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

Sarasota / Rebeca Monzo

Map of the Ringling Complex.

I still remember with much fondness the circuses of my childhood, but above all the marvelous and spectacular Ringling Brothers, that would arrive in our country in December — in the early days encamping in the old Sports Palace on Paseo and Primera streets, facing the sea — and later, towards the end of the 1950s, in the then-resplendent Sports City.

Carmen, punctual as is her wont, came to get me at 5am so that we could go together to the meeting place from which the bus would depart that would take us from Miami to Sarasota. We were the first to arrive, even before the bus, because we are both like that, super-careful in meeting our commitments. Little by little the other tourists began arriving until the full group was assembled.

The tour guide was a “cubanaza*”- very amusing and active, with a great love of the arts – who specializes in putting together these types of excursions, all with a cultural purpose. And so, between storytelling, laughs and songs – including interesting raffles of books and small paintings created by some of the tour participants, among whom were writers, a poet and even a painter – we made this long trip which turned out to be most pleasant.

Arriving in Sarasota, the tour personnel provided us with ID wristbands and maps of this lovely place, so that each person could choose their companions and where to begin their journey through this grand cultural complex, a major attraction and pride of this city, which has been converted from the mansion, art gallery, theater and other property that belonged to the family of John and Mable Ringling, which they bequeathed as a heritage legacy, and which since 2000 has been under the guardianship of Florida State University.

Everything, absolutely everything, impressed me because of its grandeur and splendor, but what most amazed me, owing to its magnitude and level of detail, was the impressive scale model of the great circus industry that gave life to this family empire, whose spectacles I enjoyed every winter in my beloved Havana, up until 1959.

The family mansion, called “Cad ´Zan” by its owners — which in the Venetian dialect means “John’s house” — was built by the architect Dwight James Baum in 1924, in the Venetian baroque style, impressive for its luxury and excellent state of preservation.

Another great attraction is the Museum of Art which displays collections of the most famous European painters: El Greco, Rubens, Velázquez, Veronese, Gainsborough, and other great masters. The building is surrounded by splendid gardens, where the sculptures look to be enjoying the marvelous surroundings. We also visited the Asolo Theater, built in 1798, dismantled and transported from Italy to be added to the Ringling complex in 1948, becoming the only 18th century theater in the United States of America.

We returned well into the evening, satisfied and exhausted from so much walking and enjoyment of this well-organized and enjoyable excursion to one of the most interesting corners of this beautiful State of Florida.

*Translator’s note: “Cubanaza(o)” can be said to be a sort of “super Cuban” – someone who is almost a caricature of the Cuban style of speech, mannerisms, attitudes, etc. The term as used by a fellow Cuban to refer to another is often – as in this case – one of endearment.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

16 May 2014

Route 27: Cattle or Sheep? / Rebeca Monzo

The heat was deathly, the Route 27 bus stop overflowing with people, from which we could conclude that not a single bus had passed for a long time. Asking one of those present, I was told they had been waiting for more than an hour.

I hadn’t been at the stop five minutes when I saw in the distance the yearned for “ghost bus.” We all ran towards it, having divined the intentions of the driver to not  stop where he was supposed to, which is a common occurrence. Between pushing, protests and rude phrases, I managed to climb the step, and at just this moment I was confused because the difficulty of getting inside was greater than I already knew it would be.

I’m sure I haven’t gained weight, I told myself, clinging to my bag, which I was wearing, as usual, hanging from my shoulder, and I put it in front of me. At that moment I realized that the narrowness of the access was because on both sides of the entrance steps where you access “the belly of the beast” they had placed some iron bars, like those used in corrals to guide the cattle into the pens.

Continue reading

It Isn’t What It Seems / Rebeca Monzo

On my planet the abnormal is normal. For example, when we go shopping — whether it be in those dark, poorly ventilated stores, whose scant merchandise is priced in CUP (Cuban pesos), or the well-illuminated, air-conditioned hard currency stores, whose somewhat greater selection is priced in CUC — we are met at every step with surprises.

A few weeks ago a friend who was visiting brought us some wonderful bread sticks, which had been purchased at one of the Silvain stores. They came wrapped in an enormous plastic envelope much larger than the product it contained. When I looked more closely at the package, I noticed it carried the Caribbean Queen label, an indication the packaging would normally be used for shellfish.

Last week there was a knock on my door from a “dark bag” vendor I know, who was selling lobster tails. They came wrapped in a plastic package identical to the one containing the bread sticks.

None of this is surprising. They are simply examples of the “details” we have been experiencing for many years now. We have become so accustomed to them that they seem perfectly normal. Continue reading

What Does a Cuban Miss? / Rebeca Monzo

According to the Larousse dictionary, the Spanish verb extrañar means the following: to be surprised, to find something odd because it is new, to miss someone or something, to be delighted…

Cubans in Cuba miss air-conditioned movie theaters and their weekly premieres that came to us “just released” from all over the world, including those from “across the street.*” We miss the cafes with their popular café con leche — so typical of Havana — accompanied by toast slathered in butter.

