Translator: Alicia Barraqué Ellison


Rebeca Monzo, 12 July 2015 — This plant is native to the Mediterranean region. Its name comes from the Latin term, “salvare,” which means to cure. In English it is known by the name of “sage.” Despite having multiple uses, it is famous mostly has a culinary herb. It has also been utilized for thousands of years as a medicine.

It is an aromatic plant belonging to the labiate family (lamiaceae). These plants grow in bushes measuring some 30-40 cm in height, and they are cultivated in fields, orchards or gardens. It’s leaves are of a velvety grayish-green, with attractive flowers that are colored in lilac, purple or green. It requires rich soil, good drainage, and sunlight.

Its active agents are distributed throughout the entire plant, which makes its leaves, stems and flowers usable. Its fresh leaves can be used to make extracts for gargling. The essential oils of salvia include thuja, camphor and eucalyptus. It also contains bitter components such as tannin (rosmarinic acid), flavonoids, and substances that produce an anti-perspirant and estrogenic effect.

It is often used to treat respiratory infections, nasal congestion, cough, tonsillitis, and as an effective anti-inflammatory. It stimulates the appetite (when ingested as an infusion), relieves indigestion and has a beneficial effect on the liver, relieves urinary tract problems (cystitis), and in some women it relieves the discomforts of menopause.

Interesting fact:

When brushing the teeth, add ground-up salvia leaves to the dentifrice. Salvia, a powerful antiseptic, helps to eliminate bacterial plaque and acts as a disinfectant, and strengthens bleeding gums.

Tips:

It is recommended to all those who have trouble falling asleep, to make a small pillow stuffed with dried salvia leaves, and place it at the base of the head at bedtime, to achieve a restorative sleep.

If you do not have a garden, where one of these bushes would be indispensable, it is recommended to prepare a large flowerpot with charcoal placed at the base for good drainage, filled with enriched soil to sow this plant, then placed in full sun. Its features make it, as well, a good ornamental shrub.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Rebeca Monzo, 22 April 2015 — I have a friend from the old days who has a big heart, but a mouth even bigger than that vital organ. We meet a bunch of years ago when I moved to this neighborhood, and we bonded over our noble sentiments towards our fellow humans, animals and nature — despite our great differences insofar as ideas about homeland and liberty.

A few days ago she sent me, via a mutual neighborhood acquaintance, an unexpected message: “Tell Rebeca that if this time she will not vote, I myself will go get her and drag her by the hair, kicking her in the….”

Gross error, I told the messenger. Above all, I do not accept, under any circumstances, threats from anyone — but even worse, that type of message is one that only she can give to me directly, if she respects herself — and even less do I accept vulgarities. Taking advantage of the fact that the intermediary is a member of my block’s Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, I made the following remarks to her:

“I went to the polls for the last time 30 years ago now. At that time, I would take the precaution of carrying a ballpoint pen hidden in my bodice to substitute the famous pencil, and that way be sure of being able to annul the ballot. Then one day I realized that to vote was a right and not a duty. From that point on, I exercised the right to not take part in these strange suffrages.

“Besides,” I continued, “on the day that one of those unknown candidates with a resume boasting harvests and internationalist missions, presents a credible plan against animal abuse, indiscriminate cutting down of trees, raising of wages, repair of streets and sidewalks, hygienic improvements to the city, daily garbage collection, cleanliness in hospitals and clinics, improvements to supplies and transportation, etc., then neither she nor anyone else will need to send me little messages to encourage me to visit the polls! I myself will go on my own two feet, transported by conviction and hope. Until this happens, my message to you, to her, and to the rest of society is and will be, ’Elections, for what?’”

*Translator’s Note: Likely a reference to Fidel’s “Armas para que?” (“Weapons…for What?“) speech, made shortly after the “Triumph of the Revolution” in January, 1959.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Civil society activists from other countries confronted the Cuban government’s “civil society” representatives with these signs, reading “Democracy is Respect” / Source, Internet

 

Rebeca Monzo, 19 April 2015 — A magnificent professor of philosophy, deceased now for some years, of whom I had the honor to be a student, would invariably begin his classes with a saying. He would assert that all of life’s wisdom could be found in a compendium of Spanish popular sayings.

In an article published in the daily Granma, on 15 april of this year — a fragment of which I reproduce below — the First Vice President of the Councils of State and of Ministers, during his visit to the city of Matanzas, urged solutions to grave problems in education. He stated, “There is a deficit of 1,086 teachers, primarily in the municipality of Cárdenas and surrounding areas, and so far in this school year, 244 requested leave of absence…”

The Minister of Education remarked that, “One of the causes of the exodus of teachers, and of the current lack of activity, is the teaching overload that the teachers remaining in the schools take on.” The First Vice President also inquired about the construction status of the schools, 43.4% of which have a rating of average or poor.

