refuge while the howls of mongrel dogs and pure breeds were rising.

All the inhabitants of the beautiful city, astonished, raised their gazes to the sky. That enormous artifact landed to the wonder of all. It threw out fire and light from all of its circular openings that surrounded its enormous circumference “green like our palms,” which made it blend with the landscape.

Soon its rounded doors began to open and some green bearded beings began to come out, sporting necklaces of strange seeds.  Smiling, they raised their long extremities in greeting while they descended from the enormous apparatus which we much later supposed was a “time machine.”

At first everything seemed to go well.  Everyone was excited by the marvelous apparition.  They seemed inoffensive beings and even friendly, but this did not last long:  one of them, the greatest in stature, immediately turned the counterweight to manipulate one of the levers, and everything began to change.

At first these changes were almost imperceptible.  Besides, local men, women and children, as well as the visitors, were communicating well with the giant and all seemed normal.  Nevertheless, many of the natives, suspicious, preferred to stay some distance away observing what was happening.

That big green man did not stop turning the lever, and as he gave more turns, some objects began to disappear: fabrics, trucks, cars and even grand houses and buildings.  Afterwards, many animals, preferably of the greatest size, later money and finally people.  Everything was growing dark.  Now the hatches of the enormous artifact did not radiate light, also the fire was going out.  Night was taking over the countryside.

But that big man did not let go of the control.  Each time that some little green man or any other color approached to be heard, he raised his other hand and with a simple gesture made him disappear.  Little by little fear was taking over everyone and paralyzing them.  Many, who managed to react risking their lives, left for other worlds, availing themselves of any small boat or device that was still functioning.

The green fields began to cover themselves in thorny roots, which obliterated with their advance any other crop.  Even the air was petering out, and there had to be a rapid census in order to be able to equitably distribute what remained.  Cards were also printed where it was noted each month what each person consumed.  The green ones, who at the beginning had been apportioned the best houses, moved to live on the outskirts, where there were still trees, and they kept themselves out of view of the recently captive populace.

Thus, slowly, the locals, due to all these shortages, were mutating: new beings were born without thought, with a line for a mouth, a small stomach, long arms to stretch to reach the few fruits that remained in the tall and thorny tops of the new vegetation, big feet to be able to stay standing in the same place for hours and strong legs to cover great distances walking.

Sunk in the isolated dark, they were erasing from their minds the images of the happy time in which their ancestors lived, before the arrival of the enormous green machinery.  As everything was being exhausted and destroyed, the consequences of this began to affect, although in a small measure, many of the green men not so close to the giant.  Thus, there was no other solution but to open a little some other hatch, to allow in some fresh air from the outside.  Due to this, finally they had to authorize the entry of foreign carriers of a little breeze.  In spite of the prohibitions and the harsh punishment inflicted, many of the mutants approached the recent arrivals, trying to create close connections to be able to leave with them.

Of course those that took most advantage of this new situation were the youngest. As a consequence, more old ones wandered alone through the occupied territory. Now a newborn was rarely seen.  The women, by force of precarious food and intensified work, agreed not to get pregnant.

So, little by little, that beautiful asteroid where they lived was becoming greyer and dustier. The plagues from the sewer waters flooded all the city with their fetid aroma. The farm animals did not manage to satisfy the food needs, because these in their turn did not have anything to eat and were dying. Now there was only left some green grass which all the inhabitants, terrified, covered with old canvasses so that it would not be detected, for fear that they would also be rationalized.  More mutants were escaping to other latitudes.  No one noticed the dangers of the crossing. They preferred to die in the effort than to continue living without hope.

One day as in the trencadis all the fragmented pieces of that ancient civilization dispersed through the universe will come together to again form a strong and beautiful social mosaic.

Translated by mlk

9 July 2013

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Yesterday, faced once more with the frustration of not being able to connect to the internet, my friend and I decided to go shopping in the stores of the area. She needed a faucet for her kitchen and I didn’t take any money as I went along just to look.

We got to the complex of stores at 5th and 42nd, the name it is known by. We immediately went to the hardware store and saw the few things on display in the show cases. Among them was one that caught the attention of my friend: a quick-opening faucet acceptable enough and reduced from 11 to 4 CUC. It fit within her meager budget, so she set out immediately to call the seller over to show it to her. Commenting on the price, he responded that the faucet had a defect, it leaked. So my friend rejected it and commented that she was looking for one because the one she had also leaked and she wanted to solve the problem.

