Seasonings and Their Uses / 14ymedio, Rebeca Monzo

14ymedio, Rebeca Monzó, Havana | October 14, 2014 — The high cost and the limited selection of basic produce forces us to trek from one farmer’s market to another in search of the most essential ingredients for our kitchens.

These days the prices for vegetables as basic as onions, garlic and peppers, indispensable in the kitchen, are so unbelievable that you would think they were threaded in 18 carat gold. The hard-currency stores have stocked various imported spices of good quality that generally are somewhat more economical.

So here I will list some of them, along with their uses and applications:

Garlic Powder.  Well known by all for its use – however, being a concentrated product, it must be used carefully, with a concomitant reduction in the amount of salt used in the same recipe. Very appropriate for soups, and meat and fish sauces. A little goes a long way. Continue reading

The Little Box or the Hospital? / Rebeca Monzo

The little box or the hospital?

A friend, whose name I withhold in order not to harm him, tells me of a neighbor “partner” of his who works in the Ministry of the Interior and who became, what we call here a “super salary,” who confessed to having raised the following complaint at his work center:

“I earn 690 CUP (Cuban pesos), which here is considered a good salary. Recently they passed by my office taking note of colleagues who were interested in buying the decoding boxes for digital television; this equipment, according to what they explained to us, has the purpose of converting the digital signal into analog for those people who, like me (the majority), cannot immediately replace the less modern televisions that we own.

To my understanding, they are of two prices: they cost 30 and 38 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos), depending on their functions. I, of course, would opt for the more economical which, multiplying its price by 25 CUP, as they do in the stores, becomes 750 CUP and I earn 690 monthly, therefore I would have to take 250 CUP from my salary for three months until matching the price of said box, and make do however I can during those 90 days, which means that during this period of time I will not be able to buy milk, pork meat or vegetables and will even have to neglect my grooming a little, besides which with the remaining 440 CUP I will have to pay each month for gas, electricity, water, phone and some other essential grooming article like soap, which would be impossible because that would far surpass my meager budget.

“What to do then?  Get used to not watching television when I arrive home, tired after a long work day, because of not acquiring the little box, or failing that, go after acquiring it, directly to a hospital?”

Translated by mlk.

30 September 2014

Three Lies in One / Rebeca Monzo

A few years ago they began selling salt in little one-kilo bags — it previously had been sold in bulk — with a ration book allotment of one bag per couple every three months. As a result it was out of reach of most consumers. At first it was white and fine, as though it had been imported, but that did not last long. For a long time now it has been available in the same plastic bags with three key features highlighted on the label: fine, iodized, non-clumping. In reality it is thick, dirty, gray and damp. It looks like the kind used by industry for tanning leather.

Just yesterday I heard on the radio that Cuba had officially licensed a testing lab that will certify the quality of products that are imported and exported. This was presented as a great achievement, as big news! Then I remembered that back in the 1950s almost all products consumed in this country — especially those that were imported — prominently displayed two internationally recognized seals of approval: one from Good Housekeeping and one from the University of Villanueva.

For more than three decades now we have been buying naked products — in other words products without labels — especially toothpaste and toilet paper, which came unwrapped, resulting in largely unsanitary paper. I hope that from now on they will take this initiative seriously and revamp products they guarantee — or simply drop false claims on packaging like the ones on bags of salt and other products in the market — so that the consumer will no longer continue to be misled.

19 September 2014

An Overdose of Purses / Rebeca Monzo

First of all, forgive me for the near abandonment of my blog. It is because of purses — an internationally recognized term for the small handbags I make — as well as other articles of personal and decorative use.

One of the main reasons, among others, for this has been the large stack of work with which I am now dealing in an effort to have enough items for a one-person patchwork exhibition at a gallery in Miami, to which I have been invited. I have also been very limited in my access to the internet as one of our “benefactors” has been on vacation and my finances do not allow me to patronize the cyber-cafes due to their high prices.

Here are some photos of my currently completed work that I hope you might like. I promise to show you others later as well as to provide information regarding the location and date they will be shown.

 

 

12 September 2014

New Organized Robbery / Rebeca Monzo

The great problem created by the government of my planet itself with the dual currency, now, with the new authorization of being able to buy things in some TRD (hard currency collection) stores with either currency, is that it has become more complicated for both the customers and the employees, who work at each cash register in these establishments.

