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.

Secrecy / Regina Coyula

The ruling elite accustomed themselves to living in secrecy, with that phrase, “Silence, the enemy is listening,” so convinced that all information about their lives was a matter of state, disrespecting public opinion, including that which sympathizers still have, with silence around the life (or death) of Fidel Castro.

This can only happen in a country that feels no obligation to offer explanations and where the journalists do not dare to do their job. It’s not serious to try to justify that such discretion is essential because it involves a man against whom hundreds of attacks were planned (though they never got close). Today this person is a sick old man, retired from public service, whose image for years now is always deferred and in photos.

Nor do I believe that Raul Castro needs time to prepare anything, because he controls the power and if there are cracks in the corridors of power, military counterintelligence should keep the General-President (HIS ministry) updated about the operative situation.

Fidel Castro occupied so many hours of television and so many headlines; in short, he dominated the media, that it’s logical, given the information vacuum, that his health status should be the object of all sorts of speculations.

9 January 2015

The Way Things Go / Regina Coyula

One of the things that I am going to miss when Cuba is an ordinary country, will be these days when digital piracy is still patriotic and on any corner you can acquire the best of the Discovery Channel, the magnificent series of the History Channel, or the captivating serials of ABC or Fox. With regards to the series, I am greatly enjoying Mad Men, partially broadcast here in the early hours of morning as “The Men of Madison Street.” With these series and movies on demand, I only turn on Cuban TV for the news, a brief moment of Telesur to read the news crawl across the bottom of the image.

If I, who am a great joker and not interested in reality, nor MTV, nor soap operas and all I want is to stay far from national programming; what about my neighbors. The head of the family, my neighbor Tomás, whom I’ve already talked about here, has lost the fight. It seems that as a Party member, they’ve “targeted” him in the fight against the audiovisual packets, but his wife and even his daughter, also a party member and civilian employee of the Ministry of the Interior, adore The Voice, El Gorda y la Flaca, Dancing with the Stars, Belleza Latina, and especially Case Closed. Tomás’s wife made a strong statement of her intentions to Tomás, and given the volume at which she did it, to the rest of the neighborhood:

“So here people can hold their ‘worm’* meetings and nothing happens (that’s us); they can hold their religious meetings and nothing happens (my neighbor Tania, whom you also know), and I can’t watch “Case Closed”? Because to me %$#@!… I get the &$%#!… I watch it and you’re not going to stop me!”

*Translator’s note: Gusanos (worms) is a common insult used by the Castro regime against those who leave Cuba and/or who don’t support the regime.

7 January 2105

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