Sunday, December 19, 2010


The word "legacy" can be applied to several areas. One of them is that history which creates us, as who we are. Our culture and traditions passed on to us by those who came before, leaving a definite imprint on our lives. What happens when this continuing line is broken? Those who follow the break point lose much.  

I have often thought about the concept contained in the word “legacy”. Those of you who have read these entries from the beginning know that, outside the occasional meandering, my thoughts tend to focus on events of a lifetime. Many come from those memories which make growing up possible. In the full sense of the phrase. Times which despite all the issues lived or, perhaps because of them, have deeply etched a life story into the psyche; in other words, what makes one whatever one is today.

What makes me think this? It is neither depression nor the beginning of a bout of melancholy. The cultural story-line of a family should not end with any one individual, especially when there are children who follow. No matter what circumstances may be, that line should be continued with each generation being able to add its own chapter and leaving the door open for the following ones. In my case, my belief is that this continuous line will, sadly, end with me. If circumstances had been different and on a more normal plane, this would not be the case. We (family) would most likely be in Cuba, my children having gone to the same schools to which I went, and through the same cultural learning; also enjoying the guidance of grandparents, uncles, aunts and the company of many cousins and friends who would have been, themselves, the sons and daughters of my and their mother's (whomever she may have been) friends, thus continuing the story while having a chance to create their own as part of this ongoing line.

Whenever there is the need, I can think back and am able to surround myself with my family's stories and memories, and these have an anchoring effect on me. They are a reminder that regardless where I may physically or inimically be, or what I may be living through at the time, my mind and a heart can reach back more than 4 generations and benefit from this accumulation and wealth of emotions, thoughts, teachings, and just plain living and survival.

For many of those who come to this country, there is a feeling that many of our customs and cultural basis become eroded within a system and structure which demands that all be set aside in the pursuit of an ever increasing income requirement. Our children become less interested in the family history and in the “old country”; for them, it is more important to pursue their own issues within their own circles and thus, begin a new “story line”. When these differences are greatly enhanced by a divorce or parental separation, then they become more defined and underlined. There is an additional incentive not to become overly concerned with the family history of the parent who became separated from the unit. In my case, this has come to be so. Interestingly, the mother of my three younger children is herself born in Cuba. She was, however, educated within a restrictive and very judgmental system and this gave her the wrong impression that her beginnings had to be denied. So, no help from that quarter. The sad part is that her own family goes back several generations in Cuba, and many rich traditions were lost in this exchange.

My First Born (I don't think she took too kindly to being labeled "Oldest Daughter"...) is, on the other hand, very interested in the family history and whatever bits of information can be passed on to her. She tells me she has read every post and enjoys doing so. Especially when these relate to my earlier life and to any type of stories relating to the family.

In a way I believe that these posts along with a couple of other projects which I am (too) slowly developing, will become a sort of legacy. Perhaps these will allow my own children to get to know more about their roots and yes, about their father as well. Each generation will indeed write their own story line, this is the way it should be; however, it is my belief that when this is done within a continuum, it will make more overall sense.

What do you think?

Be Well... Be Back!!

Friday, December 10, 2010


In my childhood, there were defined rules of behavior. Children were children and not "young adults"  Therefore, each person(s) would do whatever it was that those of the same age would do. And, every once in a while, a pesky child would have to be removed and/or kept away for a while. This is where the concept of "detente" would come in. It usually worked...

Back in my early days, in the sunny and beautiful island of Cuba, I was raised with teachings which I have, in latter years, understood to be an eclectic mix of many of the old time customs coupled with a, for the times and place, forward looking philosophy of life.

However, there was “DETENTE...” Literally the word's translation means “STOP”. For me, as a five year old, it meant something entirely different. As a child, my luck was riding high. What to many in our then society would have been a “disgrace”, for us became a blessing. My sister and I lived with our grandparents as a result of the divorce of our parents. Beyond the love and care our grandparents always gave us, we had an extra grace: my great-grandmother (mother's grandma) lived with us as well. Dearest “Abuelita Irene”, Granny Irene. Years later, whenever I saw “Beverly Hillbillies” on TV, I would see “Granny”, and think of my own granny for, at least physically, there was a strong resemblance: small and frail looking (but far from being so), always neatly dressed in a long period skirt and white, starched blouse, her hair in a tightly pulled bun and her intelligent and always smiling blue eyes framed by, what else? Granny glasses.

Since she was always at home, she became my port in any storm, and there were many!! She was always ready with a hug, a smile, a word of encouragement. Such as it could be told to a 5 or 6 year old boy, who was always flirting with trouble. I do not know how old she was then. My own grandmother, her daughter, had been born around the turn of the century. My best back looking guess is that Granny Irene must have been around her mid 70's or so at the time of these happenings.

But... what did she have to do with “detente”? You may ask. Well, we have to understand what this word meant in the context of a 5-6 year old in my family. You see, whenever a child was becoming more obnoxious to his/her currently accompanying adults or whenever those adults in nominal charge wanted to have some time off, or wanted to go out without the joyful company of said child, one of them would turn to his/her charge and with the sweetest smile say: “dile a abuela que te de detente” or, go ask granny to give you detente. At this point, the unsuspecting 5 year old (namely: me) would go to Granny and ask for the aforementioned “detente”. Granny would then proceed to put my head on her lap, cover my eyes and begin to soothingly speak to me.

Of course, while this happened my mother or grandparents would sneak out to wherever they were going. Usually, when I realized what had happened the tears would begin to flow, along with the corresponding tantrum. Granny would take it all in stride and we would usually end up in a parlor game or in some story which I guess was loosely based on her own experiences. A six year old today would fall for this little scheme maybe once. The second time would not work. I was an innocent in an innocent age.

On the other hand, those detente moments have been imprinted in my mind and heart, putting Granny's presence there until the day I die. She was a sweet and loving lady, but with a very well defined backbone. During the few years I had the fortune of having her company, she told me many stories and taught me to begin to understand the concept of patience and the fact that, much to my dismay, I was not the center of the world. Everyone needed a little space and respect. Along the way, she also gave me a lot of love.

Granny, wherever you are, I hope that Our Loving Father is giving you all the "Detente" He can muster.

