Silent blood

Some open their veins to let the blood flow out, others block the air to their lungs.  The determined use rope, the brave fire, for the fearful ones it’s always possible to overdose on sleeping pills.

A few are well known, leaving their works behind them, some are famous; the great majority are anonymous neighbor children.  Invisible lives that end in invisible death.

They all leave, and they leave us with questions.


Since when?

The three faces of Soy

There are things you never forget, even though they may seem insignificant. There are words that, like the tea of Proust, provoke the same memory, with the precision of a reflex mechanism.  The word substitute, for example; I refer to the start of Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita.  At first reading, the word stumped me, but I tried to infer its meaning and read on.  In a subsequent reading I found it in the dictionary and took control of it.  Or it me.  I’ve never thought of using it, but there it is, reminding me of the cold apricot drink with which two writers warded off the heat while walking by Patriarch’s Pond, just before meeting Monsieur Voland.

Something similar happens to me the with word soy.  The first time I read it, it was in the novel The Space Merchants, by Pohl and Kornbluth.  It was in the early 80s, I was in high school and attracted science fiction.  Interested in getting on with my reading, I didn’t bother to figure out what it was that was giving their consumers unique facial characteristics, cause for contempt from the successful advertising director Mitchell Courtenay.  At the end of the novel, moved, I forgot to inquire about the soy bean and subconsciously associated it in some way with a protein mixture without being clear about its origin, in short, it was something that was used to make croquettes.

Perhaps in revenge for having been overlooked in favor of fiction, soy reappeared a decade later, in a more realistic form, in the midst of a no less real and much more intense crisis in the 1990s.  Then, soy was a white granule that my old lady washed in order to separate it from the chopped meat, explaining to me that the soy bean was a legume which had to be cooked a long time to make it soft, and that mixed with chopped meat, it created the dilemma of how long to cook it; cook it just right for the meat and risk eating the soy beans raw or, run the risk of ruining the little bit of protein by cooking it long enough to soften the badly crushed little beans.  And when I say little bit of protein I am not exaggerating.  That ground meat in the Special Period had every kind of thing in it—tripe, cartilage, belly, ear—except meat.  I don’t think I can describe the intense disgust I experienced on finding those revolting pieces of intestine, easily recognizable by the characteristic villi.

And just when you thought you’d seen it all with regards to agriculture—or more accurately, the nonsense in agriculture—I learn that there are going to be experimental soy bean plantings, supported by a Brazilian company.  If this experiment turns out like the rice in the swamps of Zapata, the coffee in the Havana Cordon, the 8 million cows and calves for 1970, and the reconversion/destruction of the sugar industry, we already know what will come of it.  So many farfetched experiments, so many man-hours consumed, for what?  Instead of sowing the many varieties of beans that we have and that we like so much, soy beans.  In place of mamey melons and mango, passion fruit.  I suspect that behind all of this are a few of those who are “fighting” for their little trip to Brazil, to “learn lessons” so that later they can come and teach us what we have known very well for many generations, but are not allowed to do.

The old man, the Internet and me – Part Three, Final

One day before turning forty, aided by a person who needs no introduction or advertising, I started a blog.  Without going into the details, I did it because I needed to satisfy a long-deferred need for expression, I wanted to tell those things that I would like to be told and that have no place in the conventional media.  The greatest value of her help—and for this you will always have my gratitude, my dear Yoani—was to make me realize that I could write, and that I wanted to do it, in the same way that my old man taught me to swim in the cold pool where I was born: by giving me a good push.  Now, several months and thirty posts later, I’m surprised by the invitation to an event and the request for a text on my difficult experience as a blogging Islander.

What would it be worth reporting on at this time.  At least this:

Thanks to technology, digital information is much easier to reproduce than printing.  I can’t imagine how our grandparents managed in the era when the most common way to copy a file was to make a photocopy of the page of a samizdat.  Thanks to the Internet, the wall of isolation becomes more permeable.  In just three years, I was able to access an enormous volume of information through sites, forums and electronic books.  At that time, which today seems so long ago, blogs didn’t have their current role, forums were the places par excellence for exchange. Under this influence, the world for me reached a dimension that went beyond the 12 printed pages of the national media.

When I think of that, I believe that the accumulation of new knowledge, in conjunction with the maturity that comes with age, facilitated this change in my concept of the world and helped me decide to write.   But it’s not enough for me to have something to say and the desire to say it, if I don’t have a few ideas about how to say it.  A blog is a spontaneous medium—and even superficial, if you like—marked by brevity and immediacy, but that doesn’t mean neglect and improvisation.  Out of respect for the visitor, to our language and to myself, I have outlined an aesthetic and formal level where I try to maintain my work.  The reader will have the last word.

Keeping a blog can be exhausting.  Both for the body and the mind.  Traveling to places where I can access the Internet, sitting down to write after a day of work, putting off sleep for another hour, and so tired by having to organize ideas and references, dusting off the disused intellectual tools, and critically evaluating the completed material.

Keeping a blog can be frustrating, especially with so many problems in accessing the Internet.  Difficulties are compounded when you live in the provinces.  Time is scarce and expensive.  You have to resend posts and emails that are interrupted when the line goes down.  You can’t go back and fix the minor errors that escaped your notice.  You can’t read or respond to comments.  There is little chance of establishing relationships with other bloggers.  You can’t respond to offers to exchange links.  You are almost completely unable to upload images.  This entire string of impediments leads to a minimalist style that is too sober and visually boring.  It requires great skill for the narrator to write texts that appeal to readers, skill I do not possess.

For these and other reasons, more than once I have considered surrendering in the face of adversity, discouraged by the rare visits and the meager comments, oppressed by this new form of non-communication that reminds me of messages in a bottle sent by the shipwrecked, I have thought of abandoning the blog like a ship taking on water.  To paraphrase Ponte, I wondered what makes people continue with their blogs.  Why do this?  For fame?  Money?  To accumulate links?  For recognition now or in the future, if everything stays the same, or if it changes?  Then I go back to basics, the need to say the things I’d like to say.  Deep breath.  Turn off the monitor.  Check on the child.  Arrange the mosquito net.  Have a cup of coffee in the kitchen.  Smoke the last cigarette in the box.  Again, a deep breath, turn on the monitor, and keep typing.