After searching through the rest of the departments, all of them with so little merchandise it gave the impression there had been a huge robbery, which we commented on with one of the employees, who turned her face away to answer. It seemed more like a set to film the Cuban TV comedy San Nicolás del Peladero. We continued on, poking through the haberdashery department, where I usually buy some of the materials for my work.

I suddenly discovered in one of the display cases a brand new pedal for an electric sewing machine, and as I’d just bought mine a few year ago, it made me happy to know they still had these parts. Also it was reduced in price. The card marked 11.45 CUC had been crossed out and said 7.95 CUC. Great, I thought, too bad I didn’t bring any money, but next week when I come back here I’ll buy it.

I got home suffocated by the immense heat of the street and the delay of the buses, and ran straight to the bathroom to wash my face and hands and change my clothes for something fresher. When I commented to my husband about the electric pedal and the price cut, he told me, “Get ready, I think we should go now, because if there are only a few or only the one in the window, now is the time to buy it.”

We arrived at the store and when I asked the employee to show me the pedal that was on sale because I wanted to buy it, she calmly said, “Yes, it’s on sale because it’s broken and doesn’t work.”

“How is it possible,” I asked her, “that you put on sale in the display case an article that doesn’t work, and at such a high price in hard currency? Useless merchandise shouldn’t be put out under any circumstances, it’s misleading to the public and immoral to do so. This is absolutely Kafkaesque,” I added.

She remained silent, as she knows me as a customer, and we left there like souls possessed by the devil.

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated event, it happens with incredible frequency, being an almost common practice to sell articles that are extremely damaged or that don’t work for what they were designed, with price reductions which, even more than an attack on their customers’ wallets, show an absolute lack of respect for them.

30 July 2013

I’ve been totally disconnected for days.  When I say this, I’m referring to the inability to receive news from abroad by shortwave, and especially the lack of Internet.  Of course, the majority of the Cuban population is in this very same situation… at least I enjoy a couple of hours online on Monday and another couple on Friday, although not always.  You take what you can get!

On these days of absolute information blackout, I’ve made a tremendous effort to stay in front of the television set in order to monitor Telesur and the National News Bulletin, as well as national radio, in hopes that they’d shed some light on the dispute about the North Korean ship that was transporting “obsolete armaments” (missiles and fueled planes), which were loaded in our country and hidden crudely under sacks of sugar.  The result: absolute silence.

If I’ve been able to glean some other new information now and then, I owe it to a friend who, in exceptional conditions, enjoys a daily session of Internet connection.  He’s the one who’s kept me more or less updated on the developments of the Panama Canal with respect to the ship, its captain, and its crew, as well as President Martinelli’s announcements.  However, upon not receiving any information from my country’s media, I consider myself, like any other citizen, as having all the right in the world to speculate on this sloppy incident.

This circus-like spectacle, put on by who knows by whom, eludes any type of coherent analysis.  We are in the midst of the 21st century, where the monitoring and immediacy of information is practically uncontrollable.  How did they expect to transport that “delicate merchandise” on a North Korean vessel (a UN-sanctioned country) which, on top of that, already had a prior record of drug smuggling?  What explanation are they going to give about this fact, that won’t be like the dull press statement already issued by Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

Could it be that they were looking for a crude pretext to abort any intention of political rapprochement with the neighbor to the north, in order to cover up the inabilities of the Cuban regime, as well as the lack of any true will to effect real and profound changes in domestic policy?

They should take care, because the harvest has been very poor and there’s not enough sugar to keep covering up such sloppy work.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

24 July 2013

When February began, the mass media (radio, television, print) began to promote the parties of King Momo.  The whole city was infected by the expectations of such a grand celebration.  Old and young used to enjoy these festivities so much that they were always celebrated in this month, for four weekends, leading up to Lent.

Days before the chosen start date, already utility poles on the city streets exhibited, by way of ornamentation, contest-winning posters, as well as photos of the Queen and her Ladies in the windows of the major stores, which had been chosen by a prestigious jury.

I remember when I was a girl, my family used to rent a box at the carnival in order to enjoy more comfort while we watched the endless legion of beautifully festooned floats pass by, with young girls on board, sometimes very dressed up and other times scantily clad (confronting the cold February temperatures), according to the theme the sponsors wished the rolling stages to represent.  Then came the convertibles cars and trucks, beautifully decorated.  Of all this, what without a doubt raised expectations most was the float of the Queen and her Ladies-in-Waiting.

