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San Fermines’ Passion and Tragedy / Miguel Iturria Savon

August 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Not the disdain of the English-speaking animal rights activists nor the anti-bullfight stance of dozens of people and communication media stop the explosion of jubilation, fear and tension of the million people who run before the bulls in the streets of Pamplona, from Saturday, July 6th to Sunday the 14th.

Once again the city of Pamplona, ancient capital of Kingdom of Navarra, fills with pilgrims from half the world who dress in red and white, sing the original hymns of protection to San Fermin, with his image they make a hour-and-a-half long procession, after which they head toward the streets of the running of the bulls, where men and beasts enclosed in “the fences,” nurses and police “transit” to the Plaza de Toros.

The running of the bulls start at 8:00 in the morning, and passes from the corrals of Santo Domingo to the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona, a distance of 850 meters that demands training and puts courage, nerves, and abilities to the test to avoid goring or fatal falls in the middle of so much euphoria and collective passion.  It seems that a few minutes of enclosure link men and beasts.  They meet again in the plaza hours later, the bulls in front of the bull fighter, the humans from the stands.

Los Sanfermines, the singular and sovereign festival of revelry; is the ultimate party, a test between life and death; maybe the best expression of the tragicomic sense of the Spanish, friend of extreme and ritualistic challenges put in question by modernity.  Los Sanfermines is also a hedonistic scene, a friendly and familiar orgy that attracts nearly one million tourists who dust off the old routine, strange and fascinating Pamplona, whose historical hoof-print multiplies its cultural and commercial options, while its inhabitants trip over alcoholic foreigners who distort the bullfighting meaning of the event.

These Sanfermines attracts figures such as Joselito Adame, Alejandro Talavante, Morante, el Juli, Perera, Fandino, and others famous in the ring contracted by the Bullfight Commission of the House of Mercy.  The bulls are put up by the livestock businesses Cebada Gago, Dolores Aguirre and Fuente Imbro.  The Navarrian government receives more than one million euros in taxes.

Bull fighting is not a sport but a spectacle with deep roots in Spain and counties in the Americas such as Mexico, Colombia and Peru.  Behind the spectacle are the ranchers, the professionals of challenge, the fans, the bull fighting plazas and the hundreds of local governments that promote the running in the streets during the summer, from the great Madrid to the small Vall de Uixo, in hispanic Levante.

Perhaps the Sanfermines, this festival of passion and challenge, is the greatest traditional spectacle in Spain; followed by the celebrated and multitudinous Fallas de Valencia, the Festival of Pilar in Zaragoza, Holy Week and the Fair in April in Sevilla — which exalt the Andalusian culture — the Carnivals of Tenerife and Cadiz, the first sumptuous, the second satirical and mocking; the monumental Hoguera de San Juan in Alicante, the Celebration of Moors and Christians, especially that of Alcoy; the Viking Festival in Catoira (Galicia), San Isidro in Madrid and the less festive and atypical Day of San Jordi in Cataluna, where the running of the bulls was prohibited.

8 July 2013

Saving Agent Snowden? / Miguel Iturria Savon

July 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Spies have always existed; what would secret services be without agents within the mafias? The terrorist gangs? The narco-guerrillas? The bank robbers and other groups who violate social norms and impose their interests on people and institutions? Don’t they watch governments and their ministers and generals? Doesn’t espionage exist between political parties? Does anyone believe that governments don’t “leak” and “process” — for their interests — the growing virtual media network used by millions of citizens every day?

The issue has come to the fore in the international press following the revelations of U.S. analyst Edward Snowden, who escaped with thousands of secret documents from New York to Shanghai and then to Russia, from where he tried to get political asylum in Ecuador, Venezuela or any other Latin American country where the transparency of information he requires is a chimera in the face of state authoritarianism and the fragility of the democratic system.

To escape and become a become a media star, the new “avenging hero” chose to create an image crisis for the United States and President Barack Obama. Snowden had a better civic alternative: giving up his job with the cyberpolice and denouncing, to the courts, how an agency of the federal government violates the information privacy of its citizens.

Maybe it’s too much to ask of a 29-year-old boy fascinated by the growing popular revolts shaking the institutional order from North Africa to Brazil. It may be attractive to dynamite the government apparatus instead of fighting to improve it. Are we looking at a civic hero or a traitor in service to countries like Russia, China, Iran or Venezuela? We still don’t know, but however imperfect but American democracy is much more transparent than that trumpeted by those seeking to benefit from computers and briefcases carried by Edward Snowden.

