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Luis Cino

[1] [2]Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 30 March 2015 -- Despite the fact that on the three occasions I ever visited Varadero my experiences were not particularly pleasant, that beach – which today for the majority of Cubans is almost as inaccessible as Waikiki – occupies a special place in my nostalgia.The first time I was at Varadero was in November, 1970, during the Festival of the Song. I was 14 years old. I went with two friends who were more or less my age, fleeing our homes and playing hooky from school, chasing after the Spanish pop groups Los Bravos (without Mike Kennedy), Los Angeles and Los Mustangs. They weren’t really our top favorites (at the time when we had still not resigned ourselves to the break-up of The Beatles, we were crazy for Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Santana) but in the ideologically pure Cuba of the period, one could not aspire to something greater. Plus, we wanted the performances by those Spanish groups – despite how abysmally bad they sounded – to be our own version of Woodstock.But the police rained on our parade. We ended up in a police station that stank of shit and where from a poster on the wall the Commander in Chief [Fidel] stared at us, scowling. I don’t know if his angry expression was due to our insolent ideological diversionism, or because the 10 Million Ton Harvest [3] failed, and he had to devote himself to turning the setback into a victory at the expense of Nixon, whose name at that time was invariably spelled with a swastika in the newspaper, Granma.By throwing us in the pokey, they almost did us a favor, because outside it was as cold as Kamchatka [4]. The bad part was when the officers started to talk about cutting our hair, and we heard one say, "These guys are gonna get scalped." Luckily these were no more than idle threats. They let us go at the Cárdenas terminal with the warning, “Get the fuck out here right now, Punks.”My second visit to Varadero was in the summer of 1979. I went with my wife. We arrived unexpectedly, with a few clothes in a backpack. At that time, Varadero was not only for foreign tourists. Even so, we had to spend the night between the “Park of the Thousand Box Offices” and the sands of the beach. When the police threw us out of the park, we went to the shore. We drank Coronilla brandy, made love among the casuarina trees, and later, despite the mosquitoes, fell asleep in the sand. We were awakened by the border patrol, with dogs and bayonets, who told us that we could not spend the night on the coast. We then returned to the park, sans police. At dawn we returned to the beach and, when the sun was out, got into the water to wake ourselves up.We were only able to obtain lodging (very reasonably priced) in a little wooden “hotel,” the Miramar. As old and decrepit as it was, I suppose it no longer exists.We had a great time: all day on the beach, and at night we would go dancing to the beat of The Bee Gees at the La Patana club. The only downside was the couple in the room next door. When they made love, they would screech as if being murdered. Their screams penetrated the wooden walls, as if inviting one to emulate them – or to switch partners, because with all that racket, it was as if we were all entangled together in the same bed. When we finally caught sight of them one morning at the hotel entrance, these sexual athletes turned out to be a little chubby peroxide blonde, and a skinny guy with a mustache, nearsighted glasses and the look of an official from the Central Planning Council.The third and last time that I was in Varadero was in 1986, during an excursion on a “day for outstanding employees” that my wife won at the State company where she worked. We went with the oldest of our sons, who had not yet turned three years old. All went well, until we ran out of drinking water and, while searching for a faucet where we could fill several bottles, we lost the boy’s left shoe. This was a real tragedy because that pair of Chinese Gold Cup shoes had cost us a fortune at the Yumurí store.Since that time, I have not returned to Varadero – a place at first reserved for foreign tourists and the privileged elite, and now on the way to becoming a global resort, without an identity, depersonalized, only for the rich. Or rather, what we Cubans in our indigence understand to be “rich.” I don’t want to feel discriminated against, humiliated, or to be expelled in a worse way than I was back in 1970 – keeping in mind that, in the logic of the security personnel who watch me, a dissident would be much more troublesome than a kid disguised as a hippie.Varadero, in my mind, continues to be associated, in a certain way and in spite of everything, with happiness. I don’t want to ruin that image.The first time I was at Varadero was in November, 1970, during the Festival of the Song. I was 14 years old. I went with two friends who were more or less my age, fleeing our homes and playing hooky from school, chasing after the Spanish pop groups Los Bravos (without Mike Kennedy), Los Angeles and Los Mustangs. They weren’t really our top favorites (at the time when we had still not resigned ourselves to the break-up of The Beatles, we were crazy for Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Santana) but in the ideologically pure Cuba of the period, one could not aspire to something greater. Plus, we wanted the performances by those Spanish groups – despite how abysmally bad they sounded – to be our own version of Woodstock. .But the police rained on our parade. We ended up in a police station that stank of shit and where from a poster on the wall the Commander in Chief [Fidel] stared at us, scowling. I don’t know if his angry expression was due to our insolent ideological diversionism, or because the 10 Million Ton Harvest failed, and he had to devote himself to turning the setback into a victory at the expense of Nixon, whose name at that time was invariably spelled with a swastika in the newspaper, Granma.By throwing us in the pokey, they almost did us a favor, because outside it was as cold as Kamchatka. The bad part was when the officers started to talk about cutting our hair, and we heard one say, “These guys are going all the way." Luckily these were no more than idle threats. They let us go at the Cárdenas terminal with the warning, “Get the fuck out here right now, Punks.”My second visit to Varadero was in the summer of 1979. I went with my wife. We arrived unexpectedly, with a few clothes in a backpack. At that time, Varadero was not only for foreign tourists. Even so, we had to spend the night between the “Park of the Thousand Box Offices” and the sands of the beach. When the police threw us out of the park, we went to the shore. We drank Coronilla brandy, made love among the casuarina trees, and later, despite the mosquitoes, fell asleep in the sand. We were awakened by the border patrol, with dogs and bayonets, who told us that we could not spend the night on the coast. We then returned to the park, sans police. At dawn we returned to the beach and, when the sun was out, got into the water to wake ourselves up.We were only able to obtain lodging (very reasonably priced) in a little wooden “hotel,” the Miramar. As old and decrepit as it was, I suppose it no longer exists.We had a great time: all day on the beach, and at night we would go dancing to the beat of The Bee Gees at the La Patana club. The only downside was the couple in the room next door. When they made love, they would screech as if being murdered. Their screams penetrated the wooden walls, as if inviting one to emulate them – or to switch partners, because with all that racket, it was as if we were all entangled together in the same bed. When we finally caught sight of them one morning at the hotel entrance, these sexual athletes turned out to be a little chubby peroxide blonde, and a skinny guy with a mustache, nearsighted glasses and the look of an official from the Central Planning Council.The third and last time that I was in Varadero was in 1986, during an excursion on a “day for outstanding employees” that my wife won at the State company where she worked. We went with the oldest of our sons, who had not yet turned three years old. All went well, until we ran out of drinking water and, while searching for a faucet where we could fill several bottles, we lost the boy’s left shoe. This was a real tragedy because that pair of Chinese Gold Cup shoes had cost us a fortune at the Yumurí store.Since that time, I have not returned to Varadero – a place at first reserved for foreign tourists and the privileged elite, and now on the way to becoming a global resort, without an identity, depersonalized, only for the rich. Or rather, what we Cubans in our indigence understand to be “rich.” I don’t want to feel discriminated against, humiliated, or to be expelled in a worse way than I was back in 1970 – keeping in mind that, in the logic of the security personnel who watch me, a dissident would be much more troublesome than a kid disguised as a hippie.Varadero, in my mind, continues to be associated, in a certain way and in spite of everything, with happiness. I don’t want to ruin that image.Author’s Email Address: luicino2012@gmail.comTranslator’s Notes: *The title of this piece is taken from a line in the song, Conocí la paz, sung by legendary Cuban singer, Beny Moré. Varadero is a beach resort town in the province of Matanzas, Cuba.Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison[1] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/varadero-cuba21.jpg [2] http://www.cubanet.org [3] http://faculty.mdc.edu/tpedraza/MMF-Ten%20Million%20Ton%20Harvest.htm [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamchatka_Peninsula Continue reading
[1]“The cuisine of the Chinese in Cuba: a Family Recipe Book” goes well beyond what its title indicates, becoming an homage to all families of Chinese descent.[2]Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 13 March 2015 -- During the recent Havana International Book Fair [3], although copies were available for sale, no public presentation was allowed of “The Cuisine of the Chinese in Cuba: A Family Recipe Book” (Editorial Arte y Literatura, Havana, 2014), by Ernesto Pérez Chang. Evidently, this was the punishment for his collaboration with Cubanet that the censors imposed on the writer, who has won various important national literary prizes, including, in 2002, the Julio Cortázar Iberoamerican Short Story Prize.But it is not of the censors’ mischief that I wish to speak, but of the book.