The old man, the Internet and me – Part Two

I don’t think it’s necessary to list the difficulties that impede access to the Web for the ordinary citizen, but I will just point out that they are greater than those that prevent access to the sea.  It is a current topic in the blogs and we’ve even created our own, Potro Salvaje [Wild Colt], where with humor we laugh at our limitations.  I don’t think it’s possible—without stating the obvious—to describe the liberating potential of the Internet with the possibility of exchanging information beyond the fence established by the government.  It interests me greatly to emphasize its effect,   its influence in Cuban society today, where we are beginning to take timid steps which can be the beginning of a new organization of civil society.  The “Email Skirmish,” the “Case” of Eliécer Ávila—a drama in two acts—the freeing of Gorki Águila, are stories that would be impossible without the Internet.  Timid steps, few walkers, but we know this is how you begin the longest journey.

In the present world autarchies of any kind are impossible.  The needs—not just for development, but the simple maintenance of information technologies—are forcing them to create openings, to be integrated into the world.  The whole economy is organized like a network of networks of value-added chains.  The survival instinct, on the other hand, pushes towards narrow mindedness, absolute control.  While our government stagnates in this contradiction, society pays the price of mortgaging our future a little more.  Armed with patience and flash memories, we are working inwards to create informal networks for the exchange of information.  Looking outwards, we make our voice heard through blogs, woven from the pieces of our national reality as we see it.  And our voice is gaining, in credibility and spaces.

In the classic noir novel there is a scene I enjoy remembering.  It’s when a character is beaten as a warning.  The attack confirms that our Marlowe has touched a nerve, that one of the old Mafia capos or corrupt politicians wants out of the plot.  The measures against several of our blogs and the harassment of those who are dedicated to the “constant monitoring of the Internet, issuing reports and the fights, as such, in this area,” constitute evidence of the interest with which they follow our exercise of our voice, and speak indirectly to our prestige.  The pathetic attempts to denigrate our ideas, and then to amalgamate them with the well-known meat-and-potatoes of the party line: the North American blockade, the foreign financing and the media campaigns; or the attacks on the authors through lies and character assassination, all these expose the lack of arguments among the censors and the convenient amorality of their executors.

These young fisherman, who ply the waters in motorboats provided by their powerful patron, attack us, aim their water jets at us, trying to sink our precarious rafts and sailboats, impelled by who knows what hallucinogenic combination of crudeness, credulity and enthusiasm.  They are the visible instruments of an entrenched and belligerent thinking, which determines that the Internet is a colt that must be tamed, a marketplace where only one voice is heard, an enemy to confront, conquer and destroy.  The use of a masculine gender to fabricate a confrontation should not surprise us; it’s difficult to dress up the feminine with an antagonistic image, and requires that we violate our tradition of respect and protection towards women.

How do we deal with that combination of ignorance and orthodoxy?  I think we can all contribute to the answer, just allow me to highlight two aspects.  The first is creativity.  Nothing is more disconcerting for a unadventurous thinker than variety, change.  Find new ways to circumvent the old reefs, to avoid the sunken dangers, the drag of the undertow.  Use intelligence to be the mountain facing the sea, and vice versa.  The second is humor.  Those who read Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” recall that the old monks were more afraid of laughing than of the devil himself.  If there is anything that efficiently and effectively disarms the most starched solemnity it is a good little Creole joke; so let’s hear it for the raspberry, the old Bronx cheer; it can be a good tool once in a while.  Don’t forget, a little kick in the rear now and again never did anyone any harm, not even us.

The old man, the Internet and me – Part One

I am a guajiro, a peasant. I was born on a distant mountain in a little island of huts surrounded by canefields.  I was nine the first time I went to the beach.  I was sixteen the first time I went out to fish in a small boat.  Since then, I like the sea.  From that time, so long ago, I keep the dream of a house made of wood from which you can see it, a place to grow old breathing the salt air and warming my body in the morning sun.  I, like so many others, before and after, dream of the sea.

In his novella “The Old Man and the Sea” Ernest Hemingway comments on the custom of using the female gender to refer to the sea.  He says there are those who want to speak ill of it, but they always do so with respect, as if it were a woman.  Some young fishermen, who have motor boats bought in good times, speak of the sea like a contender or a place, or as they speak to an enemy.  But the old man Santiago always conceived of it as belonging to the female gender, as something that grants or denies huge favors, and if it does evil and terrible things it is because it can’t help it.  Until moon affects him, just like a woman.

Since ancient times, man has gone to the sea to communicate, trade and make war.  Great advances have been made in navigation.  Great also have been the catastrophes that this fickle lady has caused to curb the excesses of our pride.  Even in our age of global telecommunications and satellite-assisted navigation, sailors sail her with ancestral respect.  They know that at any moment they may be faced with her fury, sometimes fatal.

We Cubans, who have always walked along the pathways of the sea, the same in ransom and contraband with pirates fishing offshore in the cold seas of the north, carrying troops to Africa (crowded in the holds of ships, similar to the taking of the Africans to become slaves of the army) and bringing bicycles from China, we find ourselves now, although it seems paradoxical, very far from the sea.  Its delicious fruits, which helped to develop the brain of primitive man, have been absent from our tables for decades.   Maintaining a boat is a far larger problem than owning a car.  To sail the sea you must have authorization, and as it’s grotesque to have to ask permission to have fun, those who go there do so in search of a consumer product or trade.  Sad paradox to live on an island and turn your back to the sea.

