Saturday, November 17, 2007

Literary Interlude: The Sick Rose

Years ago, I read a really, really ponderous biography of William Blake. It was only natural then that when I visited London, I would want to see his work. Alas, that wing of the British Museum was under construction. But there was more of his work at the Tate. So dragging one of my best friends in the world, I set off to see Blake's paintings

Turns out the many of Blake's most lavish paintings, the ones routinely used in illustrations, are like 11 by 14 and done on paper. I was saddened when I remembered: Blake had been poor his whole life. In fact, he cobbled together a living doing work for some of the successful artists of his time, artists we've long forgotten. Isn't that a kick? I'm sure I don't need to talk about his mysticism, his eccentricities: sitting nude in the garden; speaking to the saints that visited him, his dead brother. At the end of his life, he came to see his lack of worldly success as a blessing.

I love today's poem (Blake's illustration above) for its sensuousness, its layers of meaning. Such a little thing, too.
O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy;
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Florida Drivers

I’m happily making a bee line for the library to pick up my copy of El Americano when I narrowly escape with my life as a 1987 Dodge Caravan driven by a handicapped, septuagenarian chemo patient careens dangerously close. I’m reminded of a routine by Jerry Seinfeld in which he carries on about the perils of driving in Florida. Having moved to Sarasota from New York some years ago, I share in the sentiment.

In addition to Seinfeld’s “eventual left” which occurs when the driver either forgets the turn signal is on or turns it on 2.3 miles before the anticipated turn, leaving the driver behind guessing:

The Maybe, Maybe Not at the Stop Sign. Drivers barrel towards the intersection in such a manner that whether or not they are going to stop is thrown into question. The best way to handle this is to continue past and hope the former is the case. Otherwise, you wind up stopping at every intersection, risking getting hit by the distracted sixteen year old directly behind you, the one who just got his license and is zooming along at somewhere over the 45 mile speed limit.

The Full Stop Right Turn. You are driving along at the posted 45 miles an hour, when the driver in front of you turns on his signal and comes to an immediate full stop, an apparent necessity in order to turn into the shopping center on your right. You slam on the brakes and look in your rear view mirror, praying that the aforesaid sixteen year old doesn’t plow into you.

The Rolling Right Turn. This is a technique you master to avoid getting rear-ended by the distracted and the dazed and consists of slowing down 2.3 miles before the intersection where you want to turn. It results in exasperating the driver behind you causing him to switch lanes and leaving your car unscathed. It is, I have found to my detriment, hard on the ball joints.

The Kamikaze Left. Since there are really only four major east-west streets, they are essentially six lane mini highways. As you are zippping along, a 2004 White Buick at the next intersection five feet in front of you- on its way to the early bird special at the diner- simply must cut across your bow, causing you to brake, look back, etc… When you are trying to make a left, the lone pickup truck in the distance pours on the gas and approaches at the speed of light.

The Miami Lane Change. This is a new one to Sarasota where courtesy and patience used to be the watchwords. We don’t beep in Sarasota. Well, now with all the New Yorkers, that’s changing. I first came across this variant on the 95 in Miami. In Driver’s Ed, we were taught that you needed to see the car’s bumper in your rear view mirror before you switch lanes. This technique, however, consists of throwing your car in the path of the car next to you, forcing that driver to hit the brakes to make room for you to go on your merry way and decapitating the ant on the bumper in the process.

All of these maneuvers occur at relatively high speeds. In New York where the putative speed limit on the street is 35 and the highways 50, the limits represent wishful thinking: the actual pace is a snail’s crawl. It comes as a shock to drive 70 on the 75 and have grandma riding your tail. The cars, ignoring the rules of physics which require greater distances between cars at higher speeds in order to brake in time, bunch up in little high- speed caravans so that the effect is one of hurtling through space depending on the judgment or correctly firing synapses of the driver behind you.

The adventure of it all.

