Any Old Registry Office / Rebeca Monzo

Waiting during recess.

The Registry Offices on my planet have become human concentrations or people’s saunas. The long lines overflow to the outside of the building, most of them ending on the street, sidewalks and curbs, where those who aspire to be assisted hang around, waiting for the hoped-for moment. At lunch time, the office is closed and everyone must leave and wait outside. It should be noted that so far none of these sites has a computerized database.

None of them provides enough seats to accommodate everyone; insufficient ventilation is guaranteed. Of course, there is an exception that confirms the rule: the Central Havana Registry – perhaps the only one that works well, based on my personal experience.

I think I have visited almost all of them in the capital, including the one in Santiago de las Vegas, which like all of their species are located in houses and apartments, abandoned for several decades by their former owners and later by the State, which took possession of them without giving them any maintenance in all these years (including cleaning them).

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Here there were once seats

The people who work there do not enjoy appropriate working conditions and generally display a very bad temper. They do their work as if they were doing a great favor to the applicant, even making an effort so that it will not go unnoticed. This forces many users to arrive at the place bearing some small gift. If not, sit down and wait! In the end, whether they do their work well or badly, they will receive the same meager salary.

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Here is where there once was lighting and there was also an air conditioner.

After waiting for more than three hours to be helped, I was able to notice one of the possible causes of the delay: the long silicone nails, green and with small raised flowers, of the employee who took care of the applications. It was to be expected that she would take more than twenty minutes with each short four-line form to be filled out, in addition to the innumerable times that she would leave her work station for just a moment, to go deal with some small matter in another department, and not taking into account the friends who are allowed to go first, cutting into the line.

I was finally provided with a copy of my application on a recycled piece of paper, written exactly on the previously printed side, almost illegible, but even so I left the place relieved, and even happy to have been able to file my application.

Translated by: Espirituana

September 25 2011

Realism, yes. Magic, well, not so much / Regina Coyula

This picture was take in the lobby of the Luis de la Puente Uceda Hospital in La Víbora.







I DO NOT ACCEPT CHAVITOS (convertible currency) OR EUROS.









Translated by: Espirituana

September 5 2011

From the Sublime to… / Rebeca Monzo

Yesterday in a conversation among friends, fed up with such serious topics as the layoffs of more than one million workers and wanting to lighten up the conversation a little, we ended up telling anecdotes that, although sounding like jokes, are pure reality and make us laugh by being so absurd in themselves.

Look, Marta was telling me, I had to see it to believe it. It turns out that on G Street, after they furiously decimated the busts and statues of the Cuban presidents from the republican era, not taking into account that they are part of our history, there was a statue that became famous, because when it was knocked down, the shoes remained on the pedestal, and for this reason it continues to draw many visitors. However, it’s not that statue that I want to talk about, but the one they made of Salvador Allende, with a colossal out-of-proportion raised arm with the hand pointing to the horizon (in this case the sea).

Well, my friend continued, someone noticed that the hand could be unscrewed and separated from the rest of the bust, and he removed it as a joke. It was lost for several days until one night it was rejoined with the rest of the sculpture. Then, occasionally someone would remove it again, and days later it would reappear as if by magic. For that reason they had to assign a guard to the bust.

Like with John Lennon’s!, said Wilfre. It’s a fact that now there is a person assigned to guard the Chilean president twenty-four hours a day. The same thing happens with the most famous of the Beatles. The caretaker keeps the eyeglasses in his pocket and puts them on the now popular bronze figure when someone wants to take his picture next to it. Once the picture is taken, he puts them away again, until the next occasion.

One thing I am sure of, I told those who were present, is that neither of these two guards is going to be laid off with these new labor readjustments. And wouldn’t it be more economical, interrupted Verónica, if they put contact lenses on the subject statue?

Translated by: Espirituana

January 16 2011

A Well-Deserved Award / Rebeca Monzo

The evening was cool. Since the early hours we were preparing for what would happen that afternoon. We were to pick up the poet and Regina in order to go together to the Dutch ambassador’s residence, where there would be a reception to present the Prince Claus award officially to Yoani Sánchez.

