Saturday, February 16, 2008

Literary Interlude: Ozymandias

In keeping with the evening's theme, here is one by Shelley about Ramses the Great.


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said--"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert....Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

Reflexiones of La Cubana de Sarasota: Part 1

Getting older isn't half bad. The worst is probably those late 30's when they start making newspaper print smaller and you can no longer pull out those gray hairs without leaving a bald spot, speaking of bald spots.... Once you make peace with the fact that you ain't never going to look like you once did and thought you always would, there's a lot to say for growing up.

One positive is that you start thinking about things. Death, for instance, used to be something that lurked in the dim, faraway future. Now, it becomes a distinct possibility, as you remember every one you ever knew who died prematurely and calculate that at best you are midway through life. Faced with the prospect of your own mortality and armed with the experience of decades of living, you tend to become philosophical.

All of this is prelude. I've always had difficulty reconciling the notion of a loving God with one who would consign the errant to eternal damnation a la Dante. What I have seen is that we in essence punish ourselves in life. Makes sense, if "the kingdom of God" is within us, why might not its counterpart also reside within the human bosom? Time and time again, I have seen people made miserable by their own failings, their own refusal or inability to see truth, their senseless repetition of strategies that have never worked. Eternal punishment, like that of Sisyphus, in Greek mythology often consists of just this sort of repetitive, fruitless action.

I was reminded of this as I read today's installment of the reflections. The American electoral process seems to have energized the blogger in chief, perhaps because it is a living repudiation of his life's work. I admit that when I first heard of his grave condition, I was elated. I, too, wanted to dance in the streets. But I also felt cheated. He would never pay for his many crimes. Over the months, however, I have come to see him as Hitler in his bunker, shortly before the end, the ruins of Berlin, unseen, around him.

Somewhere in an undisclosed location in Havana, there sits a frail old man, whose body has betrayed him. Reduced to irrelevancy, this wouldbe colossus, he sits and writes, surrounded by utter failure. His overweening pride, doubtless, leads him into all sorts of rationalizations, but he knows. Take the latest rumination. It demonstrates that he delves into the very sources of information he denies his people. Picture him, desperately trolling for some sort of vindication. Today, he finds it in material about the mismanagement of the American economy, even citing Alan Greenspan's book. Even as he goes through this exercise, he has to know that were the American economy to implode tomorrow, it has provided a decent life for the vast majority of its people for centuries, a feat that with all his imagined economic acumen and bullshit theory he was unable to approach, let alone equal, for a space of a single year. He has, in fact, presided over the descent of Cuba into the third world.

There is something pathetic in the way he seizes upon the criticism of the US, criticism which would be illegal if the situation were reversed. Here at the end of his life, his obsession with the US has become a monomania, perhaps because he senses that, except for the Missile Crisis, he has never been anything but an irritant to the Americans who have prospered, even as he has led his people to economic and spiritual ruin. It is no surprise then that the gypsy curse is "May you live a hundred years."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Exhibit A

I was amazed," Chelsea says, "at how happy the people are, even though they are poor."

There in the words of one 16 year old American teenager is the reason for restricting travel to Cuba. I pointed it out in the post about the Brown semester abroad. It’s the “Happy Brown Native Syndrome.” The quote is from an article about a church (Methodist) trip to Cuba over the holidays, putatively one that “opens young minds,” to which I might add “to shameless propaganda.” There is nothing that peeves me as much as when adults use the innate credulity of young people to further their own causes. Note in the article that all their trips seem to have been to commie countries.

I leave you with a question I’ve asked before which is why “do-gooders” invariably fall in line with the agendas of oppressive, totalitarian dictatorships.

Mean Communication

A nicely turned post on Generacion Y on the studentgate video. Yoani starts out explaining that it was 11 years before she saw the video of the young man facing down the tanks at Tianamen Square, a historic amount of time before she saw the Berlin Wall being torn down. The video of the young people putting the precisa or making Alarcon squirm, however, has been making the rounds, clandestinely of course. Her point is that advances in communication have helped Cubans cobble together pictures of what is going on in their own country and the larger world. Her conclusion:

While the official media maintains its bucolic lethargy, we are finding out. The young man at the UCI has a face, we know his voice, we heard the stuttering of his interlocutor. This is not an enormous plaza in China with a young man who defies tanks and the image is delayed a decade in reaching us.