Good News of Sorts

In one of the few positive reports coming from Cuba, since Nov. 10 hundreds of ranchers have been pleased to get clear reception of Radio Marti. As one resident put it, it's a pleasure to hear the uncensored news about Cuba and the rest of the world. The clarity is the apparent result of the breakdown of equipment normally used to disrupt the broadcast.

H/T Cubanet

This Week on the Net: Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Where have all the gorges gone? First is the environmental impact of the 3 Gorges Dam in China. An undertaking so massive that it drove up concrete prices around the world and required the relocation of over a thousand villages and hamlets, the rising waters of the dammed Yangtze (couldn't resist) have apparently destabilized the surrounding cliffs. The concensus seems to be that the situation must be addressed. Read it here.

Who invented the vacuum? Scientists pieced together a dinosaur found in the Sahara Desert with a wide mouth seemingly designed to suck up plant matter. Thinking is that it grazed like a modern day cow. Article here. And while you're there, don't forget to read the article about chocolate consumption 3,000 years ago.

How high can it go? Very interesting article on the role of traders in pumping up the price of oil. Can we all say Enron? I know all about the increased demand because of China and India, but there's a whiff of fish out there. One day, we'll be watching a movie about the current hijinks. Mark my words.

Can't they look anywhere else? In the vast bloated bureacracy that is the federal government, in the billions we fork over to places like Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Pakistan, where is the waste? Yes, TV Marti. If this isn't a spot with an agenda, I don't know what is.

Brave New World

Lately I’ve been noticing strains of anger directed at the enablers of the regime coming from the island. Paya condemns the summit for ignoring the plight of the Cuban people. He mentions the failure of Spanish officials to meet with dissidents when visiting Havana. A dissident group “disses” the UN Rapporteur (C’mon, you gotta love that title: Ziegler in Wonderland). Only a few articles, but a new note. What is amazing is that it took so long.

But then, did it? Were it not for the internet, would we have heard about it, or of the arrests, or the persecution? Think a minute, would a single media outlet have run the story about the “Cambio” bracelets, if it had not made the rounds of the blogs first? Doubtful. And before the internet, where were these stories, what outlet did the truth have? Had one of the networks received a copy by snail mail, would they have run with it?

It should be no surprise that in the past decade we have lost PR ground. There was no way to get the message out- out of Cuba, out of Cuban/Cuban American circles. Once the college- indoctrinated seized the leadership of the media, we were lost. But then, the magic of the modern era. Suddenly, there was a platform which had never hitherto existed. It is a platform that can be used to circulate news reports smuggled out of the island, a platform to demand the truth be told, to reframe the discussion, to use as a twenty first century soapbox.

Slowly, ever so slowly, the worm (pun intended) is turning. Michael Moore was called on his lies and half truths over the airwaves, courtesy of bloggers, particularly The Real Cuba which disseminated the videos filmed and smuggled out of Cuba at significant personal hazard by very brave people. The next irresponsible filmmaker will have to look over his shoulder before spouting the government line. So while blogging is a poor substitute for storming the beaches, it insists a terrible thing has happened to Cuba, and attention must be paid.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

About the Media...

Rich Lowry has an excellent column pointing out the lack of media coverage of Iraq's improving situation. A complaint about the media echoed by Victor Davis Hansson's piece, "When Good News is No News":

The Abu Ghraib prison scandal of 2004 warranted 32 consecutive days on The New York Times’ front page. Congressional appeals for timetables and scheduled withdrawals, amid cries of “fiasco” and “quagmire,” were regularly reported this summer. Now, though, there is largely silence in newspaper headlines about the growing peace in Anbar province.

Almost as if in reply comes this from the Washington Post. Barely into the article is this sentence:

The lack of political progress calls into question the core rationale behind the troop buildup President Bush announced in January, which was premised on the notion that improved security would create space for Iraqis to arrive at new power-sharing arrangements.