In times of social demands, discredited politicians and ministers, technological advances that position the citizen against the power of the state, the young American becomes the friendly face of challenge. What will happen? Will his revelations benefit the citizens or just pit the United States against the champions of oppression in Russia, China, Cuba or Venezuela?

For now, Edward Snowden, like Sergeant Bradley Manning — who leaked thousands of secret documents to Julian Assange, the Wikileaks leader now finding refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London — is revered as a hero by Noam Chomsky, Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, John Cusak and other Hollywood stars who alternate between artistic creation and defending caudillos such as F. Castro, the late Hugo Chavez and many snipers who despise democracy and deny their people freedom of speech, press and association.

5 July 2013

Ah, the Homeland… / Miguel Iturria Savon

June 30, 2013 Leave a comment

The border fence between Morocco and Spain’s enclave in Malilla

“You barely talk about your country,” A friend of my wife tells me at a gathering in Valencia. I smile, because this traveling satirical traveler, not mythic even in his native Santander, where he sometimes goes to visit his mother and sister. Before leaving us he gave me the Dirty Trilogy and the King of Havana, by Pedro Juan Gutierrez, whose pages had such a negative impact that he postponed his visit to the island for almost a decade. And he admits his “sorrow and frustration after trekking through this tragicomic and bittersweet Cuba with the exception of Trinidad, Varadero and Viñales.

Yes, I do not usually talk about Cuba, about which I have published some books and hundreds of articles in the digital press. I’m not lazy but in the face of such discursive, traitorous and demigod banality, I limit myself to answering specific questions about my country and its challenges. In addition, the island is not the center of America nor the world and we run the risk of being mono-thematic and boring to our friendly hosts, immersed in the problems of their family, environment and country.

I don’t think, as my friend Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo does, that “There is no country with virtue. Every country is a virtual shaving”; although in the case of Cuba, the word has lost its drawing power. Not even the “patriotic” and corrupt gurus of the only Party still believe the tiresome rhetoric about sovereignty, nation, homeland and freedom. After decades of tyranny and slogans the concept is devalued and neither emotion, nor a million employees and soldiers who are paid to sustain the regime.

I guess that thousands of exiles and hundreds of peaceful opponents on the island are in harmony about the significance of the word nation, as well as the mythification from exile during the 19th century of Padre Félix Varela and the poets José M. Heredia and José Martí, icons of the fledgling nation and creators of literature.

They have pronounced, from the podium, so many beautiful and moving phrases about the Homeland and the Nation that I’ve learned to be cautious with these “useful” and fickle voices. In short, the Homeland is usually “the land of my fathers,” “the soil where I was born,” the garden we build, the family that embraces us, the wall that we try to cross, the country where someone waits for us, or the “promised land” of the marginalized who flee misery, wars, and the lack of opportunities on their “native soil.”

30 June 2013

El Sexto, Between Paints and Searches / Miguel Iturria Savon

June 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Tall like a pine and genuine in his desire to express himself through art that is ephemeral and challenging, describes the young Cuban graffiti artist, Danilo Maldonado Machado — alias El Sexto (The Sixth) — who does not smile at the spring greenery nor the excess of tropical light, despite a love for the colorful trees and ocean breezes that cool the bustling night on the streets of Havana, the city whose walls are the objects his paints, as explicit and allegorical as the reality that he tries to capture with spray paint.

It’s not that El Sexto wants to beautify this bittersweet city that defies moisture and time and official apathy. More than embellish, his nocturnal murals call the attention of the bored capital pedestrians, accustomed to looking without seeing or listening without hearing in the midst of violence and the helplessness generated by the servility and cowardice induced by the despotism of the State.

And so he has problems with the political police and the other police, who control the order and carry out the order to arrest him on the public street for having a spray can in one of his pockets and later they made a search of his house and seized his works and painting supplies as well as fining him a thousand pesos without specifying the crime he committed.

In a short video shot by photographer Claudio Fuentes, El Sexto refuses to pay the fine because “I would demonstrate that I’m doing something wrong, that being an artist is a criminal act.” And he says: “I prefer to force the courts to make a judgment for me to demonstrate how and why I’m doing harm.”

