Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Cuba Before You Change It. The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks. Hoary November

Miller's Tales of The Special Period, And Now

ISBN 978-0-8165-3586-6

Michael Sedano

Literature in English about Cuba offers an almost-always pleasurable and perspective-enhancing experience. In the 90s a wave of detective fiction swelled with superb work by Jose Latour and Martin Cruz Smith. Leonardo Padura wrote an engrossing “colors” series in the early 2000s, a decade that includes 2007’s Tango For A Torturer from Daniel Chavarria and Achy Obejas’ Ruins in 2009. Only last month, La Bloga was pleased to recommend Robert Arellano’s in-release Havana Libre, his second novel featuring the loyal medico with a distinctive mole.

Crime stories aren’t the only absorbing narratives centered around life on the alligator. At least one nonfiction author, travel writer extraordinaire Tom Miller, matches the interest and eye-opening elements of fiction in his on-site reporting in Cuba Hot & Cold.

Miller’s been writing about hispanoparlante America for forty years. His books include Trading With the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba, 1992. He edited Travelers’ Tales Cuba: True Stories, 2011. In recent years, Miller and his wife, a Havana native, have conducted literary tours to the island. This writer knows Cuba.

People contemplating a visit to Cuba “before it changes,” owe themselves a reading of Cuba Hot & Cold. The blurb on the back cover says so, but that’s only partly right. Miller’s introduction to this retrospective collection argues “you are the change.” Miller spins the specter to a local resident of el Malecón filled fast food joints, glitzy tourist places, that kind of change. The local considers the horror, responds enthusiastically, “That’s precisely the change we Cubans want!”

Romantic Cuba, romanticized Cuba, demonized Cuba, lamented Cuba, lots of different Cubas, depending on whose imagination you tap, and Miller's found them all. If it looks like Miller’s rehashing popular notions about Cuban life, that’s probably because Miller’s the one who first wrote about them, in one of the seven essays reprinted here.

Old cars. Music and entertainers. Ry Cooder. Papa. Fidel Castro. Marielitos. The Victory at Playa Giron. Politics. Country gente. The Special Period. Hardship. All the colorful stuff is right there, right alongside the observer’s clearly drawn human insight that makes Miller a welcome Yuma in Cuban homes and businesses.

Playa Giron is the beachhead at the Bay of Pigs, where gusano guerillas backed by the CIA got their heads handed to them on a platter. Yuma is the word for los United Estates, derived from the bang-bang shoot ‘em up Western thriller, 3:10 to Yuma.

Miller is the fact checker to fiction’s tropes and tales of economic deprivation. Except those hardships aren’t hyperbole, it's been a world of hurt, and those hardships, they are real. Castro’s repression, the official line goes. Miller takes a deftly zurdo yet neutral stance that wins him favor, he says, from Cuban government aparatchiks who get him visas, and locals who welcome him into their confidence. A number of confidantes are his wife’s relatives, which helps one get an insider’s view.

Being a known sympatico doesn’t stop secret police from one night rousting the visiting journalist Miller and his local Virgilio, Manolo. Not that there’s anything wrong with what the pair were up to, just a few questions. There’s a chilling end to the ominous tale, Miller never again hears from Manolo.

Tourists will want a share of emotionally powerful experiences like Miller recounts. Unlikely, the writer’s access is uniquely Miller’s. No “regular” tourist is going to sit peer-to-peer with a maestro luthier and learn a traditional song just like that. A “tall foreigner,” Ry Cooder, and Miller visit. Like a scene from Ruins, the luthier tells of rummaging through trash piles, finding good wood.

When Cooder makes a return visit to the maestro, the yuma brings sheets of fine wood, resins, and glues impossible in Cuba. The luthier will fashion not only Cooder’s hand-made instrument but sufficient to craft several distinctive instruments, equivalents to those crafted hundreds of years ago in the workshops of Stradivarius or Guarneri. In Havana, one man's hands make the entire instrument. Go ahead and fret, tourists, bring money, buy a legendary voice.

Readers won’t doubt any of the more romanticized sights Miller takes us. Undoubtedly, Hemingway had an old boat captain. That the boat captain’s sought-after company brought the old guy a few drinks and some coin during the Special Period is heart-warming. Tourists might wander Hemingway's estate, wondering who still remembers? And there he is, the last direct conecta to Papa, right there on the page.