Of our relationship with the sea is paradoxical, the one we have with the Internet is no less so.  These two worlds, of dissimilar appearance, have much in common.  The first is of natural origin, created long before man walked its coastlines and from it, life on the planet arose.  The second is artificial, a recent product of human science and it’s radically changing the way in which we develop our lives, both as individuals and at a planetary scale.  For both, one navigates and surfs, ports and coordinates are used, in both logs are maintained and routes plotted.  From the comfort of a room, people around the world have the network to communicate, trade and wage war.  We Cubans, the sons of exceptionality, in spite of the terrible condition of the optical fiber everywhere and the promise of computerizing the society, still today, late in the first decade of the promising new century, are very disconnected from the Internet.

Like a stormy passion that shakes our life, access to the network of networks marks a before and—unfortunately if it is lost—also an after.  Like drugs, its use causes addiction and also euphoria.  Since that early morning at the end of the last century, when, in front of a dark UNIX console I celebrated for the first time the miracle of writing a URL address and receiving the corresponding hypertext, I, like so many others, before and after, dream of the Internet.

To Sindo that which is Sindo’s

Several readers have erroneously attributed to me the authorship of Sindo Pacheco’s story.  Others, in their praise, have mentioned the two greats of Cuban literature, Alego Carpentier and Onelio Jorge Cardoso.  I think were he living in Cuba, Sindo’s life would be at risk.  From the first time I read his story, a couple of years ago, I liked it so much that I wanted to steal it.  Now, my ego inflated by so many nice compliments, I’ve spent some early candlelit mornings, hatching dark machinations to commit, with total premeditation, plagiarism—literary—and assassinations—not literary.

Joking aside, the truth is that it has been the quality of his story that has generated so many good reviews.  And that is the product of Sindo Pacheco’s undeniable talent and narrator’s craft.  So that you can know him a little more, I copy here a brief overview of his literary successes and close by reiterating a short commercial. As I said in his presentation in the Blog, Sindo has works ready for publication, a volume of stories and two novels.  Any help in finding an publisher would be welcome.

(To the commentators, know that I have noted your names and IP addresses.  When you publish something of mine, if you don’t celebrate it with the same or more fervor, I am going to banish your blog.)

Sindo Pacheco was born in Cabaiguán, Cuba in 1956.  He has published Oficio de Hormigas (stories, 1990), winner of the April Prize for best works devoted to young people, and the novels Esos Muchachos and María Virginia está de Vacaciones.  The latter was awarded the Latin America Prize from Casa de las Américas, the annual White Rose prize awarded by the Cuban Writers and Artists Union for the best works devoted to children and youth, and the Critics’ Award for the best works published in Cuba during 1994.

In 1995, he received the Buster Viejo Award, from Madrid, Spain, for his story Legalidad Post Mortem. His stories have appeared in Cuba in various magazines such as Bohemia, Letras Cubanas, Casa de las Américas.  Some of his stories have been published in Mexico, Russia, Venezuela and Spain.  In 1998 the publisher Norma, Colombia, published his young adult novel María Virginia, Mi Amor; and in 2001, his novel Las Raíces del Tamarindo was a finalist for the EDEBÉ Prize, and published by said publisher in Barcelona.  In 2003 the publisher Plaza Mayor, Puerto Rico reissued his novel María Virginia está de Vacaciones.

He currently resides in Miami, USA.

Thank you very much

To you, dear visitor, who came to this blog by accident or on purpose, invited by Yoani or fulfilling orders from above.  You’ve spent some of your precious time to come up here and leave a comment, a counsel, some words of encouragement.  I want to tell you that I have not thought about abandoning the blog, at least not seriously.  The idea appears, as a rhetorical question, in a text sent to a meeting of Islander bloggers.  From that meeting to exchange experiences, now about to be finished, we will have news soon.  I promise, moreover, to publish a version adapted for the blog.

I humbly ask that you have patience. I can’t post more often, for obvious reasons. If you think that I sometimes digress (meaning that I speak foolishness), that I waste time commenting on songs or movies with all the many problems we have, I ask you to understand.  I am a guajiro with the soul of an artist, and I have a highly variable muse.  As one of my favorite poets, the Habanero Juan Carlos Flores says: “Dream, when the reality tires us, return to reality when the dream tires us./ To be Ulysses, where no one waits for you.”

Be aware that I don’t do well with the faithful-reflection-of-the-hard-reality journalistic style.  I invite you to check it, analyzing the first published texts.  Besides, we already have good journalists, inside and outside the country.  Neither expect a constant denunciation of the atrocities and violations committed by our rulers to the detriment of the rights and freedoms rightfully ours as human beings and as citizens of a supposedly modern state.  In every corner of the archipelago there is an independent journalist, an activist who does his job and signs his name, showing his face every day,  exposing himself to the loss of that little freedom that has been won at the cost of great sacrifice.  I, hidden behind a colorful mask, compared to him, I am nothing and deserve nothing.

To you, who add up your years of exile and nostalgia and come looking for a moment that will help you to live.  Don’t judge us harshly if we fail to act as you think we should.  We are as you see us.  We are the result of a system that tried to put us all in the same mold, and through rebellions small and large we have not allowed ourselves to be molded.  Each one with his history, his disappointment and his fracture.   As hard as they have tried, they have not managed to make me see you as an enemy or a traitor.  I know you are welcome.

If these texts that I publish seem long, it’s because I don’t have the time or the neurons to make them shorter.  Like many things in my country, I am expansive, almost extravagant by nature.  We would all like to write like Yoani, but fortunately we cannot be Yoani.  She is unique.  Though it would be good if many were like her.  That gesture of asking her many readers to come and give me support says a lot about her human feelings.  To her, I send my utmost gratitude.

To everyone, again, thank you very much.  And we shall see…

The story of the hole

By Sindo Pacheco

Berto Meciar was rocking in his armchair, as he had been doing every night for the last twenty years, when he saw the drunkard who turned in front of his house, lurching from one side to the other.  Only then did he remember the hole.  That piece of the rarely traveled road had had a hole for some time.  The drain cover had disappeared in the last flood, leaving its gaping mouth lying in wait for its prey, camouflaged by poor lighting.

