All posts by Yoani Snchez

A macho discourse

I still remember the odor of the gas masks we wore, running to the shelter in military practice during primary school.  My classmates and I came to fear that one day we’d take shelter in the basement of some building, while outside the bombs fell.  Today, the city shows the traces of a constant attack, but it has only been the projectiles of mismanagement and the bullets of a centralized economy that have shaped this landscape.  In all that time, preparing for a battle that never came, we overlooked that the main confrontation occurred among ourselves.  A prolonged battle between those of us fed up with bellicose language, and, the other side, those who need “a place under siege, where dissent is treason.”

Surrounded by billboards that warn us of a possible invasion from the north, several generations of Cubans have come of age.  Vigorous calls to resist, though nobody really knows exactly whom or what, make up the background chorus.  Like a soldier who sleeps with one eye open, ready to jump up at the trumpet’s call, so should we be always on edge.  In contrast, indifference won the key battle, and most of my childhood pals ended up going into exile rather than into the trenches.

After decades of hearing the same thing, I’m tired of macho wrapped in its olive green uniform; of the adjective “virile” associated with bravery; of hairs on the chest determining more than hands in the sink. All my progesterone waits, because of this rugged paraphernalia, to switch to words like: prosperity, reconciliation, harmony, coexistence.

Six places from Sullivan

In the list of the 25 Best Blogs of 2009, drawn up by Time Magazine and CNN, there are several elements that fill me with pride. Generación Y is the only blog on the list in Spanish, the same language that some believe incapable of adapting to the pace of technology and modernity.  I am, among the other twenty-four bloggers, the one with the fewest hours of access to the internet—of this I have no doubt.  To make matters worse, I work under the peculiar condition of creating a blog I cannot see, the fault of the wicked filters imposed by censorship.

Andrew Sullivan, who has become a guru for those of us on the Blogger Journey, is in fifth place with his blog, The Daily Dish.  He doesn’t imagine that every week a group of Cubans  evoke his article, Why I Blog, taking his work as a compass.  After nearly two months of these weekly meetings we know, at least, that the route to begin to comment does not travel backwards, that the wall of control can be knocked down in one go, or undermined byte by byte, post by post.

Uncomfortable questions

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I skirt the edge of my building, avoiding walking under the balconies, because the kids throw condoms filled with urine to kill the boredom.  A man with his daughter is carrying a bag that’s dripping a mix of grease, water and blood.  They’re coming from the butcher’s, where the line announces that some rationed product came in this morning.  The two climb the stairs happily carrying their trophy meat.  The wife is probably already cutting the onions, while breathing a sigh of relief that the protein is back, after several days’ absence.

I’m behind them and I manage to hear the little girl ask, “Papi, how many chickens have you eaten in your life?”  I see the bewildered face of the father, who’s made it to the sixth floor, sweating from every pore.  His answer is a little brusque.  “How would I know that?  I don’t keep a count of the food.”  But the young girl insists.  Evidently she’s learning to multiply and divide, so she wants to take apart the world and explain it—completely—with pure numbers.  “Papi, if you’re 53 and every month you get one pound of chicken at the butcher’s, you just have to know how many months you’ve lived.  When you have that number you divide it by four pounds, which is more or less what a chicken usually weighs.”

I follow the mathematical formula she’s developed and I figure I’ve eaten 99 chickens in my 33 years.  The man interrupts my calculations, telling her, “Sweetie, when I was born chickens weren’t rationed.”   I start thinking about how I grew up with the shackles of rationing attached to both ankles but, thanks to the black market, the diversion of resources from State enterprises, the shops that sell only in convertible pesos, the trading of clothes for food, and a ton of parallel tracks, I don’t know the exact amount I’ve digested.  As I hurry past and hear the doubting phrase from the little Pythagoras: “Oh, Papi, do you expect me to believe that before, in the butcher shops, they sold you all the chicken you wanted…”

Cuba Performance

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Some days ago, at home, we watched the documentary Cuba Performance dedicated to the artistic work of the group Omni Zona Franca.  The room was filled with long-hairs, and even some foreign authors, guests of the Book Fair, climbed the fourteen flights of stairs.  Amaury, the protagonist of the film, wasn’t present because a few days earlier his son had been born and he was drowning in diapers and sleepless nights.  It was Friday the thirteenth with a full moon, but the superstition didn’t stop us from enjoying a few hours of creation, freedom and relaxing.

The director of the documentary, Elvira Rodríguez Puerto, lived for weeks with Eligio, David and the other artists of Alamar.   Thanks to this close interaction, she manages to show us the mix of poetry, painting, zen and graffiti with which these talented autodidacts have filled the streets of the planned city of the “New Man.”  Dysfunctional and stigmatized, this unique eastern town is now a place where few want to live, filled with repetitive, identical concrete blocks.  Amaury lives and makes his art there, a large black man, he strolls with his miner’s hat and flowing tunic.  He manages to involve the neighbors in his performance art, making them forget the empty bags they bring back from the market and helping them loosen the rictus of incredulity with which they observe everything.

