Saturday, November 24, 2007

New BUCL Campaign

Details forthcoming. I really hope we can all get together behind this one. Our methods may differ, but our aim is the same.

In the News...

Here's some news items of possible interest:

Democracy in Action. The chairman of the local Republican Party informs me that Rudy will be in Sarasota on December 6. For the sum of $2,300.00, I can attend the VIP Reception and have a photo taken. For the nominal sum of $500.00, I can attend the general reception with the great unwashed. I offer the info in case anyone out there is interested.

First it was Global Warming. Some scientists say astronomers are hastening the death of the universe simply by observing "dark matter." It's pretty deep. Fermi, are you out there? To read about a pretty esoteric discussion, click here.

For What it's Worth. Janet "Helga" Reno's latest project: Songs of America. No, no, no, it doesn't include the old CS&N song or Bromberg's "Judge, Judge, Send me to the 'Lectric Chair."
It should. Read the fluff piece here.

From the Absurd. An Italian archaeologist thinks he has discovered the cave where the she-wolf purportedly nursed the mythical founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Okay, so it's where the Romans thought the same had taken place. But it makes for a good story which you can read here.

Read all about it. From Payo Libre, one of the hottest items at the independent libraries in Cuba is the actual text of the Bush speech. Hundreds of copies have been given out in the few locations where available. Librarians have been reduced to turning their homes into reading rooms. According to the report, the reaction to the regime's misrepresentation of Bush's comments has been indignation.

What's Next?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

I’ve written a lot about how shell-shocked we all were in the early days in New York: it was like an Alvarez Guedes Routine “Los Eñiquitos take Manhattan.” So what did we know about Thanksgiving? As I got older, I began to complain that we were the only ones that never celebrated and had turkey. Well, my mother aimed to please, like the time I told her about this great dish, lasagna. Using the recipe on the back of a matchbook, she set about making it until she found that she didn’t have this mozzarella cheese. No problem, she substituted American. Canned tomatos? She had tomato sauce. Needless to say, it was not until much later when she made friends with a Mexican lady who taught her how to cook Italian well that we ever ate lasagna again.

Having little or no knowledge as to what the holiday was about, she turned to what she knew: the turkey lunch plate at the Woolworth’s counter, which consisted of an ice cream scoop of stuffing with two thin slices of turkey breast with a dollop of gravy and a side of mashed potatoes. Thus was born the core of our Thanksgiving menu. Although she later deviated, adding congris and mojo, I never have. Every Thanksgiving while others are dicing and chopping, making chestnut stuffing and homemade cranberry sauce, I am gathering my provisions. Why bother with making your own stuffing, when Arnold’s has those packages with the cool, little cubes of white bread? Just throw in three times the amount of butter in the directions and cook the sucker to death and you’ll have great stuffing. Pan gravy? Giblets? Nah. Just buy the little envelopes, stir in some water, and heat. You better stick with real potatoes and turkey, but definitely get the cranberry sauce that retains the shape of the can and you slice instead of spoon. Then enlist your Costa Rican sister-in-law, the sweet potato queen. That’s it, except for the pies.

Some Thanksgivings I experiment. There was the year we started with Pumpkin soup and the year we ended with an absolutely mind-blowing sweet potato torte that no one would try. On every other holiday, we eat Cuban. But there’s something about that Woolworth’s inspired meal on Thanksgiving: it’s the taste of being American. As I child I thought there was nothing better in the world. As an adult I realize, not how “proud” I am to be an American -I did nothing to earn the privilege- but rather, how lucky I am to have been born in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Good eating, folks!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dissident Calls for March, Solidarity

Dr. Darsi Ferrer, noted dissident, through whose valiant efforts the truth about Castro's much vaunted health system has made it to the American airwaves has sent a letter calling for a march on International Human Rights Day, Dec 10, at 11AM. He also asks that those of us outside of Cuba mark the date and time in some form as a gesture of solidarity.

If anyone on the Florida Gulf Coast is interested in doing something or is aware of some group planning an event, please contact me at I'll travel, if need be.

In the meantime, you can read the text of Dr. Ferrer's letter in English at Babalublog here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Holiday Moment

With out-of-towners coming the for holidays, I've been pretty busy. So this AM, I make a mad dash for the grocery store to pick up some last minute stuff. I stop at the Post Office to express mail a letter that must go out. By the way, sixteen dollars? What, do they think they're DHL?

The line is interminable as usual. There seem to be maybe two workers at the counter, and one of them is helping these two ladies with an entire postal bin worth of small boxes. The packages look so uniform and brand, spanking new that I surmise they're eBayers, or something. Now I start getting annoyed. I'm thinking to myself, "They can't break this up. Shouldn't there be provisions for bulk mailing?" One of the ladies turns and starts making pleasant small talk with the crowd, for that's what the line has become. She seems to find the plethora of packages amusing. I don't...until she tells us the packages are for the troops. STOP Freeze frame.

Suddenly, the entire atmosphere is changed. Gone is the exasperation and frustration in the air.
A young woman with a baby on her hip tells us her husband is in the army, that they are so touched when they receive those packages from people they don't know. Now, we wait contentedly on our stationary line, more workers materialize, and good cheer and some dispatch reign. Like that Liberty Insurance commercial, we are falling over ourselves being nice to each other. The older woman in front of me, leaps to help the young mother with her oversized package. A gentleman on his way out the door stops and thanks the young woman for the sacrifice her family is making. And I am reminded of the essential goodness of Americans.

I am also heartened by the obvious and tacit support for our troops. Let Hollywood and the media think what they will when the latest antiwar epic bombs, I know the truth, and so do you.