Back soon!!
Until then, Be Well... Be Back!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sex and The Mingle Guy

I am not sure what brought this one on. Being over 60 (although fairly"liberated") has allowed me to live in simpler times, when intimate experiences were just that: intimate. The concept of physical love was to be respected, looked forward to and cherished. I'm not saying "virgin until wedding night" The Good Lord well knows that after three marriages, what is expected of a relationship is the ability to share and to truly enjoy the other person's love, company and offering of her (or his, as the case may be) physical love.

Everywhere one looks there is a veiled and/or very direct reference to sex. As human beings we are fast becoming a pack of wild dogs, being reduced to smelling the other animal's behind, so as to know whether or not an invitation will be accepted. It seems that more and more whenever two people meet, the immediate concern is “will he/she be good in bed?” and “can I get him/her there tonight?”. The idea of spending some time getting to know the other person has been relegated to a lesser priority in the pursuit of instant gratification.

An admission to be made: I belong to the “old” generation. Meet her, by chance or by choice, talk (remember that concept?), get to know one another, establish a base relation and then, take it from there.

As I sit here writing and listening to Simone (actually a stream in the background) sing some of her/his best love songs, of which there are many, I think I may influenced in what I'm writing. But, no matter what the influence may be, the base feelings or beliefs cannot be changed that easily.

The sex act is overrated. This is just a physicality which may last for a while. Pitifully short for some of the more selfish kind. Then, after the required comment of “You are the best, baby” (that's now a two way requirement, you know) each goes his/her way, swearing that next time it will be better.

Sensuality is far more enjoyable than sexuality. Bringing all of our given senses to play brings the opportunity to enjoy a simple look... or a light, brushing touch of that beautiful skin... Sensuality is about the senses which allow us to exist on this plane of ours. They heighten the moment's feeling and slowly bring all into a beautiful crescendo of joy, emotions and pure living.

The senses allow you to not only look, but see the other person as her face and expressions change in her enjoyment; to hear and to intently listen to what is being said and meant in response to your comments... it is the taste of want and fear as your lips brush together for a first time... the smell of not only the perfume which she may have dabbed on, but of the body itself; a special aroma which only belongs to that person and which you could identify anywhere. Last... the touch... first as slight brush of fingertips on her face and her arms...followed by other, more telling and demanding caresses... When the moment of sex is preceded by this, then it becomes an explosion of pleasure and joy to be truly shared by both.

As I said before by itself, as a simple physical act... overrated. As part of a loving experience, nothing could top it. I truly hope that it makes a comeback as the joyful, beautiful experience that it can, and should, be.

Back soon!!

Until then, Be Well... Be Back!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Catholic Schooling and then Some...

My early years were spent at catholic school in my hometown. Those were good, simple years which served as a very strong base for later and latter years. It was not all smooth sailing, there were some bumps on the road. But all was worthwhile; albeit from a much later in life vantage point. Including some very different schooling and some very difficult and rough teachers..

Wherever the Spaniards colonized, it seems that the crown flag was being carried by a priest, followed by a number of acolytes carrying swords. This has resulted in an, until recently, unchallenged tradition of Catholicism in all our Spanish speaking countries. As a child, I dutifully went to Sunday mass. Usually to the 11am mass, since this was the one favored by my friends, including all the girls with whom one would want to speak. Remember: in the 1950's, Cuban society was a very structurally rigid living thing. It watched you, made an opinion about you an freely disseminated the same through its ready made blabber network, with not much thinking about the consequences.

The idea of boys and girls having free time together, was anathema to this established set of rules, closely watched by the catholic hierarchy and its schools. Therefore, we had to constantly figure out ways to be able to be with a girl, even for a very innocent and friendly exchange. And, usually, it was just that. The paranoia was such, that girls were taught not to wear shiny black shoes since these could conceivably reflect an image of their legs and, The Good Lord forbid, even further up the anatomical chain. This would be disastrous and would not speak well of that particular girl. So, the girls would wear almost anything but and, of course, we boys would all wear black and very shiny shoes and do our best to try to get as close to the girl as possible. In the end, unless you wear a very wide and flattop size 16 shoe, nothing really shows. Score one for purity and decorum.

The Cathedral church in my hometown rests on a well raised platform overlooking the main plaza (where does it not?) this plaza being named after the Father of our Independence, Jose Marti. The church occupies one half square block and it is considered to be one of the best examples of asymmetrical bell tower construction. As for myself, I just think the builders ran out of material and made the second belfry smaller than the first. Of course there were other churches in town; no well respected Latin American town of Spanish ancestry could have less than a baker's dozen worth of churches. However, The Cathedral was the place to be and to be seen. Also, this is where attendance tickets were given out after the main masses. Yes, attendance tickets. We, who went to catholic schools,had to turn these into our teacher on Monday morning's catechism class. Those who did not,would receive a demerit in their weekly report. Three of these and your parents would have to come in and convince the director as to why you should be allowed to continue attending classes at this school, since obviously you did not have the honest desire to comply with their teachings. I know, I went through this little scenario. Mind you, in every other category at school my grades were always within the top 3 of a class of about 30 students. But that Sunday mass was all important and had more weight than the rest of the study subjects put together. Interesting, huh?

In my case, matters were more interesting because my grandfather who was my actual guardian and father figure, was a 33rd degree Mason. This was anathema to my teachers, most of whom were ordained brothers just one step removed from being full priests. I had a lot of what was considered a “rebellious attitude” by my teachers and was treated as such although this would only refer to the religious teachings, and nothing else. I do not hold any long standing grudges against them; on the contrary, those years were good, simple and relatively happy years. The general teachings at that and another catholic school where I briefly attended, did form a solid base which allowed me to grow as time went on and I was exposed to many other life teachings which were never part of that original curriculum.

It has been many years since those days were lived. Much has happened during this time and yet, my basic religious beliefs are still there, although somewhat changed from those days. One thing that can be said is that the overall curriculum taught to me during those years prepared me to tackle school in the US, and do so from -actually- a vantage point. I was well prepared and even with or ahead of most of my classmates at the high school I attended. And this was a very good public school, with excellent teachers. So, score one point for the catholic schools and for their very demanding schedules. As long as you brought them that bloody attendance slip.

Back soon!!
Until then, Be Well... Be Back!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Of Black and White

I debated whether to cut this in half or leave it whole. I think it reads better whole. It is a stamp from a time long gone and, perhaps not to return. These are childhood memories which some may find difficult to accept. However, they are true and are a part of my life and my cultural heritage; it is all here to stay... Hope you like it. 

