Audiovisual Education / Regina Coyula

The concerns of cultural and UNEAC officials over the potentially dangerous ideological content of the paquete* (package) is also causing me some concern. I am not an avid consumer of either the paquete or of television in general, but a furtive look, a stolen glance, a scan across the horizon raises serious doubts about the ammunition these Cuban organizations have to counter the barrage of audiovisual material coming from this package.

Are they trying to educate us with soap operas like Avenida Brasil (Brazil Avenue), in which the growing middle class does not make the connection between economic prosperity and good manners or good taste?  Or, alternatively, is Paraíso Tropical (Lost Paradise), which is currently being broadcast, now considered to be the model?

Are they betting on Cuban soap operas, rejected as “ugly” because they portray the current reality or labeled as “sci-fi” because they sugarcoat that same reality?

Do the latest South Korean soap operas (where nothing is ugly and everybody is an idiot) have some deeper meaning that escapes me?

Are they thinking of getting rid of many of their musical programs in which triviality, vulgarity, sexism and bad taste exert a pull over producers as well as musicians?

Is education going to be achieved through interview programs, whether they deal with politics, addiction, entertainment or public services?

Will cinematic education disrupt the profile of their programming, turning the Saturday Movie into a different version of the Sunday Matinee and Midnight Cinema by replaying B movies?

All of this is making me wonder if officials are really as concerned about quality as they are that the paquete continues its expansion unchecked by state supervision. Nah! it doesn’t matter how many operations they carry out. Like the Hydra, for every distributor that is eliminated, two more show up. And if they are trying to counteract its effects with the above-mentioned content or other similar programming, the education of the citizenry will continue to decline. On the other hand, the future success of the paquete, in which everyone chooses what he or she wants, is guaranteed.

Translated by Corriver

*Translator’s note: The paquete, or package, is a selection of foreign entertainment programs distributed informally throughout Cuba. In July, 2014 the national television broadcaster, TVC, admitted it could not compete with its selection of programming. UNEAC is the Spanish abbreviation for the Artist’s and Writer’s Union of Cuba.

17 November 2014

A Survey from Granma / Regina Coyula

In its Friday edition, the newspaper Granma has asked readers to fill out a questionnaire with the laudable goal of improving its quality. I’ve had some great times with Granma, but this survey marks one of the highpoints.

Among the questions is whether the news presented is timely, if the way it is presented is original, if articles create an information vacuum because they lack insufficient (I assume they mean sufficient) data, if topics are repetitive and if there is follow-up. This is a joke; the first thing readers who get their news exclusively from Granma or any other national news outlet need is references.

People more serious than I will take the time to analytically answer the survey in question, but if one were to ask how the newspaper is doing, there are several possible answers: 1) Very good, 2) Good but could use improvement, 3) Bad — certainly one that would have to be included — and 4) Very bad.

Granma is not the worst newspaper in the world. That would have to be Rodong Sinmun.* Remember that we are talking about the official media outlet of the Communist Party, which is almost like saying the only news outlet since all the others parrot its editorial line.

With or without the survey, Granma will continue to be in high-demand for the subsidiary role it plays in personal hygiene and home care.

An anecdote: My son once asked a friend to read the above-mentioned publication and if there was anything interesting in it. Tossing aside the newspaper and dragging out his response for emphasis, the friend gave a very enlightening answer:

“Nothing. It’s all a Granma.”

*Translator’s note: Worker’s Newspaper, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of  North Korea. 

3 November 2014

The Long Tour of Pancho Cespedes / Regina Coyula

I’m going to start gathering my posts from other sites here, because I’m writing very little  these days and have half-abandoned my blog. In addition to this concert, I attended the one by Fito Paez and enjoyed it even more than this one. However, Fito came (to Cuba) two years ago, while Pancho had stopped singing for the public for a while. Here, then, is this chronicle published in 14ymedio.

From 8:00 in the evening on Saturday, the traffic jams at the corner of 1st and 10th in Miramar were a sure sign that a major event was in the works at the Karl Marx theater. Well-known artists such as Carlos Varela and Edesio Alejandro could be spotted in the crowed.