The other day I was at La Mariposa in Nuevo Vedada to buy some soft drinks–those that cost 0.50 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) whose equivalent in Cuban pesos (CUP) is 12.50. I offered 13.00 CUP in payment for which they owed me 0.50 CUP in change, but as the cash boxes don’t have this currency but only CUCs, they couldn’t give me 0.05 CUC because this would be the equivalent of 1.00 CUP, and so I would get 0.50 CUP over. Their not having change in smaller values means that the client loses the difference. I decided to return the soft drink.

Today my friend Mirta came over and brought me the receipt for a purchase she’d made of a liter of oil in the same store. She, indignant, told me exactly what I’ve told you. Well, I told her, if the famous character Cantinflas lived in Cuba today he would be totally nondescript.

These new headaches and “wallet-aches” that we customers and even the employees of these stores have to suffer are, in my modest opinion, nothing more than a new way of organized robbery.

6 September 2014

To Rigola I Shall Not Return / Rebeca Monzo

Two years ago, after a lot of red tape, long lines and pointless waits at Immigration, the Spanish embassy and the Plaza Military Committee, I finally managed to get the son of a friend — a woman who lives overseas and who had granted me power-of-attorney — exempted from military service so that the family could be briefly reunited.

Then, a few days ago, she, her husband and her son decided to come here on vacation to visit family. Everything seemed to be going very well. The joy of being reunited with family and friends helped mitigate the enduring economic hardship and deterioration of the country, which are very noticeable to anyone who comes back after spending time abroad.

The night that marked the return to the “mother country” finally arrived but a new odyssey had just begun.

After checking their luggage and paying the 25 CUC per person airport exit tax, an immigration official informed the couple that they could leave but that their son would have to stay behind because he had not yet completed his military service. Of course, the parents decided to stay with their son, but this meant losing their airline tickets, the exit tax they had already paid and the time spent waiting for their bags to be returned. There was also the anxiety and aggravation caused by the incompetence of the system.  Continue reading

Despicable Manipulation / Rebeca Monzo

Yesterday, July 28, I read in the Trabajadores ["Workers"] newspaper about the speech given by 6th grade pioneer Wendy Ferrer during the main event of a celebration in Artemisa marking the 61st anniversary of the attacks on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks. I could not help feeling shame and indignation over the vile manipulation that was so evident in the discourse read by this child.

To my understanding, the words and phrases used were not typical of a school-age child. If they were so, it would only be an even more lamentable proof of the terrible distortion fed to our students, a political manipulation that takes precedence over the true history of our country, and over true education. This is truly unfortunate. I believe that it is a civic duty to clarify for this girl, or actually for her teachers, some of the very sensitive aspects of her speech:

I completed my primary school studies — starting with a marvelous and unforgettable Kindergarten, as we then called what are today known as children’s camps — up to 6th grade in a public school, No. 31 of the Los Pinos suburb. Never, in our humble school, did we go without a school breakfast, as was provided in all public schools of that time. Nor did we ever lack notebooks — which I can’t forget included an imprint on the back of the tables for multiplication, addition, subtraction and division — or pencils, which were provided to all students at the start of — and midway through — each term. At that time, public education accounted for 22.3% of the national budget. There was also a private education sector, with wonderful schools founded and directed by great educators. Continue reading

What it Costs to Eat! / Rebeca Monzo

This week I invited to lunch a couple who are friends of mine.  I have among the more “respectable” pensions in this country: 340 CUP (Cuban pesos) — the type of currency which is also used to pay salaries.

I set out early in search of the necessary elements and ingredients to prepare for my friends a “criollo” [traditional Cuban] menu. They live outside the country, and I wanted to treat them to a home-cooked meal. Since there would be four of us to feed, I purchased the following:

Four plantains to make tostones, 10 CUP for the four; 1lb onions, 30 pesos; 1lb peppers, 20 pesos; two small garlic heads, 6 pesos; one avocado, 10 pesos; 2lb rice, 10 pesos; 1lb black beans, 14 pesos; 3lb pork steak, 120 pesos; one large (3lb) mango, 7.50 pesos. After that, I stood in line to buy one loaf of Cuban bread for 10 pesos.

As you might have noticed, a simple luncheon for four cost me “only” 257.50 Cuban pesos. My guests brought a bottle of wine.

The meal was a success and we had a great time, but as you can imagine, my pockets are wobbling until my next pension check. Now you see what a simple meal costs on my planet!