So that's going to be the new line. Minimize the progress on the ground and declare the surge a failure because the Iraqi pols can't get themselves together. Maybe we were better off when they were ignoring the situation.

In the realm of ignoring a situation, Joel Mowbray chides the lack of interest in the terrorism case of the students stopped in South Carolina with explosives in the trunk. Despite all sorts of lurid details, Mowbray makes the point that only Michelle Malkin and a few others have done any reporting:

...this compelling drama has drawn scant attention from the mainstream media. And while apologists might attempt to write off the paucity of coverage for various reasons, a slew of other terrorism cases since 9/11 have been met with the same media disinterest.

Read it here. Also on is a complaint about the media's treatment of Mrs. Clinton. You can read that one here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How To Tell if You're Cuban in the United States

In honor of some recent discussions, I'd like to volunteer some of my own observations of Cubanismo in the United States. I'm sure there are many more. I had to jettison quite a few. Despite the levity, there is some truth here.

To be Cuban is to wake up every morning to café con leche, even if it gives you a stomach ache.

To be Cuban is to consider fat one of the food groups and no dish dinner unless it includes rice.

To be Cuban is to consider chicken the other white meat.

To be Cuban is to wait three hours before going in the water after you eat.

To be Cuban is to have the prayer of San Luis Beltran read over you when you are sick as a child.

To be Cuban is to catch cold from el sereno, an empacho from eating too much, and a haceca from imbibing too freely.

To be Cuban is to eat turkey with rice and beans on “zanksgeeveen” and roast pork with rice and beans and yuca, topped off by turones, on Noche Buena.

To be Cuban is to eat twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve and ignore the stares of the neighbors as you throw out your pot of water.

To be Cuban is to have a representation of La Caridad, or San Lazaro or Santa Barbara somewhere in the house, preferably behind the front door.

To be Cuban is to have a collection of old LPs, including “He perdido una perla” and “El son se fue de Cuba.”

To be Cuban is to know Tres Patines and all about Popa’s handbag.

To be Cuban is to have a collection of Alvarez Guedes cassettes which your family plays and replays.

To be Cuban is to recognize family members in “Que Pasa, Usa?”

To be Cuban is to have a grandmother who insists on answering the phone despite her inability to speak English and tells everyone, “Chee no jiar. Col leira.”

To be Cuban is to have a grandfather who constructs a snow plow out of some tin and an old baby carriage.

To be Cuban is to be called “El Niño” or “La Niña” well into adulthood.

To be Cuban is to be dragged to relatives’ houses, whether you want to go or not.

To be Cuban is to inject your opinion at any gathering that fish, lettuce, or even the sun was better in Cuba.

To be Cuban is to find Michelin man-sized babies with azabaches gorgeous.

To be Cuban is to have the bulk of your weight behind if you’re a woman and in front if you are a man.

To be Cuban, as a young woman, is to be told that you’re leaving the family home, head first, feet first or married.

To be Cuban, as a young man, is to have limitless freedom so your father can live vicariously.

To be Cuban is to make sure you graduate college because your father is threatening to hang himself if you don’t, and you believe him.

To be Cuban is...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


It might seem a bit early in the year for this annual exercise, but I came across no less than three different lists today.

In my email was Amazon's "Best Books of 2007." I can honestly say I have read not a single one of the top 100 editor's picks, unless you count thinking about reading one, as in Clapton's autobiography. I fared better on the top 100 bestsellers, or customer favorites. I've read about ten of those. An added bonus, I discovered there's a new James Lee Burke and put that on reserve at the library where I discovered they finally got around to ordering Fontova's new book. Oh, happy day!

Then on Tucker Carlson there's mention of “The 50 Greatest TV Icons” with Johnny Carson coming in at Number 1. Deservedly so, I think. I grew up watching the Tonight Show. It was funny, irreverent, and apolitical. Johnny bashed all politicians alike. More exciting was Buffy, the Vampire Slayer's Gellar making the cut. But really, Heather Locklear?