How is it possible that only six months ago — when announcements were made with great fanfare in the press, radio and television about the start of the 2014-15 school year — it was said that everything (teachers, classrooms, uniforms and books) was ready? It is obvious that there were lies then, as there have been in all spheres throughout all these years.

As a recent highlight of this string of falsehoods, the decisive blow was administered by the official delegation, organized and prepared by the regime, to represent us at the recent Civil Society Forum during the Summit of the Americas in Panama. The prefabricated members of this delegation themselves were those charged with nakedly showing themselves with their wrongdoing and the marginalized way they acted before the press and international public opinion, exposing yet another of the great lies of the regime.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz

Rebeca Monzo, 27 March 2015 — For the last few years I have been tuning-in to a program broadcast on Sundays, from 6 to 9am, on the Cuban Radio station Radio Rebelde, ironically titled, “Memories.”

Because I love good Cuban music of all eras, I am a faithful listener of this program, and I also take the opportunity to dance a little, as a means of morning exercise. I must, I confess, bite the bullet to ignore the tedious sermons (“….had to travel thousands of kilometers to buy the molds….when the island was blockaded….”) and which year after year they play on the air lest, as they say, we forget.

What this program keeps quiet about is that it has been the Revolutionary government itself which has subjected its people to a criminal cultural blockade, depriving more than three generations of our best musicians and singers, for the sole fact of their having emigrated after 1959 — or who being on tour outside the country, never returned, as in the case of our great musician and composer Ernesto Lecuona, whose name was forbidden from being mentioned on the radio until 1989 or 1990.

Also silenced (and still so today) were a good number of musicians and singers, such as Celia Cruz — and Olga Guillot, who, for the first time, the program hosts dared to mention last month and to play one of her renditions.

They also seem to forget that The Beatles not only were prohibited, but that their records were hunted down, and those of us who owned any had to carry them inside other sleeves to keep them from being confiscated — and that now not only is there a sculpture of John Lennon in a centrally-located Havana park, but the old Atelier nightclub has been re-christened El Submarino Amarillo [“The Yellow Submarine”]. My generation cannot forget that if we wanted to listen to their music, we had to do so at low volume and under lock and key inside the house.

I believe that the moment has come, if we are to be current with these times (and with the timid attempts by the government to reestablish negotiations with the country that has always depicted us as Public Enemy Number One) to change that old aggressive and pejorative language, and address those great Cuban artists who opted for full individual liberty and left the country in search of broad cultural horizons.

I suggest to the program director, the whole team, and especially to the scriptwriter, that they break once and for all with those atavisms and finally broadcast those voices, silenced throughout so many years, as well as provide information about their interpreters, so as to stop damaging our musical culture.

Note: This article was published in the digital daily 14ymedio.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Patchwork by Rebeca

Rebeca Monzo, 8 March 2015 — The year 1931 was the first time that the International Day of the Woman was celebrated.

By 1942, all women teachers in our country were certified, not counting the growing number of women professionals, increasing every year, occupying positions in universities and diverse organizations. By then, also, many women were prominent in the arts, sciences and letters.

But it is not until 1959 that we see Cuban women maximizing their creativity. Forthwith, some of the great achievements of the Cuban woman in these past five decades:

Manage to convert that old dress into a cute blouse; cover her grey hair with the powder from old radio batteries; cover her one pair of shoes multiple times to match her outfits; obtain, after three days of waiting in line and sleeping on a porch, a Soviet-made record player; wearing down her index finger dialing the phone to obtain a reservation at a restaurant; suffer along with her child on Three Kings Day at the toy store where she is assigned, and try to console him, because the toy he wanted was already sold out; figure out how to look “put together,” using shoe polish for mascara; manage, after an hour of waiting at the bus stop, to climb on and get down from the bus in one piece; find a way for her child to grow and flourish without ever having tasted fruit, compote or cereal; create some kind of meal every day for the family table; manage to have survived through all the difficulties, and still give to others with a smile.

I take this opportunity to congratulate those women who emigrated, risking all and dodging innumerable difficulties, and who attained success in a foreign land, where they did not even speak the language.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

atrio-donde-se-encuentra-la-lucernaria

After seeing “The English Patient,” a magnificent film directed by Anthony Minghella and played brilliantly by actor Ralph Fiennes in the principal role, I felt as though I had been to its locations on those days when I have had to visit and remain for hours around América Arias hospital — so-called in honor of she who was once First Lady and a great patroness of the arts, the wife of President José Miguel Gómez of the Republican era.