Our life is full of performance, and of performance art, loaded with symbolism, even  though we seem totally linear and mundane.  That is the sensation I get listening to the philosophy of this smiling poet who walks with the support of his wooden staff.  To wait for the bus, to stand in line for a single bread ration, to trade goods on the black market, to build a small raft to go to sea and even to pretend that we agree, are part of a script we have performed for decades.  Yet we yearn for the fluency and ease, the happening and spontaneity with which Amaury moves, so far from fear, conventions and controls.

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Take me sailing on the wide sea*

In a land surrounded by water, the sailor is the link to the other side, the bearer of images that the islander cannot leave to see.  In the case of Cuba, someone who works on a ship can also buy abroad many products unavailable in local markets.  A kind of Ulysses who, after months at sea, brings home a suitcase full of trinkets for the family.  The sailor who brings household appliances destined for the black market in the hold of the ship, makes fashions arrive earlier than the bureaucrats of domestic commerce had planned.

For several decades, to be a “merchant sailor” was to belong to a select fraternity who could go beyond the horizon and bring things never seen in these latitudes.  The first jeans, tape recorders, and gum that I ever saw in my life were transported by these lucky crew members.  The same thing happened with digital clocks, color televisions and some cars that bore no resemblance to the unattractive Russian Ladas and Moskoviches.

For the relatives of a sailor, the long months of absence are softened by the economic balm from ports-of-call with cheaper prices and better quality than in Cuban shops.  When they reach the age to retire and drop anchor, then they can live on what they’ve been able to transport, and the images that remain in memory.

I am telling this whole story of boats, masts and the informal market because of Oscar, the husband of the blogger of Sin Evasion, whom they are threatening to expel from his job as a sailor.  The motive: Miriam Celaya’s decision to drop her mask and to continue writing her opinions with her face uncovered.  The punishment: leaving the family without the support it relies on.  For her to navigate freely on the web, he may lose his chance to sail the waters.

*From the children’s song: Little Paper Boat

Hourglass

Every day I run into someone who’s been disillusioned and has withdrawn their support for the Cuban process.  There are those who turn in their Communist Party cards and emigrate to their married daughters in Italy, or those who concentrate on the peaceful work of caring for their grandchildren and waiting in line for bread.  They shift from betraying to conspiring, from monitoring to corruption, and even change their listening tastes from Radio Rebelde to Radio Martí.  All this conversion—slow in some, dizzyingly fast in others—I sense it all around me, as if under the island sun thousands have shed their skin.  However, this process of metamorphosis only happens in one direction.  I haven’t run into anyone—and I know a lot of people—who has gone from disbelief to loyalty, who has begun to trust in the speeches after years of criticizing them.

Mathematics confronts us with certain infallible truths: the number of those dissatisfied grows, but the group of those who applaud gains no new “souls.”  As in an hourglass, every day hundreds of the small particles of the disillusioned come to a stop just opposite the place where they once were.  They slide down to the mound formed by us: the skeptics, the excluded and the immense chorus of the indifferent.  Now there is no return to the side of confidence, because no hand will be able to turn the hourglass, raising up that which today is definitely down.  The time to multiply and add passed a short while ago, now the abacuses operate always by subtracting, marking the interminable flight in a single direction.

Between the two walls

Today at 3 in the afternoon we managed to present Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo’s book.   After sneaking through the alleys of Cerro to lose the two “securities” who were following us, we ended up at the Capitol and took a bus through the tunnel under the bay.  Tension, fear and doubt joined us on our brief journey to the fortress of La Cabaña.  Orlando was thinking of his mother, with her high blood pressure, frightened by the threatening phone calls.  My mind was on Teo at his school, unaware of the fact that maybe nobody would be there when he returned home.  Fortunately, they were only ghosts.

The police operation had—we understood it a posteriori—an intention to intimidate, but there was little they could do in front of the cameras of the foreign press and of the writers who were invited.  We began, sitting on the grass, speaking with a group of fifteen people, and ended with the closing applause of more than forty.  We were surprised by the presence and solidarity of several young writers and poets with books published by the official publishing house.  Also by the attendance of some Latin American novelists who supported us with words and hugs.  There were Gorki and Ciro of the group Porno Para Ricardo, Claudia Cadelo of the blog Octavo Cerco, Lía Villares, author of the blog Habanemia, Reinaldo Escobar, blogger of Desde Aqui, Claudio Madan and others whose names I won’t mention, so as not to cause them harm.

From the other side of the street a group of persecutors was filming, with a telephoto lens, everything that happened in the green esplanade.  Several primary schools had been invited to fly kites in the same place and a raucous reggaetón started just at three in the afternoon.  However, we managed to isolate ourselves from all that and enter the door of Boring Home; to raise ourselves a few centimeters above the dusty reality of the watched and the watchers.  From where I was sitting, the wall of La Cabaña looked to me more deteriorated, full of small porosities that opened in the stone.