The climax was the passing of the troupes with their colorful costumes, some of them carrying enormous lanterns, following the rhythm of their original and well-studied choreographies.  Among the most acclaimed always were the Guaracheros de Regla and the Alacran, this one the oldest of all.  Another spectacle that captured most attention was the risky acrobatics of the Acrobatic Police Motor Squad, with their red jackets and their snug black pants, highlighted by tall boots and varnished leggings, driving their impressive Harley-Davidson motorcycles.  The ride always opened with a profusion of fireworks.

Once the parade ended, we children, defying family prohibitions, threw ourselves into the street to gather the streamers strewn along the way and made big spheres with them to roll down the street.  The one who made the biggest felt, without anyone saying so, like a kind of champion.

The parade had a long route, coming out from the premises of the old Sports Palace, following the whole Malecon until taking the Paseo del Prado, turning at the Fuente de la India and traveling back again to the Prado, resuming the Malecon until the point of departure, where the floats were parked.  Many people during the parade used to cross from one sidewalk to the opposite one to again see the floats on their return trip.

1959 arrived, and these happy celebrations were losing their splendor.  Slowly at first and later sharply, when all businesses were nationalized and their sponsorship was lost in the absence of advertising.  It is noteworthy that the Havana carnivals before this year were considered among the world’s most famous.

I managed to reach a little of the brightness that they still had when I was elected Morning Star in 1963.  By then, the terminology had already changed from Queen to Star and from Lady to Morning Star because the former were considered expression of the petty bourgeoisie.  It was no longer enough to be pretty and cultured and have good manners; now an important element as well was being an “integrated” person (working or studying or participating in political events).  Also the gifts offered to the winners stopped being relevant.  They still kept the tradition of displaying big photos of them in the store windows.

I remember by then I worked in the Foreign Trade Ministry in one of its enterprises. One afternoon, the syndicate secretary passed in a great hurry, touring all the offices, to announce to us, all the girls who worked there, that at the end of the workday we would not leave because an assembly would be held to elect the permanent cane cutters for the sugar harvest, and also the star who would represent the enterprise in those festivities.

To my surprise, I was the favored one.  The next selection would be among the more than 12 enterprises that composed the ministry, and this would determine who would be its representative.  I was elected again. Later competition was held among all the agencies that belonged to the Public Administration sector, to choose the Star herself, who would then compete on a national level.

So it was that one night I found myself in the Sports Center, competing with all the stars from all the syndicates.  Then I was elected first Morning Star of the Havana Carnival of 1963.  I never again went to those celebrations in spite of the fact that during the next nine s received invitations to the Presidential Box.  Now the carnivals that I enjoyed so much in my childhood had disappeared, and all that was left of them was a sad caricature.  In spite of the celebration of all these festivities, including this one, they were transferred “by decree” to the month of July, just when the heat is unbearable.

This weekend there will be a sad caricature of the carnivals on a reduced route along the Malecon where alcoholic beverages and repeated gastronomic offerings will abound.  Vulgarity and marginality, as is now customary, will reign at these celebrations.

Translated by mlk

27 July 2013

Due to media secrecy, which is institutionalized here on “my beloved planet,” we have had to find out about this mess, involving Cuba’s “sugary missiles” on board a North Korean ship, in snippets from here and there.  Naturally, this has exacerbated our native tendency towards speculative imagination.

In the end, another Sunday has caught us by surprise which, for me, is the most boring day of the week.  I always promised myself that if one day a gentleman suitor should approach me named Domingo*, and I like him so much that I couldn’t leave him, I’d call him Tito.  Maybe something similar happens to you, especially in the evening hours, when the imminence of a new Monday at work approaches us.

Well, if you’re also a member of the club for those who can’t stand Sundays, why not spend a little time today on your family and flatter them with a simple yet delicious recipe made by your own hands, thus turning Sunday into something less ordinary?  Here you have my suggestion:

Coffee custard

Ingredients:

1 liter of fresh milk

1 cup of sugar

4 tablespoons of cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

4 eggs

1 demitasse of brewed instant coffee

1 cinnamon stick

1 lemon peel

Procedure:

Boil the milk together with the cinnamon and lemon peel.  Lower to medium heat and add the four egg yolks and cornstarch, which should be dissolved in a small amount of milk or water.  Pour this mix into the milk, while gently stirring it with a wooden spoon to prevent lumps from forming.  Once you have a smooth consistency, add the vanilla extract and coffee, while gently stirring.  Lower the heat.  Make a meringue with the egg whites of the four eggs.  Remember: it’s two teaspoons of sugar for each egg white.  You can add lemon zest.  Once it’s ready, bring small dollops of the meringue to a flame with a fork, to make toasted meringues to decorate the custard with.

Bon apétit!

* Translator’s note: Domingo is a common first name in the Spanish-speaking world ; domingo is also the Spanish word for Sunday.

 Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

21 July 2013

Painting by H. Catá

As I was reading a newspaper article in today’s Granma written by a journalist named de la Hoz, I could not help but smile at the apparent cynicism.

This journalist identified symbols of what he described as “the new rich” such as the use, and in some cases perhaps ostentatious display, of things that in other societies would be considered perfectly normal. These include taking a ham sandwich and cola to school for the afternoon snack, or perhaps wearing a pair of brand-name shoes like those for sale for hard currency in many of the city’s stores. These shoes are undoubtedly of better quality and more durable than most which are for sale also in CUC at much lower prices but which are of much poorer quality. I can understand how a parent who can make the sacrifice will try to buy the most durable items, the ones whose labels are not simply decorative but presumably indicate a certain level of quality.

This reporter seems to have forgotten that just a few years ago the only students taking nice snacks to school were driven there by chauffeurs and sported backpacks and clothes with foreign labels. They were the children of high-ranking officials, the ones people called “los hijitos de papá” or Daddy’s kids. I live in Nuevo Vedado, a neighborhood where I have always been surrounded by these children since they attended the same school as my sons, who enjoyed none of their privileges — a situation I always found myself having to explain to them but which they were never able to understand.

I still remember the look of astonishment on the face of my older son when, as an adolescent, he came home from school with stories he heard about a birthday party for the fifteen-year-old daughter of a comandante who had closed off their street, brought in a mechanical organ and filled the swimming pool at their house with flowers. There was also an enormous buffet shared with kids in military service who served as waiters. This happened during the worst of the Special Period. It was just one of any number of examples of similar neighborhood parties, which coincidentally all took place in the homes of high-ranking officials. These were the same officials who would later move to Miramar and Siboney* so they could be more discreet.

But getting back to the previous subject of school snacks, they are almost non-existent, so meager and of such poor quality that it is inconceivable that they could take the place of lunch, as has been proposed. It is for this reason that many parents — a majority, in fact — make sacrifices and jump through hoops to see to it that their children have a “decent” snack consisting of a ham and cheese sandwich and a soft drink. I do not understand why the journalist in question claims this is a privilege that only parents who own private businesses can afford, especially since entire families are engaged in these enterprises.

If we are witnessing improper and indiscriminate displays of so-called symbols of power, it is due precisely to the bad examples to which average citizens have served as onlookers and not as participants. One should keep in mind that today the difference is that they are paid for by working parents who are self-employed, artists, athletes and others, and not by those previously mentioned. It would also be useful to point out that, if they paid people decent salaries that reflected the actual cost of living and the country were economically productive, everyone would have the same opportunities to improve not only their children’s school snacks but the quality of family life too and, in the end, all of society.

*Translator’s note: Miramar is a neighborhood which was home to Havana’s wealthiest citizens before the revolution and today houses numerous foreign embassies. Siboney is an affluent neighborhood favored by members of the Cuban military.

18 July 2013

It all started very early, at the beginning of the seventies. Soon the Maximum figures of the triumph of the ’fifty-nine revolution, realized that they if they wanted to install themselves in power, firmly and indefinitely, they are going to have to take over the mass media of communication, in the then flat press, radio and television.

Soon the pressure started on the major newspapers in the country, still with their current owners. Then came the infamous “tagline,” a kind of explanatory note, that accompanied the news that the regime considered it ideologically dangerous, and it was imposed, supposedly, in the name of the workers of the daily in question (although no one ever consulted them). This was the apparently “innocent” but the germ of the iron censorship that would come next, and that continues to the present day.

That’s why the congresses of the UPEC (Union of Journalists of Cuba) are very striking, an organization created to replace the previous association of journalists and control and impose official criteria, where there are never inconsistencies, and the “suspicious unanimity” is which ensures all decisions taken in them. Always ignored in these meetings, are alternative journalism, civic and independent filmmakers whose creators are considered by the regime as “mercenaries of the empire.”

All this happens in a new universal context, where technology is almost uncontrollable by dictatorial regimes that still persist in controlling the mass media. That is why it is extremely sad and old-fashioned to talk about journalism in a country like Cuba, where Internet access is still very restricted and controlled by the government, as is the acquisition of foreign newspapers and magazines, and the possibility of listening to short wave radio without interference, to certain specific news programs about our country.

All this makes it increasingly difficult for the vast majority of the population, immersed in the tasks of survival, to know the reality in which we live. We hope some day soon to rescue our country and our culture, a free press, like that when Cuban had true masters in this important and beautiful craft.

15 July 2013

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