Friday, January 4, 2008

Less than Literary Interlude

Speaking of the Hollisters....

...The mail one day brought an offer for a book club, which I joined. Every month, two “Happy Hollister” books came in the mail. My mother used to complain that when they came I would disappear, that I was in my own little world.

Actually, I was in the world of the Happy Hollisters. I wasn’t a lonely, little Cuban girl in an American world lying on a plastic slip-covered, avocado green, cut velvet sofa in an apartment in Brooklyn. I was one of the Hollisters, preferably Holly, the pig-tailed tomboy, living in a large house at the edge of a lake in Shoreham, where my father owned “The Trading Post” sporting goods store. I was never alone. I had two brothers, two sisters, a dog, a cat, and five kittens: Pete, Pam, Ricky, Sue, Zip, and White Nose and progeny. Somehow we would stumble on mysteries, and our parents would help us solve them. Each mystery was set in a different locale, from New York to Seagull Beach, and even Denmark in the Mermaid Mystery.

If God had allowed me to pick a life, that is the life the six year old me would have chosen.

Books, Books, Books!

Keith Davis has traversed the wilds of Cuba and witnessed the political turmoil in parts of South America. He journeys not as Keith Davis, Vail Valley resident and retired orthodontist, but as Doc Ford, a marine biologist-turned-CIA operative and the main character in his favorite fictional series by Randy Wayne White.

Therein lies the charm of reading for me. By the way Randy Wayne White is a Florida Gulf Coast type. I read his slightly comic, suspenseful and colorful novels routinely. If you want to see an interesting video, check out Lost Man's River, an adventure he undertook with Peter Matthiesen in the Everglades. Hard to find, but it exists. And if you want to read a truly fascinating book, read Lost Man's River by Matthiesen. Based on historical events, it is tres good.

But I guess Frost was right. Road does lead onto road. Back to the point. The quote is from an article in the Vail Trail about one county's bucking the national trend. We all remember that survey in which 1 in 4 adults hadn't read a book or some such. Well, Sarah L. Stewart examines Eagle county in light of its reading habits and finds it better than most. I could claim the same for Sarasota County. Despite the seemingly single-minded worship of wealth here, we are a surprisingly literate town with one of the most used library systems in the state of Florida.

I highlight the article, because despite the depressing statistics, I see signs of a resurgence in interest on the part of teens. I mentioned the same when I posted on the Sarasota Reading Festival. Now I've been noticing it at the book store. I suspect it's the result of more interesting books for preteens. Young children start out with picture books, many of which are astounding, all of which their parents acquire for them. As they graduate to chapter books, there is the Magic Treehouse Series, which they gobble up. And then Junie B. Jones. But where do you go from there? Well, there was the Lemony Snicket series, which became a phenomenon. And there are now any number of exciting, easy reading series for the age group. I didn't include Harry Potter, because they are a bit more difficult.

None of these fun books is particularly literary. The point is to introduce children to the joy of reading. Just as there are gateway drugs, there are gateway books. Do I hear Nancy Drew, anyone? How many of us can remember that first book or series that turned us onto reading? For me, it was the Happy Hollisters.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Invitations: The Political Season is Here

It may come as a surprise to some, but I am a card carrying Republican, although an enlightened one. So I get all sorts of invitations. On Friday, Jan 4th, for the nominal sum of $75.00, I can attend a reception with Vern Buchanan and John Boehner. I'd love to see Boehner, but not $75.00 worth.

Then, there's the "Florida Straw Poll." For $10.00, I can get a ballot and a barbeque lunch. I've already passed up Giuliani for $2,000.00 and hung up on countless phone calls urging me to help defeat Hillary. They're heeere.

Wait. I got an email that the straw poll was canceled. No matter. I can go to the Lincoln Dinner on January 25. Giuliani is slated to be the keynote speaker. Details to follow.

I did get a heads up that there's a new Sarasota Conservative blog. Check it out here. Some good stuff.

Update: The Sky is Falling! Get ready to see it

Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Friday morning, that is. The Quadrantid meteor shower should be striking in the pre Dawn hours of Friday Morning, between 2-7AM. Although it's an annual occurence, the stars are aligned so that we'll get prime viewing in North America, actually the moon won't get in the way. It's all astronomy to me, so read about it here.

And while you're there, click on the link about the Mars Rovers for a slide show with some unbelievable pictures of the red planet. Even I, the I-won't-watch-a-space-documentary queen, was fascinated. I include one of the images to whet your appetite.
Update: At 4:14 AM I braved the cold to see the meteor shower. I didn't see nothin'. I suspect the mega car dealership down the road with its lights obscured my view.

Church and State: Cuban Style

My grandfather, who died at a ripe old age in Cuba, refused the opportunity to come to the United States not once, but twice, saying "I helped this cabron into power and I'll help take him down." Foresight does not seem to have been one of Abuelo's strong suits. Anyway, one of the things he did for the revolution was run guns around the island, guns he kept with the full knowledge of the parish priest under the altar at the local church. This worthy was then rewarded by the victorious rebels by essentially being put out of business.