It is a summer afternoon in the early 50's. I guess I was about 6 or 7 years old at the time. A lazy island summer afternoon, with warm breezes coming in from the bay, the sun in all its splendor, and nothing to do. My grandfather was a truly good person (I know, he put up with me!!) and let me not forget my grandmother, who was a blessed lady with the patience of Job.

Anyway... he was not a follower of any one religion (being a 33rd degree Mason) but a fervent believer in all spiritual things; being in Cuba and close to the heart of the AfroCuban religious mysteries, he was a follower of these as well (not including ritual killings, which he abhorred). I remember there was a crucifix which was always kept in a glass of water. This sat on top of the dresser, in my grandparents' bedroom. I always asked about it and not much was said, until eventually my mother broke down under my constant asking, and told me the story behind the crucifix. It turns out there were originally 4 brothers and not just 3 sisters born to my grandparents. The oldest and only boy, Jose Jr., died at the early age of 8, having been infected with tuberculosis.

This was close to the beginning of the century (last century, that is) and there was no cure then known for this disease. The crucifix which was on the dresser was the one from his casket, having endured by then some 35 years of constant submersion. What happened to this piece? I'm glad you asked. After my grandfather's death in the early 70's, my mother found a way to get it to me with a note telling me it had been his wish that I had it. It now sits on my night table, without the water glass. It is old and corroded, it is missing one of the hands and getting on to being close to 100 years old. More than this, it has become the only physical memory of my grandfather I have, since the few other memories (photos and all) I had were lost along the way, as were most other worldly possessions I had. Every once in a while I take it out and just hold it gently in my hands; when I do this, it brings me back to that bedroom of my childhood, those days of so long ago when life was generally simpler and calmer.

Having set the stage as to my abuelo's beliefs, we will now go on the title subject, which is also a part of this complex web of cultures and lifestyles which are found throughout the Caribbean. No, it has nothing to do with being black or white. It has all to do with the manner in which the “Santeros”(priests and priestesses of the AfroCuban religions) dress most times and especially at the time during which they are performing any type of ritual.

That afternoon to which I make a reference at the beginning of this post my grandfather came into the house; when he saw I was there and doing nothing much, he asked me if I wanted to come with him. As usual, I just got up, and said “let's go”. Little did I know at that point that this would be a very different side trip than others taken with him. We actually walked, since our destination was but a mere 7-8 blocks away. When we arrived at an old house, not very different than our own, I asked:

     - “Abuelo, donde estamos?” “Where are we, grandfather?”
  • No te preocupes, estamos en un lugar amigo”. “Don't worry, we are amongst friends”.
My memory of this place is very unique. We entered into an older home, with high ceilings and all painted in light colors; the friendly and comfortable manner in which my grandfather was received told me this was not his first visit here. Going through the entry hallway, we came to a beautiful interior patio, full of blooming flowers and shrubs and crisscrossed by a couple of pathways, like a giant “X”, with a water fountain at the middle intersection. Having crossed to the other side of the patio, we entered into a main room, painted a brilliant white: floors, walls, ceilings... everything! There was a high chair at the opposite end of a long white table, also white and, sitting there, a young mulatto lady perhaps 23-25 years old and, to me at least, very beautiful. She was fully robed in white, including a white turban wrapped around her head and part of her face. We sat at different chairs around the long table and I remember that the woman at the head of the table (well, I was about 7or 8 and she was about 25; this made her an older woman... perceptions do change over the years, don't they?) had a very serene expression on her face, her eyes closed. Almost resting in anticipation of a hard couple of hours coming her way.

I learned from her mother (and my grandfather) that she was the “Medium” and that we were going to participate in a “seance”. Her job, as a sensitive, was to allow spirits to cross into this realm and, physically, use her voice to express themselves. I came to understand this was a crucial situation since the spirits who did manifest were not always benign and when a negative entity took over, it was along and difficult job to help the medium regain her own presence. At some later point in time I actually witnessed this process, but this day was to be my introduction to this sort of mid-world. I realize that some who may read this will scoff openly but, don't negate what you have not experienced.

There were voice changes and facial expression changes; I was close enough to this woman to almost touch her. Yes, I was young and impressionable but I was also open eyed and totally curious, more than afraid. And this was 1953 or so, no fancy electronics were available, and the table was not covered in any way. It was all bare and visible.

I do not really remember the subject matter; my memories are more of the time and place and what happened there in general terms, but this was to be my introduction to the world of “espiritismo” (not to be confused with “Santeria”) or, communication with spirits via a “sensitive”. This was a time which mixed traditional Catholicism, hard core Afro-Cuban religions (including Yoruba/Santeria), a nascent Christian movement, and the aforementioned “Espiritismo”. From all these mixes, we had many people (including many educated ones) who went to mass and confession on Sundays, while they had an altar at home dedicated to one or more “Saint(s)” and who also participated in these seances every so often.

This introduction was indeed interesting; it was good enough to open the eyes of this catholic school educated young man to the understanding that there are other issues and viewpoints. It was a good training ground which opened the way to become a much more tolerant individual over the years. I think this was my grandfather's intent, and no other. Sometime I will tell you about that séance during which a very negative entity came into the body of that young medium.

Until then, Be Well... Be Back!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

FILLINGS... literally.

Illness, work and a very tired and unwilling computer have kept me away for a while. This particular entry truly marks the reason why these entries have been renamed "Pandora's Other Box"... not much in the way of a continuum, but that is the way it goes sometimes. I'll be back soon. 

More than once I have come to sit at the computer in order to put down whatever comes to mind. Guess what?? Not much of any import has come to the fore and, as I sit, the blank page looms as large as a big wall and the ceiling fan, which is on most of the time, little by little begins to look like a helicopter which unsuccessfully is trying to take off.