That Special Period isn’t a bizarre authoritarianism authors make up to feed a political narrative. Hardship defines Cuba, in Arellano's fictive medical clinic. In every novel, “shortage” becomes synonymous with “essential.” "Do without" is the solution to "must have." Reuse, recycle, survive colors every material aspect of urban culture. Out in the provinces, where people grow their own food and live with la tierra, food isn’t rationed and domesticity prevails. Now there's a Cuba open to readers only, unless the visitor has a cuñado in the sticks, and doesn't buy that German map.

Those dream cars, that pristine '48 convertible, all shiny and cruising el Malecón, with the waving tourists? Government-owned and operated. That's why it works and has gasoline. Órale, turista, pull down those arms. Waving, Miller remarks, is “one step away from occupiers acknowledging the occupied.” Those old wheels and hand-made refacciones? All that gearhead nostalgia is another way of supporting the embargo that caused the absence of newer vehicles and repair parts.

Miller’s not a heavy-handed joykiller; he’s informative with a purpose. He doesn’t endorse idealized notions espoused by coffee shop revolutionaries, nor does he mouthpiece for gusanos how terrible life is on the island.

Miller isn’t grinding axes. He finds—it’s not all that difficult-- indomitability, character, and bewilderment in the gente. I say “bewildered” because Miller doesn’t hear a lot of angry voices saying it’s all the United States’ fault. It is the United States’ fault, Miller makes that clear. He’s not shaking a fist but exercising the keyboard because that’s the way it is.

One chapter on Fidel Castro, Che, Raúl and the revolution introduces photographer Kordás and his famous foto of Guevara. The author gets a bargain on a signed print, a hundred dollars for a normally three hundred dollar photograph. Prices for a foto pretty much the same as in the U.S., but that visit is a one-time event. Read and yearn.

Miller cites the false autobiography of Fidel, suggesting the author expresses genuine insight into what makes the leader tick. Combined with the essay on the battleship Maine, Miller puts the politics of the revolution into useful focus. Cuba’s been changing all along.

But yes, change is speeding up. “Before it changes” starts at the top, where, for Cuba, the earth has already moved. Fidel died. With the pragmatic Raúl in power, let the bidding war between Yuan and Dollar lumber toward Havana to be born.

If you’re thinking of making the journey, read Cuba Hot & Cold. A certain type of reader might want to see if Tom Miller and his wife have a tour scheduled. Miller knows everyone over there, and when they see him coming with that bottle of rum, they open the doors wide.

If, like me, you know you’ll never visit Cuba, treat yourself to a Cuban sojourn “before it changed.” And don't be alone. Cuba Hot & Cold is one of those great stocking stuffer gifts every reader in the family will enjoy. It's not just the insight into Cuba through the years, it's Miller, too. Deftly written, keenly understood, soft-spokenly incisive, if there's one book about Cuba you read before you go, make it Cuba Hot & Cold.

Tom Miller's Cuba Hot & Cold comes from the University of Arizona Press, so distribution is not a big issue. You can order publisher-direct (link), or via your local brick & mortar bookseller.

The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks
Wild Harvest

That stand of nopales made a formidable barrier between gramma’s rear property line and the empty fields beyond. Those plants towered over the tiny boy who spent a lot of time out back, safe from whatever approached untended backyards.

There was a tina of soap back there. When the chicharrones were finished, gramma mixed lye into the left-over manteca, poured it into a tina and set it under the nopales where, over time, the mass turned into solid soap.

The boy gouged the cured surface with the curved linoleum knife that stronger hands used to carve rectangular voids into the jabon. What really held the boy’s attention were the tunas that abounded on those nopales over head.

Old growth opuntia. Red tuna.

Prickly pear, Anglos call them. The cactus grows across the U.S. Southwest. Numerous varieties give edible fruit. The only test is peel and eat one. If you like it, it's edible.

Opuntia's many varieties sprout myriad-color petals at the ends of tubular green fruit. Yellow, red, orange, magenta petals cover the rounded edges of elongated pencas. Bumble bees, honey bees, and mallates linger at the nectared crowns of prickly pears. Say, /toona/, "prickly pear" is as wrong as "alligator pear."

The Mexican market sold me four not-quite ripe tunas for under a dollar a pound. I found a white tuna nopal covered with luscious tunas but behind a cinder block wall in a Pasadena neighborhood. One penca hung over the alley, with a single fat juicy tuna. Tunas should be free.

On those stands of nopales covered with growing fruit, the green skins swell and change color. Purple-blue, red, yellow, and the best, the sweetest tuna, the white tuna. It’s not common, the other colors far more common.

Alleyway harvest. The penca will soon take root in the yard.

