by Walter Lippmann
NOTES ON RETURNING FROM CUBA TO LOS ANGELES
January 14, 2018. (I’m 74. January 6 is my birthday.)
If you haven’t had the chance to look at two unusually positive articles, one in the NY last Sunday, the other in the Wall Street Journal. We get so few on-scene reports from people who’ve actually been there, and provide good reports on what they’ve seen. But all the more surprising, and pleasing, to be published in these usually unsympathetic publications. Don’t miss them!
A Cuban Island That Has Played Both Paradise and Prison
The Isle of Youth — which has been both a Communist Utopian getaway and home to a brutal prison that housed Castro for a time — is a world apart, even by Cuban standards.
A Trip Through Cuba—by Bike, Bus and Cadillac
Even with the latest round of changes to the U.S.-Cuba tourism policy, American vacationers can still legally visit. Our reporter sets out on a weeklong excursion through the countryside, from verdant valleys to white-sand beaches.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE
Anyway, in 2017 I did these three notable (to me) things:
First, after thirty years living in the same house, I had the kitchen remodeled. It looks really nice now. I’m very happy with it.
Second, I went to Cuba for a month (Nov. 14-Dec. 14). My goal, as usual, was to learn. And I learned a lot, even, as an inpatient in the famous Cira Garcia hospital for three days. On discharge, they advised me against long walks and heavy exercise.
Back here I’ve been seeing a lot of doctors, trying to figure out what’s is really going on, and what I can or should do, or not do. One gave me shots in my knees which took most of the pain away, but I’m being very careful about how I move around. These were the planned achievements (not the hospital stay).
Alas, my energy level is way below what I think it ought to be, so I find myself frequently napping during the day. It’s taken quite a lot of time to write this over several days. It’s the energy level that’s bothersome.
Third, a surprise that I didn’t realize until New Year’s Eve. Though I had no specific goal, I lost FIFTEEN POUNDS last year. No diet, no special exercise, no tracking, no program, just learning to eat less and be satisfied les. I’m really pleased and proud of this, and all the more so as it was unplanned.
And, no, I don’t think there’s any connection between losing the weight and lack of energy. I’m in no hurry (where would it get me?) and, it’s counterintuitive. I’m having good communications with my doctors.
I’m 5-7, and hovering just below 180. This year 180 can be my ceiling. l hope to go further but no timetable, etc. I’ve dealt with this issue all my adult life. I’m thrilled with this. It’s the second biggest behavioral change I’ve ever made. (I gave up cigarets on June 11, 1981.) For now, along this path, this is my main personal priority. I’m doing as much written work as I’m able.
Perhaps if I lose more weight my energy level will improve. I’m feeling OK about my doctors here at Kaiser. Yes, including a psychologist.
My personal point of view when thinking and writing about Cuba.
From time to time I think it’s useful explain how I look at Cuba. Perhaps we can call it “stopping for station identification”. I think of it as a “Cuba-centric” approach. When I read about something, I wonder: How does this affect Cuba? What do Cubans think about it? What’s the Cuban media saying? That’s one of the reasons I like to provide original translations from the Cuban media.
Yes, I have my own politics. They are leftist and socialist, but I don’t belong to any socialist group or party. My goal here is to try to understand, and then to share, what things mean and how they and Cuba affect each other.
And I strongly support the Cuban Revolution, otherwise I wouldn’t be spending my time doing this. When I was 20 and 30, I thought I had all the answers. Now I know I don’t even have all the questions.
And so I always keep in mind Fidel’s November 17, 2005 explanation that,
among all the errors we may have committed, the greatest of them all was that we believed that someone really knew something about socialism, or that someone actually knew how to build socialism. https://www.walterlippmann.com/fc-11-17-2005.html
After nearly twenty years of visiting Cuba, I Iike to say: I am BEGINNING to think that I’m BEGINNING to understand what I THINK I see. My writings and translations aim at helping people to understand Cuba’s complex, and sometimes boring, social and policial process.
People from the United States, the most uninformed people on earth, often think they know everything about everything, especially about Cuba. And few hesitate to express the sharpest criticism of Cuban life and politics. Many who’ve never been to Cuba, or just gone there to attend a meeting, seem to think they know everything about Cuba, especially what’s wrong with it.
My approach is that I try to look and listen when on the island, and read the Cuban media when not there, trying to understand the complex society which exists there.
The CubaNews Yahoo news group, and the translations I share from the Cuban media, are all designed to help readers try to understand a complex society. It is my hope and desire that readers find the materials informative and useful in their efforts to understand the island and it society. That’s my goal in this work.
Today is Sunday, and one of the main differences between Los Angeles and Cuba is that in Cuba, the Sunday Juventud Rebelde is 16 pages. Normally it’s just eight. And no advertising. And if I wanted to get it today, I’d have to go where someone is selling them, or know someone and pay them in advance to be sure to get it today. Every kiosk in Havana has a nice pre-printed sign which says “la prensa no llegado” (the papers aren’t here) so they don’t have to explain it to each person every time. Delivery is sometimes erratic.
Here in Los Angeles I receive the Los Angeles TIMES and the New York TIMES in print every day. On Sunday the papers are filled with advertising. Actually, before taking a look at the articles, I have to spend time shucking all the advertising sections which I don’t read. I give them to someone who collects coupons. Delivery is pretty prompt most days, Monday through Friday around 5 AM, 7 AM weekends. It’s a veritable mountain of paper, some very pretty, but most of it trying to sell me things I know I don’t need. Or even want.
We kind of take it for granted, or don’t think much about how the newspaper we receive is a private business whose main purpose is to make money by selling things through advertising.