Cuando vuelva a tu lado

For your enjoyment. Fortunately, Dad made me copies of his Javier Solis LPs before he passed on. You can still get his music on DVD, but you can't get "El Mar," my favorite album.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Iconic Photo?

This photo is percolating. It's the picture of the day at Penultimos Dias. I don't know his offense or why he is naked. Little seems to be known. A few have speculated on the obvious, oversized scar on his left thigh, ascribing it to having the dogs set on him in Angola. In one sense, it doesn't matter except to highlight the message of victimization.

Imus has nothing on this one, if I understand correctly. The image of the naked black man being paraded down the street by the official hearkens back to the days when slaves were marched down to the market to be sold, symbolically linking slavery then and now and giving the lie to the supposedly egalitarian regime. One has to wonder whether they would parade a "white" man in that fashion. Then, of course, there is the all-powerful state and the vulnerable citizen, the white ruling class and the rest of society, the ruthless exercise of power and the man robbed of his dignity.

H/T Charlie Bravo


The federal and municipal governments are not the only ones making contingency plans for castro's death. According to today's Miami Herald, so is the landmark Versailles Restaurant. In a demonstration of capitalism at work, Valls, the owner, has made deals for parking spots, space, etc, with media outlets. The article here.

As I'm reading, a name calls my attention. Mr. Valls also owns Casa Juancho, "an upscale Spanish eatery." Ah, memory lane beckons me. On one of our many trips to Miami, my father who was really into his music, took us to Casa Juancho to see Tomas de San Julian. He had a song my father loved, "Es mi niña bonita." In fact, he had the musicians play it at my wedding, the one where he started crying before, during and after the ceremony. Anyway, San Julian came on, did his set, and left. It was still early so we went upstairs to a little club they had. Performing was "Cacharito of Malaga," who did a solo flamenco act. His perky little derriere in skin tight black pants, he certainly looked the part.

"Malaga, my foot," said my cousin. "Yo he visto ese desgraciado en la calle ocho: I've seen that SOB on calle ocho." Or is it only in my family, folks?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday Morning Not So Funnies

Grudge Match? From the semi-finals of the World Cup Baseball tournament- Cuba and the United States have both emerged victorious. The finals will be today in Taipei. Sports lovers, see article here.

Wishful thinking. Russia has restructured Cuba's 166 million debt, stretching it out over ten years. As the article makes clear, this is recent debt, not the estimated 26 billion dollars owed to the Soviet Union. Sure, let's trade.

Bimbo Delusion. Guess it's catchy, because men seem to get dumber after looking at blondes. Sheesh. They didn't need a study for that. Any brunette could have told them. Read about it here.

Gutenburg Lite. The future of the the book is here, or so hopes Jeff Bezos. Amazon will be selling its very own electronic reader, the Kindle, capable of storing up to 200 books at a time.
Priced at 399.00, it's a little steep. Besides, you can't fan the pages. Read the 7 page article here.

Read: El Americano

This week’s book is El Americano by Aran Shetterly. It’s a fascinating story about a young American, William Morgan, who walked into the Escambray and joined the SNFE, the Second National Front of the Escambray, the other arm of the revolution. He rose to the level of Comandante, the only foreigner other than Che to do so, and became something of a revolutionary hero. He was also instrumental in foiling a large conspiracy to overthrow the early Castro regime. Like many, he became disenchanted with the regime he had helped bring to power. Although the book is a bit vague about what the rebels who took to the Escambray to combat Fidel actually did, Morgan was implicated, arrested and executed. That in a nutshell is Morgan’s tale.

I’ve gotten to the point where I find myself vetting authors politically as I read these books about Cuba. For instance, checking the back cover, I see the author is another Harvard man. Then I note that he ran an exchange between artists in Maine and Cuba and now resides in Mexico City. It creates an impression heightened when I read sentences such as the following:

About Che and Morgan:
Che’s serious and determined image would become a symbol of revolutionary valor around the world, whereas the story of the courageous trickster Morgan would fade from the record of the Revolution.

About the populace:
The Cuban people believed that, together with the Rebels, they would make their country better. They hungered for a virtuous political culture that would root out the corruption, the prostitution, the violence, and the gambling, which had dogged their country for so long. (Thank you Francis Ford Coppola.)

Alas, this is a sanitized version of the revolution. The executions: well, the victims all deserved to die. They were torturers and murderers. No mention of cruelties, of children executed. The people into whose homes the barbudos moved: they were Batistiano oppressors of the masses. Castro wasn’t already a Communist, he turned, partially as a result of American blunders (for a truer examination of Castro’s “Communism,” I recommend Brian Latell’s After Fidel). In the end, all the old shibboleths are here.

Still, there is the story of Morgan. A ne’er do well, juvenile delinquent who had experienced trouble with the school authorities, the law, the army, he walked into the Escambray and his brief years of glory without an actual design. That is, if the book is to be believed. His experiences there, Shetterly tells us, turned him into an altruist, deeply committed to the Cuban people. Compared to all the other actors, Morgan comes across as brave, clean, strong, and American in the finest sense of the word. Surprisingly, the book is at its strongest in fleshing out the assorted characters around Morgan, his fellow revolutionaries in the mountains. They are the ones who come across as complex human beings, whose fate we care about.

Overall, however, in part because other than a gift for leading men, there doesn’t seem to have been that much complexity to Morgan, and in part because the perspective here precludes a real examination of what came after the triumph of the revolution, the whole story reads like a movie that has been filmed through a stocking, filtered. Would I recommend it? Yes, if you know your history. The story is interesting; the writing serviceable. What is my problem with it? To the uninitiated, it helps perpetuate all the usual talking points. In the end, I am left with the impression of waste, of what the story could have been.

Caveat: Max Lesnick appears a number of times, always in a positive light.

Cross-posted at Babalublog