Colored tunas share a characteristic absent from the white tuna. Those others are grainy. La blanca actually is green. When it’s fully ripe, however, the fruit is soft to a squeeze and faintly green, hence, white. This tuna provides a fleshy, succulent bite, with not a profusion of seeds.

Eating a tuna is intuitive. Pop the whole fruit in your mouth, chew, swallow the seeds. Seeds are hard tidbits, so don’t chew them. The experience of eating a white tuna is most pleasant, smooth on the tongue with the texture of those seeds. Not so intuitive is how to get at the fruit.

Peeling a Tuna

Speaking of grandmothers, Lucha Corpi, the grandmother of Chicana Chicano detective fiction, sends along this refrain, a Spanish language corollary to those plums in the refrigerator,

"Me he de comer esa tuna, aunque me espine la mano..."

You will always get an espina when you peel tunas. That’s not fate, nor error, that’s the way it should be.

OK, wear gloves, go ahead. Novelist Liz Gonzalez burns off the outsides, an inspired idea usually applied in el monte where the tiny red tunas growing there in abundance have dense and treacherous pins and needles.

Hold the tuna between the espina clumps, the areoles and glochids, in botanical nomenclature.

Cut off both ends.

Slice a line across the tuna. Open the tuna.

Use a finger or knife to peel open the tuna.

Remove the naked fruit from the cascara. Introduce to mouth, whole or take a bite and share.

One bite short of a full tuna

Compost the cascaras or feed them to las gallinas. Careful handling the that espinosa detritus.

The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks
Six Chiles Chile Sauce

The Gluten-free Chicano made 6 Chiles Chile Sauce then went on about his business. An hour later, he absently rubbed an eye with a finger that, despite washings in the interim, burned the heck out of the insulted eye.

Rule #1 for making chile: Wash the heck out of those hands before and after.

Saving money while eating well comes with practice, bargains, and ingredients. Hot chile sauces are so inexpensively made, why lay down three or four dollars when you can make your own? The economics of commercial chile sauces are such that The Gluten-free Chicano met a fellow in Mexico who owned a bottle-making factory. The vato went into the chile sauce business just to have a market for his bottles. A couple pesos for the inside, fifty cents for the container. Fill, label, sell the sauce at two bucks and change in the EUA.

The chile varieties in the 6 Chiles Chile recipe--Arbol, Piquin, Thai Upright, Red Dragon Cayenne, Habanero, Caribbean Hot--aren’t de rigueur. Use whatever the garden provides, or buy packages of dried whole chiles in the grocery store.

What is essential in the 6 Chiles Chile recipe is good ingredients. These chiles grew in Pasadena, Van Nuys, and Altadena. All local, all sustainable, no pesticides. Non-GMO to each grower's knowledge.

These chile pods recently dried on their own, some for several weeks others The Gluten-free Chicano harvested a few days ago. When they’ve turned red on the plant they’re already beginning to dry. Make a loose pile of pods in a shallow bowl, keep that out of the sun with air circulation for several days. The chile pods will be brittle, leathery, and wrinkled when they’re ready to toast.

Heat a good pan like an old cast-iron sartén. No oil.
Scatter the chiles one layer deep, more or less.
Shake constantly until the chiles begin to pop and crackle. You’ll start to get a noseful of hot air that will drive the locals out of the kitchen. Some pods will blacken, that’s a good thing.

Empty the skillet onto a paper towel or clean dish.

One by one, break off the stem end and put the good part into a blender vessel. At this point your hands are coated with the chile so keep hands away from eyes and lips. Some might use latex gloves, that’s a good approach.

Crush the pods down against the blades. Add a splash wine vinegar or cider vinegar, some salt, some garlic powder, ½ cup water. Adjust the liquids to aroma, taste, and blendability. You want the blender to whirl liquid, not thick paste.

Pulse. Push pods into liquid. Pulse.

Blend at high speed for at least a minute. If the mix is too thick, add water.

Dip a finger into the finished work and give it a test. Good? Need salt? Less is better. Need garlic? No such thing as too much ajo. A splash more vinegar brings up flavor. Allow the sauce to sit for an hour then taste again. Flavor builds over time. Of course, you can roast garlic teeth with the pods and whiz them in.

If you're going to use a lot of fresh ingredients, consider a molcahete version of chile, using fresh chiles, see this link. You can use a molcahete instead of a blender to make dried chiles chile sauce.

The chile sauce should pour easily into a storage container. You can make a thinner sauce by adding water, salt, and vinegar to taste or diet, and storing in a bottle.

