Archive for October, 2008

The old man, the Internet and me – Part Two

October 29, 2008

I don’t think it’s necessary to list the difficulties that impede access to the Web for the ordinary citizen, but I will just point out that they are greater than those that prevent access to the sea.  It is a current topic in the blogs and we’ve even created our own, Potro Salvaje [Wild Colt], where with humor we laugh at our limitations.  I don’t think it’s possible—without stating the obvious—to describe the liberating potential of the Internet with the possibility of exchanging information beyond the fence established by the government.  It interests me greatly to emphasize its effect,   its influence in Cuban society today, where we are beginning to take timid steps which can be the beginning of a new organization of civil society.  The “Email Skirmish,” the “Case” of Eliécer Ávila—a drama in two acts—the freeing of Gorki Águila, are stories that would be impossible without the Internet.  Timid steps, few walkers, but we know this is how you begin the longest journey.

In the present world autarchies of any kind are impossible.  The needs—not just for development, but the simple maintenance of information technologies—are forcing them to create openings, to be integrated into the world.  The whole economy is organized like a network of networks of value-added chains.  The survival instinct, on the other hand, pushes towards narrow mindedness, absolute control.  While our government stagnates in this contradiction, society pays the price of mortgaging our future a little more.  Armed with patience and flash memories, we are working inwards to create informal networks for the exchange of information.  Looking outwards, we make our voice heard through blogs, woven from the pieces of our national reality as we see it.  And our voice is gaining, in credibility and spaces.

In the classic noir novel there is a scene I enjoy remembering.  It’s when a character is beaten as a warning.  The attack confirms that our Marlowe has touched a nerve, that one of the old Mafia capos or corrupt politicians wants out of the plot.  The measures against several of our blogs and the harassment of those who are dedicated to the “constant monitoring of the Internet, issuing reports and the fights, as such, in this area,” constitute evidence of the interest with which they follow our exercise of our voice, and speak indirectly to our prestige.  The pathetic attempts to denigrate our ideas, and then to amalgamate them with the well-known meat-and-potatoes of the party line: the North American blockade, the foreign financing and the media campaigns; or the attacks on the authors through lies and character assassination, all these expose the lack of arguments among the censors and the convenient amorality of their executors.

These young fisherman, who ply the waters in motorboats provided by their powerful patron, attack us, aim their water jets at us, trying to sink our precarious rafts and sailboats, impelled by who knows what hallucinogenic combination of crudeness, credulity and enthusiasm.  They are the visible instruments of an entrenched and belligerent thinking, which determines that the Internet is a colt that must be tamed, a marketplace where only one voice is heard, an enemy to confront, conquer and destroy.  The use of a masculine gender to fabricate a confrontation should not surprise us; it’s difficult to dress up the feminine with an antagonistic image, and requires that we violate our tradition of respect and protection towards women.

How do we deal with that combination of ignorance and orthodoxy?  I think we can all contribute to the answer, just allow me to highlight two aspects.  The first is creativity.  Nothing is more disconcerting for a unadventurous thinker than variety, change.  Find new ways to circumvent the old reefs, to avoid the sunken dangers, the drag of the undertow.  Use intelligence to be the mountain facing the sea, and vice versa.  The second is humor.  Those who read Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” recall that the old monks were more afraid of laughing than of the devil himself.  If there is anything that efficiently and effectively disarms the most starched solemnity it is a good little Creole joke; so let’s hear it for the raspberry, the old Bronx cheer; it can be a good tool once in a while.  Don’t forget, a little kick in the rear now and again never did anyone any harm, not even us.

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The old man, the Internet and me – Part One

October 27, 2008

I am a guajiro, a peasant. I was born on a distant mountain in a little island of huts surrounded by canefields.  I was nine the first time I went to the beach.  I was sixteen the first time I went out to fish in a small boat.  Since then, I like the sea.  From that time, so long ago, I keep the dream of a house made of wood from which you can see it, a place to grow old breathing the salt air and warming my body in the morning sun.  I, like so many others, before and after, dream of the sea.

In his novella “The Old Man and the Sea” Ernest Hemingway comments on the custom of using the female gender to refer to the sea.  He says there are those who want to speak ill of it, but they always do so with respect, as if it were a woman.  Some young fishermen, who have motor boats bought in good times, speak of the sea like a contender or a place, or as they speak to an enemy.  But the old man Santiago always conceived of it as belonging to the female gender, as something that grants or denies huge favors, and if it does evil and terrible things it is because it can’t help it.  Until moon affects him, just like a woman.

Since ancient times, man has gone to the sea to communicate, trade and make war.  Great advances have been made in navigation.  Great also have been the catastrophes that this fickle lady has caused to curb the excesses of our pride.  Even in our age of global telecommunications and satellite-assisted navigation, sailors sail her with ancestral respect.  They know that at any moment they may be faced with her fury, sometimes fatal.

We Cubans, who have always walked along the pathways of the sea, the same in ransom and contraband with pirates fishing offshore in the cold seas of the north, carrying troops to Africa (crowded in the holds of ships, similar to the taking of the Africans to become slaves of the army) and bringing bicycles from China, we find ourselves now, although it seems paradoxical, very far from the sea.  Its delicious fruits, which helped to develop the brain of primitive man, have been absent from our tables for decades.   Maintaining a boat is a far larger problem than owning a car.  To sail the sea you must have authorization, and as it’s grotesque to have to ask permission to have fun, those who go there do so in search of a consumer product or trade.  Sad paradox to live on an island and turn your back to the sea.

