Translator: T

A sale at a doorstep

The year has begun, and we see timbiriches* sprouting all over, selling mostly the same products that are sold neighborhood after neighborhood. Necessity has made everyone set up tables outside to sell—in the hope of deriving some financial benefit from it—all sorts of products. The ones that have proliferated the most are the ones that sell food items. It’s logical: when money is scarce, food tends to be the only thing that sells. Bread and roasted pork, bread and ham, bread and omelet, cheese pizza, etc. The omnipresent ingredient is bread.

Many people are already speculating on the scarcity of bread and flour at grocery establishments. The long lines are back—all the time—in front of the stores that sell both items. If you are successful in buying bread, even when it is not expensive (10 pesos per pound) it is seldom of good quality. It usually lacks fat, or it has not been properly baked.

Just the other day, when my friend Armando returned from the bakery with a pound and a half of bread, a very tidy gentleman—even if humbly dressed—approached him with very good manners and explained to him, ashamed, that he had not eaten for the day and did not have the ten pesos to buy liberated bread (that is bread that is not sold through the rationing system). He asked if he could have a piece. My friend, moved by such strange request, immediately gave him the half pound he had just bought. Still amazed by what he had experienced, he told me what had just happened: “The worst of all this—he said—is that, for fifty years now, we have been flailing around in the dark, and we still insist in implementing already tried models that, in the long run, did not produce any results because we didn’t first prepare the proper infrastructure.”

*Translator’s note: Timbiriches is a Cuban word meaning a very small business, such as a stand, kiosk, umbrella, or selling out of one’s home.

Translated by T

January 23 2011

This last Sunday, as I was coming back home from visiting a friend, I crossed the bridge over the Almendares River. And looking at this river, I remembered that beautiful poem the famous poet, Dulce María Loynáz (1902-1997) wrote, inspired by it.

I met this great lady late in her life, when she was already retired and in her voluntary incile* at home, where she had let time and memories peacefully flow. It was her birthday that day, and a good friend of mine had asked me to accompany her in her visit to greet her. I was excited by the idea, because I would have the opportunity to be face to face with one of the most important figures of Hispanic literature. As I did not have anything to give her as a present—it was a last-minute invitation—I decided to give her a beautiful conch shell with a maidenhair fern planted in it. She was a great lover of nature and simple things.

I was very impressed by her beautiful house at El Vedado, even when it was run-down by her evident lack of resources. You could still see some fine furniture and porcelains around, mute witnesses of her former social status. The ceilings had patches of missing plaster, the rugs were worn-out by time, and the lack of paintings on the wall surrounded the house’s owner in an aura of mystery. She received us with a wide smile and a steaming cup of coffee, served by a niece who took care of her. This wonderful lady, already forgotten, became news once again in our planet when she received, a few years later, the important and well-deserved Cervantes Award.

This is how her poem to the river starts:

This river with a musical name
Reaches my heart through a road
Of warm arteries and a tremor of diastoles

This is its last stanza:

I will not say what hand tears it away from me,
Nor inside of what stone of my breast does it find its source:
I will not say it is the most beautiful
But it is my river, my country, my blood!

*The opposite of exile

Translated by T

February 7 2011

That’s what people in my planet usually say when someone, timidly, dares to voice any sort of criticism in the public media regarding anything that affects us all.

But the truth is that the world is, indeed, a mess. Only a few weeks ago, Tunisian protests began due to the high costs of food and gas. Very soon these protests made clear the long and excessive rule of the Tunisian political leader. And very soon, neighboring countries followed; presently, mass protests have been ongoing in Egypt, where the demonstrations are increasingly heating up.

It was Mubarak’s opponents who first took to the streets: men, women and even children peacefully demanding the resignation of their president. There, the origins of the protests were similar to the Tunisian ones. Yet the stubbornness of a ruler who has been in power for over three decades has come to the forefront, and what initially was taking place peacefully and in an orderly fashion has become unstable: now the supporters of the regime have begun to counterattack and, for the first time, we are witnessing abuses, violence, Molotov cocktails, showers of stones from rooftops, aggression to foreign journalists, deaths and hundreds of injuries. The civilized world asks for a peaceful transition and the creating of a new government. It wasn’t long before Mubarak’s counterpart in Yemen got the message and, sensibly, he has already declared he will not run for reelection and that he will not nominate his son as his successor.

In the meantime, here in our continent, the leader of our neighboring Bolivarian brother, proclaimed that not only he will celebrate his twelve years in power, but that he also plans to celebrate another twelve, and then another twelve, and more and more after that, boasting about his illustrious intelligence.

And meanwhile, I, unwillingly, have caught myself remembering that old saying from my grandma: “When you see your neighbor’s turban burn, soak your beret.”

My friends, the world is, indeed, a mess.

Translated by T

February 4 2011