Monthly Archives: June 2011

Looking for a brand new definition of fun

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The American Bison was almost driven to the point of extintion… Fun fact? Not if you ask the Bison.

Photo taken at the Turtle Back Zoo. Happy Father’s Day!

Judge this book by its cover

My book of poetry Los culpables [The Guilty] features on the cover artwork by Cuban visual artist José A. Vincench. Vincench lives in the island and, since 2005, has incorporated onto his work iconic images from the Cuban Black Spring of 2003, when 79 peaceful dissidents where arrested throughout the island and sentenced in kangaroo court trials to prison terms ranging between six and 28 years. Their images are among the many things that the Castro regime, for obvious reasons, would rather keep away from the public.

I invite you to visit the artist’s page and, while there, peruse a series entitled “Abstracto parece pero no es” [It seems abstract, but it isn’t], where you can find the faces of several Cuban political prisoners, as well as images of the human rights activists group Ladies in White during their pilgrimages through Havana’s Fifth Avenue, or in front of Santa Rita’s Church, the point of departure for most of their walks demanding the release of their unjustly incarcerated loved ones.

The artwork that I selected to illustrate this text (as well as the cover of my book) is entitled “The things I can tell you with Rachel Whiteread, what History hasn’t told you” (2007). I chose it not only because I found it visually appealing, or because it was made out of a collage of books; not even because the face it portrays is very similar to that of XIX Century Cuban writer and patriot José Martí, a feature that all my fellow countrymen have pointed out. The main reason it graces my book is that “The things I can tell you…” is a re-creation of the portrait of a specific human being, a Cuban political prisoner. It is the face of Dr. José Luis García Paneque, who was unfairly incarcerated during the Black Spring of 2003 and whose sentence, after seven years behind bars, was commuted by the Cuban regime to a forced exile to Spain.

Other than in the cover of my book, a canvas version of Vincench’s work is featured at the entrance of my home. It is the first thing people see once they cross the threshold. And, thus, here’s a likely first question: whose portrait is it? Not intending to be heavy-handed, that is a natural segway for the “repression in Cuba” topic, which means that at the end of the visit, the non Cubans walk away with a clear picture of the hellish conditions faced by anyone willing to think for him or herself while living in Cuba. Selecting that image for the cover was not fortuitous. The first cycle in the book carries the Kafkaesque title of “The Trial” and consists of “Spring with a broken corner,” a 23-sonnet suite named after the aforementioned and unfortunate Black Spring that inspired it. One of those poems, XVIII to be precise, earned me the friendship of Ernesto Ariel Suárez, after appearing in “Fe de erratas (link in Spanish)” [The Corrections], an article of mine published in May 2003 in the online edition of the much-maligned by the Cuban government and Madrid-based quarterly Encuentro de la cultura cubana [Encounter of Cuban Culture]. Some of the political prisoners from the Black Spring were charged with having published their writings in Encuentro…. Five years later, and perhaps to close a cycle, Los culpables received a laudatory review (link in Spanish) in that publication, signed by Jorge Salcedo. (A side note: alongside Suárez and Salcedo, among other human rights activists, I was a member of the organizing committee of the campaign #OZT: I accuse the Cuban government, which demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in the island. Both, Salcedo and Suárez, went on to become dear friends of mine. And not only in Facebook. From here, once again, I salute them.)

And now you know: in this occasion we cannot apply the age-old axiom that states that appearances can be deceiving. Whether you buy the book or not, whether you read it or not, whether you decide to ignore it or you prefer to keep it by your night table, friend and foe, please be kind enough to judge Los culpables, The Guilty, also by its cover.

An unusual photo of a(n) (un)common Havana

My friend Santos Rodríguez visited Cuba recently. He walked the streets of Havana (the real city, not the one that appears in touristic pamphlets) with a good camera, a good eye and a happy-trigger attitude: ready to press the shutter whenever there was a scene begging him to grant it the immortality of the still shot. He took amazing (and heartbreaking) photos, which he was kind enough to share with me and I will publish here, giving him his due credit, to illustrate some of my musings.

After this preamble, let’s get to the photo that inspired this note. Santos was wandering around Centro Habana (I’d like to think he was nearby the corner of Belascoaín and Neptuno, my former address, the two streets that name my blog in Spanish), when he witnessed an unbelievably unusual setting for a country kidnapped by an ideology that brags about the high literacy rate of its population and, still, the only things it produces by the truckload are ruins and exiles. On an unspecified corner on his way to nowhere in particular, abandoned in a trash container, he saw loads of books. This shocked him. But the main course was yet to come. As he approached the container to zoom in, one book caught his eye. He was surprised that nobody had bothered to cover that book by placing it under one of the many volumes that surrounded it. “Alexis, I swear I didn’t touch anything; I just took the photo,” he told me. And we would have to believe him. It is hard to imagine a Spaniard rummaging through Cuban garbage.

Poetic justice does exists. Thanks to her, the generations of Cubans who grew up forced to scream everyday at school “Pioneers for communism: We will be like Che!” can see here the final destination of the Writings and Speeches of the blood-thirsty argentine:

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(Photo: Santos Rodríguez).

The Return

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Cuban poet Arsenio Rodríguez dreams of returning to Cuba, although one can never really swim twice in the waters of the same river. The dream he describes is a recurring nightmare of the exile. All of us, without exceptions, are doomed to return to the island on the heavy arms of Morpheus.

(Photo: Santos Rodríguez).