Translator: Tomás A.

The scandal of thefts in cemeteries continues, despite all the denunciations published inside and outside the island. Of course for many years here there was a silent complicity by the official press, the only one accredited in the country. But with the advent of technology and the access, although greatly restricted, to the social networks, this seems to have escaped the censors and now, from time to time, an occasional critical comment appears in local newspapers on this thorny subject.

No longer is it only the Colon Cemetery, perhaps the most looted simply because it has the most works of art of household value, but also Baptist, Chinese, and Jewish graveyards have recently been vandalized, by practitioners of African cults, who use bones of the dead (preferably unbaptized) as offerings for their “religious” practices, in the face of the unpunished and easy access to them.

Another phenomenon that occurred since the appearance of the two currencies — the current Cuban pesos (CUP), in which they pay you wages and pensions, and the strong pesos (CUC), in which you are forced to pay for almost everything — is the reappearance at burials of two types of wreaths: the poor ones, with sparse flowers, unattractive and mass-produced, with paper tape and letters in purple ink, offered for CUP, and occasionally in limited supply, depending on time and death; and the others, for “hard currency,” well-made with beautiful imported flowers, fabric ribbons for the dedication in gold letters, and in unlimited supply. As a result of this another type of theft began: that of wreaths.

It is sad to think about the people who have made a sacrifice offered to their deceased friend or family member of one of these beautiful wreaths acquired in hard currency which, just after the burial is concluded and the accompanying mourners dispersed, then disappears “as if by magic” and is offered, in CUC of course, by other unscrupulous mourners, or is simply dismantled to sell its flowers, to people who already have pre-established contacts to buy them.

This has led increasingly to seeing fewer floral offerings on the graves. This type of desecration also may occur at some of the monuments to heroes in the city, where foreign delegations deposit elegant wreaths, as recently occurred at the monument to Eloy Alfaro on the Avenue of the Presidents, between 15th and 17th in Vedado.

Until now, as far as I know, there is no effective measure for stopping this miserable and criminal practice. Nor do I know of anything having been returned to the owners, any of the sculptures or large bronze crucifixes stolen over the past twenty years. My family’s burial vault was plundered; I submitted the complaint, supported with before-and-after photos, over five years ago, yet the cemetery authorities have not given me any response.

It is shameful that these activities continue to occur in the 21st century, practices that seem better suited to the Middle Ages, and which are perpetrated in the face of the apparent apathy of the authorities, who have the obligation of ensuring the preservation of our historical and cultural heritage.

Translated by: Tomás A.

29 August 2013


These days on the television screens, fortunately, they have dedicated one of the few existing channels to broadcast (usually delayed but sometimes live) the competitions from the 2013 World Athletics Championships, which are being held in Moscow.

To enjoy this magnificent spectacle, we must disregard the Cuban narration. What for everyone else is a competition, is for our officials “a battle.” While all the athletes from other countries came to participate with brains, legs, arms, etc., the Cubans came to “fight with heart in hand” (something very difficult and uncomfortable in my view).

The “Cuban warriors” seem disconcerted by the noise in the stadium, which is strange for people who live in a country like ours where there is so much noise at all hours, while athletes from other countries do not seem distracted. This was the case with the pole vaulter Yurisley Silva; that’s why the favorite failed, according to our commentators. The same thing happens with public pressure, which seems to affect only Cubans, and not competitors such as Elena Isimbaeva, who was not only going for the gold, but after already announcing her retirement–reasons to be under more pressure, yet she nevertheless got it.

Finally, what I find most ridiculous is that when a Cuban participant earns a medal, it is rare that it is not dedicated to Fidel, rather than to the athlete’s family. I’ve never seen any athlete from another country dedicate a medal to the leaders in power instead of to their loved ones. Another thing that caught my attention, to conclude my disquisitions, is that when a Cuban wins a bronze medal, it usually shines brighter than gold.

To tell you the truth, as much as I like sports, I have to consciously prepare myself not to get infuriated at the bias, the yelling, and the crassness that usually accompany the commentary of Cuban broadcasters, experts in sports and euphemisms.

Translated by Tomás A.

14 August 2013

Several years ago my downstairs neighbor called and told me he had received a surprise visit, from the daughter of the former owner of the building where we live.  She showed great interest in visiting only my apartment, so he had given her my phone number.