I'm not sure there is much to write about. There were elections and the party in control managed to barely hang on to the senate. This was a known issue, before the fact. All the polls indicated that the government was going to take a shellacking and, so it was. There are some issues that the political pundits and wannabes tend to overlook. Amongst them, is the simple fact that the culture in this country is not, never was and I do not think will ever truly be, socialist. Yes, there are socialist pockets, especially in the major cities. But the facts still show that most of the medium and smaller cities and towns, as well as in the farm country, the leaning is definitely right of center. The political history of this country will show this to anyone who takes the time to look. Yes, there have been left leaning governments before but, in almost all cases, the Congress and/or the Senate have been voted back to more conservative hands in the following midterm elections. So, nothing new here. Those who make it to the top tend to forget what it was that put them there and, eventually, they become the ones who are voted out. In many cases, like it happened in these elections, by the same folks who originally voted them in.
What else went on this week? It seems Mother Nature did not forget the folks in Haiti; as a follow up to the earthquake, she sent them a hurricane but, in a last moment reprieve -sort off- put the brakes on and downgraded it to a tropical storm. No matter... in a country where the word “forest” became a historical term to be taught in school, 10 inches of water can be as devastating as a 125mph windstorm. Rivers of water, rocks and mud came down the mountainsides and flooded the cities and the areas where some 1.25 million people had been or were still living in tents. As a commentator put it: “These are not expedition quality tents, able to withstand the fury of Mother Nature.” “These are, at best, makeshift tents which are holding on to a little stick for dear life”. And this stick is barely shoved into a harsh, hardened ground. The worst part is that these inundations and the subsequent still water pools may help propagate different types of infections, including cholera, which has already caused over 400 deaths.
The first cool weather spell we have had this year, finally came in. This past week we even had a couple of nights during which the thermometer flirted with the freezing mark. I cannot say it bothered me. On the contrary, I love cold weather. 'Smatter of fact, one of the issues that bothered me while living in Miami was the constant summer. It is great if you are a tourist coming in to enjoy the beach but to live there, constantly baking in the sun, makes it a difficult proposition... at least for me. Yes, I was born in the Caribbean, but I spent the better part of my life in the northern half of this country, getting used to the actual weather changes, the colors of the different seasons and the pure enjoyment of living in a cyclical world; not a linear one where, for most of the year, it remains the same. Sometimes dry and sometimes wet, but always hot. To me, the Fall is the most beautiful of seasons. Not only for the obvious, which are the colors splashed throughout the landscape, making it look like a mad painter's palette. Fall represents the end of a life cycle, which brings with it the promise of a new birth, just around the corner. I think Mother Nature renews herself and takes on new life and vigor, in order to bring us a wonderful life explosion in Springtime.
Guess what? It has been now over one week since this little piece was started. Not a continuum here... mostly random thoughts and I am not sure they are really worth putting up, but I will.
I spoke with my older daughter last night. It had been a few of weeks since last time, we were in touch. She headed down to my younger daughter's wedding in Miami,an event I missed -in more ways than one- but the reason for this may, or not, be put in here sometime in the future. Anyway, much to my surprise, it turns out she has read every blog and was last night chastising me for not having written “much” in such a long time. So, to the sound of ND's “America”,I will dutifully post this entry and quickly set to prepare the next one so it will grace this column this week-end. I hope this will mollify the feelings a little bit.
Be Back! Be Well!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

White Butterflies and Beautiful Hands.

These past few days we have witnessed the saving of 33 men, who had at one time been presumed dead some 2,000 feet under solid rock. Many people were responsible for this miraculous rescue. From the rescue workers and technical people who opened the way, to the miners' families and the people of a country who, simply, refused to give up. All the way up to a recently elected President, who risked all his future and his political life when he made a decision that had to be made: everything we have, as a country, will be committed to get these men out. He had the wherewithal to do this; by doing so and seeing it through, he has won the respect of many other politicians, most of whom would not have had the guts to do this. I truly salute him for it.

Like most people who have access to a news canal, during the last couple of days I have been riveted by the in-your-living-room-story of the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped 2,000 feet underground for just over two months. The fact they were all found alive after 17 days of having had no news from them was a miracle. Adding to this some additional 45 days of being interred at 2000 feet, culminating with an unselfish multinational effort to rescue them, to then see each one come out from the entrails of mother earth is, to me at least, proof that there is a Holy Father watching over us. There has been a lot of faith and endurance and in this case, literally, faith has moved a mountain.

Each and every one of the individuals who came out had family waiting for them. Each and every one has a story and a history. The moment in which the first miner came out was a magical moment. To see that Jules Vernian capsule being first swallowed by a hole in the earth more than half of a kilometer down, to have it then come out of that deceptively small hole topside with its most precious cargo intact, gave proof that we can indeed achieve all we may set our hearts and minds to do.

Of all the stories and tales heard and sights seen, there are two which really have made an impact, at least on me. Franklin Lobo, a former great member of the Chilean National Fútbol team (circa 1980’s) gave us a story to ponder. After his glory days he suffered from a malaise which affects many sports figures: mismanagement of funds and subsequent bankruptcy. He went to work in the mines in order to feed his family and pay for his daughters’ university. On August 5th at 2000 feet underground, while driving a truck with supplies, he tells that he saw a white butterfly flittering around. He was so impacted by this totally improbable sight, that he stopped the truck and got out to see if he could get a little closer to this little white miracle. I do not know if you believe in Angels but as he got out of the truck, the shaft ceiling fell down unto the road not 10 meters ahead of where he had stopped. In other words, had he not seen the little butterfly, he would have been under the falling rock. A miracle?

Another picture that stays in mind was of a son, named Daniel, coming out of the capsule into the arms of his mother, Doña Alicia. There had been other reunions before and there would be others afterwards. But none like Doña Alicia. When the camera focused on her expectant and very anxious face, the age lines on that weathered visage became a beautiful, surreal map of a life full of hardship and sorrow, yet full of love and faith.

At this moment her shining, beautiful eyes, looking at the capsule as it was hoisted from the little hole, simply told of her granite strong faith, about to be rewarded. Her hands came to her face; hands which would never win a beauty contest, except with that son who was now rising from the supposed dead. Calloused, rough and lined with much hard work. They simply told a story of a dedicated, humble woman who had raised this and perhaps other sons and daughters to be decent, hard working individuals. Those calloused hands went to her eyes, wiping away a tear of relief and joy; what might have been an unthinkable tragedy, became a moment of immense rejoice; a new birth.

As her son came out and into her arms, those hands could not do enough to wipe his tears, to caress his face, to tell him that all was all right now; he was with her again.