Amen, sister.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

While I Was Away

What can you say about an editorial that starts with a reference to "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" and includes the following lines in reference to Cuba:

The toothpaste is oozing out of the tube.

and my favorite for obvious reasons:

The pen — and by extension, the word — is not only mightier than the sword; but is mightier than Cuba's cigar chomping swordsman.

except that it's misreading the situation. There has been no loosening. Ask the students who dared to question Alarcon.
Here's another deconstruction special. An article on a Javier Machado photography exhibit devotes more type to dissing US policy and lack of freedom in America than to the truth in the photographs. Try this one on for size:

Machado grew up in Cuba and left not for political reasons, but for love. His plan to marry his girlfriend and live between the two countries was foiled shortly after he got here in 2003, when the U.S. government limited the number and duration of trips Cuban-Americans may make to the island.

While the writer's agenda is clear:

This series is what Americans who dare visit Cuba see: Smiling, inviting faces secure after decades in their lots, no matter how insecure those lots are. Machado captures Cuban sincerity and lust for life's simplest pleasures.

Ah, "Happy, Brown Native Syndrome" strikes again. Machado's pictures tell a different tale. Hence the deconstruction. Read the article.
In the cultural diffusion department, it appears that Cuba has influenced Venezuela in more ways than one. Santeria has spread to Venezuela. Read all about it here.

Coming Home

Yes! Home at last, sitting in front of my clunky computer, the one that doesn't have thirty two adolescent passwords just to use Windows. Memo to myself: never get an Apple notebook, especially one that uses Mozilla like the one I've been reduced to while away.

So I flew home today, an exercise in frustration. It all started when I got to the two plane airport and realized I had forgotten to bring my suitcase. That shouldn't have surprised me because I had also neglected to take a coat on the trip with me. Anyway, I make it on the plane and land in Charlotte, NC, which reminds me of the email I was mentally composing to the authority...something along the lines of...

Dear Sirs, while you are obviously pleased, based on the gleeful tones of your announcements every fifteen minutes, with yourselves on your newly-minted status as a "smoke-free" airport, I'd like to point out that you forgot one incovenient fact, which is that at least a quarter of your passengers are addicted to nicotine...

Yup, there I was after four moving sidewalks, one escalator, and two buildings, standing out on the "courtesy" smoking area without the aforementioned forgotten coat, puffing away with the assorted multitude and trying to control the violent shaking. It was a 3 hour layover and now involved calculating the length of the TSA security line, the purported boarding time, and the time it would take to traverse the two buildings, one escalator, and four moving sidewalks.

This time I flunk the second security screening. With great gravity, they go through my pocket-book, and I have, oh, no, two lighters. Perhaps they feared I would engage in an act of self-immolation on board, since I obviously had nothing else to burn. There went my brand new emergency lighter. Not to fear. By the way, sweetie, I had three lighters, not to two. You missed one!

I settle into the gate an hour ahead of time when whispers of "oversold" reach my ears. When they ask everyone to check in again, I rush to the line. I'm not staying at this God-forsaken airport one minute more than I have to. Oh, no, the woman at the counter in front of me leaves, but the guy at the other line is still processing his people. They're going to get on, and I'm gonna get bumped. I dash to guy's line. As I make it to the front, the woman who has returned to her hastily abandoned post brings him scads to passes to do. I'm fighting to the death on this one. Eventually I obtain that most prized of possessions a new boarding pass, only they changed my seat and now I'm the last to board, which turns out to mean I'm in the back of the airplane.

So when we finally land an hour late, I say good-bye to the woman next to me, advising her that if I have to trample three people along the way, I'm getting out of this plane first. Unfortunately, I run into jerk a few rows down, who proceeds to take down his carry on and repack it while blocking the aisle. I guess he must have resented my breathing down his neck, because he then stood in my path and waited for the entire front half of the plane to get out of their seats, get their walkers, and finish their conversations. He obviously wasn't a smoker.

The moral of the story, other than that I should quit smoking: airports suck.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Semester Abroad or Re-Education Camp?

That's my problem with this Brown University program. I know I'm supposed to think that it's wonderful that students will be studying in Cuba, getting to know the culture, yada, yada, yada. As one of the professors indicates, the political has gotten in the way of the academic.