Anyone with a relative or friend who is a patient at this hospital, better known as “Maternidad de Línea” (“Línea Street Maternity”), if he has seen the same film, will do as I did: mentally recreating the movie’s locations as he moves among the trash and underpinnings of the facility.

This maternity hospital, built in 1930, is another great example of the Art Deco style, as was the once-magnificent, now-extinct (as a result of governmental apathy and neglect) Pedro Borrás hospital — today gone to ruin by “the work and dis-grace*” of the Revolution. Both of these structures had been designed by the famed Cuban architectural firm of Govantes and Cabarrocas.

The interior and exterior appearance (of the América Arias facility) gives the impression of an abandoned hospital — and really, it is — except for an operating chamber and two emergency waiting rooms that are kept up. In the midst of this great deterioration, a valiant medical team does the impossible, with practically no resources, to save lives. Anxious relatives pace from one end to the other while they await news from the operating room, with no place to sit.

A friend remarked to me that, upon spotting at one of the patios only two construction workers shoveling a bit of cement mix, she drew closer and asked them why, in such a big hospital needing repairs, there were so few workers. They both responded that this was because of a lack of allocated construction materials.

How is it possible that in our country there are hotels constantly being planned, remodeled and built, while the population can hardly count on halfway-decent and clean hospitals to go for treatment? The common citizen — the one who suffers from these shortages and the absence of hygienic conditions — takes as a bad joke and a sign of disrespect the healthcare propaganda that is so replicated throughout the Cuban media.
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*Translator’s note: A pun on the phrase, “By the work and grace of the Holy Spirit”

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

2 March 2015

December has for decades always been a month of circuses, but, in the economically failed regimens, the circus is always present: “If there’s no bread, give them circuses*,” says an old refrain.

The principal actors at this year-end have been the unstocked farmers markets which, upon closing their doors, have given way to improvised fairs where, in place of food, police have abounded.

Yesterday on Monday, when I went to take a turn using the Internet, I took the P3 Bus, at the 26th and 41st stop, the closest to my house. The bus had barely made it past the next two stops when all of us passengers who were travelling to Playa** had to get off at 26th and 25th. The route was detoured due to an agricultural fair that was taking place on 24th and 17th, next to the farmers market at that location — which, by the way, was empty and closed off.

Three trucks filled with sweet potatoes, plantains and tomatoes made up the fabulous offerings at the fair. A line of naive customers waited their turn among dirty puddles, squalid stray dogs, and more law enforcement officials.

A friend and I, due to the absurd diversion of the only route, were returning in the afternoon, walking from the recently-restored iron bridge, searching for the P3 stop so that we could ride the bus back to our neighborhood. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the morning’s detour was still in effect. We were forced to continue on foot until we reached our respective homes in Nuevo Vedado.***

Upon nearing the trucks that bore the agricultural products on offer, I overheard the following comment: “Such a fuss over a tomato that’s more expensive than at the farmer’s market!”

Translator’s Notes:
*Literally, in this post, “A lack of bread, circus.”
**Playa is a municipality in the city of Havana.
***Nuevo Vedado is a neighborhood in the Plaza de la Revolucion municipality of Havana.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison, and others.

31 December 2014

Some of the most spectacular recipes in gastronomy have been the result of accidents that occurred during their preparation.

I remember that during the second half of the 1960s, while fulfilling diplomatic duties in Paris, I would frequently visit the Cuban embassy and there I met and established a lovely friendship with Chef Gilberto Smith, his wife, and children. Smith, knowing my fondness for culinary pursuits, would invite me to participate in the finishing and presentation of his famous dishes.

During one of these exchanges, he shared with me how his exquisite and famous recipe for “Lobster au Café” (coffee-infused lobster) came to be: “Some lobsters I was cooking were sticking to the pot, almost burning, and all I had on-hand was a big jugs of fresh-brewed coffee reserved for guests. I emptied the jug’s contents, firefighter-style, over the lobsters, and from this emerged the famous recipe that I later perfected.”

A few days ago, this story was on my mind as I worked in my kitchen from early morning on, preparing dessert for a luncheon to which I had invited a couple who are friends of mine. My mother always used to tell me that she liked to make dessert first, just in case something came up that interrupted the proceedings.

I had left on the double boiler a very soft pudding I make that many people confuse with flan. I got busy doing other things when suddenly I detected an aroma coming from the kitchen that was like a cake baking. I ran to see what was happening and noticed that all the water in the double-boiler had evaporated. I quickly removed the top pan so that the pudding could cool and, upon turning it over, part of the pudding remained stuck to the caramelized sugar on the pan, ruining the look of the pudding.