In Human Events, we have the top ten pork fighting senators. Yup, McCain is there. These are the same people who last week brought us the "Top 10 Most Outrageous Liberal Media Quotes From the Last 20 Years." If you missed it, just click on the link.

The Exile and the Poem

The previous post reminded me a the book I was reading this weekend, Burnt Sugar: A Collection of Contemporary Cuban Poetry, edited by Lori Marie Carlson and Oscar Hijuelos. I post two snippets from the assorted poems, which like poetry itself are about all sorts of things, not just politics. By the way, it is contemporary poetry, but worth a read.

from “For the Cuban Dead” by Ricardo Pau-Llosa

There is no enough in exile. Not enough anger,
and the blanket of safety always leaves the feet bare.
And it is here, no matter how clean and golden,
that one learns how different the wrist and fly
and the shot of a wave, how it never stops
calling although the law of distance deafens.
Memory is the heart’s gravity.
The accent of their children
becomes unbearably alien, a dampness
from the sidewalk creeping past the thin sole
and into the ignored sock. Now nothing
escapes notice and the balance is always against.

from “Destinies” by Jesús J Barquet

2. (Exile)
is finally understanding
that the day we have awaited so long
will be nothing more than the news
between two commercials
for Pepsi and Tylenol

tr. Lori Carlson

Mom's Pick: Todos se van

As I walk into my mother's house, she throws a spiral bound notebook at me. "See," she says, "you're not the only one." She's painstakingly copied an excerpt from the book she's reading, "Todos se van" by Wendy Guerra. Mom does her reading in Spanish.

Nacer en Cuba ha sido mimetizarme en esa ausencia del mundo al que nos sometemos. No he aprendido a usar una tarjeta de crédito, no me contestan los cajeros. Un cambio de avión de país puede descontrolarme, dislocarme, dejarme sin aliento. Afuera me siento en peligro, adentro me siento comfortablemente presa.

I see why she copied this particular passage, especially the part about changing planes reducing her to a wreck. Although Guerra is referring to life in Cuba, Mom identifies with the feeling of not being a part of the modern world. Mom has spent the majority of her life here in the United States, but it still feels foreign, like a pair of not-quite-right new shoes that you can never seem to break in. She tells me it is an excellent book, that Guerra writes beautifully. As she reads it, she can't believe what goes on in Cuba, even though she knows its true. In the end, she says I should recommend it. And so, I will.

(As far as I know, it is only available in Spanish.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Good Night Story for Today

It was quite a few years ago, I think about the time we were heading into the first Gulf War. Child of the sixties that I am, I was questioning whether it was ever worth going to war. This was, of course, pre 9/11. So I had pretty much resolved that there was redeeming value to conflict, or some other great intellectualization, when I happened to go to Philadelphia.

My husband and I went to a trade show. Now these were usually held in Atlantic City, but this one happened to be near Philly. Taking advantage of the opportunity, we did a bit of sightseeing, including the carriage ride tour. Our driver was entertaining and knowledgeable. He took us to Ben Franklin's home, pointed out the reflecting mirror our randy forbear used to see if the coast was clear. Then he took us to a park, a revolutionary era grave site. As we got out of the carriage and crossed the lawn, we headed to a pergola of sorts, nothing much, just some railing with an arbor over it. Upon reaching it, I noticed a plaque which read "the men buried beneath your feet died for your freedom." Enough said.

A Poem for Veteran's Day

This poem was read by a caller on last week's Babalublog Radio Hour. I liked it so much, I looked it up.

The Soldier
It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.

By Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC

And Now for Some Entertainment News

Get a Clue. AFP article on how the Iraq pictures have been box office duds because people don't want to see movies about an unpopular war. Duh? I'm reading and thinking that's how they're consoling themselves. I've ranted about this before: how about maybe we don't want to see antiwar movies when we're still fighting that same war? Then I read the some of the 500 plus comments and find quite a few other outraged individuals. The Hollywood types just can't conceive that maybe there are other points of view out there. Read it all here.