I simply watched and a tear came to my eyes also. Gratitude to Our Father, who will watch over us and will often remind us that He is there, that He will extend a helping hand when there is faith and trust enough to believe. In this case, faith moved a mountain; most of us who watched and many who did not, have much smaller mountains to move but often lack the determination and the true faith to do so. We get stuck under the weight of our own despair, forgetting that if we really try, yes, we can!! What a lesson to have learned!

White Butterflies and Beautiful Hands… just two of the 33 stories we learned about during these last two, wonderful, telling days.

Be Well… Be Back… 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Elementary My Dear Watson.

Often I come up with a title which is conducive to thinking outside the usual channels of what has been done on these postings before. The above title is one of these. While pondering as to whether to erase it or not, this memory came to mind and it sort of fit the bill. This was a true gathering; in the end, all remained as friends as we were in the beginning. Perhaps it is just a microcosm of one of the issues that ails us in general: intolerance of that which disagrees with what we think is right.

Sometimes a title is written on a blank page and then, as one looks at it from every possible angle, the question begs: “What do I do with this heading now?” The easy way out is to erase the line and then write something which suggests its own title. On the other hand, one can stare at the page long enough and hope that a trail takes shape and tells one where to go (in a literary sense please!). That is exactly where I am right now. Unfortunately not much is coming along.

Let’s see… As those who do read these occasional outbursts know, politics is a topic which I usually leave to the pros who dedicate their heart and soul (and often conscience) to it. However, ideology is something else altogether. This is a topic which truly takes my attention and into which my mind, tongue and virtual pen can take a plunge.  Sometimes it is fun to throw a concept out into a group and watch as it is taken, bent, chewed and spit out. Usually, the processed results are very different than what the challenge might have been intended to develop.

Recently, a group of friends of different persuasions got together for an afternoon of conversation and peaceful repartee. We had music, some light drinks and some food to keep the souls in fighting shape. We talked about a host of issues. Actually many topics were non issues: books, some poetry and even T.V. shows went into the mix. When the conversation was at its most lively, the topic of immigration was thrown into the ring. WOW!! There was a loud silence as to what to say. Some of the people who made up the group (such as me) were immigrants and some others were US born and bred. Some were conservatives and some called themselves liberals. So, the hook was thrown and, after some hesitation, the fish took the bait.

What do I call myself? I am registered as an independent voter. Over the years, I have voted both democratic and republican. I can probably be best described as a “right of center”-but-willing-to-talk-and-listen person. I don’t condone fanatics of any kind, nor do I believe that one should let someone else dictate his or her thoughts and actions. IN this particular instance, those who were born here were somewhat hesitant to throw in their thoughts, in fear of antagonizing friends or of hurting their relationship. In other words, another despised concept: “Political Correctness” reared its ugly head. I threw my hat into the ring by expressing my belief that immigration laws are totally inadequate as they stand (I do think this) and that these laws have to be revamped and applied to all immigrants equally; and yes, I include in this the Cuban migrants who are coming now for purely economic reasons, as every one else is.

At this, everyone talked and several discussions were started. Some were a little ugly and some were more intelligent. The ones which were ugly stemmed from the fact that both sides of the “conversation” were unwilling to let the other side express their thoughts and the reason for these.

I then became an observer of sorts. Watched those from different ideological camps as they discussed, and something interesting began to develop: Not to say that the conservatives were totally open to the opposing ideas but the “liberals” became actually hostile when an individual with opposing ideas actually made sense with what was proposed and he or she had no rebuttal. At this point insinuations as to the other person being “biased”, against other races, against humanity, etc. were used as a barrier against further comments which they could not answer logically. A friend’s old saying came to my mind: “we are all democratic until the other person disagrees with us”. How true this is.

Intelligent discussion should be at the core of our intellectual society. This is the means through which we can achieve change, improvement and correction of errors made. Any level, from the basic family unit to the very complex national politics will benefit from open and honest discussion. And the phrase “open and honest” must be understood and applied evenly to all involved. We must start from the base that no one is absolutely right all the time; if we do not agree on a subject, the pros and cons have to be put on the table, analyzed and then proceed to restructure the original concept, incorporating different ideas, to where it can bring the most benefit to all concerned.

Simple societal logic? I think so; but then, all things logical are often ignored by individual interests.

As our friend Mr. Holmes would say:

“Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Be Well!! Be Back!!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Birthday To Remember.

Some days are very important in one's life; sometimes without even knowing so. This was one of those days. It marked the beginning of the end of a life and the eventual start of another one. I would never get all these people together again. In fact, after my departure, only one of them would come again into my life along the years.

It has been quite a while since this particular folder and pages were open for the last time. No particular reason, other than a slew of issues which have come up, all at the same time, it seems. Some were resolved, others were not. Some will have an additional impact over the next few months, while others will linger on for a much longer time.

Nonetheless, the idea with this particular piece was to create a time capsule and travel back to one very special day in my life: the last birthday I would spend in Cuba (albeit unknowingly so); my 15th birthday. My parents and grandparents knew this would be the last such opportunity and that most likely, once I left, our paths would not cross again in this life. I didn't know this.

There were several, parallel happenings at the time. Remember: I was turning 15 and this meant I knew all there was to be known; my girlfriend, who lived one block away, was forbidden by her parents to be with me… our friends would aid and abate our meetings at their homes, away from her mother’s prying eyes.

There was one especial item that was to happen that day: my older cousin, who had a red and steel gray 1956 Olds convertible, was to come by the house and, as a special birthday treat,  allow me to drive it (remember: this was Cuba) and our path would take me under my girlfriend’s balcony more than once. I couldn’t wait!!

He finally arrived around 2:30pm and I was ready and waiting. As I went to the door, my mother said: “No puedes salir ahora!” – “You can’t go out now!” WHAT!!!? Said I, in a very soft and tranquil voice. I continued: “I HAVE BEEN WAITING ALL DAY FOR THIS AND YOU KNOW IT AND I’M NOT STAYING I’M GOING” I continued in the same calm voice…

As I turned to go out the front door opened and my uncle and aunt, along with my other cousin, came in. They were followed by my grandfather and grandmother (my uncle’s sister), who had arrived at the same time. This stopped me. These two (grandfather and uncle) had not been seen together for a long time, ever since they had had a major fallout; something that had to do with the factory. I have come to find out what it was over the years, but this is not the place or time for airing the family dirty laundry.