“The Cuisine of the Chinese in Cuba: A Family Recipe Book” goes well beyond what its title indicates, becoming an homage – not only to Hoeng Chang and Doña Lola, the author’s grandparents – but to all families of Chinese descent who, despite material scarcities, difficulties and prejudice endured, have kept alive the traditions of their ancestors.They are recipes for almost 200 Chinese dishes, patiently compiled by the author, which provide Pérez Chang the unifying theme for this project. In his commentaries on each recipe, he gradually develops a composite history of his grandfather and of some of the more important exponents of Chinese cuisine of that Havana of the first five decades of the 20th century (which seems unimaginable without smelts, Chinese soup, and fried rice).Many recipes are taken from old books and magazines, transcribed by elders who had been cooks in the old Chinese eateries in Havana, or which the author discovered when he travelled to China in 2010, a trip he does not consider his own, but rather, “the symbolic return of the subject of that photograph that I carried in my pocket.”However, most of the recipes, and suggestions about proportions of ingredients and variations in preparation methods, come from the notations of his grandmother Lola, jealously preserved and practiced by her family throughout many decades.As her grandson Pérez Chang tells us in the book, Doña Lola was not Chinese, but rather of French and Spanish ancestry. She was from a well-off family, and caused a major scandal at the time she escaped from her family home to go live with a handsome Chinese man who sold fresh fish door to door and whose name was Hoeng Chang (but who, upon arriving in Cuba from Canton in the 1920s, changed his name to José Chang).Chang and Doña Lola passed on their love for all things Chinese to their descendants, including the cuisine – although in this regard, it was no small feat for the family to obtain, in Havana, ingredients such as mussels, ginger, celery, tofu, sesame and soy or oyster sauce.But the effort is worth it, and not only for the palate – but also for the soul and for one’s dreams, which is the most important.Pérez Chang explains in the preface, “It seemed to us all, to my mother, to my grandmother, and my sisters, that of my grandfather there would be no trace left behind, because he was a simple man, a poor man. But we did not delay in realizing that despite his poverty, he had bequeathed to us a country not only of dreams, nor a kingdom of words, but a place, a dimension of infinite flavors and aromas which we could reach just by turning on the stove and combining the ingredients in the proportions that he had taught us – every dish achieved with his mastery was a kind of return of the grandfather and a consummation of his immortality.”At times, among the steaming pots, María Elena Chang and her children and grandchildren have thought they have seen Lola and José, the guardian spirits of the home. It is comforting to know that they are always there, that they do not leave the family, under any circumstance.Author’s email address: luicino2012@gmail.com [4]Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison[1] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/361_cocina-china.jpg [2] http://www.cubanet.org [3] http://www.authenticubatours.com/cuba-festival-tours/havana-book-fair.htm [4] http://translatingcuba.commailto:luicino2012@gmail.com Continue reading
[caption id="attachment_38387" align="aligncenter" width="600"] [1] A joke making the rounds: Napoleon said, “With Granma, nobody would have found out about my defeat at Waterloo:” (Photos: Internet)[/caption]Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 26 January 2015 – “Cubans are seeking a new conception of the press within socialism. All that can be predicted, without a doubt, is that it will be a democratic press, lively and original,” wrote Gabriel García Márquez [2] in 1975.That Gabo -- always so unreal, so optimistic when it came to opining about his friend Fidel Castro’s Revolution. Such a quest does not show signs of obtaining results in any near future. It is easier to imagine the ascension into the heaven above Macondo of Remedios the Beautiful with a band of yellow butterflies*, than to reap, within olive-green socialism a journalism free of shackles, sparkling, with bubbles that the Genius of Aracataca** would foresee 36 years ago.Even Gabo himself had to admit that the Cuban press “seemed to be made more to conceal than to publicize.”Another brilliant writer, who could never be said to be complicit with the enemies of the Revolution – the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano [3] – was more precise in describing the Cuban press when he said that “it seems to be from another planet.”The official Cuban press, which manipulates, distorts, enshrouds and when it speaks truths, does so only halfway, only as far as is convenient, has nothing to do with the real Cuba. It seems to speak of another country, a virtual one, where everything functions in a manner quite distinct from how it is in reality.[caption id="attachment_38388" align="alignleft" width="259"] [4] Fidel: Omnipresent in the official Cuban press[/caption]In recent years there has been much talk about the need to create a credible journalism, more analytical and critical. The task turns out to be a chimerical one. The press is forced into being the concubine of Power. They endowed it with the chastity belt of “informative politics.” Journalists are “ideological workers,” forced to constantly reiterate their loyalty to a stubborn and myopic regime which, as it racks up failures, divorces itself evermore from the interests of the people.On repeated occasions, the “fearless leaders” have referred to “the need to reconcile the informative politics of the press with the interests of the country’s direction” and they have warned that “disagreements can be of form but never of principles,” because above all, “the defense of the Revolution” must take precedence.Thus, official journalists find themselves confined to the sad role of mere propagandists and mouthpieces of worn slogans. Even those more honest among them, who can’t seem to hide their doubts and dissatisfaction, only go so far as the “danger” signal if they allow themselves to express any complaints during debates about informative politics. They all know how to have it both ways.When, at the beginning of his mandate, General Raul Castro attended the VIII Congress of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), he said that some of the problems discussed were “older than Gutenberg.” But they are going to be resolves… and I say no more,” he said, smiling enigmatically. And he left everyone “in that.” Like halfway to an orgasm.