Reason to Bid Farewell to 2011

This is about a beautiful clip a reader of mine in Brazil sent to me.  In it, you see Joshua Bell, the virtuoso violinist.  He is playing his Stradivarius in the New York Subway while the hurried crowd ignores him. This act, and what is newsworthy about it, is that we don’t appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.  Read whatever you want into this. I wish everyone: friends, acquaintances, detractors, enemies and those of you who are unknown, happiness.  (Oops!  I hope I didn’t sound corny, I still mean it.)  Until next year.

Translated by:  Hank

December 30 2011


Two Views of Juan

The Movie Poster

My son and I both saw Juan of the Dead at different times.  This is a Cuban movie that has just been awarded a Popular Award at the 33rd Latin American Movie Festival. Rafael loved the profusion of bad words, with the “role” of the female blogger played by White Rose White; the “little groups of dissidents at the service of the government of the United States” and the humorous scenes throughout the footage.  For Rafael, Juan of the Dead was a lot of fun.  Rafael’s mother, as you know, likes to look a little beyond what you see — in Juan of the Dead she saw a zombie country.

This is an unusual B movie within Cuban cinema, which is so focused on social issues. And from the co-producers, Oh, the co-producers! Who are almost always stuck on the inevitable topic of prostitution.  This work of Alejandro Brugués connects immediately with his audience and from this base filled with humor — the scene of the dance of the wives is memorable — (I’m not going to tell you the story of the movie so you will go see it), he constantly prods at our society. Look, I don’t go to see films to critique them, it’s an amusement, but brought to trial, Brugués would not be absolved. Although a spontaneous campaign would immediately be organized to call for his release.

Translated by:  Hank

December 14 2011

Wild Capitalism

Taxis in front of the Hotel Cohiba. Internet Photograph.

For those who doubt that things here will get worse, I inform you that the first to set up the Chinese Model have been some of those in the emerging private sector.  Since they are  obligated to pay high taxes for their operating licenses, in addition to salaries and benefits for their employees, they tighten things up by putting pressure on the people at the bottom.  Employees without a fixed salary are only paid a fraction of total revenues.  In that way, new businesses never lose.  Whoever doesn’t like it is free to leave because there will always be someone else desperate to take his place.

To my amazement, when I thought this post was complete, I found out that something very similar exists in the state sector.  The drivers of the new taxis that roll through the city, which are identifiable by their white and yellow colors, must pay a daily fixed tax — on top of the costs they pay for gasoline and maintenance.  If the driver fails to pay this tax two times, the taxi is handed over to another driver whose name is on a long waiting list.

Unwritten laws of a new labor scenario and an absence of labor unions to protect the interests of the least favored reminds me that a long time ago a revolution took place so that things like this would not happen.

Translated by: Hank

December 16 2011

New Graffiti

This grand wall at 19th and 42nd survived for a long time displaying the graffiti of El Sexto* with its pink criticism and his trademark star all the way to the walls of El Vedado.  Apparently, the pink lacquer he used has been extinguished because last week it was covered up — as you can barely make out in the photographic image.  Now, it is yellow over black and you notice it more than ever.  There’s nothing like censorship to get your attention.

*Translator’s Note:  “El Sexto” is a Cuban graffiti artist.

Translated by:  Hank

December 1 2011

Human Rights Day

Leave your comments here regarding the tweets that will appear over the course of today.  You can see them at @lamalaletra on Twitter, or on the right bar on the Spanish blog.  I want to especially mention Laura Pollan and the Ladies in White.  At four this afternoon I intend to go to the Estado de Sats.

Translated by:  Hank

December 10 2011

Lights and Shadows

In literature there are works of fiction in which everything is resolved at the end.  Art imitates life but the exception proves the rule.  There is a much revered Cuban writer, gossip has it that he liked to pass himself off as a Frenchman.   Well informed people who knew him declared that this was not the case, he only trilled his rrrr’s because he stuttered.  I am referring to Alejo Carpentier.

I love Alejo, there are people that can’t stand his style (baroque; over elaborate), I remember well how I felt after reading “El Reino de Este Mundo” (The World’s Kingdom). It was confusing to me since I was so young then, but I felt the grandeur. On the other hand, I did not feel the same when reading “Consagración de la Primavera” (Spring Blessings) though his prose dazzled me. One of my favorites is “Cuando llegué a los Pasos Perdidos, si se cayó el dinero” (When I arrived at the Lost Steps, I felt silence) I still have the first edition I ever had, even though I have given away subsequent editions of it.

But I would like to talk about his most famous novel, a novel that was made into a movie and translated into many languages.  “The Century of Lights.”  It is a passionate work, at least for people who like history.  You can follow the interesting story line between the Caribbean and France in the 19th Century.  But if you read the novel looking ahead, you’ll see the last 50 years of our history.

Maybe Alejo did not foresee the coming of the Cuban Revolution.  I began this by writing that there are times when life imitates art.  Read it again.

CLARIFICATION:  In my posting “Hotel Regina” I wrote that I had to get authorization to photograph the Campoamor.  But I did not need authorization to take pictures from the outside, which would be impossible to prevent.  I asked for permission to go in and then observed that behind the planks that cover the entrance there was access to the inside from an adjacent park.  That’s where they told me about the authorization, which I should obtain from the Teatro Garcia Lorca.  They explained to me that I could not go in because it was going to be restored and they already had construction materials there to do the work.  So, very sweetly, I asked the custodian of the park – who never understood a thing – if it was going to be restored before it completely fell apart.

Translated by: Hank, Mery y Irish Sam