The Cuban media, limited as it is by many factors (resources, attitudes, etc.) give the reader eight or sixteen pages of information, presented from the PCC viewpoint, on major issues. Its primary audience is Cubans on the island.
I’m a bit more interested in how Cubans and the Cuban media look at developments here in the US, like the Hollywood Sex Abuse scandals (deliberate capitalizing), etc. Through the years CubaNews Yahoo news group has been providing translations of from Spanish about life in the US and elsewhere..
Because of my various health issues and reduced energy, I’ve given up cutting, pasting and sharing long articles from sources like the NY TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL and so on. It’s simply much too much work. And, I think most of the Cubans who want to read such things now have internet access.
For now, I’m going to focus on editing translations and my own writing. Some translations I do myself, others are by native Spanish speakers whose work I edit for English fluency. I always indicate that the translations are “edited by Walter Lippmann.” That’s me taking credit, responsibility or blame, as appropriate.
One very special translation currently in process is the epilogue to a 472 page anthology of Trotsky’s writings by Fernando Rojas, Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Culture. Here’s the catalogue entry to the book. In the epilogue, Rojas gives his take on Trotsky’s writings and his relationship with the Soviet government. http://www.oceansur.com/catalogo/titulos/leon-trotski/
What am I looking for when I go to Cuba?
When traveling to Cuba, my main goal is to try to understand a complex society. Cuba has achieved much because of its revolution. However, Cuba has plenty of problems, and they’re not all caused by Washington. The Cuban media provides occasional reports of such things, but they’re not always translated. I like to bring readers translations of some precisely because they are from the Cuban media.
While willing to share my experiences and ideas with Cubans, my goal there is to mostly to learn. The main things I have to teach my Cuban friends are some of the finer points of English grammar, spelling, sentence structure and headline-shortening and the occasional false cognate.
Preparation for going to Cuba, and even for coming back:
Before traveling to Cuba, I strongly recommend that everyone read, or re-read, HOW TO VISIT A SOCIALIST COUNTRY by Richard Levins to context for what one. People who’ve never been to Cuba before are often surprised at seeing many run-down buildings, streets with potholes and so on. Levins, who was also a member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences as well as a Harvard, provides indispensable context to prepare for a visit to Cuba. I try to re-read it before I go, and after returning. I cannot recommend it more highly.
Settling in and getting re-oriented in Cuba
During this visit, I had a chance to catch up with people, some of whom I’ve known ever since my first adult visit, in 1999. And I keep meeting new people and making more friends. I’m going to write about and how I came to meet them, and what I learn from these people. And nearly everyone has something I can learn from. Will share some photos as well. In this way, to an extent, my eyes are yours and you can see Cuba somewhat through my eyes. Hopefully not through my blind spots…
When you have people you’ve known for long periods, you always bring hard-to-find items. Here in the US, nearly anything (except love) can be found online, in or big stores, if you have the money. In Cuba, one learns that if you see something and they have it, you buy it NOW because it’s likely to be gone tomorrow.
You might have the money, but the item is out of stock and who knows when more will come? So I bring things like books, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and, this time, adult diapers for a friend from that 1999 visit, who now needs them, and they don’t have them there. Occasionally I bring balsamic vinegar, often impossible to find in Cuba, but this time I found three bottles of the genuine stuff from Modena, Italy, with the certification seal. It’s unpredictable.
A touristy stop
For many years, used book and memento vendors have surrounded the Plaza de Armas in Old Havana with rows and racks of books (mostly) and used cameras, old coins, and such. Those vendors have now been moved about a block away to a rather less-accessible place. I’m sure their foot traffic is way down, and they complain about it. Some are selling Cuban movie posters, a few political posters, and such.
I found posters from last year’s ROLLING STONES concert in Havana. I bought some and donated them to the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, a wonderful activist-archive which collects and mounts theme-based exhibits. In time, CSPG will be selling these.
If you have political posters which are sitting in the garage, perhaps getting mildewed, consider donating them to the CSPG. Read about them: http://www.politicalgraphics.org/
Thanks and appreciation
Today I want to publicly thank two young Cuban compañeros who contribute to making the Yahoo news group I direct most useful. Abel Gonzalez of the Cuban News Agency (ACN) and Dunia Torres of Granma post the English-language materials readers regularly receive. Through their efforts, readers get the information and analysis which Cuba makes available in English. I am deeply grateful to them for their quiet and consistent participation. CubaNews wouldn’t be the same without them.
A monthly celebration you can easily participate in.
ETECSA has just cut the price of domestic cell phone calls. It’s modest, but anything which saves Cubans money is always appreciated, especially by them.
Each month the Cuban phone company, ETECSA, has a special one-week promotion during which anyone living abroad can recharge the cell phones of Cubans on the island. During this period, for a small charge, fully legal under US law, anyone can recharge Cuban phones, and receive a more than double number of minutes.
This is the week that these special deals are offered. There are several companies which provide this. I personally use hablacuba.com because I save money on calls TO Cuba with it as well as doing the recharges. ding.com is another, and it provides the fastest service of all, often in just a few minutes. Help your friends and family in Cuba by recharging their phones now. https://hablacuba.com/buy/mobile_recharge
The one special treat I got for myself on this trip was the beautiful guayabera you see here. Every year just in time for Christmas shopping, there’s a big arts and crafts fair, FIART, held at Expo Cuba. Thousands of people come to look for clothing, furniture, shoes and so on. There are booths selling Cubang in national currency. Though I’m a very good photographer of other people, I’m a difficult subject when the camera is turned on me. This one’s pretty nice, I think.
From now on, I plan to write and edit more, as time and my energy level permits. Thanks for taking the time to read this.