Shortly after 9:00 pm the hall was packed, and an agile, tall and slim Pancho Céspedes made an entrance sporting his new image. Having been away for 24 years from performing for his fans, he was quite nervous. He said so various times, plus it was obvious. However, that nervousness could not ruin the more than two hours of conversation, smiles, tears and – above all else – the songs shared with a public that welcomed him back with affection, sang along with him, and were all the while focused on making him feel comfortable. Pancho had come home.

This one-time concert was part of the Leo Brouwer Festival of chamber music that is celebrated annually between September 27 and October 12, in honor of the 75 years of life of this exceptional composer, conductor and musician.

According to Céspedes, this event will no longer take place in Cuba. Evidently his organization experienced more than a few stumbles. Only Leo’s will and his office could move him forward in this venture, but later productions – if they occur – will take place outside of Cuba. Pancho Céspedes was not stingy in his praise of Maestro Brouwer, who brought to fruition the singer’s wish to perform again before a major national audience.

Many individuals recorded the concert on phones, tablets and cameras, and there was television coverage, which surely will enable TV audiences to enjoy the concert later on.

The singer did not allude to his decision in 1990 to leave Cuba and, although nothing was mentioned in this regard, in a roundabout way he hinted at the long stretch that he was away from Cuba. Anyone could do a little simple math and figure out that it took six years to reunite with his wife.

Moreover, because artists feed off of sadness, depression and failure, those years of separation incubated his 1998 release, Vida Loca – his most successful work. Continuing our mathematical calculations, we conclude that it took Pancho 24 years to return to a concert venue in Cuba.

Céspedes needn’t have worked so hard to connect with the audience. His eagerness to do so at times caused a loss of elegance in his fluid exchange with the public between musical numbers. It was an unnecessary effort, for this artist oozes charisma and his vocal gifts for interpretation are outstanding, often approximating a murmured complicity.

Always in a public gathering there are those who leave a mobile device turned on, and even more than one telephone conversation could be heard in the hall as though in the caller’s living room. During such troublesome displays of our modern manners, such people even get annoyed if they are called to task about it. This – plus an indiscriminate use of modern, high-frequency LED lighting directed at the crowd (blinding us) – made for a less-than-perfect evening.

There was much emotion expressed by this artist who is a master of the minimalist stage, where the accompanying musicians occupied a discreet second place. Even an enormous stage like the Karl Marx’s was made intimate and cozy – even when a hypnotic spotlight focused solely on the singer, no other accoutrements in sight, was used a few times.

Ela O’Farrill’s Adiós Felicidad took me back to the time when that piece was taken off the air because it focused on selfish sentiments that were deemed incompatible with the building of a socialist society.

It’s hard to say which was the best part of the evening. The recordings were in high gear at the sounds of Señora  or Vida Loca, with the audience singing along word for word, but there were two particularly emotional moments. The first occurred with a most beautiful song (Átame la mirada) about how nostalgia makes us call faraway places by the names of places left behind.

The other was when applause turned into a standing ovation when Pancho announced the arrival of Pablo Milanés in his first public appearance since undergoing a health scare just months before. Pablo, also visibly more slender and dressed all in black, joined Pancho who by then had doffed his coat and untucked his shirt. Their duet of Esas Dulces Mentiras y Amargas Verdades was rewarded by another standing ovation.

Excellent soirée in the company of Pancho Céspedes, who – wise beyond his years – has gone on a long tour from where his life is to la Vida Loca. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

3 October 2014

What We Don’t Talk About / Regina Coyula

My husband has dengue fever. Or chikunguya, what the difference is can only be known after a long-awaited test. We needed to find our family doctor because he kept going from house to house inquiring of people with fever or other suspicious symptoms. The doctor, after a physical examination and posing a series of questions, filled out a paper and referred him to Fajardo Hospital.

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to wait in line for this.”

At 11:30  Alcides went to the hospital with one of our daughters who arrived at just the right time. I stayed at home cooking, so they could eat lunch after returning from the hospital.

At four in the afternoon, my brother arrived and took me to Fajardo. At that hour the shift doctor still had not seen the urgent test results. Alcides had to wait for a long time because the line that he “didn’t have to wait in” was much bigger than the line for people who arrived for other reasons. Finally, it was his turn. A young Guinean doctor with enviable patience attended each case, filled out a stack of papers and still had the Hippocratic spirit to be friendly.