Floricanto On-line for Hoary November
Nephtalí De León, John Martinez, George Wallace, Leticia Garcia Bradford, Arnoldo García

Winter brings chilly weather and a few miserably cold days. Sidle up to the penetrating warmth, be it from nostalgia, fury, frustration, rage. Five voices sing. Relax, absorb, enjoy.

Who Cares? By Nephtalí De León
MORNING POST By John Martinez
Three in Five By Leticia Garcia Bradford
Xiricahua By Arnoldo García

Who Cares?
By Nephtalí De León

I stumble in the dark
no light, not a spark,
I look for water in my sink
there’s nothing to drink
no water in my shower
no water in my toilet my heart sinks…
seawaves all around me
but not a drop to drink

you’d think we were
in the middle
of the middle ages but it’s 2017, 21st Century,
we got no power for anything
no refrigerator, no food,
every day I wonder what
and where I’m going to eat
no gas, no stove,
no electricity,
no home

do you hear me?
and the yellow thing
that lying pervert yellow thing
that some people call
the president of the united states
says we can’t keep fema
or first respondents there
only 16 years plus
in Afghanistan to make war
never declared by congress
or anyone else...
who cares about saving lives
Puerto Rican lives

Nephtalí De León es poeta, pintor, escritor, muralista, dramaturgo, screenwriter, anteriormente trabajador migrante de campo. Su educación formal llegó hasta high school, rechazando todo estudio formal más alto como arma de colonización, y eurocéntrica. Buscó sus raíces entre los pueblos humildes y trabajadores de America (USA). Escribe para todas edades, desde niños y niñas hasta niveles universitarios, y frecuenteménte ilustra sus obras. Ha sido publicado en Mexico, Estados Unidos, Francia, España y China. Su poesía se ha traducido a 12 idiomas: Arabe, Ruso, Chino, Francés, Catalán, Vietnamés, Portugués…

Vocero, no por, sino con su pueblo, se auto-denomína, Chicano de Aztlan, nación colonizada por lo que el llama “Euro-ilegales”– alien Euro illegals. Se dice haber nacido y crecido en el exilio interno de su tierra, invadida y colonizada, nación de Aztlan.

By John Martinez

There was a time, when we were all shirtless in summer, our brown skin smooth over perfect, well-tuned muscles. We were like Salamanders; faster than fish, quicker than a snake in the water. Our world was a field, in the back of a Project home, where the Government stopped building; the line of the Bermuda, sprouted wild strands of weed, dandelion, wild palm. When we crossed that line, we fell off the Government radar, their clean pressed workers, would never find us, in a fox hole, in the center of the field, toking on "dank," the powder that was left in the empty baggy we found, in our big brother's sock drawer. And as an older man, now moving into my Salt 'n Pepper age, where everything has now become like an institution; my medical insurance, investment, pending retirement. I am on a regimen, my time guided by an iPhone calendar, even my dinner dates with Rosa...All calendared...Everything is so systematic. It has always been my belief, even as a young boy, that I would have to do this to survive. And I did. And so, I go back, to when time worked itself on us. It was sporadic, unpredictable. One day, we would shoot arrows into the air, until one of us almost got killed, and then we shot them into an old tree stump. Animals changed our days. Sometimes, we'd chase a possum that managed to travel to us by way of the wash, a shallow ditch that ran east, emptying into a reservoir, surrounded by a chain link fence. We would chase the little bastard until we got tired or until he managed to wiggle under the chain link door. I go back, because we all have a place in ourselves, that was exploding with wonder. This place, so unlike our present lives, becomes something, particularly precious, something special to us. So, like myself, I believe we all reel back, in some ways. But what I learned from this, is that I should never believe that my time is gone, and that the only thing relevant, or real, is the present. I love the present; Rosa, my children, my grandchildren, this big family of mine. If you knew me, personally, you would know, that backyard parties at my house is my specialty. Part of writing down memory and sharing it, is like blowing life back into it, recovering what was once, perfectly alive, and making it, forever. There is a great loneliness, yet liberation, when you understand that everything you do, is an attempt to bring back what you have done, as it is the only gear you possess, that will move you into the future. Our stories, our lives, our childhood, even this time, which is now the time passed, when I began this post, is essentially, that which makes us who we are, now, and in our future.

John Martinez has published poetry in several journals, including, LA WEEKLY, EL TECOLOTE, Red Trapeze. This will be his 17th poem published in LA BLOGA. Martinez studied creative writing in the early 80's at Fresno State University under former U.S., Poet Laureate Phillip Levine. For the last 30 years he has worked as an Administrator for a Los Angeles Law Firm and has recently completed his long-awaited manuscript of 60 poems entitled PLACES, which will be published by IZOTE Press.