Of our relationship with the sea is paradoxical, the one we have with the Internet is no less so.  These two worlds, of dissimilar appearance, have much in common.  The first is of natural origin, created long before man walked its coastlines and from it, life on the planet arose.  The second is artificial, a recent product of human science and it’s radically changing the way in which we develop our lives, both as individuals and at a planetary scale.  For both, one navigates and surfs, ports and coordinates are used, in both logs are maintained and routes plotted.  From the comfort of a room, people around the world have the network to communicate, trade and wage war.  We Cubans, the sons of exceptionality, in spite of the terrible condition of the optical fiber everywhere and the promise of computerizing the society, still today, late in the first decade of the promising new century, are very disconnected from the Internet.

Like a stormy passion that shakes our life, access to the network of networks marks a before and—unfortunately if it is lost—also an after.  Like drugs, its use causes addiction and also euphoria.  Since that early morning at the end of the last century, when, in front of a dark UNIX console I celebrated for the first time the miracle of writing a URL address and receiving the corresponding hypertext, I, like so many others, before and after, dream of the Internet.

To Sindo that which is Sindo’s

October 17, 2008

Several readers have erroneously attributed to me the authorship of Sindo Pacheco’s story.  Others, in their praise, have mentioned the two greats of Cuban literature, Alego Carpentier and Onelio Jorge Cardoso.  I think were he living in Cuba, Sindo’s life would be at risk.  From the first time I read his story, a couple of years ago, I liked it so much that I wanted to steal it.  Now, my ego inflated by so many nice compliments, I’ve spent some early candlelit mornings, hatching dark machinations to commit, with total premeditation, plagiarism—literary—and assassinations—not literary.

Joking aside, the truth is that it has been the quality of his story that has generated so many good reviews.  And that is the product of Sindo Pacheco’s undeniable talent and narrator’s craft.  So that you can know him a little more, I copy here a brief overview of his literary successes and close by reiterating a short commercial. As I said in his presentation in the Blog, Sindo has works ready for publication, a volume of stories and two novels.  Any help in finding an publisher would be welcome.

(To the commentators, know that I have noted your names and IP addresses.  When you publish something of mine, if you don’t celebrate it with the same or more fervor, I am going to banish your blog.)

Sindo Pacheco was born in Cabaiguán, Cuba in 1956.  He has published Oficio de Hormigas (stories, 1990), winner of the April Prize for best works devoted to young people, and the novels Esos Muchachos and María Virginia está de Vacaciones.  The latter was awarded the Latin America Prize from Casa de las Américas, the annual White Rose prize awarded by the Cuban Writers and Artists Union for the best works devoted to children and youth, and the Critics’ Award for the best works published in Cuba during 1994.

In 1995, he received the Buster Viejo Award, from Madrid, Spain, for his story Legalidad Post Mortem. His stories have appeared in Cuba in various magazines such as Bohemia, Letras Cubanas, Casa de las Américas.  Some of his stories have been published in Mexico, Russia, Venezuela and Spain.  In 1998 the publisher Norma, Colombia, published his young adult novel María Virginia, Mi Amor; and in 2001, his novel Las Raíces del Tamarindo was a finalist for the EDEBÉ Prize, and published by said publisher in Barcelona.  In 2003 the publisher Plaza Mayor, Puerto Rico reissued his novel María Virginia está de Vacaciones.

He currently resides in Miami, USA.

Thank you very much

October 17, 2008

To you, dear visitor, who came to this blog by accident or on purpose, invited by Yoani or fulfilling orders from above.  You’ve spent some of your precious time to come up here and leave a comment, a counsel, some words of encouragement.  I want to tell you that I have not thought about abandoning the blog, at least not seriously.  The idea appears, as a rhetorical question, in a text sent to a meeting of Islander bloggers.  From that meeting to exchange experiences, now about to be finished, we will have news soon.  I promise, moreover, to publish a version adapted for the blog.

I humbly ask that you have patience. I can’t post more often, for obvious reasons. If you think that I sometimes digress (meaning that I speak foolishness), that I waste time commenting on songs or movies with all the many problems we have, I ask you to understand.  I am a guajiro with the soul of an artist, and I have a highly variable muse.  As one of my favorite poets, the Habanero Juan Carlos Flores says: “Dream, when the reality tires us, return to reality when the dream tires us./ To be Ulysses, where no one waits for you.”

Be aware that I don’t do well with the faithful-reflection-of-the-hard-reality journalistic style.  I invite you to check it, analyzing the first published texts.  Besides, we already have good journalists, inside and outside the country.  Neither expect a constant denunciation of the atrocities and violations committed by our rulers to the detriment of the rights and freedoms rightfully ours as human beings and as citizens of a supposedly modern state.  In every corner of the archipelago there is an independent journalist, an activist who does his job and signs his name, showing his face every day,  exposing himself to the loss of that little freedom that has been won at the cost of great sacrifice.  I, hidden behind a colorful mask, compared to him, I am nothing and deserve nothing.

To you, who add up your years of exile and nostalgia and come looking for a moment that will help you to live.  Don’t judge us harshly if we fail to act as you think we should.  We are as you see us.  We are the result of a system that tried to put us all in the same mold, and through rebellions small and large we have not allowed ourselves to be molded.  Each one with his history, his disappointment and his fracture.   As hard as they have tried, they have not managed to make me see you as an enemy or a traitor.  I know you are welcome.

If these texts that I publish seem long, it’s because I don’t have the time or the neurons to make them shorter.  Like many things in my country, I am expansive, almost extravagant by nature.  We would all like to write like Yoani, but fortunately we cannot be Yoani.  She is unique.  Though it would be good if many were like her.  That gesture of asking her many readers to come and give me support says a lot about her human feelings.  To her, I send my utmost gratitude.

To everyone, again, thank you very much.  And we shall see…