We hope that Danilo Maldonado Machado, whose pseudonym satirizes the demented political campaign of the Castro regime to free to Five Spies convicted in the United States, comes out well in this new police hunt, one among so many detentions and searches to dissuade him from his “disturbing” street art.

For those who wish to know the urban odyssey of this Havana artists who exercises freedom of expression without permission, I suggest you go to his blog, located in the Vocescubanas.com portal, where there is the video made by Claudio Fuentes. You can also read the enlightening article from the writer Ernesto Santana Zaldivar, who recreated the last fight of Sexto against the police and legal harassment on this island of automatons dressed as functionaries and of intellectuals vaccinated against common sense.

In my case, I can attest to the personal, artist, and solidarity value of this tall boy who draws, with banned spray cans, stars and satiric cocks and naive and frightened faces. I met him several times at the house of Yoani Sanchez — famous author of the blog Generation Y — and at the residence of the physicist Antonio Rodiles, leader of the virtual program Estado de Sats; in addition to attending and commenting on for Cubanet the Exhibition put on by El Sexto in the apartment of the singer Gorki Aguila, on October 29, 2011. I brought to Spain the sheet that Danilo Maldonado Machado painted on my floor in Central Havana, days before we caught the plane to freedom. El Sexto converted this sheet into a protest my being held in police custody that is a testimony to denouncing and friendship.

21 June 2013

The Cannes Film Festival Closes / Miguel Iturria Savon

June 19, 2013 Leave a comment

I have visited the Spanish Mediterranean but Cannes is, for me, a futuristic city approximated by its famous international film festival. The 66th ceremony closed with awards presented by Steven Spielberg, president of the jury that awarded the Grand Prix to the film Inside Llewyn Davis, from the Coen brothers, and the Palm D’or to The Life of Adele, from director Abdellatif Kechiche—a Tunisian living in France. Mexican Amat Escalante was regaled as best director and the awards for best actor and actress went to Berenice Bejo of The Past, and Bruce Dern (Nebraska)  followed closely by the memorable Michael Douglas, largely applauded for his convincing portrayal of Liberace in Behind the Candelabra.

Before the Cannes Jury vote, as controversial as always, the name of the coastal Southern France city resounded in European television and newspapers by stealing the jewel that should have lit the female stars. They compensated the loss with their elegant and costly dresses on the red carpet inhabited by reporters and tourists; in addition to the critics’ claims, actors, directors, and producers, as attentive to the impact of their work as they are to the leading ladies’ glamour.

Judging from the critics and the comments posted on Twitter, Facebook and other social media, the film The Life of Adele, interpreted by French actresses Adéle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, could have taken the grand prize. According to Carlos Boyeros, this film “is an intimate prodigy that searches for art for three hours in the feelings of a woman whom we follow throughout a decade of her existence…” Others, without ignoring the value of the piece, realize that the theme as well as the excessive sex scenes between the women is simply more of the same and harmonizes with the increasing protagonism of gays in Europe.

Among the numerous films presented and recognized in Cannes were the Japanese Like Father Like Son, directed by Herokaza-Kore-eda and The Past, from the Iranian filmaker Asghar Farhadi, author of the celebrated A Separation.

Translated by: Alexis Rhyner

27 May 2013

Silence and Poetry in Rafael Alcides / Miguel Iturria Savon

June 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Yesterday the Cuban poet Rafael Alcides Perez turned 80; he remains in Havana as a poor, strong and gentle grandfather; lucid amid the social madness and literary closure, oblivious to personal egos and tribal tantrums. He knew fame and tasted applause from his younger years, when he joined in the swarm of those poets of the intimate and innovative generation of the ’50s, who transitioned from the estrangement and apathy during the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista to the euphoria by the Revolution led by Fidel Castro, which shook the foundations of the nation and imposed exile and silence.

Rafael Alcides leaves a lasting impression on those who know him personally. Admiration grows if you read his poems before hearing his voice booming with rhythm. The poet seduces his listeners with the cascading flow of his images and metaphors, resonant and profound like the simplicity that animates his actions.

He, who for decades has declined to publish in Cuba, knows that his name carries weight in the memory of his book and some magazines that collect his most transcendent verses. The author of Thanked Like a Dog was excommunicated from the official poetry sanctuary and sanctified by writers and poetry lovers. His name barely circulates on the island, where his books are a rarity in antiquarian portals, personal libraries and catalogs of the National Library.