Initially Berto wanted to warn him of the danger, but then he started to think about the fall of the man, the desired outcome, with that special aversion one feels for drunkards, until he saw him disappear, swallowed by the earth.

Berto waited a while, thinking to seem him rise from the blackness, spouting oaths and curses; but a reasonable time passed and the man showed no signs of life.

So he took to his room, asked his wife for a pill for the stress, and lay on the bed while listening to the violins on some Sunday program.  Although he didn’t care for the television either.  He had lived surrounded by silence, almost regardless of electronics, and the television seemed too boisterous.  He only saw Reading and Writing, whose content for the first time had introduced him to a vast and unknown world of innumerable geographies and famous people, or some musical consigned to oblivion which would surprise him on the screen.  The man who had just fallen down the hole was one of the few things that had happened to him in a long time.

He had been married at thirty-five to his only girlfriend and in twenty years of marriage they hadn’t managed to conceive any descendants.  At first, this absence wasn’t noticed much: the house was full of nephews and nieces who came to check out everything, poke their heads in the bedrooms, and commit all the atrocities in their aunt and uncle’s house that were forbidden to them in their own, abusing those childless and tolerant parents; but over time the nieces and nephews moved away and married in other towns, generating more nieces and nephews, forgetful of the past, and the house turned into a kind of sanitarium where nothing happened outside their own memory.

Berto took his pill with half a glass of water, and slept deeply without waking through the night.

He got up at five in the morning to sell milk in the shop, had coffee, dressed, and then having gone a fair way, he had to return in search of his keys.

When he was leaving again he looked in the direction of the hole and made out the head of the drunk, darker in the early morning shadows.  This time he didn’t even feel the impulse to help him and entrusted that disagreeable task to the future.  He was in a terrible mood which he blamed on Monday.  Mondays always put him in a bad mood until the day got underway and the town began to come to life.  Tranquility was for the house, in the shop he preferred physical activity and hustle and bustle.  But while he was selling the milk he broke two liters; then he took care of the paperwork, sold some flour, and at eleven, when he closed to return home, he was still in a bad mood.

Julia, his wife, had lunch ready and seeing him, she set the table.

“Are you ill?”  She was surprised to see him go straight to bed.

He always helped her.  He was an exemplary husband, sharing in the cooking and housework, and really gave her no cause for complaint.  Berto was faithful to her even though she could never give him a child.  They lived in a comfortable house, got along well, and each secretly felt solidarity with the other’s childless state.

“I think I’m coming down with the flu.”

She squeezed two lemons into a glass of water and reached for an aspirin.

“Lunch is ready.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Berto tried to take a nap to see if it would knock him out of his depression, but he couldn’t get to sleep.   He was sure that when he came home his wife would tell him about the drunk who fell in the hole, that same hole that he had worked so hard to cover; but before opening the door, he thought he saw the man’s head poking up just above the level of the street.  In fact there was almost no traffic in the area.  On one side of the road there was a tobacco factory, and on the other a ditch that ran parallel to the street.  The hole the drunk had fallen into opened onto the ditch.  He knew that the kids liked to float paper boats there on rainy days.  During the rest of the year it was rare to see someone in the lane, but still, it seemed unreal and absurd that the guy would stay in the hole.

The entire afternoon he felt dizzy and weak.  He spent the day in the clouds, wandering among the beans and sacks of rice, and tripping over his colleagues.

When he returned home at seven, he took a look and couldn’t see anything.  He stopped, cleaned his glasses and looked again, and felt that a great weight had lifted.  He entered the house cheerfully, shoulders back, convinced that this time Julia would tell the story with all the detail and embellishments it deserved, but she offered no such consolation.  What in the devil had gotten into this woman, that a drunk, right in front of their noses, could spend an entire day stuck in a hole and she didn’t see or hear anything…  A thing so unusual in such a quiet neighborhood, almost a scandal, and she didn’t even notice it…  Although it could be, also, that the man had just sneaked away, in silence, out of shame, or perhaps someone had rescued him without his wife noticing, if she’d been busy with something, sweeping the patio, preparing the meal, she was a housewife, a good woman and not someone who gossiped or aired dirty laundry.

His bath was a little more peaceful and the food seemed better seasoned. Then he returned to his post in the armchair.  Everything was in order.  It was clear the nightmare was over; but who had gotten the drunk out of the hole, without falling in deeper, under his own weight.  Maybe he didn’t have any strength and had bent his knees.  And what if he’d died?  What if he were in agony and he hadn’t gone to his aid…?  Could he be prosecuted: denial of aid, off to jail for the death of a poor man, father of a family, totally helpless and inebriated.   Because this was now the question: a poor man in a state of inebriation…

Desperate, he began to sway while looking for a way out.  Almost his whole life behind a counter, depending on the oscillation of a balance, he’d developed a conservative attitude, meditating every step and weighing each decision.  But now there wasn’t much to meditate.  He heard Julia working at the sewing machine and calculated that this was the opportune moment.  He got up and left in the direction of the hole.  He needed to verify, to make sure, to be convinced that the drunk was gone once and for all, to escape from his uncertainty.  He approached the opening that offered its dark square mouth and didn’t see anything.  It was clear he had disappeared.  However he bent down and extended his hand into the darkness, and an intense chill, an electric shock, ran through his whole body.  He’d felt a human head, cold and rigid, and his eyes, adapting to the darkness, distinguished a half-crooked face, with its eyes open and a stupid vacant look.  He wanted to retreat but he was nailed to the ground.  His legs did not obey him.  His body was a chaotic mass and he felt his chest tighten and convulse.  Finally he managed to slowly pull himself together and he started walking, dragging his legs like a sick person, like an bull fatally stabbed, and made it back to collapse into his chair.   He didn’t know how long he sat there, his mind blank, but it must have been a fairly long time because Julia saw him through the door, surprised that he hadn’t yet gone to bed.

