Debut and Dismissal / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 8 July 2015 — A note about this work by Juan Carlos Cremata arrived by mail. The final phrase is not mine:

Regrettably, the National Council of Performing Arts has decided to take down the poster of Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King by El Ingenio theater group after its first two inaugural performances last weekend.

They will make the announcement public and official.

Once again it is evident that “Censorship does not exist.”

The Secret To Good Frijoles Negros / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 19 June 2015 — Indispensable to any feast, everyone adds his or her own secret ingredient to the basic recipe for tomato-less sofrito*: the proportion of cumin, the cooking time over a low flame to congeal the bean, the sprinkle of dry wine, the pinch of sugar–in short, there are as many secrets as there are recipes.

I love black beans but, when in Barcelona I was invited to lunch at the Frijoles Negros Restaurant, I was alarmed: It didn’t seem proper to travel so far to eat what is routine fare here. However, Jorge, my nice host, managed set my mind at ease.

A semi-hidden location at No. 146 Carrer de Bruc street, almost at the corner with the busy Avenue Diagonal, houses this exquisitely designed spot that in no way recalls the accompanying themes of Cuban cuisine. White is the predominant color, with black/gray and red touches here and there, reproductions of Xavier Cugat posters, and that’s it.

But the food, which is what makes one return to a restaurant–or not, even when it boasts Picasso originals–is very good. Without trying to come off as a gourmet, I very much enjoyed the mix of dishes from international cuisine with a wink towards Cuban flavors, and vice versa. Thus the domestic salad of lettuce and tomato is enhanced by cut-up strawberry, and the very aristocratic salmon shares the billing with yucca and mojo [a garlic-and-sour-orange-based sauce or marinade].

The complement is a wait staff who are attentive at just the right degree to make you feel good.

The culprit of all this is Juan Carlos Puig Bretons, a Cuban of Catalan heritage with ideas to spare. In the evenings, live jam sessions and, if I’m not mistaken, the place even serves (or will serve) as a discotheque on weekends.

The longing in Juan Carlos flirts with opening a place in Cuba, now that he’s told that this can be done, but he hasn’t decided yet. Many requirements and few guarantees make him feel cautious, and so he waits. Besides, he is still quite involved in Frijoles Negros, his work-in-progress.

Now you know, the secret of good black beans lies not only in the cooking time.

As a conversation piece, I leave you with a little-known recipe–let’s see if Juan Carlos will dare to include it in his fusion cuisine.

Black Beans a la Menocal

(from La Cocina en el Hogar [The Kitchen in the Home] by Dr. Dolores Alfonso)

1.5 cups black beans

30 medium tomatos, peeled and seeded

3 onions

1 cup oil

1 bay leaf

5 tsp sugar

4 garlic cloves

4 liters water

1 large bell pepper

Salt and pepper

Cook the beans in the water with the bay leaf. When softened, add salt and the sofrito made from the onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, garlic and pepper. Later add the sugar and let simmer over a low flame until they thicken. They are left to rest for one day and reheated at serving time.

Yields 6 servings of 396 calories each.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison, among others

Translator’s notes:

*Sofrito is a stir-fry of aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices used as the base for many Cuban dishes. It may or may not include tomato.

Skepticism / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 22 June 2015 — Today on the morning TV news I saw the live broadcast of the flag-waving ceremony by the delegation attending the Pan American Games in Canada. I am suspicious of those athletes who compete for the Fatherland, Socialism, the Five Heroes, Honor, etc., but not for something as normal and natural as winning a medal. The event was like carbon copy of the speeches and events of thirty years ago.

Cuba, with a smaller-than-normal delegation, aspires to finish second among the countries. While the camera panned the athletes in a formation more military ceremony than sports, I wondered skeptically which faces would not return, victims of the siren song of professional sports or the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Privatized? / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 6 May 2015 — I have noticed that the old-time “conductor” has recently made a comeback on city buses (though the person driving them is still called the driver). Rather than using the fare box, passengers must now pay the conductor instead. Being the curious type, I got into a conversation with one of them and found out a few things that our informative newspaper Granma has not mentioned.

According to the conductor — the driver also joined in on the conversation — the buses are in essence leased to the workers, who are responsible for maintenance and repairs. However, the Chinese manufacturer will not ship spare parts because the state has not paid its bills. If anything breaks, fare receipts drop, so the bus company deals with it by unofficially passing the problem on to the drivers. Since the driver has his hands full, a co-worker — a driver himself — is there to make sure every passenger pays the requisite fare.

The workers must set aside a certain portion of their share of the receipts for bus maintenance, a percentage much lower that what the company gets, which amounts to more than half the receipts according to my source. And that is not his only complaint.

“Newspaper articles only talk about the things people complain about, but no one talks about what we are going through,” he says.

There is music in the background as we talk. Music can be heard on every bus these days, typically whatever a driver happens to like. On this particular day it happens to be love songs.

“I like timba and some reggaeton but this music relaxes me,” says the driver. “If I have problems now, can you imagine what it would be like if I played the other?”