From Spain I join the tribute paid by the intimates of the octogenarian writer, still engaged in the creative task. Within a few years, when some publisher takes on the rescue of his poetry and novels, new readers will have in their hands, “Mountain Smoke,” “Gypsy,” “Travel Notebook,” “The Wooden Leg,” “Memories of the Future,” “Night in Memory,” “And they die, and they return, and they die,” as well as “Nobody” — his penultimate poem collection — and the controversial stories, “Contracastro,” and “The Return of the Dead.”

10 June 2013

The Long Arm of Censorship / Miguel Iturria Savon

June 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 2.30.01 PMFrom May 29th until today I could not open VocesCubanas.com, the alternative platform that contains my blog Island Anchor. As I thought the “closure” could be only be in the Spanish Levante — I live in the province of Castellón, in the community of Valencia — I called  followers of my posts living in Zaragoza, Madrid, Canary Islands, but none could access “Cuban Voices” nor enter my blog, not even from Google by searching on the titles of the last texts.

Coincidentally, Wednesday May 29 was the last day of Yoani Sanchez’s stay in Madrid, where she delivered a speech at the ceremony for the Ortega and Gasett awards, given by the newspaper El Pais; the next day she was received in Havana by family and friends while the Spanish newspaper reproduced her words and pictures with former President Felipe González and other figures of the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) and the media.

No one should be ready to think that the closure of the Voces Cubanas portal in Spain was a way to lessen the impact of her words and to annul any commentary on her extensive tour of Americanand European countries. But who benefits from the silence of censorship? Who gave the order to disconnect? Where and by whom was it executed? The answer points to the officials who monitor the news in the Cuba Embassy in Madrid and to the Island regime’s network of consulates in the Iberian Peninsula.

It is not the classical theory of conspiracy; the Castro regime tactic is very old and the order stands, the diplomats-cum-State-Security-Agents executed it based on a Guide to events that demystifies the Havana government’s propaganda. They simply overload the networks, hack pages, multiply the trash emails against some, and “take the offensive” against others, even in media such as El Pais. The rest is up to time and the naive who are silent before the long arm of censorship.

4 June 2013

Three Memories of Angel Santiesteban / Miguel Iturria Savon

May 20, 2013 Leave a comment

On September 2, 2011 I published the “SOS for Angel Santiesteban” in Cubanet, when despite his having been awarded multiple prizes by the regime itself, the Cuban government’s own political police were harassing the writer. In late 2012 Angel was sentenced to five years imprisonment after a show trial in which his ex-wife was used as a spearhead against him. I will not refer to details of the case because they are still circulating in various writings and in Santiesteban’s blog, but I will offer my personal impressions of this word artist.

Before personally coming to know the author of “Dreams of a Summer Day,” “The Children Nobody Wanted,” “Blessed are Those Who Mourn,” and “South: Latitude 13,” I read his books and listened to several anecdotes that reflected his temperament and satirizes the political situation in Cuba. It’s hard to forget some of the characters of his stories about prison and Cuba’s intervention in the wars of Africa. Perhaps the masterful design of these alienated beings who gallop through the pages of his works are the real cause of humiliating trial that attempted to annul his rebellion and the voice of this audacious man without masks.

As my son was Angel Santiesteban’s lawyer, I had the privilege of welcoming him to my home in Havana and chatting with him over a glass of water — Angel does not drink rum or coffee. We talked about literature and his family experience. Only once, when asked by one of his characters, did he reveal the traumatic imprint of his brief stay in prison before the age of 20, after being arrested on the northern coast while saying goodbye to a relative who tried to leave the island on a raft.

I met Santiesteban several times at the house of the blogger Yoani Sánchez and at cultural gatherings organized at the residence of the physicist Antonio Rodiles, leader of the Estado de Sats program. I remember that Angel barely took part in those debates and almost always sat at the end of the hall, far from poses and prominence poses but friendly with anyone who approached him. In the end he left in his car with 4 or 5 people whom he drove to, or closer to, their homes.

The last time we met was in front of the police station at Infanta and Manglar,  next to the “Fame and Applause” building, where fifty opponents demanded the release of Antonio Rodiles, arrested after the funeral of Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, who died in suspicious accident. We chatted there while Wilfredo Vallin and Reinaldo Escobar tried to negotiate with the Head of the Station, also surrounded by a gang of criminals who awaited orders from State Security officials to kick and drag opponents.

