Saturday, May 17, 2008

Very, Very Early Sunday Syllables

Since I'll be in transit and in nostalgia mode mañana, thought I'd share today.

Uh-Oh. Heads up, my Venezuelan friends, guess who's coming to train your police? You guessed it. I'd hazard to say the Miranda type rights are not on the agenda. According to this Herald report, members of the Cuban police are going to Venezuela to help set up their "community policing." I say, a CDR by any other name smells as rank. Here's another Chavez news item. He says Cuba can join OPEC because they're going to produce oil someday, somehow, maybe. There was an even better story, but I lost it somewhere.

Uh-Huh. In this article from the CNA, the good news is that assimilation is alive and well. Leading the getting to be American quickly charge? Cubans and Filipinos. Lagging behind: Mexicans. Face it- the cultural elite don't like us because we're just too bourgeois.

Tsk, Tsk. Chuck Colson, one of the few figures to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of Watergate, writes a piece condemning the junta in Myanmar not only for its refusal to allow in humanitarian aid after the devastation of the recent cyclone, but also for its "ethnic cleansing of Christian minority groups."

Huh? First it was the seed museum; now we have a feature on the museum devoted to the male members of species. Seems there's an Icelandic Phallological Museum. The only specimen missing is Homo Sapiens. Not to worry, there's a description of "Elmo." By the way, what's with the nicknames?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Literary Interlude: House of Cards

Recently, I had occasion to mention Charles Simic’s poetry. Here’s a small offering of his verse. If you like it, you might want to pick up a copy of his Selected Poems at the library, or better yet the bookstore.

House of Cards

I miss you winter evenings
With your dim lights.
The shut lips of my mother
And our held breaths
As we sat at a dining room table.

Her long, thin fingers
Stacking the cards,
Then waiting for them to fall.
The sound of boots in the street
Making us still for a moment.

There’s no more to tell.
The door is locked,
And in one red-tinted window,
A single tree in the yeard,
Leafless and misshapen.

Tiny Bubbles

A while back, an unnamed European diplomat likened Cuba to a pot being heated. There are bubbles here and there, their number increasing. To read Miscelaneas de Cuba today is to be reminded of the analogy.

On Wednesday of this week, the Junta de Coordinadores de la Agenda para la Transición, loosely the committee for the transition agenda, met for the second time. This small conclave is worth noting for a variety of reasons. First, it represents a concerted effort to unite opposition groups on the island, a seeming necessity if they are to accomplish anything. Second, the list of those attending reads like a who's who of same:

Félix Antonio Bonne Carcassés, Margarito Broche Espinosa, Francisco Chaviano González, Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, Jorge Luís García Pérez (Antúnez), René Gómez Manzano, María Antonia Hidalgo Mir, Roberto de Miranda Hernández, Vladimiro Roca Antúnez, Néstor Rodríguez Lovaina, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz Pacheco, Juan Francisco Sigler Amaya e Idania Yanes Contreras.

You can read about it here . Third, it was the inspiration for this by José Luís García Pérez (Antúnez), Guillermo Fariñas Hernández (Coco) and Francisco Chaviano González. In it, they go through a lengthy examination of the term dialogue because they feel that it is dialogue that is needed. It is not a dialogue with the regime, because as they quote if "politics is the art of the possible," then the regime as authors of the Cuban tragedy, given to all species of treachery, would not seem to be an appropriate interlocutor. Instead, they would have Cubans speak with each other. They would have those in exile form their own group to then work with them.

In a separate entry, dissident Oswaldo J. Payá Sardiñas of Varela Project fame, forced to send closing remarks to a conference in Brussels, makes the point that Cuban destiny is a Cuban thing. In the full text of his remarks here, he touches eloquently on the whole gamut of issues. Read it in English here. If you follow no other link, follow that one.

I cannot agree with him on the question of dialogue with the regime. Sit down with thieves, murderers, and tyrants without any true overtures on their part? I do think that we can soften the tenor of much of our commentary without giving an inch. It's all about face. We have it; they don't. About the embargo, more later.

Finally, this declaration from Miami where Hector Palacios finds himself describes the current state of things in Cuba and offers hope.

(All text unless otherwise indicated is in Spanish.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Business and Pleasure: Updated

Sign the Petition: Please sign a petition for the freedom of Cuba's political prisoners. Tell everyone you know and have them sign. The eventual goal is one million signatures. Read about it on Babalu here. More on the website here. You can navigate from there to the actual petition.

Cuba Solidarity Day: Another effort to publicize the plight of the people of Cuba. Visit the website. Read about it. See if there is anything you can do to help.

Letters to Biscet: One of the most heartbreaking, yet inspiring, figures of the Cuban opposition is Dr. Elias Biscet who remains imprisoned for his beliefs. For info here. His daughter Winnie would like to send him letters from well-wishers for father's day. The catch is that they have to be in Spanish. I'll translate brief notes to the best of my abilities.