Upon arriving at the appointed place, we were able to observe that there was already a large group of bloggers on the corner of the residence, waiting for the hour stated on the invitation. A mysterious white pickup truck with darkened windows was parked right in front of the place. On the other corner, a cyclist on his motorcycle, with his helmet on and not moving, seemed to have turned into a sculpture. There was also a couple who pretended to be checking an address. None of them were moving.

Among the last to arrive were Coco Fariñas, Father José Conrado and Dagoberto Valdés. After exchanging greetings, the whole group of us headed for the site of the event. Fortunately no one bothered us. But, since we knew what it was all about, before we went in we directed a big smile towards the parked white pickup, as well as the couple that was not moving from its place and the motorcyclist.

The ceremony was truly moving. We were all there to support and accompany Yoani. She, with the wise and simple words that are her hallmark, gave thanks for the well-deserved award. With great applause, the award ceremony was closed. Then a varied and delicious buffet was served. We had a truly charming evening.

Translated by: Espirituana

January 8 2011

The Before and the After, Without the During / Rebeca Monzo

The underground parking at the Old Plaza when it was being torn down.

Again today, as I walked around Old Havana, taking care of problems and taking pictures, I was struck by the innumerable signs that have been put up showing before and after.

If these signs were meant only for people under forty and with little culture, I would understand. But they seem to have forgotten that there are still some of us who are over fifty years old and, furthermore, who were born in this city.

Since I was a little girl I often visited Old Havana, because my stepfather, who was the best of fathers to me, would frequently take me to visit his clients. I went up and down Obispo and O’Reilly Streets innumerable times. The former was full of elegant shops with exclusive gifts, tailor shops, jewelery stores ans large pharmacies, as well as banks, restaurants and cafeterias. All of those businesses had owners, so they were beautifully decorated, well-lit and clean. it was a pleasure to stroll around those streets. O’Reilly was more a street of big banks and stores. There was a store, Potín, where they had delicious sandwiches made with chicken and asparagus tips, as well as french pastries, chocolates and bonbons in beautiful gift boxes or sold by weight. Of that pleasant store all that remains is its name inscribed in the granite of the floor at the entrance of the miserable and dark rat-hole it has become. So, why isn’t in that place a before and after sign, as in many other businesses, which for the most part have disappeared and in whose place small parks have been improvised. It is true that the Old Plaza’s restoration is almost finished. The only thing missing is the beautiful art-nouveau hotel that, when the revolution triumphed, was converted (like almost all the other buildings around) into tenements and later into ruins, its beautiful front being miraculously saved.

There is a huge sign in the middle of the Plaza that reads Lest we forget and it shows some ruins and earthmoving. This dug-out earth was a big underground parking garage above which there was a park. In the seventies some smarty decided there was no need for it and it was torn down. Many years later, in its place they built a park with a big fountain. In the old days, all the buildings around the square had been stores and businesses very well-tended to by their owners.

Now, after many years, they have realized that there is a lack of parking space in the historic center. Why don’t they add, on the huge sign, in the area where the ruins are shown, a label with dates that says during.

Translated by Espirituana

October 27, 2010

And Where is Pepito? / Rebeca Monzo

For those who don’t know him, Pepito is the mischievous and smart boy whom we make responsible for all those things we would like but don’t dare to express, either because of modesty or cowardice. He has an equivalent in Spain, where he is called Jaimito, and I imagine each country has its own.

Today as I was returning from taking food to Margarita, a little abandoned dog that some of us neighbors care for, I was observing the silence in which some people walk. With their body bent, as if carrying the load of their sorrows. It is possible that they may also do it in order to look down, because the sidewalks and streets are full of potholes and gaps. I thought then that, long ago, when you went for a walk in the neighborhood, there were several people who would call out to you and ask you to come closer, and would tell you, in a low voice, the most recent of Pepito’s stories. I have confirmed that for some years now, one doesn’t hear any talk of this spoiled child, and if someone mentions him, the story is too old by now.

