Reconnecting with Carlos III / Rebeca Monzo

In spite of its title, the subject of this post is not historical but rather “hysterical.”

They once tried unsuccessfully to change the name of Carlos III Avenue to Salvador Allende Avenue, going so far as to remove the statue of the Spanish king who lent his name to this important Havana artery, which begins at Belascoaín Street and ends at Independence Avenue (also known as Rancho Boyeros Avenue). An important market named after the famous avenue is located here. Built in the 1950s, it later became a shopping mall made up of a collection of small stores.

Upon returning to “my planet,” I went looking for some items that are becoming difficult to find in the hard currency stores, figuring I could probably find them here. While going about my task, I suddenly noticed a married couple talking loudly with the obvious intention of being overheard. They were debating the subject of food shortages. A group of people quickly began forming around them, made up of those who happened to be there at the time. The wife, a woman of advanced years, began directing her comments to the youngest of those present.

“Do you have a dentures?” she asked them, to which those being queried answered affirmatively. Then, turning once again to the larger group, she said, “Well, considering how old you all seem to be, I imagine they stopped giving you milk when you were six and quite possibly none of you has ever chomped down on a good steak.”

13 May 2014

Exploring the Design District in Miami / Rebeca Monzo

Ignoring the anti U.S. propaganda on my planet, I come to Miami with an open mind, thanks to my sporadic contacts with social networks and myself. Yesterday I had a wonderful meeting with someone I’d met a few times in Cuba as teenagers, and who I hadn’t seen since 1959, but with whom I have maintained communication through my blog and FaceBook. It was as if our mutual feelings had invisibly mended a rip made in our sentimental fabric.

We spent a marvellous day visiting places new to me, and thanks to the skill of her husband as impromptu helmsman, we were able to discover some corners of Miami together.

The Design District made an impression, now just for the beauty of its graffiti, but for the genius of converting a rundown area into marvelous art galleries, stores, studies, all decorated with beautiful examples of such popular art.

I could not but evoke with sadness a comparison of those places of once dazzling architecture and functions, converted now into ruins, “by work and disgrace” of the mis-governance of my country.

The truth about the “Cuban economic miracle” that they hid from us for so many years, due to the lack of information and the impossibility of traveling outside our borders, thanks to the Internet has emerged from the totalitarian darkness imposed on it.

And so, like meeting my friend again, I have borrowed this technology, but I’m still looking (on the unfamiliar keyboard) for the accents. Excuse me.

13 March 2014

Another Dream Come True / Rebeca Monzo

We left very early from Miami, a name which in the Tequesta language of its original inhabitants means “Place of Many Waters.” My friend, her daughter and I were headed to Key West. The trip was surprisingly fast thanks to the wonderfully maintained freeways.

We made our first stop at Islamorada to have lunch at Wahoo’s, a typical wood-framed restaurant anchored on the coast, where dozens of pelicans were having a quiet nap on the yachts moored there.

After enjoying a tasty and reasonably priced seafood lunch of oysters and fish, we continued on toward our destination.

The landscape of blue waters on either side of the bridges, interspersed with tiny emerald green islands, brought back memories of those famous paintings by the Cuban artist Tomás Sánchez in which water plays a key role.

We shed some tears in the car while choruses and clapping to the music of Rapture and the song “Bridges” by Ricardo Arjona (see above). We arrived at the impressive Seven Mile Bridge, along whose sides old structures built of iron and wood miraculously still stood. Through them the old railroad connecting southern Florida with Key West had once passed.

So, intoxicated by our own joy we finally arrived, charged with lots of energy, at Key West.

After enjoying the air, its old buildings, today almost all its museums, parks and beautiful and luxurious hotels, we headed down Duval Street, the main artery of the city.

We made a quick tour of the main tourist sites and cultural attractions: the Club San Carlos, in whose premises still breathe imprint Marti, Ernest Hemingway’s house where the descendants of his six-toed cats still live. In Margaritaville, where we tasted their famous cocktail listening to Jimmy Buffet music, art galleries, souvenir shops, until we stopped to drink a delicious coffee at Croissants de France, a family pastry shop from 18…

Afterward we took the typical photo at the place that marks 90 miles to Cuba, while we fantasized about future bridges that could shorten once and for all this distance that cruelly separates our two shores.