I am reminded of the story because of the uneasy, yet complicit relationship between creeds and the coma andante. Part of me wants to rail at the Vatican #2 visiting Havana and wanting to meet Raul. It smacks too much of lending the regime countenance. I had similar problems with the visit of John Paul II. However in that instance, I knew John Paul to be anticommunist. Further, the late pontiff had the ability to extend a hand, while at the same time somehow loosening the bonds of power. I may not have liked it, but Cuba loosened its grip on the Church somewhat. Reading the news lately, it may have been a devil's bargain, as the now legal Catholic church comes across as a might timid.

That timidity pales in comparison to this year's pronouncement by the babalaos, or santeria "priests." What do they predict in the midst of the "transition"? Well, as they put it, it's not a social challenge, it's not a political challenge, its.......Global Warming. Okay, so I exaggerated. For the Reuters article, go here.

When I am in a reasonable frame of mind, I remember "render unto Caesar," etc.... I don't believe the Church belongs in politics. It should be separated from the state. There is something to be said for keeping one's mouth shut in order to be there for adherents. But there is a fine line between rising above temporal matters and ministering to the spiritual needs of one's flock in confidence and cowering in fear before a totalitarian government.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Starting the New Year Right.

In the spirit of tidying up odds and ends, thought I'd put together a few articles I've been holding.

Can't make this stuff up. Since he has nothing better to do and apparently no intellect to do it with, Jude Law is spending the holidays in Cuba. Well, seems his room at the Nacional is inhabited by the ghost of old blue eyes himself. Personally, with all the venues he has to choose from, I can't see why Frankie would choose to haunt his old room, instead of, say, Vegas, or even Hoboken. The more likely explanation is that some enterprising Cuban was rifling through the fridge in Law's room. Read the article

You know it's gotta be bad. Even the ministry of disinformation has had to admit that Cuba's growth rate didn't hit the much touted forecast of 10% growth in the economy this year. According to the regime, the actual rate was 7.5%, that's including the fudging the regime does by including their valuations of social services like health care. Aspirin, anyone? In any case, whatever figure they pull out of their fidel caps is irrelevant to the populace which has seen no benefit from the phantom "growth" of the last few years. Article here.

Round up the usual suspects. Wayne Smith is at it again. In his latest opus, Cuba "changes" and the US "stagnates." He bolsters his assertions with the sagacious, oft quoted statement by Larry Wilkerson labeling our Cuba stance "the dumbest policy on the face of the earth." But Smith takes heart in the wishful thinking that Miami is "evolving," apparently young Cuban Americans, we are to believe, are clandestine Democrats.

I really have to wonder what fuels these types. If they cared about the Cuban people, they would be denouncing their oppression by the Havana Mafia with at least half as much vigor as they devote to that latest species of bogeyman, the Miami Cuban. If their concern is the good of the United States, they are defining that objective as allowing governments to seize American assets with impunity, upholding the right of Americans to vacation cheaply in a slave state, "trading" with a government that has not moved an iota from its virulent Anti-American stance in a half a century, and in the process bolster a moribund dictator and a totalitarian state in its death throes.

Can anyone be this deluded, I have to ask myself? Is it possible, or is it more sinister? I don't know. I do not question that some may have differing opinions, but every point on which he builds his arguments is either false or a misrepresentation. Cuba has not "changed," except in so much as Raul is the nominal head of the government. And all of those discussions have resulted in what? Where was he on December 10, when the regime showed its true face?

Read it yourself. I'm not linking to this piece of trash. It's at

Monday, December 31, 2007

A Happier New Year

Grapes and pots at the ready, I await the New Year. In New York my American friends always got a kick out of eating twelve grapes at midnight, and they thought throwing out a pot of water was a hoot. As I go off to the festivities, I'd like to take a moment to thank my readers and all those gifted, committed, and generally wonderful people out there who fight the good fight, whether in English or Spanish, in the US or Spain or Sweden or Australia. We don't always agree, but I respect each and every one of you. God bless.

I have a toast ready for this eve: Next year in Havana! May it only be so.

New Year's Possibilities

That's what IBD call their version of predictions for the coming year. There are 8 of them, one forecasts rough weather ahead for Cuba. Take their description of current conditions:

The lights are going out for Fidel Castro, and the likelihood of unrest is growing. A destitute population and a corrupt party elite desperate to defend its privileges could be a powder keg. The 81-year-old Cuban dictator ceded power to his brother, Raul, 76, last year. The transition may look smooth enough, because the latter already can project power, leading Cuba's military, which controls 60% of Cuba's enterprises.