Style or Substance / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 16 March 2015 — Gender equality is a long road in a chauvinist society like ours. So much so that a law allowing persons of the same sex to marry has gotten nowhere in spite of the fact that its chief proponent is none other than the daughter of our general-president.

This weekend I was listening to a panel of experts on television speaking about gender-specific language. They criticized the sexism prevalent in both language and law, and urged the eradication of the problem by, among other things, replacing the use of male-only articles and nouns with specific female and male forms when speaking in the plural.*

I must be somewhat old-fashioned because, though I believe in equality, this strikes me as being completely superficial. It treats the problem as one of semantics rather than as a deeply ingrained psycho-social issue.

It strikes me as being unimportant if we say “the boys and the girls.” What is important is that we stop playing this game in which roles are predetermined by sex. Nor do I think it is important to drag out a sentence just to say “the male and the female youths.” Rather, it is the chauvinist lyrics of reggaeton songs and videos that are troubling. I am bothered by the rather monotone quality of “the women and the men” but I feel a great sense of powerlessness when faced with the verbal and physical abuse that manifests itself on a daily basis in our society, especially when it hides behind and is exercised from a position of power.

I would like to ask these female and male purists of equality if they believe the problem of form will remedy the problem of substance. Are these women and men so committed to be protectresses and protectors in their crusade that I will one day see girls and boys expressing their patriotism by altering a line from the national anthem and singing, “To the battle forthwith women and men of Bayamo?”

*Translator’s note: In their plural form, Spanish nouns like la niña and el niño (the boy and the girl) become strictly masculine — los niños (the boys) — even when referring to a mixed group of boys and girls.

Naty / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, standing, with Natalia Revuelta, seated.

Regina Coyula, standing, with Natalia Revuelta, seated.

Regina Coyula, Havana, 2 March 2015 — The passing of Naty Revuelta* on Saturday has left us with a deep sense of loss. If there is anything that stands in stark contrast to her intensely social life stands it is the somewhat clandestine nature of her death. It was a death that had been expected; months earlier she had suffered a stroke. Though she seemed to have recovered fairly well, her care — medical, familial or both — left her deeply isolated.

Inviting her to lunch was out of the question; visiting her became a complicated matter. For more than twenty years I entered her house with the same lack of formality with which she came into mine.

Yet I suddenly felt the need to schedule a meeting after various attempts to see her failed, including one when I was at her door. When we did manage to talk, she complained about being forced into an involuntary seclusion.

I cannot say that her mind was as lucid as it had been before the accident — in some conversations she often repeated herself — but she was totally coherent about what was happening and was fully aware of the wall that had been built up around her. Regardless of the quality of her medical care or the extent of her family’s devotion, I cannot help thinking that her last months would have been better if she could have relied on the closeness of her friends.

I spoke with her by phone last Monday. She had fallen again and had been taken to see the doctor but it did not seem serious so she returned home. I promised that my husband and I would drop by to see her on Tuesday and she seemed very happy with that prospect. However, she was readmitted that same Monday evening and, according to what I was told, lost consciousness shortly thereafter. I hope she was still looking forward to my visit.

*Translator’s note: Natalia “Naty” Revuelta was a married, well-to-do Cuban socialite when in the 1950s she met Fidel Castro, to whose cause she provided financial support. The two became romantically involved and she later gave birth to his child, Alina. This daughter later fled Cuba, settled in Florida and became of vocal critic of her father’s regime.

With a Capital C / Regina Coyula

Many prominent figures who consider themselves democrats enter into alliances — both tactical and strategic — as well as conversations with their political opponents based on dogma. One’s position on the embargo, as well as on renewed diplomatic relations with the United States, is a dividing line.

This aspect of our national experience is a result of our proximity to the United States as well as to a corresponding anti-imperialism in the extreme. It weakens the fight for democracy and serves as a political ploy that only benefits the Cuban government. It has nothing to do with civic dialogue, which should be about more pressing issues such as the relationship of salaries to prices, the tax burden and the national budget. Society must make a concerted effort to diminish profound social differences — enriching, not impoverishing — and to eliminate the obstacles that prevent further economic development.

It is very disingenuous to use a sham referendum as a means of choosing an “eternal” social model, especially since its eternity has failed to produce positive results in any country in which it has been tested. In our own country it now has so many loopholes that one is hard pressed to demonstrate that we even live under socialism. This is even more difficult when the measures adopted to relieve the economic crisis rely on capitalist remedies.

It is also highly irresponsible to design a future for the regime’s heirs while locking out the nation’s voters. Let’s hope that — for reasons of dialectical sense and common sense — such a fate is, as much as possible, avoided.

We need an open discussion about how to protect and fully enforce human rights, stripping away the aura of malignancy and subjectivity with which the government portrays them and making them binding. Civil society must take a leading role in dealing with these challenges.

Rather than defining whether we are for or against the Embargo or diplomatic relations, it is ultimately a matter of whether we are for or against the Change.

11 February 2015