On my planet, the political joke has always been the thermometer with which the social temperature is measured. Through it, all the situations and opinions about the government and its leaders have been recreated. So it is very striking that there are no new stories about Pepito. Could it be that he also left? Maybe on a raft, because I doubt very much that Immigration would have granted the famous exit permit to this emblematic boy,

Translated by: Espirituana

September 7, 2010

Pretending, a New Social Attitude / Rebeca Monzo

It is very regrettable, but there it is, quite the fashion.

Many years ago, when the inaptly named Special Period* started, I commented to my friends, in the get-togethers we used to have at my house: the worst thing about all this material decline is that it carries within itself the germ of moral decline.

Many years have gone by, and the inhabitants of my planet, increasingly accustomed to pretending in public, have by now assimilated it as something natural.

Scarcely a week ago, by pure coincidence, because it is not my custom, I turned on the TV at noon. They were showing a program where, at that moment, they were interviewing a Cuban actress who was very famous in the fifties, and later, without any explanation, disappeared from the TV screen. I am referring to Conchita Brando. An actress of very high caliber – singer, comedienne, dramatic actress, very good comic actress – in each of her many facets.

I was very happy to see her and at the same time it saddened me. At her eighty-seven years, she looked animated, jovial, but sad, like someone suddenly extracted from the darkest ostracism. She had been kept away from television, without any explanation, during more than a quarter century.

Many years ago, at the wedding of a mutual friend’s daughter, I spent the whole evening talking with Conchita, and she told me, as if complaining, that she could not understand why no one would call her for work, that she felt very well and was able to play roles appropriate for her age. She was still a very vital and beautiful woman.

On the TV program I mentioned, there were some interviews on the street, where they would ask passers-by about this actress. It was very painful for me to see how people would lie with impunity. Young people in their twenties, who I am sure never heard of her, and men and women whose faces reflected falsehood, would say shamelessly: we love to see her work, she is very good at any role she plays, etc.

I felt indignant. Far from being flattering to her, to me it was a mockery and a lack of respect to play these comments knowing that they were false. And I felt sorry for these people who, without any shame, are willing to pretend publicly.

*Translator’s note: The years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of its economic support for Cuba, with its devastating effects on the economy, was baptized: “A Special Period in a Time of Peace.”

Translated by: Espirituana

September 6, 2010

Flowers / Regina Coyula

In the history of the Cuban Revolution, there was a woman who had Fidel’s total confidence, the custodian of documents from the insurrection and the early years after the revolution took power. She did not want military ranks and, in spite of her power and influence, always stayed discreetly in the background. Upon her death in 1980, she became Celia Sánchez, the most autochthonous flower of the Revolution. And it has been thus until these last few days of August, when the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Federation of Cuban Women was celebrated. For this reason, there has been much talk about Vilma Espín, its founder and president, who also had a résumé that started in her native Santiago with Frank País between 1955 and 1956, and who passed away last year. And Vilma, who had never been referred to by any designations, became the most universal flower of the Revolution.

Autochthonous is what is native to a country; universal, to state the obvious, refers to the whole universe. It’s impossible to forget that Celia was Fidel’s right hand and Vilma was Raúl’s wife, and to use the same designation, changing only one word, leaves Celia at a local, domestic level, whereas Vilma acquires an ecumenical connotation.

The desire to give an almost mythical aura to the Revolution’s historic figures reminds me of the old social pages that referred to the “highly-educated, beautiful and genteel señorita“, now transformed to the “insightful, fierce and loyal compañera“.

I thought of the paucity of ideas, so common in the media the government uses for its propaganda; and then I wondered if this might be the expression of a movement that aims to put itself on good terms with Raúl, given Fidel’s condition. In any case, there is no fixed time for the ridiculous.