Another concerns the Bush legacy:

If the economy does skirt recession and strengthens in the second half, expect a grudging, Trumanesque reappraisal of the Bush presidency. But as with the erosion of the global-warming consensus, it'll probably take years for an objective verdict on Bush to come in. The economy itself should stand as a hallmark of success. After inheriting a recession and the after-effects of a stock crash that in many ways was worse than 1929, he moved decisively to cut taxes and, though he gets little credit for it, eschewed cuts in federal spending to ensure that stimulus would not be diluted.

A bit of reading for those house bound on this evening.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reads: Miami Noir

After reading Havana Noir, I just had to check out the Miami version. Besides, Miami is one of those cities which loom large in my imagination. You would think that after all the time I have spent there, it wouldn’t. But no matter how many luxury condos they build, and how they try to tame it, there is something beautiful and bawdy and real about the city. This quality is admirably captured by Les Standiford’s selections.

The stories here are not as literary as the ones in Havana Noir, but they are also not as bleak. Obviously, there is sex, murder, and betrayal, but in much smaller and less graphic quantities- only two cases of incest that I can remember. The protagonists are shady characters and PI’s of sorts who function in a murky world of moral relativism. Yet it is a world where morality is trampled, as opposed to one without moral boundaries. The bad guys, for the most part, get their due.

Perhaps I enjoyed it so much because some of my favorite Miami mystery writers are among the authors: James W. Hall, Barbara Parker, and Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, who has the distinction of having stories in both anthologies. I particularly enjoyed her story which is one of the only ones with a significant Cuban character. Surprisingly enough, few Cubans figure in these tales. Set in the fringes of the city and of society, the tales portray the drop outs, the retirees, people with a past and no future. One exception is the last and most powerful story in the anthology, “The Swimmers,” which centers on the experiences of four Haitians trying to make it into the United States in a smuggler’s boat.

I have given a lot of thought to the differences between Miami and Havana Noir, and perhaps I am wrong or I’m just discovering the Mediterranean, but I think practitioners of the Noir genre in Cuba express the anger bred by their environment in disaffection, which if I can remember that far back is a technique of satire in which the author seeks to repel the reader. In any case, both are worthy of a read.

Sunday Shorts

War Lit 101. Newsweek's Evan Thomas has an interesting piece on Elizabeth Samet, whose new book, A Soldier's Heart, chronicles her years teaching English at West Point. It begins with one of the shortest, yet most powerful, of war poems. I particularly liked the side trip he took to lament the passing of the true liberal education, which survives at the military academy. Read it here.

Weird Medicine. Call me macabre, but I love disease stories and the like. Fox News has an end-of-the-year recap of the twelve oddest medical stories, which includes the tree man, the girl who had a ten lb. hairball removed, and the guy with the mother of all hangovers.

Death Notice. Also from Fox comes word that Time Warner is going to let Netscape Navigator wither away. I can remember when access to the internet was young and Explorer was not even a glint in Bill Gates' eyes. Netscape Navigator was the only way to go. Farewell, my old friend. For article, here.

Paradise Lost. Despite my complaints about the powers that be in Sarasota, it is still blessed with lots of beauty. The New York Times is running this slide show entitled, "Weekend in Sarasota." By the bye, the Ringling is the location of both the photo and Cuba Avant-Garde exhibit.

My apologies for the late edition. Forgot it was Sunday. Hope I remember to go to work tomorrow.

Literary Interlude: Poema de la Despedida

Anytime is a good time for José Ángel Buesa. It is amazing to me that just about any Cuban senior citizen I know can recite huge chunks of his poetry.

Poema de la Despedida

Te digo adiós, y acaso te quiero todavía.
Quizá no he de olvidarte, pero te digo adiós.
No sé si me quisiste... No sé si te quería...
O tal vez nos quisimos demasiado los dos.

Este cariño triste, y apasionado, y loco,
me lo sembré en el alma para quererte a ti.
No sé si te amé mucho... no sé si te amé poco;
pero sí sé que nunca volveré a amar así.

Me queda tu sonrisa dormida en mi recuerdo,
y el corazón me dice que no te olvidaré;
pero, al quedarme solo, sabiendo que te pierdo,
tal vez empiezo a amarte como jamás te amé.

Te digo adiós, y acaso, con esta despedida,
mi más hermoso sueño muere dentro de mí...
Pero te digo adiós, para toda la vida,
aunque toda la vida siga pensando en ti.

Very Rough Translation:

The Farewell Poem

I bid you goodbye, and perhaps I still love you,
it may be I will not forget you, but I bid you goodbye just the same.
I don’t know if you loved me…I don’t know if I loved you…
or whether we two loved too much.

This feeling, plaintive, and passionate, and crazed,
I seeded in my soul in order to love you.
I don’t know if I loved you much…or if I loved you little;
but I do know that I will never love this way again.

I am left with the memory of your sleepy smile,
and my heart tells me that you I will not forget;
Alone, and knowing what I have lost,
I may begin to love you as I never loved you before.

I bid you goodbye, and maybe with this leavetaking,
my most gorgeous dream dies within me…
But I bid you goodbye for life,
although my whole life I may continue to think on you.