I signed a paper to take responsibility for Alcides. What worries the doctors (at the hospital as well as at the neighborhood clinic) is that his platelets are very low and his leucocytes very high, but I’d rather go to the clinic every day to have the follow-up analysis than to leave him in the hospital. I don’t like anything about the Emergency Room, disorganized and lacking in hygiene, and I have no reason to suppose that the rest of the hospital would be any different.

In the waiting room the patients never stop complaining. Why if you come with a referral directly from your clinic do you have to repeat the same procedures with the doctor on duty instead of going directly to the lab? No one knows what the “guidelines” say. Later, there were only two doctors and they were overwhelmed. Those missing must be on overseas missions like Barrio Adentro or Mas Medicos; to the claim of our being a “Medical Powerhouse” should be added: … “for export.”

Having a case of dengue fever in the house isn’t news. The list of patients in the four surrounding blocks fills two pages in a school notebook. “We haven’t found the source,” my family doctor tells me with concern. I comment, “They shouldn’t focus so much on individual homes, rather they should clean up the neglected lot on the corner, and if they haven’t found the source, there they’re going to find all those who haven’t appeared yet.

As the situation is worsening (I would speak of an epidemic, but the health authorities seem not to have received “the orientation”) the priority is the source. Yesterday they came and fumigated and asked about home sources (if you have vases, plants in water, drinking bowls for pets, water deposits in the house, and I already know the list by heart and can recite it). Later the supervisor showed up to ask about the program to check for sources in homes; later the supervisor’s boss came by to ask about the program to check for sources in homes.

And at the lush wilderness on the corner? No one asks about the sources there.

28 July 2014

Go Around / Regina Coyula

It’s an ordinary apartment in a quiet Havana neighborhood. You have to knock and go inside to find out if owner knows about the recommendation you have been given. There are no introductions. A girl leads you straight to a room in the apartment that is not a room but rather a little store, well-organized and well-stocked, given what it is.

“How much is this wallet?”

“Um, I don’t know if they told you but I don’t sell, I rent,” she says.

Huh?

“Yeah, I have a license to rent party clothes. What you have to do is leave a deposit for the full value of the article. If you don’t return it after ten days, I deduct it from my inventory.”

“Ten days, right?”

I leave with my wallet and a smile. “If you can’t go over, go around.”

9 July 2014

Postcard From a Journey (2) / Regina Coyula

Five hours of traveling to Santiago de Cuba. It’s still early but it’s already hot. I love Santiago. I realize that it is a city with its own personality and pulse. Music plays loudly, the women seem to wear a smaller size than they need, no one is in a hurry, everyone knows each other, or so it seems, by the familiarity of the way they treat each other which I don’t escape.

I wonder if at any moment this city isn’t going to go up or down, I don’t see even a single street that isn’t on an incline. I talk with everyone, in Santiago it’s the easiest thing in the world; people complain about prices, or the shortages that are seen everywhere, but it doesn’t reach the level of criticism I see in Havana, although clearly, my view is superficial.

This hot Habanera looks for any pretext to get into an airconditioned place. Lunch at El Baluarte, a restaurant that trades in national currency. The portions are small, but my last impression of the State food service in Havana is horrendous, this doesn’t seem as bad to me. I continue to go up and down the streets, commenting to my host that Santiago is a city that lives with its back to the sea, and he says I’m right, but takes me to a place known as Velazquez’s Balcony, with a spectacular view of the bay.

One peculiarity of the alternative transport in Santiago is the motorbikes. They have no license to carry passengers, but everyone uses them and they take you where you want to go. I talk with my driver who brought his bike from the former GDR where he was qualified to work in the Celia Sanchez textile factory. When they closed the business, he appealed for his bike and said they’d have to kill him to take it from him.

I asked him about the number of houses I saw under construction. Almost all are victims of hurricane Sandy,he told me, and I didn’t comment, but it’s clear that in the urgency to build technical standards have been overlooked and those thin boards portend future problems.

I remember my cousin Mayito Coyula with his observation that when you’re going to be operated on you always want the best surgeon and yet building houses is left in the hands of the equivalent of the orderlies.

Dinner is at a “paladar” (privately run restaurant) on Enramada Street; the prices are like those in Havana and the customers are all foreigners except my table. The best food and the best service of the whole trip. I go to Santiago without being able to eat a mango sponge cake.

1 July 2014