The judicial farce against Ángel Santiesteban reminds me of the famous narrator Reinaldo Arenas and the poets Heberto Padilla — imprisoned in 1971 — and Raul Rivero, sentenced in 2003, victims of a dictatorship that punishes free expression and promotes quietism and the complicit silence of the intellectuals.

19 May 2013

From Saguton to Zaragoza / Miguel Iturria Savon

May 19, 2013 Leave a comment

If in every dream the dreamer is the author of the fable that he lives while he sleeps, in every journey the traveller interacts with his own emotions, the landscape, some passengers and with cities that evoke events and personalities of the past that enrich his memory and the pleasure of travelling.

In my case, travelling through Spain, land of my father, grandparents, siblings, and wife; it is more than just a way of doing provincial tourism, I’m entering an amphitheater of dreams with geography as auditorium, the train or bus as a form of set design, and the people travelling or transiting are the authors.

The name Sagunto takes us back to Hannibal’s audacity, the Cartaginian General that turned the ancient Iberia in an operations base to dominate the Mediterranean and left Sagunto to occupy Rome, whose inhabitants persecuted the Carthaginians and settled in the Iberian peninsula.

Turned into a Roman province like the neighboring Tarragona, Sagunto was more important than Valencia, the current provincial and autonomous capital of which it was subject. Besides the huge Roman castle by the railroad tracks, other monuments recall events and legends that inscribe Sagunto into Spanish history, among this the military uprising of General Arsenio Martinez Campos, considered  “the restorer of spanish monarchy” and “Cuba’s pacifier,” in 1875 and 1878 respectively.

As Sagunto to Zaragoza is almost 180 miles, the traveler crosses the villages that look like picture postcards and is engrossed in orange groves, vineyards, olive trees, pines, poplars, leafless phantasmagoric trees, windmills in the mountains and tunnels that link fields, farmhouses and industrial silos that precede cities with stops. Segorbe, Jérica, Barracas, Sarrión, the celebrated Teruel — Mozarabic modernist capital of ham — Monreal del Campo, Caminreal, Calamocha, Cariñena and others that weave a map of movement adorned at times with snow.

Zaragoza, the fifth largest city in Spain after Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla, impresses the newcomer with its gigantic modern railway and bus station. Upon leaving we expect the magical encounter with the banks of the Ebro, fertilized in January by the abundance of rain that threatens to overwhelm the bridges.

The Ebro valley with its desert landscape and cold winds in the urban layout of the ancient kingdom of Aragon, natural scenario of Iberian people, Celts, Romans, Goths and Arabs. Around the current Zaragoza — urban and administrative center of the autonomous community of Aragon — are circled dozens of villages in two provincial capitals: Teruel and Huesca. A short distance away are Navarre and France in the Pyrenees and the cities of Castilla la Mancha, Catalonia and Castellon.

When touring Zaragoza we are amazed by the beauty of the Plaza and the Basilica of Pilar, La Seo Cathedral, the Roman stone bridge, the iron bridge of the nineteenth century, the Aljafería — the Moorish palace of joy — as well as the Plaza of the Bulls, the Imprente Blasca andstatues of transcendent characters like General Parafox, the heroine Agustina de Aragon, the painter Goya, the writer Baltasar Gracian, Dr. Ramon y Cajal,the filmmaker Luis Buñuel and the Cuban intellectual and patriot José Martí, who lived and studied in the city of Zaragoza.

31 January 2013

Dali in the Reina Sofia / Miguel Iturria Savon

May 16, 2013 Leave a comment

With the onset of spring the name and the paintings of Salvador Dalí once again resonated in Spain, as the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid located has mounted a retrospective of 200 of his paintings and drawings, visited in less than a month by more than 50,000 people and reviewed by dozens of experts in various communication media in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and other cities.

The show comes from the Parisian Pompidou Art Museum and had the cooperation of the Dalí Foundation, one of the most profitable in Europe. The “prophet of modernity” includes 104 pieces from the thirties confirming the precocious genius of the enigmatic and provocative “King of Surrealism”, who also dabbled in film, especially with his compatriot Luis Buñuel, with the Walt Disney studios and with Alfred Hitchcock.

According to the media, the “eccentric and immeasurable” character that Dalí built (Figueres, 1904-1989), is knocked out by his creative work. Alongside Picasso and Miró, Dalí made up the luxury triad of visual arts of Spain and is one of the icons of the universal art of the twentieth century.

15 May 2013