“Berto… it’s almost twelve!”

Berto didn’t reply.  He felt the need to confess, to share the secret.  It had all happened without thinking, he would say, without realizing it, without imagining things could get to this point, he would swear.  He was a good person, honest, sacrificing, a man who served others… But if Julia didn’t understand, how was it possible, how had he been capable of abandoning the poor man, and to lie there and snore quietly, how had she lived so many years at the side of someone so apathetic that he didn’t feel compassion for the life of his fellow…

So he said nothing.  He took a pill and went to bed, but he didn’t sleep a wink all night.  That cold impassive face appeared before him, with its unfocused unseeing eyes.  He got up several times trying not to wake Julia, he took two Valium and a Librium and sat on the edge of the bed leafing through publications from the forties, illustrated with beautiful blondes and sudsy soaps and olive oils, but he couldn’t banish that image.  He thought the night might be measured in years, decades, he felt like it was an eternity.  Now another element began to torture him: his footprints were next to the hole, the trail led up to his house.  Sooner or later they would find them.  They would come to investigate, the police, the dogs: and everything would point to his house, him, to Berto Martín Gallego, however quiet people had thought him to be he had killed, he had taken the drunk and pushed him into the hole.  He’d always had an obsession with this hole, the Director would say.  He’s a maniac, a criminal, an agent of the CIA.  Up against the wall.  Council of War.  The Military Court asking for the wall, the firing squad.  The prosecutor asking for the wall… But he was innocent, he didn’t understand why.  He was very confused and all of a sudden he said yes, he was guilty, a murderer, they killed him, hung him, shot at him, he disappeared.

In the morning Berto went to the shop without coffee.  He had no concentration.  He started to decant oil and the liquid spilled everywhere; he tried with rice and the same thing occurred; at noon he didn’t have lunch and spent the afternoon organizing the warehouse, gathering and packing jute sacks and cases of soft drinks.  But he worked in the dark, vacant, with his body in the shop and his mind up against the wall with the firing squad.  Never before had he conceived of his end in this way.  He’d never thought about it.  Death used to be a item in the news, an accident that could happen to others.  When he finally admitted that he, too, was eligible, he imagined himself in his room, surrounded by his nieces and nephews and the solidarity of the doctors and nurses, with Julia at his bedside; but he’d never thought of death like this, among thick walls, up against a grey wall splattered with blood, before half a dozen soldiers pointing their rifles at him, who would open his skin and his flesh and then go drink and party without the slightest remorse.

Berto arrived home like a shadow.  He bathed and jumped into bed, leaving the food untouched on the table.  Julia wanted to take him to the doctor but he flatly refused and she didn’t insist.  She knew it was useless.  She knew something was changing the direction of things and for the first time she stopped seeing the garden her husband would plant in his retirement.  She no longer saw herself with a watering can, overseeing a paradise of green tomatoes and lettuce stretching to the horizon…

At midnight it started to rain, announcing an abundant and generous spring.  At six it was still raining cats and dogs.  Berto put on his old coat and walked out into the road.  He hadn’t yet noticed what the blessed rain meant.  How had he not thought of it before… The rain would carry the man from the ditch, and then continue up the creek, to the river, at least as far as the coast, floating like a drifting log.  He would be drowned, one among many, and no one would suspect that the tragedy had begun with the hole.

The entire morning he was more lively, though clearly he was getting worse.  In the afternoon he fainted for the first time.  It was a slight dizziness, blurry vision, and he felt like the world was abandoning him.

He missed work the next day and continued to deteriorate.  As he didn’t dare go near the hole, he roamed around the whole town picking up newspapers and magazines and other publications in search of any indication, any information about a missing person who left his house one day, wearing certain clothes, presumably in a state of inebriation; or of an unidentified drowned person in the Caribbean, chewed by freshwater fish and all fish, with algae in his hair and tilapia eggs in his outer ear.  But little by little he was letting go of his hopes before the imperturbable press that only talked about recycling and sugarcane cutters who cut millions and billions of…

He died on Defense Sunday, along with the sound of the air raid sirens and the first explosions.  It was if he was alive, with the same look as ever, but it was enough for Julia to see that her husband was still in bed at half past seven in the morning to know that he was dead.

During the wake at her house, someone found the body of the drunk, tackled in the hole, spouting threats in his indecipherable language.  He was taken to the hospital and after several days was roaming around again, with a bottle in hand, shadow dancing an old tango by Gardel.  The neighbors, for their part, didn’t take much time to get used to the absence of Berto, demonstrating the power of recovery.  Only the widow cursed her fate, swearing that only a week before the deceased was strong and healthy… As for the hole, finally…

Sindo Pacheco: his own soul

With Sindo Pacheco the Guardian Angels section takes on new dimensions.  Sindo lives and writes—and I hope for a long time.  He lives, works and writes in the city of Miami, USA.  He has work ready for publication, a volume of stories and two novels.  He has kindly agreed that we can publish his story, and for that I thank him once more.

Since he is alive I have to tread carefully, I cannot speak ill of him on pain of receiving a peasant challenge and ending up tangled up in blows, or worse, with machetes.  That’s why I will cite two colleagues and friends of his, so it stays in the family.

Amir Valle has written, “His stories were characterized by a different take on humor, used not as a method of transmitting ideas, but rather the frame itself in which he developed his characters, intimately linked to the rural environment.”

Manual Sosa: “He’s one of those goldsmiths who save the profession, narrating without complexes, without wondering if he belongs in the rear or the vanguard… Since I’ve known him I have seen him help himself through that which nobody confesses: his own soul.”

If William Faulkner had his fictional county of Yoknapatawpha and Gabo his Macondo, Sindo has his Cabaiguán, that though not real is still marvelous, like a bench for resting and from where to receive sources  for new dreams.  I suspect that though now he may not walk down Valle Street, Sindo takes Cabaiguán to that unspeakable place as Manuel says: into his own soul.