After the welcome hugging and kissing as well as the birthday wishes were done, I once again turned to the front door. This bloody door seemed to get away from me every time I wanted to get to it. Again, as I headed there, the bell rang insistently. “Damn… What is it now?” I asked myself. I opened the door, not very kindly and with a belligerent stare on. I was ready to mow down anyone who would stand between me and the red convertible.

-      “SORPRESA…!” –"FELIZ CUMPLEAŇOS…!!!”                                     “SURPRISE…”  - “HAPPY BIRTHDAY…!!!!!”

This was shouted by a choir of about 20 of my best friends, including that young lady who supposedly would be waiting for me to go by her balcony… They were holding a huge piñata in the shape of a giant shoe. Yes, my feet are big. Now be quiet and read on!!  I just stood there, dumbfounded. Understand that in order to have a party in Cuba at that time, a lot of preparation had to have taken place: permits from the police for a gathering, special permits to have the ingredients for the cake as well as the sodas, and many other issues had to be dealt with. Someone had been preparing this for a while and yes, it had been my mother along with my grandfather. I understood then why she would not allow me to go out.

After this, we went into the inner patio of the house and had a birthday party to end birthday parties. Literally. I do not remember celebrating another birthday party since then. Photos were taken and I did have them in my possession until in one of the many moves that economic instability forced on me (us) over the last few years they were lost. It was an afternoon to remember and to be enjoyed. In the end, I got to drive my cousin’s car for a little while. We played music, we danced, we sang the happy birthday song several times, presents were given and opened and a great time was had by all. My girlfriend and I had some precious moments to ourselves. Ironically, out of all the people who were there, she is the one person who has been a non-constant constant in my life. We have come into contact a few times over the years; we are in contact again now and have remained good friends in all the ups and downs.

September 19, 1961 in Cruces, Cuba. A postcard date to be remembered.

Back Soon!!  Be Well!!.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Sunday Afternoon in Hialeah... Ca. 2004

In 1962, when I lived in Miami (well, in Camp Matecumbe… close enough) the feeling was we were living in a semi-abandoned city. It was a playground (along with Miami Beach) for the rich and the not so famous; mostly Canadians and Jewish folks from New York who came to their winter condos from the northern cities, escaping from the harsh December and January weather. What is now the three block stretch colloquially known as “Miracle Mile”, the traditional business and restaurant heart of Coral Gables, was an expanse of empty store fronts where grass was growing from the sidewalk cracks. Back then, Miami ended at about where the University of Miami is on US1 (purists will argue that it ended well before that corner since this site sits in Coral Gables, a different city altogether).  From there on, it was a road full of teepees and kiosks selling cigarettes, oranges and little plastic gators along with cold sodas to those on their way to the Keys.

The migrating Cuban families who made it then to Miami and chose to stay there, settled primarily in a 30-40 block square where Calle 8 (8th St.) was the heart, and which became known as “Little Havana”. Calle 8, in the 70’s, became a second downtown to Miami and this downtown became much more active than the original. Of course, the little bistros, restaurants and store fronts reflected the Cuban culture, language, cigars, black coffee and all. Miami had yet a few years to go before becoming a financial center to the South American business community.

Hialeah was then a small farm town, some 20 miles north of Miami and this little town became the imagined retirement mecca for many of these families, who saw going to a small house in Hialeah on the week ends as going to a country home, where all weekday worries could be left behind. Little by little, more and more Cuban families bought a small home in Hialeah, making it bigger and bigger as the years went by. It eventually became a place to call home, not just a “vacation” destination.

Jump to the year 2004.

Hialeah is now home to 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation Cuban (and many Central American) families. Far from being the “hazmereir” (laughingstock) and the butt of many jokes it was for many years, it has become a city which continues to grow and is a vibrant place, having become the 5th largest city in Florida; no longer just north of Miami (yes, geographically it still is) but a continuation of Miami, via the Palmetto (and other)Highway(s). It fully preserves the Latin flavor, which includes a lot of loud Spanish conversations, music and food.

Sometime in the middle of that summer, my wife and I decided it would be good for the two of us to have some time apart. There had been many pressures and much financial loss along the way. I called my brother and asked whether he had room in his apartment for a wandering Cuban and he, always present, said: - “Ven p’acá muchacho”. Loosely translated this would be: -“What are you waiting for?” So, for the first time, I had a personal taste of life in Hialeah. My brother and family lived then on a second story condo, in a subdivision which consisted of rows of buildings, which “faced” each other’s back, with a not too wide street in between. On the back of all the apartments there would be a porch which, inevitably, would be facing the porch across the way, making it ripe for nosing into everyone else’s life.

On my first Sunday as a newly minted Hialeah resident, my morning reverie was seriously jarred when, from the downstairs porch came the sound of a very loudly played song. Not necessarily a lullaby, but a fast tropical rhythm. When I questioned my brother, his response was:

-“No te preocupes… ese es Julio, el de abajo, y todos los Domingos saca su discoteca… pero tiene buena música”.

-“Don’t worry, that’s Julio downstairs” “Every Sunday he brings his collection out … but he has good music”.

Indeed it was Julio and indeed the collection of music was pretty good. Then, as I sat having coffee and enjoying the music (what else to do?) I heard what seemed to be a wailing scream coming from the porch across the passageway:

-“NENITAAAAAA!!!”  “ESTAS AHI?”   -“Nenita, are you there?

I ran out to the back porch, expecting someone bleeding from a knife stuck somewhere in her body screaming for help. No such animal. It seems the lady from the corner unit across and to my left was communicating with her neighbor, two doors down and to my right. Little modern nuances such as the telephone were totally ignored by these older ladies, for Nenita (I assumed it to be her) came out to her back porch and in no less of a wail answered her friend, who then proceeded to ask her to come to her place, because they were getting lunch ready.

In the meantime, our friend Julio was getting his music on and also his outdoor grill, while drinking a “few” beers. Seems that every Sunday, along with the grill and the music, his family came on to his place instead of the local park in order to have a “picnic”. Needless to say, the music became faster and louder as the afternoon wore on, and the smells of a Caribbean grill mix came also on. I almost signed on as a long lost cousin.