The next day I got the call, and we arranged to meet. Still a young woman, she was very excited when I gladly received her. She was apprehensive because of the stories they told her that everyone here is afraid that those who left will come again to take away what had belonged to them. She realized immediately that I had no such fear, and immediately there was a surge of empathy. Of course I showed her the whole apartment and the garden we had built on the roof. She was very emotional and told me that her father had designed the building with three apartments, one on each floor, for the enjoyment of the family. The building was finished in 1958 and two years later they were already in exile, which was very hard for the family. This floor was of particular interest because it was where she lived since birth. Her grandparents lived on the first floor and her uncles on the second.

It was I who really felt excited, and at the same time embarrassed, at seeing with what sacrifice and love a family had saved money and built something so they could always be together; suddenly, by the circumstance of a social phenomenon, they were forced to abandon everything.

Today I heard from her and this time I owe it to my blog. She has become my reader, and I hope, with time, my friend. In short, she and I have been puppets of destiny.

Translated by Tomás A.

Here in my small planet, it hasn’t exactly been the wind which has taken everything–or almost everything–away. It seems to be the work of a crazed tornado. And what remains is in such a poor state that it is nearly unsalvageable.

In 1897 Cuban cinema took its first baby steps. Along with its appearance, the first posters were born, then handmade on small printing presses, and photography was also developing. Then movie theaters quickly started appearing, receiving us on their doorsteps with flashy posters or photographs, which gave us an idea what was going to be projected inside. It was a clear invitation to enter. Cinemania was happily taking hold of most of us.

In 1959, we already had more than one hundred thirty movie houses, many of them very modern and comfortable, like the Warner Theater (later called Radiocentro, now renamed Yara), the America (also a live theater), Acapulco, Riviera, Los Angeles, Payret, Miramar, La Rampa, etc. etc. etc. All this, to the delight of about a million people who lived in the capital at that time. We also had three modern drive-ins. Moviegoers had to run to see the more than four weekly releases that were shown.

Half a century later, with almost two million people, only a dozen theaters are operating, most of them in an advanced state of disrepair. Neglect turned many of them into ruins, others have become shelters for various families. Each year, except for the month of the Film Festival, there are fewer options – the films shown are old and many of them have already been seen on television. The wind can still take away what little remains, if nothing is done to stop it.

Translated by: Joe Malda and Tomás A.

Portion of a Talavera mosaic that covers an entire wall, Infanta Street. Doorway of the former airline, KLM, Paseo del Prado, Havana.

Peerless Antique Shop, today a hardware store. When I took the camera out, an employee came up to tell me that taking photos is prohibited. Apparently the elegant old store has become a component of national security, Manzana de Gomez, Habana Vieja. At right, former entrance of a shop in Obispo Street.

Other store entrances on Obispo Street.

Please excuse the grime, they are simply shown in their current natural state.

Translated by: Tomás A.

In most countries, retirement age is between 65-70 years for men, and 60-65 for women. This covers almost all occupations, except in the field of art, where an individual beyond that age can continue working as long as their intellectual abilities haven’t diminished.

I’ve always wondered why so humane a practice doesn’t apply to politicians, especially in totalitarian countries, where these notables — oblivious to the years they have lived, and to the errors they have committed — remain in office until the grave, inflicting their gradual loss of physical and mental capabilities (a natural part of the aging process) on their unsuspecting citizens.

So we find true old geezers, who ought to be in a nursing home, proposed for leadership positions, and what is worse, accepting them. It seems that there are no other people more physically and mentally capable than they in their respective fields. This situation is exacerbated in those regimes where the existence of a single party and rubber-stamp elections installs them, in perpetuity, in the halls of power.

I intend, in good faith, to devote some attention to this anomalous situation, too often repeated in recent years, in order to rejuvenate the political sphere and give a well-earned rest to these ancients, who also have the right to a fair retirement.

Translated by: Tomás A.

Tomorrow, early in the morning, begins the endless pilgrimage to the Columbus Cemetery. You have to buy flowers the day before from the few private sellers, because during the holiday only state vendors are open and, as usual, demand far exceeds supply.

For those fortunate enough to have a living mother, the trip to Mom’s house also starts early. No one still wears the once-classic red or white flower in the lapel, indicating whether their mother was alive or dead. That, like almost all the traditions in my world, disappeared many years ago.

From here, I want to send a greeting and a hug to all Cuban mothers. Most notably to those who suffer the still-fresh wounds from the loss of a child. I hope that God gives them strength to face the pain of seeing them in prison, or on a hunger strike to the point of death. To the Ladies in White, who come boldly into the streets to demand the release of their husbands and children, most especially I salute all of them today.

Translated by: Tomás A.

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