Archive for November, 2008

Bottled dreams – Part Two

November 24, 2008

Sometimes, when the loneliness sinks its teeth into him, or he remembers the grandson he doesn’t know and who doesn’t speak Spanish, he seeks solace in drink.  Which is the main cause of his loneliness.  For this he lost his job, his marriage, his son and many friends.

As a child he wanted to be a sculptor, but the fear of his family’s reaction stopped him.  His father, the son and grandson of blacksmiths, didn’t want to know about any artists in the family; and so that he wouldn’t have to go through what his father went through, so he could make something of his life and not lose out on the opportunities presented by the changes just starting to happen in the country, his father practically forced him to choose between medicine and engineering.

He had recently graduated to a large workshop.  The workers, hard and honest people, were accepting, little by little though with suspicion at first, until they came to respect him for his technical ability and his fortitude and integrity in the face of any test.  The bosses saw him as a threat to their positions and from the start they declared war on him.  For almost twenty years he accumulated successes and friends, some setbacks, and a few—but fierce—enemies.  He begin to drink in the long days spent meeting the always growing plans, although meeting them did not serve to modernize the plant, which teetered on the edge of obsolescence.  He introduced innovations and developed technologies that then became mandatory across the whole industry.  But he never sweetened a phrase or was unclear about a responsibility. He always said what he thought and so was never allowed to enter the inner circle.  It was a kind of conflict, good for keeping the plant running, but not for being invited for a weekend of fishing.   He never had a car.  They authorized a telephone so they could call him at any hour to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.  Until he got tired.  Aware of his problem with the bottle, he didn’t want to give them the pleasure of catching him in a mistake while drinking so he left, with his head held high.

Bottled dreams – Part One

November 21, 2008

He gets up early to do his crafts.  He should take advantage of the sunlight; his eyes, tired out by the years spent in classrooms and workshops, don’t resist now working in artificial light.  When arthritis—which he attributes, despite what the doctor says, on no longer having the heat from the smelting ovens—allows it, he works the whole morning.  He has a vast repertoire, based on years of experience and the need to sell.  If there is electricity, he makes woodburning pieces, if it’s off, he carves figures in wood.  He prepares the articles in advance, depending on what celebration is coming up.  The lack of options for gifts and his low prices guarantee that all his pieces sell.  Many clients visit his home to ask for personalized details.  It’s common to see, on the path leading to his house, buyers lining up in the days prior to February 14 and March 8.  With the healthy pride of a creator, he boasts of having contributed to the decline of the divorce rate and in the increase in loving stability among the couples in the town.

At noon, lunch and a nap.  In the evening, he goes out to find raw materials for his workshop.  It’s the most distressing part of his operation, with the scarcity of wood and the tangle of existing prohibitions.  Several trees considered to be precious wood grow in his yard.  If you manage to get permission to cut them down, you can’t keep the wood.  It must be sold as communal timber to a forest company that didn’t plant it and that doesn’t care about the fate of the trees.  The forest company sells the wood to another company, that is dedicated to providing it to artists and craftsmen at a higher price, as befits the precious wood.  And the last company, when it sells it to him, will add on something to cover expenses.   He, as the interested party, must take care of all the negotiations and ensure that the wood doesn’t get lost during this long peregrination.  This has forced him to use materials much easier to obtain, such as branches, bark and seeds, carpentry leftovers and even wood recovered from construction forms.  As a young man he dreamed of making sailboats in bottles, like he saw on television; today he makes little bottles inside penicillin vials.  He’s a minimalist by obligation.

Silent blood

November 17, 2008

Some open their veins to let the blood flow out, others block the air to their lungs.  The determined use rope, the brave fire, for the fearful ones it’s always possible to overdose on sleeping pills.

A few are well known, leaving their works behind them, some are famous; the great majority are anonymous neighbor children.  Invisible lives that end in invisible death.

They all leave, and they leave us with questions.


Since when?

The three faces of Soy

November 11, 2008

There are things you never forget, even though they may seem insignificant. There are words that, like the tea of Proust, provoke the same memory, with the precision of a reflex mechanism.  The word substitute, for example; I refer to the start of Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita.  At first reading, the word stumped me, but I tried to infer its meaning and read on.  In a subsequent reading I found it in the dictionary and took control of it.  Or it me.  I’ve never thought of using it, but there it is, reminding me of the cold apricot drink with which two writers warded off the heat while walking by Patriarch’s Pond, just before meeting Monsieur Voland.

Something similar happens to me the with word soy.  The first time I read it, it was in the novel The Space Merchants, by Pohl and Kornbluth.  It was in the early 80s, I was in high school and attracted science fiction.  Interested in getting on with my reading, I didn’t bother to figure out what it was that was giving their consumers unique facial characteristics, cause for contempt from the successful advertising director Mitchell Courtenay.  At the end of the novel, moved, I forgot to inquire about the soy bean and subconsciously associated it in some way with a protein mixture without being clear about its origin, in short, it was something that was used to make croquettes.