Translated by: Espirituana

September 3, 2010

The Final Earthquake / Henry Constantín

Without wielding any of the thousand of lethal objects that embellish our museums, Gullermo Fariñas finished extinguishing the scent of jail from a hundred or so brothers. And he gave hope to thousands of others. This July 26th, while the country wore a mask of red and black slogans to conceal the national apathy, and in Artemisa, Santa Clara and Havana our rulers and their panegyrists extolled for the umpteenth time the bloody impatience with which they attempted to solve the Cuban problems 57 years ago, Fariñas was resting at the Arnaldo Milián Castro Hospital of Villa Clara, marked by the fate of the new era of nonviolence that he has just consecrated in Cuba´s political history.

I have seen him on three occasions. On the first one, he smiled all the time: already his hunger strike, to demand Internet access for Cubans, had left its mark on his extremely lean body. He was cordial, although we didn’t know each other. A good man.

The second time – October or November 2008 – it was I who carried the load of my sincerity. I arrived at his house, the only one opened to me in Santa Clara, after being expelled with threats and violence from my Journalism studies at the University. A feverish Fariñas received me. “Tell me what we can do for you; we’ll go wherever you want.” The plural implied a courage that, just at that moment when I had been isolated, had the force of multitudes. In the improvised receiving room of his house in Condado, in one of the most modest and dreadful neighborhoods in Santa Clara, I breathed in the same straightforward determination that one senses in history books when reading about the bold men who at some point have wanted to make Cuba a better country.

The news of my preposterous second expulsion, signed by him, a hard-working, decent and respected journalist, resonated in hundreds of webs.

The third encounter was a very short time ago, behind the glass of the intensive care unit. The hunger strike for the political prisoners’ freedom has finished. I didn’t go very close – any germ on my clothes, in which I had just traveled more than three hundred kilometers, could be fatal to him. His gaze is lucid, amidst this era of geriatric dark clouds. He smiles thankfully at the visits of friends and acquaintances. His elderly mother takes care of him as if he had just been born; her alarm carries as much weight as her son’s tremendous decision. Fariñas takes advantage of the meager offerings on national TV; his mind is not that of a man who is ignorant of his environment, and even less of one indifferent about the future. Fariñas is full of ideas regarding what is happening in the country and what must happen so that the island where he insists on living – but living with dignity – will stop being the most incredible people-exporting paradise and the fief of one of the few governments in the western hemisphere – along with the African dictators of Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea, and the sultan of Morocco – obstinately asserting its own infiniteness.

The way out is guarded by copious and optimistic government propaganda.

More than fifty years ago, Che was among those who imposed their ideas amidst rivers of young blood from friends and enemies, of blasts and the smoke of gunpowder. Santa Clara, the city where comandante Guevara achieved his greatest glory, is full of tributes to the military man. But under those colossal monuments to violence, something has failed. An imperceptible crack, a tenuous and deep fissure that no one knows where it ends, goes around these streets: it starts under a hospital bed… and loses itself in the distance.

Translated by: Espirituana

August 14, 2010

A Rebelious Offspring / Miguel Iturria Savón

On Tuesday, June 15th, I ran into Juan Juan Almeida in the International Legal Office on 21 24, El Vedado. As we said goodbye, he told me he was starting a hunger strike on that day demanding the exit permit to continue his medical treatment outside Cuba. I visited him twice at his apartment on 41 and Conill before August 23rd, when he suspended his fast at the request of the Archbishop of Havana, who interceded on his behalf before General Castro’s government.

On Monday, August 23rd, Juan Juan seemed like the shadow of his shadow. In 69 days he went from 230 to 150 pounds. If it were not for his lucidity and good humor, I would have thought I was in the presence of a zombie. We talked for 20 minutes and I left before the arrival of his sister Glenda, who lives three blocks away and was keeping an eye on his hardships.

As I walked along Tulipán looking for the bus that would take me home, I thought again about this striker: extraordinary, cheerful, making jokes, the enemy of any type of inflexibility, able to listen even to the delirious fantasies of the State Security agents who have been breathing down his neck since he lost the protection of his father, a comandante of the revolution with an artistic vocation and a passion for power.

During his hunger strike, Juan Juan made statements to the foreign press accredited in Cuba, spoke with several bloggers and independent journalists, went out with signs to public places two or three times, received friends and people who oppose the regime, was the subject of controversy and attacks and political asylum proposals from governments in Europe and America.