Alas, in Cuba everything is political. And to say that ten students going down and attending classes taught by Cuban professors is not is disingenuous at best. Those same professors can not offer an opinion, a point of analysis, or even a fact not in keeping with the official party line. Therefore, let's dispense with the free and open exchange of ideas. It is a myth. There can be no free and open anything in a society that is enslaved.

Too often, well-intentioned Americans go to Cuba on one high-minded program or another; get treated to the socialist theme park that is the face Cuba presents to the world, particularly high-minded intellectuals; accept blindly falsehoods and pretenses they would not dream of swallowing without question in this country; and return parroting regime propaganda, attempting to influence American policy, convinced that they know Cuban reality.

The only true learning the Brown students will be doing will be what they, like everyone else in Cuba, read between the lines. And that's an awful slim hope on which to pin foreign policy.

Read the article here:

Too Funny

"His accusations against internationalist Cuban revolutionaries...are completely unethical..."
Fidel Castro about John McCain in one of his latest screeds.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Road Trip: It's a Dying Thing

So there I am on the 95 heading north, veering off onto the 17 up along the coast and onto even more roads whose numbers are known only to the few who live along their bounds, hour after hour, the lonely landscape of the South outside the windows. More than a few times, I want desperately to stop and take pictures. I feel I have to document the decaying tobacco barns, the sagging pediments of the early gas stations, the decay seemingly everywhere, but twenty-first century traffic barreling down behind me gives me no pause to find a way.

It is a fitting metaphor for this trip, the passing. I think to myself that this is not something I will be able to do much longer, this meandering on the road to somewhere. Dwindling supplies of oil and sky rocketing gasoline prices will ring the death knell of one of my favorite undertakings. The person sitting beside me, my faithful motoring companion over the years, is also dying, like the scenery and the gas, the question is what morning will I wake to find all gone.

There are also lots of laughs on this road and some comic moments, too, like when I stop at a Country Market Restaurant, part of a buffet chain on the downleg of the roadside popularity curve. Others have gone before. I remember the Howard Johnson's, not the hotels, the little restaurants with their orange roofs, fifties decor, and lots of yummy ice cream. And Bob's Big Boy seems to have been a flash in the pan. The past few years, I've been stopping at the buffet. As seems to be true of most restaurants at truck stops, the food has always been good, filling, and cheap, This visit is disappointing, the buffet bar seems to be shrinking before my eyes. If numbers tell the story, Steak 'n Shake is the one on the ascendancy. Not the same thing.

As I walk in, there's an early middle-aged man self-consciously having a cell phone conversation and simultaneously blocking my way. As I make my way around him, I catch the accents. Oh, no, even here there is no escape. Those are Cuban accents. Now I give him the once over. It's no wonder I was surprised. It's the get-up, and I mean get-up. Some innocuous t-shirt or other over neither pants nor shorts, but v-shaped legs ending at the knee, the bare legs tapering to glaring powder blue imitation crocs worn over ankle sweats. I begin to have my suspicions, when his young friend, identically attired comes up to him. I look at their faces burned to the color of a cooked frankfurter, and I have to wonder whose idea of sartorial splendor this is. I laugh inwardly, remembering a post from a new blog Calm Bobby in Miami which details his adventures in dressing his newly arrived cousin at Abercrombie. Read it.

And me, I'm happy. As Siddhartha learns, it all goes into the river, the good and the bad, the endlessly rushing stream whose sound is the symphony of life.

I'm using a borrowed macbook, and I give up here's the URL

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Code Pink came to town (Miami, that is) again yesterday. Again they were met by counterprotestors, again they took to their heels, and again they whined that their rights were being trampled. I'm not sure what the ladies had in mind, other than gathering publicity, since Posada Carriles, the "terrorist" they want sent back to face Castroite brand of justice (that's the one where they shoot first and never ask questions) has been tried twice in Venezuela for the crime of which they accuse him.
To my mind, this picture from Abajo Fidel says it all. The young man waves the legs he lost in his dogged and relentless quest for freedom from a terrorist state in a visual denunciation of the pink spandex performance art. Now that's a protest, or as my mother would say, "una galleta sin mano."