Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mafalda and her gang.

Sometimes cartoon characters take on an existence of their own and become bigger than life itself. This was the case with Mafalda, an Argentinean born character which has influenced at least two generations in many countries down south.

The US has “Peanuts” with Chuck, Linus and the gang. In Latin America it has been Mafalda and her group of friends; these include a social butterfly, an avowed capitalist, a dreamer and the main title character, who practices a fairly straightforward life philosophy; sometimes caustic, sometimes very direct, but always on the  money. Born from the pen and drawing board of Quino, an Argentinean writer creator, this small group of indeterminate age children were (and still are in many areas) the stuff which parents used to teach their own children, since it was a world seen from the eyes of the children themselves; a world where adults were present and dealt with, but on the quasi-outside of the children’s own reality.

Why put Mafalda on this blog? You may ask... Well, you have a point. As it happens, we have been watching a lot of her lately. We gave up on regular TV for a while, and have been watching movies every night, something we had not done in a long time. At the end of the "main" show, somewhere around 11:30 or so, we put on the cartoon movie of Mafalda, which has become our sleep inducer. Not because it is boring; it is really not. It is more an issue of having grown accustomed to her comments, as well as the comments of the other members of the group, often funny and stinging at times. When you pay attention to them, you begin to see yourself and many of your adult friends very well represented in this small microcosm. We usually fall asleep with a smile on our faces. Besides, my wife is a life long fan of this little girl and, she, like many other parents has fed them to her own children as they grew up. In fact, this CD was sent to her as a gift by her son. Probably as a funny reminder, not knowing it would become a nightly staple.

Why would I write about this girl? How could I not, when she can bring out, with one comment, all the frustrations that homebound women may have. She “innocently” looks at her mother(quiz... what is the mother’s name?... Only a true Mafalda-ite will know) who is cleaning dinner dishes, and tells her: -“Don’t worry ma...I will go to school and then to University, get a career and have a productive life, not get stuck in a boring treadmill like the one you live in” Then, while her mother goes into a funk, she goes to bed thinking she has done her daughterly duty by reassuring her mom about her study intents.

Then, there is Little Susan (Susanita), whose only goal in life is to marry, produce a “beautiful son who will become a rich doctor or lawyer, or some such...” She is very concerned about status and income, and is the typical social butterfly. When Mafalda asks her about helping the poor with food, shelter, clothing and an education, her response is somewhat “Scroogean” –“Why do all that?” she asks, -“all we have to do is hide them from view”. Do you know someone who might think like this? Yeah, I thought so and I also know one or two.

Manolito’s father owns a grocery store, and this child’s only dream is that when he grows up he will become a very important executive, at the head of a very important chain of supermarkets. While other children draw small trees and little houses at school, he draws a Peso sign. His opposite is little Felipe (Phillip), a dreamer full of fantasies. His hero is the Lone Ranger, and he goes about on his stick horse trying to right perceived wrongs. In one scene, he sees Manolito going to deliver some goods, and creates a fantasy that the grocery box is a stolen gold box. He goes up to Manolito and says –“I am the Lone Ranger and in the name of the law, hand over that box of gold” Manolito looks at him and, shaking the play pistol says, “Mr. Lone Ranger, I am Mr. Rockefeller, nice to meet you” As a defeated Felipe goes away, you hear him mutter: -“Aw man, there is always a capitalistic fool who is ready to destroy the best fantasy”.

There are many entries like these, and each one is more to the point than the one before. It really makes one think, after the smile fades away, that these cartoon children do indeed represent a true section of our adult society. We can be egotistical, greedy and often are willing to step over (and on) others in order to get whatever we may believe is our right; usually without much thought about that someone else. And yes, there are those who, like Mafalda, will try and do their best in order to help others. Unfortunately, much like in this cartoon world, these are the few.
As for Mafalda... her creator, as he was nearing his own end, decided he did not want anyone continuing the life of his make- believe cartoon girl. He did not want to chance her beliefs being changed in order to continue to make money, but wanted her to remain as she was: a symbol. There was only one way to accomplish this so, she died in an accident in her last strip. Believe me when I tell you she was mourned like a real person might have been.

As is often said: "words (and drawings) are mightier than the sword"

Be Well..! Be Back..!!