* To download Luís Orlando’s book, please click here

1971-2009: The Grey Millennium

The Padilla case* and its grey consequences over Cuban culture have been perpetuated more than one can believe.  Almost four decades and it seems like not even a few minutes have passed.  Authors censored, books banned and exhibitions planned for reliable writers.  Culture in the hands of the institutions and a few deciding which texts will see the light.  That one was called Heberto, this one Orlando, but on the Island where both were born, the difference is still an offense.

We still don’t know what will happen tomorrow at La Cabaña with the presentation of *Boring Home*, but those of us involved have learned something: little, very little has changed since “Outside the Game” was censored.  Sadly, we remain the same.

Below is the text Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo wrote for the presentation—most controversial—at this boring International Book Fair.

[Translator’s note: Heberto Padilla, one of Cuba’s leading poets and author of “Outside the Game” was arrested in Havana on March 20, 1971,  for criticizing the regime.  He was imprisoned until 1980 when he was allowed to join his family in exile in the United States, where he died in 2000.]

The Domestic Detectives

 Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

It could have been a title from Roberto Bolaño, the dead universal Chilean. A guy who doesn’t fit entirely within the staff of the XVIII International Havana Book Fair, within the “moral” walls of the recycled firing squad pits of the Fortress of San Carlos de La Cabaña (February 12th to 22nd, headquarters of the event).

And, indeed, our domestic detectives, no less savage than those of Bolaño, call me on the phone every hour to terrorize my septuagenarian emphysema-stricken mother. They are young men and hide behind a public telephone to practice their prophylactic syntax of: “To the wall!” If your son comes to the Fair on Monday we are going to hang him, they say, and then hang up. [click here to continue reading–> Continue reading 1971-2009: The Grey Millennium

Gratitude and request

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I don’t want to let the days go by and continue the ingratitude of not speaking of the “selfless companions” who monitor the entrance to my building.  They, with their disproportionate sacrifice in the last weeks, have managed to limit the acts of vandalism which are so common on these fourteen floors.  No one has stolen the clothes from the clothesline; we haven’t found any human excrement adorning the stairs; no exhibitionist has shown his member to some startled teenager; the dominoes table that generates so many shouts has been suspended until further notice and even the vagabond dogs have avoided doing their thing down there.  All this is thanks to the rotating shifts that two disciplined members of the Ministry of the Interior maintain—to keep an eye on me—in the lobby of my concrete block.

I just wanted, along with my infinite gratitude, to ask them, please, for a little blind eye for the illegal vendors.  We live through the same number of days without anyone—not even a distributor of cockroach poison—shouting their wares in our hallways.  I feel I’m to blame for the commercial strangulation in which the other 143 apartments are plunged, and I have to do something to relieve them.  So, I ask them, these soldiers of MININT lying in wait for their prey—look the other way when it comes to food.  This doesn’t have to become the siege of Lisbon!
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Boring home

I know of books that have stigmatized their authors and of writers who project a dark shadow over their works.  Cases where the writer is as difficult as his texts seem to raise the question, which is hurt more by the other.  Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo has been the direct cause of the fact that the stories collected under the title Boring Home were not presented at the Havana International Book Fair of 2009.   He and his mania for complicating things, of finding linguistic games in a reality that understands slogans and shouts better.  To make matters worse, he’s dedicated to stealing, with his camera lens, certain imprudent images that contradict the official iconography.  They don’t show the apple, or even Adam, just the snake.

The radioactivity Orlando gives off stopped the presses, scared off the editors and keeps some acquaintances from greeting him in the street.  His name disappeared from the list of writers promoted by the official institutions and was removed from the catalog of this Fair.  However, the nutcase Lawton managed to print his book and now wants to release it. We, his friends—other excluded people—have decided to join him in the alternative launch of his writings on Monday, February 16th at three in the afternoon, outside the fortress of La Cabaña.

Except for the threats, all this could have taken place with a little group sitting on the grass, talking about a published book.  Since yesterday, an email* is circulating on the intranet of the Ministry of Culture, warning us of various reprisals for the alternative release of the stories.  Intimidating calls, accusations of being employees of the Empire—how unoriginal they are!—and even veiled warnings about being beaten up.  All this has raised the profile of the release of Boring Home beyond anything we were looking for, giving the greatest prominence to the presentation of a banned writer.

We will be there, we will see if they let us leave.

*Email text:  Errors in spelling, writing and people’s names are from the original.

I’ve heard a there’s a message circulating, by email, promoting the presentation on this coming Monday, the 16th, outside La Cabaña, of a book by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, and that it will be presented by the infamous and counterrevolutionary blogger, Yoanni Sánchez, who is well compensated by the empire.

A few months ago a photo of Pardo Lazo also circulated, masturbating over a Cuban flag, an act that outrages all the sons of this country and of other latitudes because this is an insult to a symbol of the country. His literary work is little known, however this fact was disclosed as part of the propaganda against Cuba.

Pardo Lazo has become a puppet at the service of Yoanni and her clique.

I don’t think they would carry out this stupid activity, to do so will give them a fright like that I’ve read in the “summons,” and I’ve also had news of some disagreeable surprises they are going to find there.