Saturday, December 8, 2007

Literary Interlude: An Excerpt from “Shield of Achilles” by WH Auden

Reading Havana Noir this week brought this poem to mind. Although it uses a scene from the Illiad to comment on war, particularly WWII, I think it really touches upon the dehumanizing effects of brutality, especially the last verse I’ve excerpted. You can easily get the complete poem on the internet or at your library.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
A crowd of ordinary decent folk
Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
And could not hope for help and no help came:
What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

She looked over his shoulder
For athletes at their games,
Men and women in a dance
Moving their sweet limbs
Quick, quick, to music,
But there on the shining shield
His hands had set no dancing-floor
But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

I have come to the conclusion that blogger hates poetry. I can't tell you what I go through. The beginning of some of the lines is idented. I've tried to rectify it twice. I hope it goes through as entered this time.

Friday, December 7, 2007

FLAMUR's Call to Women in Exile

Having submitted their petition with 10,738 signatures demanding that they be allowed to use the currency in which they are paid in any establishment in the country, and in effect end the current two tier apartheid system, FLAMUR, the organization of rural women behind the "Con la Misma Moneda" campaign asks a question. Why have they not received support of Cuban women living in free countries?

What starts out as something of a challenge at the beginning of their communiqué ends on a plea for help, reminding us that they are from the interior of the country where there is no international press, there are no diplomatic offices. Their only protection lies in the notice we in free countries can bring them. These brave women with the help of young people have been collecting signatures throughout the country for months, and whatever shelter my poor words can offer, I will gladly give.

For the entire article in Spanish at Misceláneas de Cuba, click here.

Lost Time in Miami

Recently in a post about an upcoming art show, I mentioned a Cuban museum that is part of MOAS in Daytona. Immediately, I received a comment like "isn't that the artwork Batista stole?" Then in response to the recent publicity about Eusebio Leal, blogs have featured his role in stripping Cuba of its cultural patrimony, most notably an open letter written to the King of Spain by well-known author Armando Valladares this April. In this letter, he basically tells the King that the painting gifted him by the regime, through the auspices of Leal, is stolen from the Cuban people.

Finally yesterday, you may have noticed, I didn't post. That's unusual, because I have a compact with my readers. I feel that if you are gracious enough to pay us a visit, I promise to have timely and interesting, as far as my and Lou's humble talents allow, material for you to read. I didn't post because I was in Miami, a trip that involves a considerable amount of driving. At lunchtime, I paid my very first visit to the Versailles. In all these years, I had never gone. I've been to the original La Carreta across the street many a time. I'm a sucker for the cart thing they have going on there, as well as the food. But, never, the Versailles. And I can't tell you how I would like to be there this morning.

As is usual, I am told, the place was packed. I looked around the room at all those beautiful, well-scrubbed Cuban faces, and in addition to that twinge of pride I always feel on the rare occasions when I am in a large gathering of Cubans, I experienced a moment of epiphany. Of all that Cuba has lost, of all that it has been stripped by those abominations masquerading as men, here was the greatest theft of all, in these people: well-groomed, with open hopeful faces, so obviously prosperous, most seemingly there on a lunch break. I thought back to the Miami of 1965 and how it had grown and been enriched by the presence of these people, of their parents, and grandparents, and I felt Cuba's loss all the more keenly.

All this drive, all the obvious optimism about the future, this prosperity rightly belonged in Cuba. And to me, these people were representative of the millions on the island whose initiative, drive, and ingenuity, subverted by an illegitimate regime, has been reduced to scoring some facsimile of a meal for the day by whatever means at hand. Can you imagine what they could do, if they were unleashed? I can.

Ambivalence About Lending

President Bush came out yesterday with a "compassionate" proposal to ease the mortgage woes of millions of Americans. It wasn't a bad political move, either. I would like to be a big person. I would like to be noble and say, "How Wonderful!" But I'm not.

Having once, way back in the 80's, lost everything, having been forced by a lender unwilling to work with us into selling our home at a considerable discount, a lender who then turned around at the closing and slapped us with punitive “fines” which ate up our substantial down payment, as well as the extra thousand towards the principal we had paid for years, leaving a grand total of $494.00 out of the nearly hundred thousand in those two items, I have a skewed perspective on the matter.

For years in Florida I have watched people, twentysomethings in particular, who would have scoffed at the ramshackle four room Cracker home we bought later- the one with a mortgage the size of a motorcycle payment- buy large faux Mediterranean homes with price tags they could not possible afford. Snug in my now quaint cottage, I watched an impending train wreck.

But now, it seems I was wrong. There are so many of them that letting them learn the hard lessons we were taught could torpedo the economy. The situation reminds me that not long after our financial collapse, Donald Trump found himself in a similar situation. Of course, they didn’t take him to the wall, they way they did to us. They helped bail him out. It’s kinda like that commercial where the big banks use the little guy as a matchbook to prop up a wobbly table. Oh, well, one of the things you learn early on is that life isn’t fair.