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

10 August 2014

A Morning at the Courthouse / Rebeca Monzo

After having had to find out on my own — and wearing out the soles of my shoes in the process — what and where the registrar’s office for my area was in order to request a certificate that, in addition to other documents, was required to have the deed to my house certified, I finally found it. The premises, located on one of the most intricate and disrupted streets of Old Havana, were dark and unventilated. The very precarious furniture caught my eye. There was only one telephone, secured with a lock like those used on suitcases to prevent employees from making calls.

Luckily for me I had kept an old copy of the document in question. Otherwise, according to the employee — who treated me very politely, by the way — I would have had to look through those massive books, their bindings unglued and held together with string, under the same employee’s watchful eye, something which would have taken me all day. The books themselves were not particularly old but bore the hallmarks of long-term abuse. Continue reading

Frida Kahlo / Rebeca Monzo

The daughter of a Mexican mother and German father, Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacán, Mexico on July 7, 1910.

She attended the Escuela Normal de Maestros and graduated from the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. She dreamed of becoming a doctor until a terrible accident destroyed her body, forcing her to lay in bed for many months and receive painful treatments, causing her to stop studying medicine.

In the midst of her dramatic convalescence, her iron will and attachment to life led her to become extensively self-taught in the arts and the mysteries of painting. She became an artist and took advantage of her knowledge to teach classes at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in spite of her physical limitations.

Her first exhibitions demonstrated her talent, which she continued to develop and which culminated in a magnificent work, turning her into one of the most famous painters of her type worldwide.

She impressed upon her work all the pain, feeling, and sensitivity that characterized her life. The memory of Frida is inextricably linked to the great muralist Diego Rivera, who was her husband, lover, confidant, and greatest critic and admirer. In spite of a tempestuous marital relationship, art united them until the end of her life, on July 13, 1954.

This month, Mexico pays homage to those who hold a seat of honor in the plastic arts of the 20th century. I am also joining in this commemoration since Frida was a source of inspiration and presence in my patchwork art.

Frida Kahlo narrated her life through painted images. The painting of this great artist is like no one else’s. As Diego Rivera, her husband, pointed out one day, she “is the only example of the history of art, of someone who tore open her breast and heart to tell the biological truth of what she feels in them.”

Most of her work is unknown; it is held in private collections and by friends. The value of it grows each day.

Translated by: M. Ouellette

21 July 2014

There Is None So Blind As He Who Refuses to See / Rebeca Monzo

For several days now I have not published a post, despite my desires to do so and the nagging thought that it wasn’t getting done.

It is true that the World Cup robbed part of my attention, but that was not what impeded my writing. Rather, it was all the tasks that were piling up in relation to an upcoming exhibition of my works. Preparing for this event takes a lot of effort and dedication, as does the negotiating required to obtain adequate materials.

Even so, with all due respect, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the recent visit of Dr. Margaret Chan, General Director of the World Health Organization, and the statements she delivered in the University of Havana’s Grand Hall, during the unsuitably named magisterial conference. Dr. Chan expressed that, thanks to the Cuban government, our people do not eat junk food. She also praised the work of our public health.

I really do not comprehend how these people, who occupy such relevant posts in the United Nations (UN), take at face value the reports provided by totalitarian regimes, without taking the trouble to check the facts through other means and compare other data.

Most of us know that these people are hosted in our country by high-level officials, and that they are taken over and over to the same places, which obviously are set up for such purposes, e.g.: a certain floor of Almejeiras Hospital, the Biotechnology department, and the La Castellana special school for differentiated teaching, among others. In addition, the visitors are customarily taken down 5th Avenue in Miramar, and they never stop at locations that aren’t set up for these political purposes.

How is it possible that the supreme body that oversees all of these organizations — the UN — has yet to take the trouble to look into these matters more deeply?

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

15 July 2014

God Bless America / Rebeca Monzo

My aunt is one of the many thousands of Cubans who never tires of thanking that nation that welcomed her and permitted her to safeguard the security of her adolescent son, giving her the opportunity to work and forge a better and more secure future.

Even so, since her prolonged exile, which began in 1961, she does not let a single day go by without thinking of that marvelous land where she was born, studied and had a beautiful family and which she never intended to abandon until she found herself forced to do it.

Within days she will turn 99 years old and still she keeps dreaming of returning to a free Cuba, although she is now aware that those who will enjoy that forthcoming moment are going to be her grandchildren.

Happy July 4th to the nation and people of the United States of America.

Translated by mlk.

4 July 2014