Perhaps in revenge for having been overlooked in favor of fiction, soy reappeared a decade later, in a more realistic form, in the midst of a no less real and much more intense crisis in the 1990s.  Then, soy was a white granule that my old lady washed in order to separate it from the chopped meat, explaining to me that the soy bean was a legume which had to be cooked a long time to make it soft, and that mixed with chopped meat, it created the dilemma of how long to cook it; cook it just right for the meat and risk eating the soy beans raw or, run the risk of ruining the little bit of protein by cooking it long enough to soften the badly crushed little beans.  And when I say little bit of protein I am not exaggerating.  That ground meat in the Special Period had every kind of thing in it—tripe, cartilage, belly, ear—except meat.  I don’t think I can describe the intense disgust I experienced on finding those revolting pieces of intestine, easily recognizable by the characteristic villi.

And just when you thought you’d seen it all with regards to agriculture—or more accurately, the nonsense in agriculture—I learn that there are going to be experimental soy bean plantings, supported by a Brazilian company.  If this experiment turns out like the rice in the swamps of Zapata, the coffee in the Havana Cordon, the 8 million cows and calves for 1970, and the reconversion/destruction of the sugar industry, we already know what will come of it.  So many farfetched experiments, so many man-hours consumed, for what?  Instead of sowing the many varieties of beans that we have and that we like so much, soy beans.  In place of mamey melons and mango, passion fruit.  I suspect that behind all of this are a few of those who are “fighting” for their little trip to Brazil, to “learn lessons” so that later they can come and teach us what we have known very well for many generations, but are not allowed to do.

The old man, the Internet and me – Part Three, Final

November 3, 2008

One day before turning forty, aided by a person who needs no introduction or advertising, I started a blog.  Without going into the details, I did it because I needed to satisfy a long-deferred need for expression, I wanted to tell those things that I would like to be told and that have no place in the conventional media.  The greatest value of her help—and for this you will always have my gratitude, my dear Yoani—was to make me realize that I could write, and that I wanted to do it, in the same way that my old man taught me to swim in the cold pool where I was born: by giving me a good push.  Now, several months and thirty posts later, I’m surprised by the invitation to an event and the request for a text on my difficult experience as a blogging Islander.

What would it be worth reporting on at this time.  At least this:

Thanks to technology, digital information is much easier to reproduce than printing.  I can’t imagine how our grandparents managed in the era when the most common way to copy a file was to make a photocopy of the page of a samizdat.  Thanks to the Internet, the wall of isolation becomes more permeable.  In just three years, I was able to access an enormous volume of information through sites, forums and electronic books.  At that time, which today seems so long ago, blogs didn’t have their current role, forums were the places par excellence for exchange. Under this influence, the world for me reached a dimension that went beyond the 12 printed pages of the national media.

When I think of that, I believe that the accumulation of new knowledge, in conjunction with the maturity that comes with age, facilitated this change in my concept of the world and helped me decide to write.   But it’s not enough for me to have something to say and the desire to say it, if I don’t have a few ideas about how to say it.  A blog is a spontaneous medium—and even superficial, if you like—marked by brevity and immediacy, but that doesn’t mean neglect and improvisation.  Out of respect for the visitor, to our language and to myself, I have outlined an aesthetic and formal level where I try to maintain my work.  The reader will have the last word.

Keeping a blog can be exhausting.  Both for the body and the mind.  Traveling to places where I can access the Internet, sitting down to write after a day of work, putting off sleep for another hour, and so tired by having to organize ideas and references, dusting off the disused intellectual tools, and critically evaluating the completed material.

Keeping a blog can be frustrating, especially with so many problems in accessing the Internet.  Difficulties are compounded when you live in the provinces.  Time is scarce and expensive.  You have to resend posts and emails that are interrupted when the line goes down.  You can’t go back and fix the minor errors that escaped your notice.  You can’t read or respond to comments.  There is little chance of establishing relationships with other bloggers.  You can’t respond to offers to exchange links.  You are almost completely unable to upload images.  This entire string of impediments leads to a minimalist style that is too sober and visually boring.  It requires great skill for the narrator to write texts that appeal to readers, skill I do not possess.

For these and other reasons, more than once I have considered surrendering in the face of adversity, discouraged by the rare visits and the meager comments, oppressed by this new form of non-communication that reminds me of messages in a bottle sent by the shipwrecked, I have thought of abandoning the blog like a ship taking on water.  To paraphrase Ponte, I wondered what makes people continue with their blogs.  Why do this?  For fame?  Money?  To accumulate links?  For recognition now or in the future, if everything stays the same, or if it changes?  Then I go back to basics, the need to say the things I’d like to say.  Deep breath.  Turn off the monitor.  Check on the child.  Arrange the mosquito net.  Have a cup of coffee in the kitchen.  Smoke the last cigarette in the box.  Again, a deep breath, turn on the monitor, and keep typing.