The image of the Republic

By: Frank El Primo

This text was written by Carlos T. Trujillo, who was born in Cienfuegos in 1869 and died in the same city in 1937.   At the end of the war in 1898 he had the rank of Colonel of the Army of Liberation.

A friend has provided me with a book of his articles published in the newspapers of the time, between the years 1911 and 1936.  What do you think?  They knew something about him?  I will try to offer other texts of Mr. Carlos T. Trujillo.  Enjoy this:

The image of the Republic
Carlos T. Trujillo

I think the people are at fault, most often of time, for the mistakes committed by their governments.  When the “invisible government,” as Ruskin called civic influence, does not possess the purity or the spiritual energy to depose the government, in the face of all the known errors, the government, in a strict sense, that is always a much lower reflection of the “invisible government,” it has to be unbearable for the governed.

For years the country has yearned for a sincere Republic, the republic of “republican deeds”; but at the same time we all prevent, in fact, this Republic from existing.

Let there be no privileges—no immunity or privileges—the whole world proclaims it in the square; and in a low voice, each one wants, asks for, looks for and fights for privilege.  The political parties suffer from the same evil: in power and in opposition they use the same methods; they commit the same errors, commit the same evils, and are stained with the same crimes.  The country was deceived, resigned to the bad past, thinking to avoid the coming evil; its troubled gaze turns vainly to its surroundings, and it believes itself lost in a desert… Where is the Republic?

We won’t find the cure within us, say the low voices of the perpetrators, the accomplices, the indifferent, those who don’t suffer or love the new regime; those that exploit; in a word the same ones who enjoy the privilege.  What is within us is certainly not the Republic, only its image; it’s the distorted colony.

The big parties have already had the responsibilities of government; a group of men from both sides have performed the duties of rulers, and have failed in a definitive way; however, very few are the people with the republican virtue, they have resigned themselves to returning home, to take care of their private property and family.  There is no mistake, malice, nor crime that annuls between us and a man; the civil or political death, is unknown to us.  The people endure when the institutions are ruined.  If the country chose one time for forever, between persons and institutions; if it chose the parties who prefer the Republic over power, or rather, the Power within the Republic, we would begin a new era, one of “republican deeds,” one of the Messiah, with real freedom, and not imaginary.

The political parties have outraged the Republic; they have slandered the Revolution; they have presented as a model before Cuban youth a black banner splashed with gold.  Without principles, without strength, without sacrifices, you can be rich: steal. The Republic is of no concern to you.

The caudillos of the Revolution, the majority of them are to blame for that Cuban state of consciousness.  In the war they were sincere, because self-sacrificing and courageous they accepted the sacrifice that the Revolution imposed; in the Republic they are disloyal, because they do not surrender to the sacrifice that the Republic imposes.  They have been buried in the glorious past and, voluntarily dead, they have wanted to rule the life of the Republic.  An invisible wall for the material eyes, visible for every awake spirit, separated the Revolution from the Republic; those who have wanted to could pass through the doors of this wall, because the glory made them haughty, and they were lacking the humility of a citizen, those are outside the Republic, those!… Definitively, they are the enemies of the republican regime.  Their glories are in the Revolution; their prestige, in the nationality; their fall in the Republic.

Suppose a traveler, after long days crossing deserted lands, through valleys and mountains, finally comes to the hut where he hopes to find food and shelter; he goes faster so as to get there sooner, and when he believes he has finished his odyssey, asking the owner for a bit of bread and fruit to quell his hunger, the good man, in the middle of a thousand considerations and excuses, denies him the food; but believing a spiritual miracle possible, he shows him the sight of one of those paintings that are so common in many dining rooms, of a table covered with delicacies and pitchers and jars containing drinks: “It’s the only thing I can offer you, sir, to satisfy your appetite,” he says.

“These delicacies you show to a hungry man be damned,” says the traveler, “because they exasperate rather than console.  A little bit of hard bread, like the dog eats in the streets of our cities, is worth more to me now than these picture cards or paintings; images are not what my stomach needs.”

The Cuban people is that poor traveler, who asks for the bread and wine of the Republic to nourish his body and fortify his spirit.  It has asked in vain until now: because the image and not the reality of the Republic always shows.  To transform the image into reality, not to restore but rather to establish the Republic, what is needed is a new spiritual crusade; because the Revolution was nothing but a useful instrument, transitory; and the real Republic is the definitive thing, the political ideal.

Brief comparisons

If there is anything worse than the bad press in general, it’s the official press.

If there is anything worse than the official press, it’s the official press in the provinces.

If there is anything worse than bad blogs in general, it’s the bad blogs of the official journalists.

If there is anything worse than the blogs of the official journalists, it’s the blogs of the official journalists of the provinces.

The dumpster and me

(Text written on June 7, and for reasons you can imagine published today. This clarification is to connect it chronologically with respect to the news published in the newspaper Granma on June 10 about sanctions for illegal solid waste collectors, that is so-called “divers”.)

Slowly, imperceptibly, the dumpster has become part of my life.

(Before continuing, a clarification.  For the purposes of this post I intend “dumpster” to mean a place where the neighbors in a neighborhood throw their trash, but not the trash itself.*  The primary objective of this is to avoid ambiguity.  I could have used other words, resulting in titles such as: “The deposit and me,” or “The container and me,” which turn away from the central idea which is the garbage.  Obviously I could be more explicit and use the title, “The garbage container and me,” but aside from being obvious and facile, it’s a demonstrated fact that long titles do not attract.  In addition, I thought about the polysemic and intertextual possibilities of said title.  I think it’s better to stop talking so much trash and continue with the commentary.)