This was Hialeah then, in the summer of 2004. I expect it has not changed much. Yes, you can still get good Cuban food and coffee along Calle Ocho in Miami, with its many local restaurants, clothing  stores and “santerías” -stores dedicated to articles for what may be considered “witchcraft”- but what to us, is only a means to get your loved one to love you back. Or to have someone you truly dislike lose a limb or some such. Take your pick; it has always been said that the line between love and hate is very slim… indeed.

While the better known Calle Ocho and the surrounding area have almost become a place for tourists Hialeah, still "a few miles to the north", has grown and matured into the real thing, becoming and remaining the last true bastion of “Cubanism” in Florida; perhaps the US.

Be Back!!  Be Well!!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

More Postcards from the Past

In our memory banks there are places and then, there are places. Looking back, it seems amazing that one city block (exactly 100 meters) would carry enough weight to remain attached for a lifetime. But so is the case for that block of Boullon (Calle 25 today) Between Santa Cruz and Sta. Elena. My world's center for most of the first 15 years of my life.

“Paco… dame una Materva, que me muero del calor”… “Paco, give me a Materva (local soda); I’m dying from the heat!!”

This would be a very common cry during any summer afternoon. The place where this cry was usually heard would be the corner “bodega”(store): combination soda fountain, hangout, quasi bar for the afternoon home returning working crowd and general food store. In Cienfuegos, Cuba in the 1950’s, there were no supermarkets as we know them here; instead, it was the corner store, much like the small towns across the USA. In our case, we had two from which to choose: the store owned by Pedro y Paco, or a similar store at the other end of the block. We were loyal to Pedro y Paco; it may have helped that I could buy stuff and put it on the proverbial “account” to be paid at the end of the month by my grandparents. Also, there were two very cute girls across the street from this particular store. Two sisters, one of whom would eventually be known to the music and film world as Maria Conchita Alonso. Besides these two stores, we had the local butcher as well as the small “quincallitas” (housefront kiosks) where small things could be bought for pennies. My favorite small thing to buy here would be flavored ice cubes for one penny. My bacteria defense was much higher then than it may be now.

This was a one block neighborhood in a small city of neighborhoods, where I lived for most of the first 15 years of my life; in the same house where my grandparents had lived since the 1930’s. I knew all the neighbors: on our left, Carmen and her daughter Maria, then in her 20’s. Maria would come to our house to use the phone, always almost wearing summer light clothing. I would do all I could to make sure she would position herself against the light… It was great viewing, and she knew it; and enjoyed showing off a pretty decent body.

Across the street there was a subdivided old house, where in each room there would be a small family living. The communal water source was at the center of the inner “courtyard” and the common showers and bath were at the end of the courtyard. Always yelling and screaming at each other and amongst themselves (this was Cuba, no?) and also always ready to bring out the chairs and guitars and start a “guaguancó” (Impromptu get together to create music, sing and dance). One of the neighbors in this communal house, occupying the largest room (subdivided) and having an outside, direct entryway, was “Varón”. That was his nickname; he worked at my grandfather’s factory (as had his father) and lived with his wife Martha, his daughter Bárbara and his son Juan, who was my age and a good friend.

Around the corner was Lolita, my tutor. A spinster, around the ancient age of 45 (ah, just in the flower of youth m’lad!!. My, how perspectives change over the years). Every afternoon at precisely 4:20 I would walk down to the corner, turn left and go to the other end, where she would be waiting for me in order to review the day’s learning, homework and all. Every day from 4:30 to 6pm. Of course, everyone was out on the streets at the time either playing or talking, so I would get to see them all and say “Hola”. This daily trip expanded my own neighborhood to that other block as well.

On our right, there were two “next door” neighbors: The outside door was a double entrance, with one door leading upstairs to an apartment and the other one leading to the house directly next to us. In the upstairs apartment lived a mother with her two daughters: Maria and Irma. Both in her late 20’s and with a very checkered lifestyle. We became friends and I believe there is something about them somewhere else in these writings. Needless to say that they showed me more than  I could ever show them at the time.

Our other neighbor lived through the other door with his wife Caridad. They, especially she, became very good friends with us. I slept over there once in a while and shared much with them. Ma. Caridad could have no children and we were handy and very likeable (why are you snickering?). Actually, this friendship did eventually allow us to leave the country, since our next door neighbor had the misfortune to become the president (only one besides Mr. C. himself) of the island under Castro. We were fortunate, having him there allowed me to leave the country; he was not so fortunate. Being the president at the time, meant being responsible for all the failures of the de facto government (Castro) and he paid with his life for this privilege.

One block in a small neighborhood in a medium-small city. A lifetime of memories.

Be Back!! Be Well!!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Immigration Issues.

Illegal immigration is a difficult topic. Understanding the hell from which most of these families come, does not help decisions to become easier, either way. Our country is a magnet to many who live in hopeless despair but in coming here illegally, they themselves are contributing to the lessening of the number of opportunities which may have been available here. The legalization of migratory status is a multi-layered issue. Like peeling an onion, every layer reveals other layers beneath and each one provides issues and possibilities of its own.  It is difficult to agree on a course of action which is fair and just to all concerned but we as a people must do so for the survival of our own country and society.

This is a topic which has kept me on an ideological balance beam for sometime now. I am an immigrant, first generation. I was born elsewhere and was accepted to come to this country some 48 years ago. I did not wade into a river, nor did I stuff myself in the back of a cattle or produce truck in order to cross the border. My citizenship was earned by joining the armed forces at a time in which most of my peers were desperately claiming their non-citizen status in order to get away from the possibility of having to go to Viet Nam. In the end I served elsewhere and did not go there either, but the fact that I did serve, opened the doors to my claiming legal status in this country which I love and to which I am grateful.

Other members of my family (brother and sister) have also come and, as I did, benefitted because incoming citizens of our country had (still do) a preferential treatment. As you might know if you have spent some time with the other entries to this blog, due to business I traveled in many parts of the world and have lived in at least three other countries at any given time along the last 29 years. This has given me an opportunity to directly live with local laws and get to know how immigrants are treated in many places, especially those from where a vast majority of illegal immigrants come to the US.

Most of the people who come here, risking their lives to do so, are fleeing from a disastrous economic climate in their own societies. A situation so bad in some cases, that many of them don’t eat a meal every day and have little hope to better their lot in their lifetimes. They hope to be able to find some work here, send money back to their families and eventually (in most cases) return to their country of origin.