We returned to retrieve our car, parked in front of the beautiful and eclectic mansion of the López Ramos family, the “southernmost house” (the house furthest south in the USA), as it is known, to say goodbye to this wonderful place.

23 February 2014

Bridges of Love / Rebeca Monzo

Since my arrival two weeks ago on this other piece of Cuba called Miami, I have barely had a free moment as I try to fill up the void left by the two decades since my last visit with happy reunions and long conversations.

I have had the honor and the pleasure of being the guest on prestigious radio and TV programs as well as being able to put faces to all those very familiar voices I have heard only through radio from a gracious “voluntary insile*” in my apartment in Nuevo Vedado. But above all there has been the pleasure of once again seeing those dearly beloved people who suddenly vanished from our daily landscape.

Reconnecting with a part of our culture, transported by our compatriots to this other shore, has renewed my spirit. It is true that, to my great regret, I have neglected my blog a bit, but “travelling lightly” has made me dependent on foreign technology (everything from a virus to a lack of punctuation marks). This has limited me greatly, for which I ask forgiveness of my readers. I feel very welcome wherever I go and in my “romantic fantasies” I imagine an archipelago knitted together with bridges of tolerance and reconciliation, forever linking our two shores. Bridges of love, something all Cubans need.

*Translator’s note: “Insile” here is a play on words, the opposite of “exile.”

14 February 2014

Disconnection / Rebeca Monzo

The last days of last year and the first of this year, I’ve been in a state of limbo without news from outside, except now and then when, putting my ear to the radio speaker and trying to ignore the screech of the interference, I’ve managed to hear fragments of programs from Radio Marti, plus some news that comes by mail from abroad, like the one that brought me the crazy list of cars and prices that the Cuban government is trying to sell to us, a population with an enormous difficulty in buying a quart of olive oil because the price is so high.

Why don’t they devote resources to solving the great problem of housing instead of bringing cars which, given their brands and prices, make us suspect they’re the result of shady deals, given the craziness of trying to sell them in our country? Where are the auto repair shops and the parts, as well as the personal capacity to maintain them, in case some crazy person decides to buy a car instead of an apartment for the same price?

I’m desperate for our friends — who, in solidarity, give us a few hours of Internet each week — to end their much-deserved vacation so that we can return to connecting to the real world.

8 January 2014

End-of-Year Matinee and Outing / Rebeca Monzo

My friend emigrated 20 years ago. “She left without saying goodbye,” as the lyrics of a popular song go, but I understood. She was always saying to me, “This country is being swallowed up by laziness.”

Much to my surprise, the telephone rang on the night of the 25th. It was her sister, who said to me, “Guess who I have here that wants to speak with you?” Immediately, her name rolled off my tongue. I was truly shocked.

Yesterday, the 31st of December, we arranged to meet at a private restaurant in Vedado, one of the few open that day. My friend is very absent-minded and left me waiting for over two hours. During that time a terrible, ominous downpour fell from the north, not the one I wanted but from the north nonetheless. Much heat, rain and then a wonderful breeze.

To get to the restaurant, we passed the ruins of what was once the historic and iconic Hotel Trotcha, where Generalissimo Máximo Gómez stayed before settling in the Quinta de los Molinos. There I took photos of my friend and said, “You see, for the price of a ticket to Havana you can feel like you made a stop in Greece to visit ancient ruins.” Continue reading

To All My Friends and Readers / Rebeca Monzo

This year marks four years since I started a blog, without really knowing how to pull it off. With the help and advice of Yoani, “Through the Eye of the Needle” — the title based on a biblical phrase that was also the name I gave my first major exhibition outside “my planet,” as I refer to Cuba in my posts — went into cyberspace to describe our everyday reality.

I wanted to share this satisfaction with you, and to wish you with all my heart a 2014 of recovery of our liberty and sovereignty, as well as reconciliation, forgiveness without forgetting, and the union of all Cubans in a future homeland without charismatic leaders but with very efficient ones, where democracy reigns for everyone without any exceptions.