By George Wallace

francis scott key waves his red white and blue suede shoes and sings o beautiful for spacious skies, o what a morning burning with stars and money and plenty of gunpowder

a single jaundiced eye surveys the seven seas, there is no other ocean for us, we own them all, let freedom ring, surrender dorothy this is your captain speaking

paul bunyan takes an axe and crushes everything he sees; elvis grabs a lo-jack and cruises time square in heroin dawn - you can't take that away from me no no

and trayvon had skittles and the cop had a gun

and we’re keeping the poor folk down in freedomland & you want me to salute that? look me straight in the eye, tell me straight to my face you don’t know how much you and your kind have stole

even if I love you dan'l webster and the way you put your pants on one leg at a time and outtalk the devil

even if I love you henry david thoreau and the way you won't pay for war on mexico and canoe the merrimack

even you margaret fuller boring as a cruise ship even you ralph waldo emerson holier than thou and johnny appleseed (tinpot capitalist) and oliver wendell holmes (autocrat of the breakfast table)

and walt whitman and walt whitman, chest hairs waving in the magnanimous sun, free as an elevated railway that's jumped its track, walt whitman whistling with sweat and incubating groovy ideas for a nation with no ideas of its own

this is the sweet smell of allegory in the morning, and flowers are napalm and automotive parts are rainbows, and america is a rusty shopping cart hauling veterans to the walmart parade

and miracles fall from rooftops like wall street suicides, and rich men give birth to tennis courts, and women giving birth to each other

and children will always be children and innocent in the bittersweet chapel of jarring citizenship

and an immigrant organ grinder making a lonely buck on a lonely streetcorner

organ grinding, organ grinding, organ grinding -- there, i said it three times -- a sweet, impractical, tubular, enigmatic american freedom song

George Wallace is writer in residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace, first poet laureate of the National Beat Poetry Festival, author of 31 chapbooks of poetry and winner of the 2017 Naim Frasheri international poetry prize. A writer of celebration and witness, he has contributed his voice to human rights issues since the 1960s, when he was an outspoken generational critic of the Vietnam war. Since that time he has been active in a range of social justice issues, and interfaced with such figures as Cindy Sheehan, Germaine Greer, Martin Espada, Jesus-Papoleto Melendez and Naomi Shihab Nye. In 2016 George's poem May Day Is Not The Day was included in the SB 1070 anthology Poetry of Resistance. This is his third appearance in La Bloga.

Three in Five
By Leticia Garcia Bradford

After dinner time
Here I have something for you
In the warmth of the sleeping bag
Here I have something for you
Pink frilly baby doll pajamas
Here I have something for you
What's the stats?
One in five Two in five

Sad shock
It's three in five
Innocence taken away
With mistrust and abuse
Innocence never to be given back
Innocence it's my fault

The wall breaks down again

Drugs alcohol food sex religion
Anything to dull the pain
Of the scars left behind
The wounds that won't heal
The years pass on
The buried past
Still emerges like an earthquake
From deep beneath the surface
Still trying to make peace
Of innocence gone
Only to reemerge in unwise choices

Leticia Garcia Bradford performs her stories and poems at open mics and readings around the SF Bay Area. She founded B Street Writers Collective (BSWC) in Hayward, CA. She is published in various local and national journals. She edited BSWC’s anthology FLY WITH ME which she is, also, the publisher for MoonShine Star Co. Check out her blogs: MY NEW ADVENTURE at leticiagarciabradford.blogspot.com, and LETICIA’S BLOG at lgbradford.blogspot.com.

By Arnoldo García

The prisoner of wars
Unbraids the ancestors
Unafraid of the imperial cage
She is free wherever she stands
She dreams us whenever she feels alone
She holds her left hand against her rib cage
Feels life defeat death
Feels freedom disentangle herself from the settler
She looks past us
she sees us where she will be
when the prisons and the forced marches are dust
And we rejoin her
Rebraiding horizons into her unbraided self
Prisoner of wars of liberation
Dream keeper of our struggle...

Arnoldo García is a culture-maker, community organizer and poet living in Oakland, California. He recently edited and published "Poets against War & Racism | Poetas contra la guerra y el racismo," a poetry chapbook featuring five poets writing in Spanish and English, available at:https://artofthecommune.wordpress.com/2017/10/31/new-chapbook-poets-against-war-racism-poetas-contra-la-guerra-y-el-racismo/
Some of his work is available at: lacarpadelfeo.blogspot.com and artofthecommune.wordpress.com

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