I couldn’t serve it that way to my guests, but neither could I discard it. I immediately set to preparing another dessert. This time, using a bit of cornstarch I had in my pantry, I made a type of soft “floating islands” custard. On this go-round there were no problems. It was then that I got the idea to present both dishes together as one.

I found some deep, wide-mouth crystal water glasses. On the bottom of each I placed a bit of the pudding, filled the rest with the soft custard, crowning each with a bit of burnt meringue, a mint leaf, and grinding some cinnamon over the top to give it a more pleasing appearance.

The dessert was a success, enjoyed and much-praised – but when they requested the recipe and asked what the dish is called, I could think of no other name than “Copa Rebeca” (Rebeca Goblet).

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

14 November 2014

To the Directors of CNN:  I have inserted here just a few photos of our city (Havana). There are many hardships borne by the residents of any neighborhood, including Miramar, with respect to garbage collection. The state-run company, Comunales, which is charged with this task, alleges a lack of trucks and containers.

Neighborhoods that are located far from the city center do not even have garbage cans. Thus, the waste is thrown into the river, on the train tracks, or — in the best of cases — is hung from nails on the trees.

It would be very good if, when you are broadcasting a report based on statistics, that you do this from the location that is the subject of the report, and not just base your information on numbers provided by a totalitarian regime.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

31 October 2014

Rebeca Monzó, Havana | October 14, 2014 — The high cost and the limited selection of basic produce forces us to trek from one farmer’s market to another in search of the most essential ingredients for our kitchens.

These days the prices for vegetables as basic as onions, garlic and peppers, indispensable in the kitchen, are so unbelievable that you would think they were threaded in 18 carat gold. The hard-currency stores have stocked various imported spices of good quality that generally are somewhat more economical.

So here I will list some of them, along with their uses and applications:

Garlic Powder.  Well known by all for its use – however, being a concentrated product, it must be used carefully, with a concomitant reduction in the amount of salt used in the same recipe. Very appropriate for soups, and meat and fish sauces. A little goes a long way.

Onion Powder. Very recommended for all types of stews, legumes, meatballs and chopped meat. As with garlic powder, care in its application is recommended.

Sesame. This product is found in some farmers markets that accept CUPs (Cuban pesos). This oily seed is especially indicated for making pastas and sweets. For example, when caramelizing a pan to make a mold for pudding or flan (Cuban-style custard).

Celery Powder. Delicious and aromatic seasoning that has a great variety of uses, especially in sauces, vegetables, tomato juice, fish, mollusks, and above all in broths and stocks.

Curry. This is a mixture of spices – with strong therapeutic qualities – that comes from India. Very recommended for meats, fowl, and varied sauces and soups. Especially wonderful for curry chicken.

Cinammon. In stick or powder, this is the most prized eastern spice. Used in sweets, as we all know, but also in fruit salads, beverages such as sangría, ice cream, baked dishes and boiled fish.

Ginger. Widely used in international cuisine. Very appropriate for meat sauces, stews as well as sweets. In its natural form, ginger root, it can be found in high-end farmers markets, such as the one on 19 Street in El Vedado.

Sweet paprika. A marvelous vegetable product used as a seasoning in soups, sofrito*, stews, fish and rice dishes. It imparts an unusual color and flavor, and can substitute for red pepper powder which is often rare and expensive in our markets.

Vanilla bean. Has many uses in sweets, especially in flans and custards, ice cream, fruit cocktails and liqueurs, to which it imparts its delicate flavor. It is also used in cooking as an ingredient in certain sauces – for example, bechamel, in which it makes a good substitute for cinnamon.

Sage. Although this plant is known above all as a culinary herb, it has also had a medicinal use for thousands of years. In medieval times it was thought to promote longevity. Its flavor makes it advisable for soups and sauces for meats and meatballs, as well as for cheese-based dishes. Its leaves can be applied to infection sites as an effective, natural anti-inflammatory. It can be easily propagated by cuttings in gardens and pots. All it needs is watering and full sun.

Nutmeg. Generally available whole or sometimes ground into a powder. Used in all types of sauces for meats, fish, seafood and to give a special touch to bechamel sauce. Used as well in chicken stews and above all in sweets. This is an expensive spice and not always available in our markets.

White pepper. Also available in two forms: peppercorn or ground into a powder. It is the peppercorn that is ideal for use in pickling brine and is also recommended as a seasoning for meats and in stews. It has a mild flavor, subtle and aromatic. Ideal for soups, meats and sauces.

*Translator’s Note: Sofrito is a stir-fry of aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices used as the base for many Cuban dishes.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

17 October 2014

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