30 December 2013

An Odorless, Colorless and Dull New Year / Rebeca Monzo

1388171012_cena-frugalThe streets are empty and unadorned. With their paltry displays of gifts, shop windows only hint at the season, which was once so colorful. There is an absence of ornaments but also of products and resources, and 2014 is forecast to be full of hardships and difficulties. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day do not seem to exist for the media, which only makes reference to the “celebration” of the 55th anniversary of an event that brought pain to the Cuban nation.

In the early hours of the appointed day, we could not observe the old sight of happy people full of packages circulating through the neighborhood. At night the streets are dark with only a few neighbors about. Unlike us, very few people bother to decorate their balconies and doorways with garlands of lights, not only because the custom has been disappearing, but also because they are expensive and are very few shops sell them. Continue reading

Perspectives and Wishes for the Coming Year / Rebeca Monzo

In a country like ours, completely bankrupt, where all future promises have been broken, where the citizens have been cheated again and again, few expectations remain.

The majority of the young people with whom I have spoken would like to live in a country where their dreams and perspectives are unlimited. Sadly for them, they dream of emigrating because they know that here and now there is no other option.

Older people look forward to their retirement, a product of so many years of accumulated work. They hope it might allow them to live comfortably and treat themselves to a little luxury once in a while without having to depend on help from overseas relatives. Besides being humiliating, this is a constant reminder of the failure of their lives and the separation from family, both very painful and difficult feelings to overcome. Others even less fortunate find it necessary, in spite of their advanced age, to clandestinely sell “jabitas” (plastic bags), homemade candies and loose cigarettes outside farmers’ markets, always running away from the police who harass them.

And those of us who are no longer so young but not yet so old want freedom for Cuba and the restoration of the democracy that was lost more than half a century ago. We long for a country where the dreams and aspirations of all Cubans can be fulfilled without having to abandon the place where they were born. But it is not enough to only dream about this; one has to do something to achieve it and fundamentally it has to be done from within.

In spite of this dark present, I wish all Cubans — especially my readers, wherever they may be — a bright future in a free country, where we share joys and sorrows together in an embrace. Merry Christmas!

24 December 2013

The Electrical Re-Involution / Rebeca Monzo

In 2005, the then president and prime minister of our planet appeared before TV cameras in order to explain to the population the benefits of the hitherto despised home appliances, which from that moment would be distributed in all the country by household through the infamous Ration Booklet.

Refrigerators, air conditioners, “Queen” pots, rice cookers, personal water heaters, energy saving light bulbs, electric burners, in sum, a series of home appliances manufactured and imported from the People’s Republic of China.

I remember that, when in the 1970’s I moved to Nuevo Vedado, I had an electric stove with three burners and an oven, acquired in Paris in my diplomatic years, and each time I went to buy products with the Ration Booklet in the market that I was assigned to, they talked to me about consuming too much electricity.

Three decades later, the same people who reprimanded me came to offer to exchange my old but magnificent 1949 Admiral refrigerator for a Chinese one, which according to them would consume less. Of course I refused, because you had to give up the perfectly functional one you possessed, without getting a cent of its value, as if it were scrap, and pay an exaggerated price for the new one.

Fortunately, I maintained said negative response on repeated occasions, until they got tired and insisted no more. All those people who fell in the trap of the new appliances are regretful, because they broke after a while and there are no parts with which to fix them, but they still have to continue paying for them.

The same thing has happened with all the low quality Chinese equipment: mountains of aluminum and twisted cables fill the shelves and warehouses of the famous consolidated workshops without them being able to be repaired for lack of replacement parts.

It is shameful that some commission from the National Assembly has to spend so much time and saliva talking about “Queen” pots and broken appliances, in a country where there are so many urgent problems, like the bad state of schools and hospitals, the almost non-existent sugar production, the lack of basic necessities in the stores, problems with milk production, potatoes, in sum, with everything that is vital for the population. Gentlemen, certainly it shames the National Assembly that you have to air issues as ridiculous as the broken electric pots, already obsolete.

I believe that the decision I made three decades ago, not to be dazzled by the “electric re-involution” and not to go into debt buying those Chinese products, was most wise. My old Admiral refrigerator, decorated by me, continues cooling like a charm, and I do not owe a cent to the State.

Translated by mlk.

20 December 2013