For a more positive take, read this column at Townhall.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Roll of the Detained in Latest Wave of Repression

Here is a compilation of the new wave of arrests by Cuban authorities that started about November 21. If there is nothing next to the name, it does not necessarily mean he or she has not been released. Information is sketchy.

Date Not Specified:
Rita Montes de Oca Chirino- threatened with jail and released hours later.
Antuán Clemente Hernández- threatened with jail and released hours later.
Rancés Calzada Coba- threatened with jail and released hours later.
Vladimir Alejo Montes de Oca- threatened with jail and released hours later.
Leosdán Alejo Montes de Oca- threatened with jail and released hours later.

November 21: All arrested with Bermúdez Toranzo.
Juan Bermúdez Toranzo- still in custody at last report.
Georbis Ferrer Plana
José Luis Rodríguez Chávez
William Cepero García
Omar Osmany
Varván del Pino

November 27:
Manuel Pérez Soria- former political prisoner after hunger strike to protest gov't's failure to provide identitypapers; arrested for lack of documentation; still in custody at last report.
Vladimir Alejo Miranda- interrogated, threatened for 6 or 8 hours and released.

November 29: All three student leaders were part of the University student petition press conference.
Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina- still in custody at last report.
Eliécer Consuegra Rivas - deported to provinces Dec 4.
Gerardo Sánchez Ortega- deported to the provinces Dec.4.

November 30:All arrested outside the Lawton police station where they were peacefully protesting the arrest of Juan Bermúdez Toranzo.
Yusniel Basterechea Quintana
Miguel López Santos- held 24 hours and released at Km 17 on the national highway.
Arisnay Rodríguez Cruz
Juan Alberto de la Nuez Ramírez- held 24 hours and fined.
Yunier Piedraita Santa Cruz -held 24 hours and fined.
Alejandro Gabriel Martínez- held 24 hours and fined.
Yuris Barreras Sánchez- held 24 hours.
Carlos Michael Morales- held 24 hours and fined.
Raúl Pérez Gavilá- held 24 hours and fined.
Rogelio Hernández Mill
Aramis Sainz Sánchez
Tania Maceda Guerra- released at Km 17 on the national highway.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva- released at Km 17 on the national highway.
Jesús Cordero Suárez.

December 3: in Guantanamo
Juan Carlos Hernández Hernández
Salvador Benavides

December 4: Political Police broke down the doors of a church and using tear gas arrested 20(?) dissidents who were praying for the release of political prisoners after a march of 18 blocks

December 5: At the train station where they were accompanying Gerardo Sánchez Ortega.
Juan Carlos Hernández Hernández
Yorleinis Duvergel
Unnamed others

Source: Reports by Luis Esteban Espinosa, Tania Maceda Guerra, and Álvaro Yero Felipe at

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Different Origins, Different Creeds, One People: Judaism in Cuba Today

The sound of wooden footwear clacking on cement as he chased them figured prominently in my mother's childhood tales of tormenting the Chino who ran a laundry. I used to ask myself, "what was a Chinese guy doing in their back of beyond small Cuban town?" The question was answered later when I discovered that the Chinese constituted one of the largest minority groups in Cuba. Still later I learned, they were lured in under harsh conditions of near indentured servitude to replace newly freed slaves. Unusual.

Then there were the Polacos. I'm not sure I'm even spelling it right. Growing up I knew people like "Joseito, el Polaco." Although I could never tell any difference between him and the other Cubans I knew, I thought it meant he was somehow from Poland. Again, I was to find out that Polaco denoted anyone from Eastern Europe or descendants of the same. In one case it extended to a guy reputedly from Syria or Lebannon. His origins are shrouded in the mists of time. Seems if you were foreign and looked European and weren't Gallego, you were Polaco.

Similarly, although the majority of Cubans were Roman Catholics, I learned there was a sizeable contingent of Presbyterians, at least around Matanzas. Nowadays, there are still Seventh Day Adventists. Didn't fifo attend the opening of their new church, or something like that? Growing up in the needle trades, I also knew quite a few Cuban Jews. So it was with interest that I read this NY1 article about Judaism in Cuba today.

I don't espouse, nor do I presume to judge, their having invited fifo to Hannukah. Who knows, he could have potentially been "enlightened." Whatever your political sensibilities, however, you have to appreciate the Cuban minyan: Seven men and three Torahs. Cubans are nothing, if not adaptable.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Reads: Havana Noir

Havana Noir, edited and translated in the main by Achy Obejas is one in a series of anthologies set in different metropolitan areas. Since I’m a fan of Chandler and Hammet and more recently Padura, it was with anticipation I cracked open the book. By midnight, after a few straight hours of reading, I was ready to slit my wrists. Havana here is a bleak, desolate metropolis, a landscape bereft of love, honor, softness, and most especially hope. The city depicted in these stories is a cesspool of moral depravity. As my mother would say, “Que despretigio.” Add to that the abject misery of life in Cuba, amplified for the form.