We miss the bars and bodegas where for a modest price you could get a nice sandwich or a delicious bisuit. Or a coffee for three centavos, which you could buy at almost at every bus stop. Or the equally cheap and delicious frita cubana, made with beef and ground pork, served on soft, round bread and accompanied by onion rings and julienned potatoes. Or the freshly-made hot little tamales (spicy or mild). Or the fruit smoothies called batidos from Chinese-owned stalls such as Navidad along the Malecon, where you would go to cool off on summer nights or to “chase the waves” as they entered from the north. Or walking up and down the Rampa chatting with friends. Continue reading

The Ghost of a Preventable Death / Rebeca Monzo

It is painful and embarrassing to travel along the Avenue of the Presidents, more commonly known as G Street and, on reaching the huge monument erected to  President José Miguel Gómez, which fortunately is solid and erect, to glance to the right and observe with amazement this enormous skeletal ghost of what was the Pedro Borras Hospital, the largest example of the Art Deco style in America, dedicated to health, a work of the architects Govantes and Cobarroca, whose work was similar in style and use, but not as big, as that found in Chicago, USA, in perfect condition and providing medical services, while ours is a victim of abandonment and government neglect, which has left it in its current sad state. Continue reading

The Other Side Of The Coin / Rebeca Monzo

She is a beautiful woman, petite, friendly, very intelligent, with a great sense of humor and even a certain naivete that makes her appear still younger than she is.  Also, bachelors and masters in science, with many accumulated scientific achievements in her long career.

She lives in the heart of El Vedado, in a building from which in another epoch was observed a beautiful view of what was once one of the most architecturally important and lovely sports parks of our city, with a blue, almost always calm sea as a backdrop.

This park, like all the city, including, it is clear, the building where she resides, has been deteriorating with the passage of time and government apathy, to the point of becoming ghosts from a shining era now passed.  In any case, the same was remodeled and completed in 1960 to form five zones:  park, stadium, gymnasium, pool, children’s playground and volleyball and basketball court, with stands for 1,020 spectators, where the architect Octavio Buigas was showcased with the solution of the spectacular tiers that seated 3,150 people, covered by a light structure of concrete “domed shells” 125 meters long “kindred” to the famous Zarzuela Hippodrome in Madrid. Continue reading

The True Liberation of the Cuban Woman / Rebeca Monzo

University students of the ’30’s.

Much is said and published through the media in our country about the “achievements” obtained for the Cuban woman after the Revolution. But never is a word said about the social, political, and economic advantages achieved by our feminine population before the year 1959 in the last century.

For that we are going to refer to some very revealing information from the “1953 Population and Electoral Census,” the last one carried out during the Republic, published and edited by P. Fernández y Cía.  These censuses were carried out approximately every ten years. Continue reading

Marrying to Emigrate / Rebeca Monzo

A friend told me the following story about having to serve as a witness in the respective marriages of two of her friends, a Cuban brother and sister, to two unknown foreigners “recommended” to them by others who have already gone down this tortuous path:

The first wedding was between the sister and a foreigner; the second between her brother and an even older foreigner. Out of a sense of solidarity my friend, who was a witness and participant in both instances, also became involved in “set design” for both events. This included arranging for more than fifty photos portraying the wedding festivities, which meant having to assemble a tremendous array of “scenery and props.” Continue reading

The Enchanted Island / Rebeca Monzo

Meeting someone through the social networks can bring us very agreeable surprise or, on occasions, the complete opposite. I’ve had the good fortune of establishing very good relationships and contracts through my blog, Twitter and Facebook, despite my restricted Internet access.

One of the most faithful followers during these almost five years since I opened “Through the eye of the needle” is a marvelous Cuban woman who has lived in Puerto Rico since the early seventies, who not only brings me support, but who has also also confided in me, and on sending me an invitation to meet in person, hosted me in her house.

During the years of contact through the social networks, we have identified — greatly coinciding in our opinions — an issue that brings us strongly together.

My brief stay on the beautiful “Enchanted Island” — in addition to my stay with her and her lovely family in Palmas del Mar, where they live — put me in touch with many personalities in the areas of arts and literature, in this paradise, and I participated as a guest artist in a bit “Meet the Chefs” Forest Fundraising Auction, haled every year to promote and finance the care of the native forest of this blessed place. At this event I was honored to donate one of my patchworks, coincidentally titled “Forest.”

Time, the “cruel enemy,” went too fast, as usually happens when we are enjoying something so much. I had to leave my new friends of this marvelous island and head home full of lovely images, much love, appreciation and great desires to return, still hearing in my ears the lovely song of their “coquís.”

18 May 2014

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