Cuba Nostalgia. Getting my dancing shoes ready for this weekend. Unfortunately, I can only go down to Miami for the day, after my little jaunt to LA last weekend...both physically and economically spent, you see. Of course, I'll have to make a pit stop at La Carreta. If you've never been to one of these events, you've got to go. It's basically a Cuban convention, a celebration of all things Cuban: food, fuel, and fun, as well as a bit of cultural history and a smattering of literature. Info here.

A Growing Chorus?

I was wading through the newsstand at my local bookstore when I came across the Americas Quarterly. Lo and behold, they have a special section in the Spring 2008 Issue entitled "Cuba: Until When?" For most of us, the information is not new- the continued repression, the newly liberated and unaffordable appliances, the church’s preoccupation with its own status, and the disaffection of the people. There is an interesting discussion as to why the people do not rebel, and there are some additional sidebars of interest: moving excerpts from the prison diary of Normando Hernandez (see profile here on Uncommon Sense) who is in ill health and a write-up of Yoani Sanchez.

The one fly in the ointment, so to speak, is the position that lifting the embargo and travel restrictions will help liberate the people. They acknowledge that doing so will enrich the coffers of the regime, but they also maintain that it will be impossible for the regime to keep as tight a rein. No people to people exchanges here. Personally, if we could peacefully overrun the country, I would be all for it. Somehow, though, I don’t think that’s what the misgovernment would allow.
Unfortunately, there are only teasers available online here.

Cross-posted at Babalublog

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What I Would Have Posted on Sunday: The Sin of Brevity

Webicide? This Article in Newsweek posits the question, will Steve Jobs murder the internet? Answer here.

Adultery. As a once longtime resident of Staten Island, it breaks my heart to see the morass into which Vito Fosella has dragged his family, as well as his political career. His wife, a sweet and wonderful person, certainly didn't deserve this, and my prayers go out to them all.

Jimmy Buffett has a new book out, Swine Not? A Novel. I can only hope it's better than that Joe Merchant thing. See him talk about the book on Amazon here.

Tomorrow, I'll hopefully have something from Americas Quarterly which has a whole section on Cuba. Unfortunately, only a preview of two of the articles is available online. Just leafing through, it looked like it was on target!

Mothers' Day: A Musical Recollection

Was out of town for the weekend, and got airline revenge, so here is the belated Mothers' Day Post:

On Mothers' Day: A Musical Recollection

When I was about seven years old, the lady who would become my fourth grade teacher decided to offer piano lessons. A few of us took her up on her offer. The one difficulty was that not a single one of us had a piano, nor as children of the working class any likelihood of owning one. Thus, we were issued wooden keyboards to use for practice, a singularly uninspiring exercise.

After a bit, I lost interest. So one day, when my mother questioned me, I replied that I wasn't taking lessons anymore. In response to her quizzical look, I told her not to worry that I had spoken to the teacher. I had told her that I wasn't taking lessons anymore because my parents couldn't afford a piano.The next thing I knew, my parents trotted me down to Abraham & Strauss on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, a store we never frequented as it was above our touch. Sure enough, we left as the proud owners of a Hammond piano. Yes, they used to make pianos, too.

It was beautiful, my gleaming new piano. I was in transports. I guess because the thing cost over seven hundred 1960's dollars, they felt I should have more serious instruction and they hired a friend of a friend.This worthy young woman had graduated from a prestigious music school in Cuba and was a purist. The bulk of my instruction consisted of scales, arpeggios, and other exercises. I was not allowed to play popular music unless it was in its original form. It was- to say the very least- tedious.

In order to lighten the mood and get some enjoyment out of their substantial investment, they wrote to relatives who would send pieces of sheet music in their letters from Cuba. In the early days, about the only one I had any chance of mastering was a song entitled "Madrecita" by Osvaldo Farrés. Day in and day out for who knows how long I dutifully and grudgingly practiced this one, until my mother used to say that the flower the child carried in his heart was a stick.

In any case, I thought I would share the words, since I am scanner challenged.


Madrecita del alma querida

en mi pecho yo llevo una flor

no te importe el color que ella tenga

porque al fin tu eres madre una flor.

Tu cariño es mi bien, madrecita

en mi vida tu has sido y seras

el refugio de todas mis penas

y, la cuna de tu amor y verdad.

Aunque amores yo tenga en la vida

que me llenen de felicidad,

como el tuyo hamas madre mia,

como el tuyo no habre de encontrar.

Repeat first stanza.

Anyway, the upshot of the whole story is that despite bribery, bullying, pleading and railing, I was never a particularly inspired piano student. I can still remember Mom threatening to bury me in that piano. In the end, I took about five years of lessons before they gave up. I still have the piano which I take with me every time I move, the emblem of my shame. Still, I can play a mean "Lara's Theme, " when I play at all, that is.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Some Statistics for a Sunday Afternoon

$400 million Value of cigars sold worldwide by Cuba in 2007

$10 million What Americans are estimated to spend annually on Cuban cigars, despite an embargo

1,200 The number of Petit Upmanns JFK stockpiled before putting the Trade Embargo into effect.

79 The number of wouldbe Cuban exiles returned to the island and to probable reprisals on Saturday.

All stats except the last taken from The Denver Post here and here. Report on the last here.