It’s said that the dumpster has been increasing its influence, coming to be noticed more and more.  Let me tell you.  I’m woken early by the noise of the coachman-garbageman, who transfers the garbage to his wagon, armed with a large hoe and a shovel.  Although he is rarely accompanied, I listen to him comment on the things that go into the trash, singing tenths, or talking to his horse.  Despite his efforts, there are always some bits of trash spread around.  Others will fall off during the trip, because of cracks in the old wagon and the rhythm of potholes in the road.   During the night the neighborhood dogs fight over some leftovers, disturbing the peace with their furious barking.   On occasion they manage to turn over the containers and spread their contents everywhere, leading to curses and cries from the garbageman the next morning.  The cats, however, like good survivors, do their part without calling attention to themselves.

When the collection is delayed, the dumpster reminds me of the Nile from ancient history class, because it overflows and fertilizes its “river basin,” opportunity that the young boys take advantage of to practice their trash-basketball, and the veterans to remember how to step—in flip flops—through a minefield.  Its lid-less deposit serves as shelter for flies and cockroaches and with its odor it helps us to know when the wind is blowing in our direction.  And, no less than the dumpsters of the great cities, it has its regular divers. And when there’s no garbage, how we miss it! One time it was incinerated by some potential terrorist or a neighborhood arsonist, who knows, and in its place there flourished, free, a dump without borders, open to the sky, that gave the neighborhood the look of town from the old west in a black and white movie, with the trash coming and going on the wind.  What a beauty.  Of course if we could count on the old metal containers none of this would happen, but these plastics, they’re so fragile…

Unlike on the periphery, in the center of the city there are fewer dump sites and the garbage is collected in trucks.  But when these are uncovered, the garbage spills out of them just like out of the wagons.  And when you drive to a dump on the outskirts you increase your speed and so the spills are greater.  A few of these improvised garbage trucks belonging to the communal services company and others are borrowed from different places.  I’ve heard it said that if they fail to stop at the passenger collection points* they punish the company responsible by taking the truck for a few days or weeks and using it to collect garbage. The old trash-compacting truck, previously imported from some former socialist country, has virtually disappeared.  This makes me think that their technology was much more advanced than that of the Lada cars, Ural motorcycles, and UAZ jeeps,* which are still circulating on our streets and highways.

But who said all is lost.  Periodically, and in accordance with some garbage plan or emergency preparedness exercise, a deafening huge front loader (popularly known as scoop) and an even larger tumbling truck, take the garbage, and grass and part of the earth of the dumpster.  Sometimes they also destroy the sidewalks, which were built for the circulation of pedestrians and not for this enormous noisy equipment used in construction.  In addition, they are always accompanied by six fat mustachioed conversationalists, beautifully dressed and equipped with cellular phones and “trunkins,”  who meet under the tree nearest the dumpster, and who travel in Ladas and jeeps.  This whole scene—something surreal, I confess—provokes complaints from the neighbor below who is a retired engineer, who comments painfully on the barbarians and their waste of fuel.

Translator’s notes:

In Spanish, “basura” can mean both garbage and garbage can, and “basurero” can mean dump, dumpster, or garbage collector (along with all the variations using “trash” and so on).  The potential confusion El Guajiro Azul is addressing here does not arise in English because the there is no linguistic similarity between ‘garbage’ and ‘dumpster’.

Passenger collection points:  Private vehicles are required to stop at designated collection points and pick up passengers.  Many trucks can be seen driving along the highways filled with people standing in the back.

Lada, URL and UAZ are all vehicle makes from Soviet Russia.

Transparency or nudity

They say it’s not important to know, but to know someone who knows.  I know another variant that recommends having the telephone number of an expert on hand.  This variant isn’t very appropriate here, because, despite the thousands of new mobile phone lines with new contracts recently, only one out of ten Cubans owns a telephone.  I have no way to prove it -and much less to call the expert, because I am one of the nine unfortunate ones-, but it must be one of the lowest densities on the continent.  And, speaking of mobile phones, the fees are quite high and… But, what am I doing talking about phones, if I was thinking about something else?

I happened to go to make a phone call at the home of a neighbor who always has the television on and saw fragments of The Round Table program.  It caught my attention the fact that they were commenting on the content of e-mail messages sent and received by a group of citizens who are, I suppose, very important to the government, given the special attention that is devoted to them.
They say that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. In Czechoslovakia, after the Prague Spring and Russian occupation, secretly recorded conversations among opposition intellectuals were broadcast on the radio.  The same thing happened in the GDR [German Democratic Republic], and it’s assumed that it happened in the rest of the countries that made up the socialist bloc.   It was laughable to me to see these journalists reading such brash phrases as: “the trip from Santa Clara to Havana cost so many CUC’s” or “I need so many CUC’s to complete the swap.”

My neighbor thought it outrageous that one of them said that the bit about the ticket prices was a lie.   And she even started to tell me the story of how much her last trip to the capital cost.  And while she told me, I started to mentally review how low the theme about the revelations or uncoverings has degenerated.
In the beginning, it was about heroic socialist versions of James Bond, revealing important enemy plans, thwarting attempted attacks and flaunting gold watches given to him by his bosses on the other side as a sign of confidence.  With time and repetition they ceased to amaze us, as television serials inspired by his exploits lost luster, or as screenwriters’ talents faded, or as the audience’s boredom increased, or all at once.  In 1989 there was surprise.*  Huge “revelation”.  For a change, this time the agents weren’t infiltrated into the ranks of the enemy, rather into their own.   And their concern was not to obtain information, but ivory, drugs and other little things.  This story—televised in chapters like a soap opera—needless to say, did not have a happy ending.

Then, sometime in the nineties, in keeping with the “Mine first” slogan printed on store bags, the Tabos and Suchels, backed by men in black shirts, submerge themselves into the world of national organized crime.  And it ends in the “revealing” of the Black Spring of 2003.  Quantitatively, the decrease is obvious.  From facing off the greatest empire in the history of mankind to keeping under control a minuscule group of people who do not practice or preach violence.  And if we remember that in some cases the agents turned out to be the leaders of their respective organizations, let’s not even go there.