Habla Español? Amusing article on the increasing use and abuse of Spanish on TV. Of particular note is the section on "Cane." Here's an excerpt:

Indeed, this is a first. Never before have three generations of a Latino family been portrayed on English-language television as people who are educated, upper class and can speak English well. But as Jimmy Smits' lead character, Alex Vega, develops more and more into a gentler and more loving amalgam of Michael Corleone and Tony Soprano, we are reminded of how much more road there is to pave.

Told you it was good. Read the rest.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veree Eenteresting

From Payo Libre, a "lightning"raid on illegal satellite dishes in a post from Havana. Members of the National Revolutionary Police, along with spies trained to spot antennae and technicians, removed "tens" of dishes and materials. It's unknown how many were arrested. Here's the interesting part:

Habitantes de Las Piedras indicaron que tal operativo posiblemente fue debido al discurso pronunciado por el presidente de los Estados Unidos de Norteamérica George W. Bush el pasado 24 de octubre. “¡Al régimen cubano no le conviene que los isleños conozcan la verdad!”, dijo un vecino de la localidad.

Residents of Las Piedras indicated that the operation was possibly due to the speech given by the President of the United States of North America, George W. Bush, this past October 24. 'The Cuban regime finds it incovenient that islanders should know the truth!' said one local resident.
(I know it's awkward, but I'm trying to be true to the Spanish.)

Read it in Spanish here.

Also through Payo Libre, the Cambio bracelet story is turning into a saga. First, about seventy teens were rounded up for wearing white "cambio," or "change," bracelets. Then one of the founders of the Ladies in White was picked up for wearing one in support of the aforesaid teens. Now dissidents in Matanzas were handing out the bracelets in support of the teens. They were also handing out literature, misceláneas and cubanet among them. The activists lamented that they ran out of materials, as there is such hunger for information not coming from the government.

On the other side of the equation, the trainer for the Las Tunas soccer team is barring from the stadium any youth with the bracelet. In the time honored tradition of all young people, they are simply removing the bracelets and replacing them once they've left the environs of the stadium.
And there are more.

Perhaps because of the publicity garnered by this story, as far as I can tell, all have been released after a bit of intimidation and a written warning. I would say because the of gentler, kinder dictatorship, but the beatings and harassment continue on other fronts.

Sunday Morning Funnies

Ah, the boomers, my bete noir. The incomparable Peggy Noonan set me straight. In a piece that includes a hilarious anecdote about Margaret Thatcher, she says of Hilary:

I don't think Mrs. Clinton is the exemplar of a generation, she is the exemplar of a quadrant within a generation, and it is the quadrant the rest of us of that generation do not like. They came from comfort and stability, visited poverty as part of a college program, fashionably disliked their country, and cultivated a bitterness that was wholly unearned. They went on to become investment bankers and politicians and enjoy wealth, power or both.

How good is that? Read it here.
H/T George at Babalu

Now to the Human Events list of the top ten outrageous liberal quotes. Cuba comes in at number 8:

Extolling Virtues of Fidel’s Prison
“For Castro, freedom starts with education. And if literacy alone were the yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on Earth. The literacy rate is 96%.” -- Barbara Walters on ABC’s “20/20,” Oct. 11, 2002.

You can read the rest of the list here.

And then there are the sayings of old black men... at least that's the title of a 1955 book posted at Cuba al Pairo. It contains some of the better adages my mother uses. I'll skip the politically incorrect ones. But here is a smattering:

Una cosa piensa el borracho y otra el bodeguero
The drunk thinks one thing and the shopkeeper another.

Unos nacen con estrella y otros nacen estrellados
Some are born under a star and others starred/shattered.

Cuando el sol sale, sale para todo el mundo
When the sun shines, it shines for everyone.

There are a few more in Spanish here.
H/T Penultimos Dias