Friday, January 7, 2011

Of Grandmothers

When I look back through to the beginning of these posts, it seems to me that what started as some sort of a private, personal rambling, has taken on more of a public persona; it has acquired a life of its own going in several directions, including some which have actually surprised me a little, to say the least. Also, there have been communications from different corners, from people who I never anticipated reading these, much less regularly. Thank you for taking the time and for letting me know that you enjoy these entries.

On to the title topic... many of my family members have come and gone on these notes. Yes, even my grandmother (maternal, since I never met my paternal grandparents other than in pictures and much later in life). She deserves much more than a passing glance; after all, she had the patience of Job with me; I was not an easy child; in this country I probably would have qualified as a problem child in my early years. I could be described as having a short attention span, being an overachiever, and not easy to control. Often, too smart for my own good... No comments please, I am still told this today...

Abuela Carmen was my mother’s mother. Due to circumstances already plastered elsewhere in these notes, she was also acting as my second mother throughout my childhood. In fact, most times, because my own mother was working both at her profession as well as at that complicated work of getting her second husband (not an easy task in an environment which to begin with, shunned divorce) my grandmother was the person with whom we were.

How can she best be described? A relatively young woman, probably in her early fifties during the time span I remember. She was a very patient individual, willing to listen and also to be the recipient of many complaints and much abuse… She administered and managed the household, while my grandfather was outside, doing his thing(s). She was quick to forgive and quicker to hug and laugh. In the summertime, she was our nanny whenever we went to the club and this was every day, since we were both (my sister and I) on the swimming team. She would camp on a beach chair, under an umbrella, by the side of the pool. From her command post, she would then watch us as we did our laps and our sprint practices, always paying attention while holding a sideways conversation with her cronies, most doing the same thing. Then, after we all had lunch at the club cafeteria, she would become the dreaded guardian of the clock, holding us back from the water for one hour… exactly. Not one minute more, and never one minute less…    I could not quite understand what that last minute meant regarding our life or death if we entered the water… “Cuidado, que te puede dar un espasmo”… “Careful, you could have a conniption (whatever that is)” was all she would say… To this day, whenever I go into a pool or body of water, I am very careful to eat a light meal beforehand. I don’t want an “espasmo”…

Then there was my grandmother the music lover. She had been, I later learned, an accomplished pianist and piano teacher in her youth. I learned to dance with her. She loved all the salon dances; her favorites were the waltz, and the pasodoble (from Spain, sort of like their foxtrot, very lively and fun) the foxtrot, the danzon (Cuban rhythm, circa 1890’s), the cha cha, and the bolero. She would take me by the hand and show me the steps, dancing around the living room with me (I guess I became a sub for my dear grandfather, who was handed two left feet at birth) and having a grand time. How could I not love her?

Then there was grandmother at Christmas and New Year… her favorite times, since the whole family would be together. She would preside over Christmas Eve dinner, followed by midnight mass; a family (minus my grandfather) tradition. On New Year’s Eve, she would hand out grapes to everyone, and had us ready by midnight. We had to pop a grape in our mouth and eat it, every second for the last 12 seconds of the year. She would mark the time with a ladle hitting the bottom of the pail. Of course, her timing might be a little off, since by then she had downed a couple of manhattans and some cider. For a person who normally did not drink, this was enough to make her a little tipsy.

There were more somber times, after the new regime came in. I am sure she knew this could spell the end of that family she had worked so hard to nurture and maintain; her lifetime accomplishment. There were times I would come to where she was when she was not expecting me; I remember seeing traces of quiet tears and somewhat red eyes. After my aunt left with her whole family, in mid 1961, her easy laugh became harder to come by, but her loving ways were always there and ready for us.

I saw her last on the day we left Cienfuegos, to go to Havana, on our way to the US. We stopped by Cruces, where my mother and stepfather lived, because she was going to stay there to take care of my two baby brothers. We said good bye at the door, her eyes reflecting a deeply seated sadness and anguish which I could only begin to understand after I had my own children. She knew this was not a simple so long, but a goodbye. Most likely, not to cross paths again on this life. The weight of this family break up, coupled with the changes in her society, her friends and her way of life was too much for her. That quick mind which always was ready to laugh and to make you feel good, gave way to a mind lost in its own world, safe from any more losses and any more suffering. I never saw her like this, and I am glad. She was special, and she continues to be so in my own mind and heart, where my memories always give me that young grandmother who was always there for me.

Back soon!!

Until then, 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...