I was commenting on the same with my film school student daughter when she reminded me that’s characteristic of noir: alienation, violence, sex. Duh. But, wait, something is different here. To begin with there is only one detective in the whole collection, Alex Abella’s Jason Blue, who doesn’t do divorces or children because “I’ve got two of each and they’re not experiences I particularly want to relive.” Therein lies all the resemblance to the stories and movies of yesteryear. Random copulation, pederasty, you name it, all are fodder for the authors here. The world has changed.

Yet the stories in this book, each set in a different part of the capital, are “real.” They demand deliberation. Despite my disaffection, I found myself mulling the symbolic diminution of the cross-eyed narrator in the first entry, the symmetry of staring at the sun in Padura’s and the definition of Cuban in Obejas’ story, to name a few.

And then, there’s always one in every bunch, or siempre hay alguien que lo tiene que cagar. Despite Obejas’ use of the term “blockade’ for embargo in her intro, her selection was notable for its inclusionary nature, and political criticism, if any, was directed at the regime… except for Lea Aschkenas’ story, that is. Hers is the only one that has a group hissing at President Bush on TV and calling exiles "terrorists." In fact, her plot centers on the latter. I did some preliminary research, and her familiarity with Havana seems to devolve from having spent ten months there and having fallen in love with a Cuban, which experience she has already parlayed into a book.

I cannot say I enjoyed reading this book. I almost didn’t finish it. At the same time, I can’t highlight a story or two, because there were so many I did enjoy reading. There’s the pathos of Medina’s protagonist in his relentless, yet heartbreaking, quest to get to La Yuma, the charming local color of Arango’s story, the fascinating inner monologue of Correa’s, and many I don’t have room to mention. I recommend reading a story or two at a time, curled up in an arm chair, sipping a glass of red wine. I’ll be heading out to get Miami Noir and see how it compares. Could be I’m just a relic from a bygone era.

Where's the Coverage?

On December 1 at the University of Miami, an all day seminar was held, entitled "Cuba: What to Expect." Participants included some pretty notable figures in the field. You can view the program here. Inquiring minds would like to know what was discussed, what the participants had to say.

There is very little coverage to be had. There should be something in the Herald, but despite numerous searches, I could find nothing. The few articles I managed to unearth focus on Commerce Secretary Gutierrez's comments on our policy and, you guessed it, the embargo, the gist of which is our policy will not change, nor the embargo be lifted, unless there is change in Cuba.

In response to a questioner, doubtless interested in the old "we trade with China" argument for the lifting of the embargo, he reflected that in China and Vietnam have shown an interest in having good relations with the US and have made settlements of claims. Their people have some rights to travel, choose a job, start small businesses. A more accurate parallel, he indicated would be North Korea.

To read scattered quotes from the other participants, read the Palm Beach Post article here and the Nuevo Herald article here.
I guess it wasn't news.

Hold the presses! Found another one in the UK's Financial Times, strictly devoted to Gutierrez's remarks here.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Literary Interlude: A Little Lite Verse

A bit of whimsy by Val on Babalublog from earlier in the week.

Green eggs, no ham

I do not like fidel the ham
I do not like him
Val I am

I do not like him here or there
I do not like him anywhere
I do not like him in a boat
unless of course it doesn't float

I hope that he is rife with pain
or at least squashed under a train
I might just like him in a box
under a heavy pile of rocks

I do not like him in a house
I would not, could not, he's a louse
I do not like fidel the ham
I do not like him
Val, I am

Sunday Morning Somewhat-Funnies

Attack of the Killer Jellyfish. It was no laughing matter for the owner Ireland's only Salmon farm when a swath of jellyfish miles wide killed off at least 100,000 fish. The supposed culprit. You guessed it: higher water temperatures. Article here.

Lost in Translation. Two of Sudan's "lost boys" are returning home after two decades in Cuba. The Reuters article informs us one is a veterinarian; the other, an agronomist. They're perhaps the only people on the planet who can say life in the Caribbean dictatorship was an improvement.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. A Belgian "visual artist" opens a play(performance piece?) in Athens, I Am A Mistake, which has chain smoking performers and extols the joys of smoking. The AFP article here. Most notable for the artist's contention that smokers are the "new Negroes." To balance the presentation, a scary NYT's article about a hitherto generally unrecognized danger of smoking. No joke.

Strike Ten. The NYT's "10 Best Books of 2007" is out. I'm proud/embarrassed to say I have read nary a one, despite reading at least a book a week. I avoid this type of book like the plague. It usually involves the contemplation of someone else's navel. Actually, you can be fairly assured that these books are good, but at least one of them I have had in my hand on a number of occasions and rejected. Something about a literary movement, get my drift? So give me trash, or give me nonfiction!

H/T Penultimos Dias