Friday, December 26, 2008

Cuba: the End of Enchantment

One of the things that struck me the first time I visited Cuba Nostalgia was the complete mock-up of the facade of the El Encanto at the fete. I was further surprised to find that there was an alumni club of sorts composed of onetime employees of the famous Havana department store. It's as if there were a fraternal order of ex-employees of Macys. I was reminded of this when I stumbled on this Miami Herald article which posits the burning of El Encanto as symbolic of the end of an era. Reading it, a light bulb when on over my head. Suppose someone read it but substituted "Macys" for the original. See how the substitution would change your perception of the following:

[John Smith] said that soon after [the new administration], the store gave the impression of operating normally. But gradually some employees embraced the revolution and some even showed up for work wearing guerrilla fatigues. ["Purification"] or ''ideological cleansing'' committees were set up to weed out employees who were not enthusiastic about the revolution, said [a former employee].

Victims of ["Purification"] committees such as [John Smith] often got additional scrutiny by colleagues and supervisers.

These were just the beginnings of the Big Brother state. I guess that's what amazes me when Americans, particularly artists, applaud a system they would find abhorrent if inflicted on them.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Here I Go A-Wassailing.

Figgy pudding is not my thing, but how about some wassail, straight from my circa 1979 Betty Crocker?


1 gallon apple cider
2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 teaspoons allspice
2 three inch sticks cinnamon
half cup sugar
2 oranges, studded with cloves

Heat all ingredients except oranges until boiling; then simmer 20 minutes. Serve in punch bowl with oranges floating. It's good stuff.

Wish You A Merry Christmas!

We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding; Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer

We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some, so bring some out here

We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

(Now how many of you knew the carol involved a wee bit of blackmail?)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

As the Tortilla Turns Ever So Slowly

As Cuba approaches a half century of totalitarian rule, the press seems compelled to mark the occasion. Anita Snow's entry into the lists is surprising in that peeking through the edges of the thing are some truths. In this AP article, she starts, of course, with revolutionary school children in the palace of "the fallen dictator." Does that mean as opposed to the present dictator who followed the previous dictator, I have to wonder. Still, try some of these excerpts for a Snow job.

[The communist government is] a system that may be softening at the edges but appears determined to crush any threat to its grip on power, lest it crumble like its one-time godfather, the Soviet Union.

[The Ladies in White] Each Sunday, these women deliver a muted counterpart to the official cry of "Viva Fidel! Viva la revolucion!" by marching down Quinta Avenida, a busy Havana thoroughfare, each dressed in white and carrying a gladiola, silently demanding the release of their husbands from political imprisonment.

[About the internet] But few of Cuba's 11.2 million people have access to the Internet, and anyway are preoccupied with staying afloat in a sclerotic economy where basics like toilet paper often disappear from store shelves and most people eat meat only a few times each month.

Of course, she does get her history wrong:
Back in the capital, on the other side of Havana Bay, looms the Spanish fortress where Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a top Castro commander, directed executions of several hundred Batista police and army officials accused of torturing and killing opponents.

Please note that it was only murderers and torturers who were executed by Che. What was that about history being written by the victors? Nothing about pregnant women and boys, those who felt betrayed by the revolution they helped to power. And please note that Cuba hasn't executed anyone since the ferry incident, not directly, anyway. There is the question of those who commit suicide in police stations or whither away from neglect and maltreatment in the gulag. But don't forget that there were once 15,000 political prisoners, so what's 219? I'm sure that's a source of comfort to Elias Biscet.

Included also are the requisite testimonials from those who just love the revolution. I can spot her those, although it might have been novel to find a man on the street who didn't think the government was just peachy, because she highlights Elizardo Sanchez and Yoani, giving her the punch line by quoting a post:

That may be another sign of the younger Castro's pragmatic, unshowy style. But blogger Sanchez maintains that the revolution died long ago and needs no birthday bash.

"Let it rest in peace," she wrote in a Dec. 14 posting, "and we will soon begin a new cycle: shorter, less pretentious, more free."

Another AP entry in the retrospective vein is the timeline of "Castro's Cuba." Seems to me it could be expanded a trifle. Like how about the date that Castro promised democratic elections for a start. I'm sure there are lots more dates out there they just somehow missed. Of course, we might have a different view of what constituted "key" developments.

Sunday Drive Bye

By Hook.... The big Cuba news this week was the visit by Russian warships to Cuba (yawn) and the summit of Latin American leaders, including Raul Castro and not including the United States. Not surprisingly, they called for the lifting of the embargo. What they failed to accomplish by fomenting revolution, the Castrian duo seem to have achieved with a mix of propaganda, medical chattel and ideology. Keep an eye on their combined international debt. Paraguay has joined Ecuador in questioning their obligation to pay. Stay tuned...

By Land.... Also in the news, at least in Trinidad was the "successful" surgery of Prime Minister Patrick Manning. Some had questioned why he felt the need to travel to Cuba to undergo the procedure. Didn't Fidel import a Spanish doctor for his treatment. Oh, yeah, that's after the first botched operation, I think.

By the Pricking of my Thumbs.... It was bound to happen. As a recount rife with votes found in car trunks, somehow missed, etc. proceeds Al Franken has taken the lead for the first time in the Minnesota Senate race. It is scary. If the seemingly inevitable happens and residents of Minnesota accept this travesty of an election, they will get the government they deserve. Scary.

By the Waters.... In a sad, but definitive, announcement Florida Police reported that young Adam Walsh was murdered by the longstanding suspect in the case, Ottis Toole. John Walsh, whose life was permanently transformed by the tragedy of his son's murder had long accused Toole of the crime. Toole died in prison on unrelated charges. Read here.