Immigration laws vary by country, based on ideology, culture, socioeconomics, personal security and other parameters of daily living. In most “third world” (including most Latin American countries) countries, illegal immigrants are treated like rats, jailed (often being physically abused) and, if lucky, sent back to their country of origin (and not by chartered plane).  Where we are located, we (USA) are directly in the path of millions of people who get up every morning with little hope to do better than yesterday, and yesterday was not a good day. Is this a condition which should allow every one to come here as they please? No it should not. Yes, we are a country of immigrants but, most have come in under the protection of a system and a law, with some order in the process. Those who come in without any kind of legal procedures or protection tend to undermine society, the laws, the process and, in the end, the system on which we all depend.

Do most of the immigrants come to do a decent day’s work? The answer is a definite yes. There are also those (a definite minority) who will try to break down society’s rules even further by living on the “other side” of the law, and in the process give all immigrants truly a bad name.

I know several couples, many with children who were born in this country. They have spent many years here, have built businesses and have beautiful homes. All without legal documents.  Did they take this opportunity away from a US citizen? No, they did not. They did what many US born have chosen not to do: study, work hard and long, save and invest in the economy.

Am I in favor of illegal immigration? No, I‘m not. Am I in favor of sending all these good people back, taking away a lifetime of work and dedication and breaking families? No, I am definitely not. There is a large group of immigrants who have actually contributed to the growth of this country. And not all are Hispanics. There is also a group who in their own countries never respected the laws and they are not willing to do this here either. Do we need them here? No, we do not. Do we need an immigration reform? Yes, we do. The leaders of this country have been wrestling with this for some time now, all afraid to put the collar on the lion. The result is a mixed match of state laws and regional ideas while very little is heard from the central government.

This is a social issue, is a human issue, is a cultural issue and it is definitely an economic issue. You could even say it is a survival issue. It should NOT become a political issue, used only at the convenience of those who are seeking the vote of a segment of the population. As a country, the USA has had very lax immigration laws; this is something that cannot be changed overnight. But change it must. There will be a reaction to the change; there will be difficult times but in the long run, a change will allow our society to stabilize an area of real concern and it will also allow for a more orderly and peaceful reception of those who wish to come and seek an opportunity better than the one they have at home.

And, yes, perhaps the governments of these poorer places can right their own wrongs and restructure their own societies for the better in order to allow the common individual a chance and an opportunity to have a decent and dignified life for him/herself and their families. Then, their own citizens may actually stay put, work and help their own country  grow.

Be Well..  Be Back!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's The Economy, Dummy...

Good people often finish last. I am not sure who coined this phrase but, in these times on uncertainty within  the economic world, it certainly is brought home by stories that are lived by good people who are known to us and close friends. Apparently, they have done all the right things, with all the wrong results.

In one of the recent presidential campaigns (believe it was one of the Bushes) the title phrase above became a war cry. However, ever since I have had a memory of things financial, this has been the war cry or, simply, the cry of most people. In the early 1970’s, with the gas crunch (which has now become a constant gas squeeze) the price of gasoline went from less than a dollar to well over 3 dollars. All this, in less than 6 months. We did not know it then, but this crunch was the end of economic wellbeing in general, and the beginning of a very long US economic slump. There have been temporary upswings but on the average, it has been a continuing downward slump which still goes on, despite the claims to the contrary contained in the texts of government press releases.

Our economy had been based on things mechanical for several generations. Big, bigger, lower, wider were the call of the car marketing hypes of the 50’s through the early 70’s; even when these longer, lower, wider body cars were sitting at the dealer’s while the egg like civics were selling faster than they could be brought into the showrooms. US made cars lost sales due to their gas guzzling engines, more and more workers were laid off over the years, factories closed and many related subcontracting firms went out of business. Some of these last might have survived, but the farming out of their potential business to other, cheaper labor markets, did them in. This same behavior was reflected along the length and width of several of the primary economic generators of the US. The overall result has been catastrophic for the average American family.

In the long run, it has taken at least three generations (how are they measured, anyway?) for our economic gurus (read: shakers and movers) to finally accept that our structure needs to be retooled, redone and re-launched, despite the political cost it may carry; I personally believe that the political cost of having done little or nothing over the last 25 years should be accounted for, and the price collected from those elected leaders who should have responded. The changes being attempted now will be late for many who have lost everything along the way; it may also be late for those who are in their last throes, trying to salvage what little they may have left in order to maintain a semblance of a life, as it may have been known before. Many regular, normal every day families have been victims of this downturn and, unfortunately, there will be many more before an honest upswing happens.

A couple, friends of ours, who came from abroad several years ago are a typical case. As many who have come over, their goal was to work, accomplish and live the American dream. They had an older child who now is on his own and then had two other children, the older being now around the age of six. The father went to work in what seemed to be a steady position and made enough money to allow his wife to work part time and devote most of her time to care for the children. After years of employment, about a year ago, all that had been done went into a downward spiral. He lost his job, and has been unable to find another that pays him at least as much as unemployment. 

In the meantime, his home mortgage goes into a default mode and they desperately apply for assistance to the different media that supposedly will help them restructure their loan. The bureaucracy then takes over between the bank and the government entity in charge of these issues, and it all goes into a black hole from where it is impossible to get a defined answer. The bank people blame the agency and the agency people, of course, blame the bank. The real issues are actually a lot more ridiculous, including the fact they have been told -in writing- that all is OK and approved, to then be told that it is not. In the meantime, this family has been told their home is in the final stages of foreclosure and that they will have to leave unless the full amount of back payments due is made. The sum is more than what they can put together so we can assume their home, representing years of hard work and much sacrifice, will soon join the hundreds of thousands of other homes which will be dumped on the “foreclosure” market. What about this flesh and blood family? We will all try to help them and make sure they do not end up on the streets. Not the dream they envisioned; it is more a common nightmare.

“It’s the economy, dummy”… It would sure be good and different if some of the so called leaders who issue these “election year war cries” and loudly proclaim them for all who can vote to hear, would tighten their own belts and fight for the changes which might actually lessen these losses and suffering.

Be Well!!   Be Back. 

Doña América and other memories.

I know she has already been mentioned somewhen along this line of sometimes unhinged memories as they relate to moments of my life , but y...