And bordering on farce—how could it be otherwise—I vaguely remember a certain exchange, old refrigerator for new, a “double agent” with a woman’s alias and an invitation to eat goat and to get back, which ended in –coincidentally- the revelation of recordings.

In keeping with the original idea, I’ve sought out an expert, someone who knows.  In this excerpt appears what I need to complete the post, and it’s much better written.  I transcribe here a section of the ninth part of “Testaments Betrayed” by Milan Kundera:

I am looking at a window across the way.  Toward evening the light goes on.  A man enters the room.  Head lowered, he paces back and forth: from time to time he runs his hand through his hair.  Then, suddenly, he realized that the lights are on and he can be seen.  Abruptly, he pulls the curtain.  Yet he wasn’t counterfeiting money in there; he had nothing to hide but himself, the way he walked around the room, the sloppy way he was dressed, the way he strokes his hair.  His well-being depended on the freedom of being seen.

Shame is one of the key notions of the Modern Era, the individualistic period that is imperceptibly receding from us these days; shame: an epidermal instinct to defend one’s personal life; to require a curtain over the window; to insist that a letter addressed to A not be read by B.  One of the elementary situations in the passage to adulthood, one of the prime conflicts with parents, is the claim to a drawer for letters and notebooks, the claim to a drawer with a key; we enter adulthood through the rebellion of shame.

An old revolutionary utopia, whether fascists of communist: a life without secrets, where public life and private life are one and the same.  The surrealist dream André Breton loved: the glass house, a house without curtains where man lives in full view of the world.  Ah, the beauty of transparency!  The only successful realization of this dream: a society totally monitored by the police.

I wrote about this in The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Jan Prochazka, an important figure of the Prague Spring, came under heavy surveillance after the Russian invasion of 1968.  At the time, he saw a good deal of another opposition figure, Professor Vaclav Gerny, with whom he liked to drink and talk.  All their conversations were secretly recorded, and I suspect the two friends knew it and didn’t give a damn.  But one day in 1970 or 1971, wit the intent to discredit Prochazka, the police began to broadcast these conversations as a radio serial.  For the police it was an audacious, unprecedented act.  And, surprisingly, it nearly succeeded; instantly Prochazka was discredited; because in private, a person says all sorts of things, slurs friends, uses coarse language, acts silly, tells dirty jokes, repeats himself, makes a companion laugh by shocking him with outrageous talk, floats heretical ideas he’d never admit in public, and so forth.  Of course, we all act like Prochazka, in private we bad-mouth our friends and use coarse language; that we act different in private than in public is everyone’s most conspicuous experience, it is the very ground of the life of the individual; curiously, this obvious fact remains unconscious, unacknowledged, forever obscured by lyrical dreams of the transparent glass house, it is rarely understood to be the value on must defend beyond all others.  This only gradually did people realize (though their rage was al the greater) that the real scandal was not Prochazka’s daring talk abut he rape of his life; they realized (as if by electric shock) that private and public are two essentially different worlds and that respect for that difference is the indispensable condition, the sine que non, for a man to live free; that the curtain separating these two worlds is not to be tampered with, and that curtain-rippers are criminals.  And because the curtain-rippers were serving a hated regime, they were unanimously helped to be particularly contemptible criminals.

When I arrived in France from that Czechoslovakia bristling with microphones, I saw on a magazine cover a large photo of Jacques Brel hiding his face from the photographers who had tracked him down in front of the hospital where he was being treated for his already advanced cancer.  And suddenly I felt I was encountering the very same evil that had made me flee my country; broadcasting Prochazka’s conversations and photographing a dying singer hiding his face seemed to belong to the same world; I said to myself that when it becomes the custom and the rule to divulge another person’s private life, we are entering a time when the highest stake is the survival or the disappearance of the individual.

Translator’s notes:

The excerpt from Milan Kundera was taken from the orginal English translation published as: Testaments Betrayed, An Essay in Nine Parts.  It is from Part 9, section 8.

Frank Delgado: Rebel or insubordinate?

By: The Cousin of Guajiro Frank Delgado was in Cienfuegos on April 11.  He arrived that same afternoon at the Bus Terminal.  I saw him coming out with his backpack and two guitars on his back.  I expected Antonio Enrique, the president of the AHS.*   And I was glad to see him with his hat, his glasses, laughing his head off and in flip flops.  And I went to the Sculpture Park to hear him that night.  But I also wanted the concert to end… Because it hurt to hear the audio equipment they gave him.  But I never expected that Frank Delgado, who travels by bus in flip-flops, carrying his own backpack and guitars, is capable of starting a song twice because the audio is a piece of sh… seriously, offering apologies to everyone listening, he’s sincere and I tell him, “I was never so eager to see a concert end!”; but then I never expected that the same Frank would dedicate two texts, varying titles and alternating synonyms, the journalist Zulariam Perez Marti in the digital and print editions of the “Fifth of September,” the Organ of the Provincial Committee of the Cuban Communist Party in Cienfuegos.  In both articles the journalist hopes that when he returns to sing in the Terry theater, as the troubadour promised to do, “he wouldn’t come as ‘famous’ Frank but as the troubadour of the people.”  And you know why?  Ah!  Because the “rebel” Frank, according to the digital edition, “did live up to his fame as an insubordinate,” and, according to the print edition, “preferred to turn his back on the press.”  And the press, neither short nor idle, passed the bill to him!

So there you have it, the two editions, digital and print.  Don’t believe everything you read!  I will continue preferring Frank and lamenting articles like this (these), signed by a young journalist for the only local weekly and using the language that begs for a response, perhaps in the next concert the “rebel” will be even more “insubordinate”… and continue offering his words in spite of the audio and other ills.  That would be the best response of all.

Translator’s note:
AHS = Asociacion Hermanos Saiz/Saiz Brothers Association: A group funded by the Cuban government to promote Hip Hop.