For a great part of the world it is difficult to understand that a man would begin a hunger strike because he is not allowed to leave his country to continue the treatment he was receiving in Europe. It has a certain logic, since adults decide what to do with their lives, except in the case of Cuba and North Korea, where the State attributes to itself the authority to decide who enters or leaves the country.

For a segment of Cubans in exile, Juan Juan Almeida is loathsome due to his paternal origin. He has Castroism’s stamp of origin; he was educated as an officer of the Minister of Internal Security in the former Soviet Union and practiced his profession until he fell into disgrace. Perhaps he´s not forgiven for the publication of a book in which he satirizes his own life and the errors and horrors of the demigods who took hold of power and devour their own children.

I don´t think he worries much about the conflicting opinions of those who judge him through a political lens. Juan did not distance himself from the power circle in order to climb in the opposition. As I listened to him on Monday, August 23rd, I thought that this charismatic and cheerful down-to-earth Cuban believes more in the smile and the handshake of those who greet him than in all the slogans and hallelujahs he heard since he was born.

P.S. Congratulations, Juan Juan! We are all happy for your liberation

Translated by: Espirituana

August 27, 2010

Culture and Power, Together and Restless / Miguel Iturria Savón

As in medieval times, when music, painting and other artistic expressions were under the wing of the Catholic church, in Cuba culture is sponsored by the State. But artists don’t knock on the doors of cathedrals nor present their projects to the despot, since there is a network of institutions that rule and control film, the performing arts, the plastic arts, books and literature, architecture and even the media.

I was thinking of the subjection of culture to the State on Monday, August 23rd, as I enjoyed the concert offered by Zenaida Romeu and her Camerata before the power elite, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Federation of Cuban Women, created by the former First Lady to empower the females of the country.

Zenaida’s words as she presented each piece caught my attention. With delicacy and precision she spoke of music as an expression of liberty. I suppose that General Castro and his entourage did not notice that detail. Enveloped in the interpretive magic of these women, they were not attentive to these subtleties.

Many of our creative people sometimes act on stages that reaffirm the relationship between art and power. The Universal Hall of the Armed Forces, the steps of the University of Havana, the Plaza of the Revolution or the Black Flags Park on the Malecón, in front of the United States’ Interests Office, are only some of the ritual places.

It is almost impossible to control the manifestations of art and literature, since creation is a natural need of man as a social being. The predominance of the State can achieve, at most, that an intellectual elite, docile and well-trained, direct culture toward political ends.

With the revolutionary process started in 1959, culture continued its march, but its rhythm was changed. In half a century of messianic populism, several components of daily life and tangible and spiritual elements of the social dynamic were altered. There are reversible damages and representative faces of “revolutionary art”.

Upon the disruption of the social order, the sociopolitical scheme was changed. The association with the socialist model led by the former Soviet Union made way for the development of official organizations that monopolize each area of artistic creation. The Instituto Cubano del Libro (Cuban Books Institute), the Centro Nacional de la Música (National Music Center), the Instituto de Arte e Industria Cinematográfica (Institute of Film Arts and Industry), the Consejo de las Artes Escénicas (Performing Arts Council), the Instituto de la Radio y la Televisión (Radio and Television Institute), the Centro de Artes Plásticas y Diseño (Plastic Arts and Design Institute) and other groups direct the artistic production according to political and government interests.

The commissaries dictated standards, demanded fidelity, and imposed mass culture through control of the radio, film, education and the media; but the creative universe of the island went into crisis around 1990, with the fall of the socialist allies that provided the resources for the country, accelerating the exodus of artists to other countries. But the bureaucratization of culture was maintained, intent on tying the creators to the network of State centers that instituted censorship and submission through awards, publication, recordings and travel, favoring opportunists and excluding those who defy the doctrine of the power holders.

Many public shows take place in this context of political schemes, as in the times of praising and singing to the Lord, when music and other artistic expressions revolved around the cathedral and the artists were dependent on generous patrons.

Translated by: Espirituana

August 29, 2010