[caption id="attachment_38389" align="aligncenter" width="640"] [5] "To taste a better cup": What a farce! Cubans drink coffee mixed with ground-up dried peas.[/caption]The years have passed and our problems have not been resolved. To the General-President’s exhortations and chidings to official journalists have now been added those of Vice-President Díaz Canel [6]. The result: Nothing. The official media -- except for issuing some occasional critique that goes no further than the medium levels of government -- continue to be as irrationally exuberant and attached to the inertia of the sermon as ever.The idyllic and bubbling journalism inside olive-green socialism of which Gabo dreamed, now almost four decades ago,The bad news, as General Raúl Castro has warned on various occasions, is that we should expect neither miracles nor magic.Translator’s notes:*Refers to Remedios La Bella (“Remedios the Beautiful”), a female character in García Márquez’ novel, “100 Years of Solitude,” who resides in the town of Macondo, and who one day ascends into heaven, body and soul. Remedios is in love with a man who is constantly surrounded by a band of yellow butterflies.**Aracataca is the birthplace of García Márquez.Related articles: Al Qaeda Coffee [7]; Coffee with Roasted Peas [8]; Out of Coffee [9].Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison[1] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/prensa-oficial-5.jpg [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriel_Garc%C3%ADa_M%C3%A1rquez [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduardo_Galeano [4] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/prensa-oficial-fidel-raul.jpeg [5] http://translatingcuba.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Trabajadores.jpg [6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miguel_D%C3%ADaz-Canel [7] http://translatingcuba.com/al-qaeda-coffee-rebeca-monzo/ [8] http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-coffee-made-with-roasted-peas-yoani-sanchez/ [9] http://translatingcuba.com/hey-mama-ine-are-we-out-of-coffee-too-miriam-celaya/ Continue reading
HAVANA, Cuba- Some years ago the American sociologist George Ritzer adopted the perspective of the “McDonaldization of society.” Within this, and thinking of the Disney parks, he coined the term, “McDonaldization of tourism.” It would be interesting to know Ritzer’s … Continue reading Continue reading
HAVANA, Cuba, January, http://www.cubanet.org – General Raul Castro’s speeches are becoming increasingly puzzling. One does not know if he is playing at being Chinese, or playing Russian Roulette.  Before, at least, he used to save us the fright, by letting … Continue reading Continue reading
Havana, Cuba, November, www.cubanet.org — With regards to the absurd and prudish limitations imposed on some students by the Communications Faculty, Elaine Diaz recently wrote on her blog:  ”. . . the policymakers are scandalized by things from the students … Continue reading Continue reading
HAVANA, Cuba, October, www.cubanet.org – Should the controversial law be annulled or changed? No Cuban who emigrates does so for purely ‘economic’ reasons. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens, persecuted or not, live freely in the U.S. thanks to … Continue reading Continue reading
HAVANA, Cuba, October, www.cubanet.org – Che Guevara used to say that the history of the Cuban Revolution shouldn’t be written by others who were not its protagonists. The writers, whom he didn’t consider revolutionary enough, did not inspire confidence in … Continue reading Continue reading
LA HAVANA, Cuba, September, www.cubanet.org – I must confess that after the episode of the North Korean freighter, Gan Chong Chon, it is increasingly difficult for me to imagine what might be behind each of the surprising happenings of the … Continue reading Continue reading
Havana, Cuba, September, www.cubanet.org – Lately, with guys over the age of 40, in addition to “Tío,” “Puro” and very rarely “Señor, the younger generation calls us “Papi.” As sexists as we still are — sorry, Mariela Castro –  it … Continue reading Continue reading
To the wall! To the wall!* HAVANA, Cuba, March, www.cubanet.org  – Luis Cino Alvarez –   A worthy poet who has known how to confront decades of ostracism, Rafael Alcides, wrote, “Regrets and hopes for a new jailed writer.”  After … Continue reading Continue reading
HAVANA, Cuba, September, Luis Cino, www.cubanet.org — Those who restored capitalism in Russia rose from the ranks of the Communist nomenklatura. High-level bureaucrats, officials and generals made immense fortunes appropriating the assets of the state during the process of economic … Continue reading Continue reading