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
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
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
To celebrate World Book Day — and the Castilian language — on 23 April, the online edition of the daily El Pais has presented to readers in Latin America with Voces para un Cervantes (Voices for a Cervantes) to download on computers and ebook tablets. The collection “brings together interviews that this newspaper has undertaken with the 37 Spanish-speaking writers who have obtained the highest award in Spanish letters since 1976,” when the Spanish poet Jorge Guillén first received the award.
In each of the interviews we hear the voice of the winners, transformed into contemporary classics of literary creation, although “Some are hurried interviews, made the same day of the Cervantes award where the winners express their joy and surprise. Others, more thoroughly, occurred before or after the award ceremony on April 23.”
All of the award-winning writers are in Voices for a Cervantes, from representatives of the legendary Spanish Generation of 27 — Jorge Guillen, Damaso Alonso, Gerardo Diego and Rafael Alberti — to José Manuel Caballero Bonald, who received it days earlier, through the memorable Jorge Luis Borges and other travelers in Latin letters such as Alejo Carpentier, Octavio Paz, Ernesto Sábato, Augusto Roa Bastos, Carlos Fuentes, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Dulce María Loynaz, Juan Gelman, Mario Vargas Llosa, José E. Pacheco, Gonzalo Rojas, Álvaro Mutis, Sergio Pitol, Nicanor Parra, Jorge and Jorge Edwards.
In the El Pais interviews these masterful voices of the New World alternate with the grand Hispanic artists such as María Zambrano, Luís Rosales, José Hierro, Antonio Buero Vallejo, Antonio Gamoneda, Francisco Umbral, Miguel Delibes, Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, Ana María Matute, Camilo José Cela, José García Nieto, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, Francisco Ayala, José Jiménez Lozano, Juan Marsé y el citado José Manuel Caballero Bonald.
As clarifies in El Pais, the prize for Literature in the Spanish Language of Miguel de Cervantes was convened by the Ministry of Information and Tourism on September 15, 1975. Since then it has been awarded in the last quarter of each year to one of the six writers nominated by the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language of Spain and Latin America, who receive it the following year on April 23 at the University of Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, which coincides with the book fair in commemoration of the death of the author of Don Quixote de La Mancha.
21 April 2013
These days, the name of Cuba has echoed in the Spanish press, but not for the arbitrary arrests and hunger strikes of dozens of imprisoned opponents, but for the statement of actor Willy Toledo — exceptional in his role as a fucker caught in the act in The Perfect Crime — who after embracing Hugo Chavez’s successor in Caracas announced in May that he will go live in Cuba; his calling the regime there marvelous has unleashed satirical comments in El Pais and other Spanish media.
From the largest of the Antilles the names of two characters who passed from this life also echo: Alfredo Guevara, founder and former president of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, and the composer César Portillo de la Luz, author of With You in the Distance, You My Delirium, Reality and Fantasy and other songs that brought him fame and money, as well as recognition of the cultural institutions of the dictatorship, which he was identified without actually writing laudatory hymns in the style A. Guevara, Filmmaker-in-Chief, and the troubadour and ex-deputy Silvio Rodríguez, an icon of the “committed song.”
I didn’t comment on the Spanish actor’s decision in this blog, because the Iberian cybernauts already did; though perhaps it’s a publicity tactic to get attention and a contract in Havana. It remains to be seen whether the Ministry of the Interior will grant him a Resident Card in Cuba, where they have interests and offer benefits to be well-received.
With regards to the late Alfredo Guevara, I suggest to those who think of him as a “great intellectual, filmmaker and Cuban diplomat,” go to the blog of the writer Zoe Valdes and read her post of April 19; she portrays him in body and soul as she worked with him at the Cuban Embassy and in UNESCO and was formerly editor of the journal Cine Cubano, attached to the film fiefdom of Mr. Guevara.
It seems good to review the life and work of personalities from Cuban culture, but it is unfortunate that the press in Spain and other European countries disseminate the background noise and vagueness about what is Cuban, while they are silent on the tragedy suffered by as island decimated and exhausted by the communist monarchy that still demands an extra effort to survive.
7 May 2013
In Spain there are those who believe that we foreigners should shut up until we know how the country works, which takes time and learning. Other people usually ask us about current national hot topics and explore what we think about some minister or opposition leader. As I’m more passionate about culture than politics, sometimes I answer with some silliness, because I sense that my interlocutors are coming from their own circumstances and their ideological perception.
The most recent question they asked me Friday from Cuba about the corruption in Spain and how it compares with that on the island. To be brief, I’ll start with the press in both countries. As for Cuba, I find two articles published today on Cubanet handy; one my Miriam Celaya, “To be corrupt or to not be corrupt, that is the question”; and “Corruption in Uniform” by Marta B. Perez Roque. I suggest reading them, because they both agree that the problem is widespread: “… For the powerful it’s a way to get rich,” and for “ordinary Cubans it’s a way to survive.”
With regards to Spain, I suggest reading Joseph I. Torreblanca’s article that appeared on April 24 in the blog Cafe Steiner, on the Civic Circle of Opinion about corruption, made in Madrid with the participation of four professors who exposed an ethical, legal, economic and political problem. In summarizing the meeting Torreblanca said:
“Like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the four horsemen of corruption are immoral individuals, public cheaters, for-profit businessmen and opaque political parties. Hence, to leave behind the corruption we need a great individual self-discipline, an effective state, entrepreneurs who want to compete and open political parties… “
Not to delve into cases of either country and to avoid generalizations, I prefer to remember that corruption is a universal problem with deep historical and cultural roots inherent greed and temptations.
30 April 2013
In Cuba, May is a month that evokes history and celebration for the advent of the Republic on May 20, 1902, the celebration of International Workers Day, which had become of spectacle of the “chorus syndrome” for half a century. In Spain, May Day is a National Holiday for Labor Day, and the following day in Madrid marks the 1808 popular uprising against the French forces, whose troops had already been kidnapped by Carlos IV and his dynastic successor (Fernando), repressing the Aranjuez Mutiny and implementing terror in other places on the Peninsula, to impost Joseph Bonaparte, brother of the French emperor, on the throne.
The uprising in Madrid and the wave of executions was the prelude to the War of Independence against foreign troops; its huge internal and external consequences for the dramatic situation of Spain was taken advantage of by its colonies in America to throw off the colonial yoke.
Historians, artists and writers have testified about the odyssey of the Spanish people against their occupiers. The brilliant artist Francisco Goya memorialized on two canvases the shootings of May 2 and 3 in Madrid, while the writer Benito Pérez Galdós wrote novels about the events, and the sculptors such as Antonio Sala, author of the Daoíz and Velarde Monument, located in May 2 Square, and Aniceto Marinas, creator of the Monument to the Heroes of May 2, around which the first centenary was celebrated in (1908) in the Puerta del Sol.
3 May 2013