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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Licence To Kill

As far as I am concerned
they, these first ten years
of the new millennium,
have had a licence to kill.
As the last day of 2009
comes to an end,
I am hit by a double whammy.
Just a few hours after
learning of the death of
a relative of this person
I dearly love, there it is in
the paper the obituary
that Rolando Monterrosa,
one of my closest friends,
writes on the passing away
of a former coworker of ours,
Guillermo Peñate Zambrano
[his pix at right, click here for the story, or obituary, perhaps I should better say.]
Not getting now into the controversy of when the millennium (and the 21st century) actually began but some may recall that, as the 20th century came to an end, some debated what to name this first decade. "The millennium decade" believe somebody suggested, but I can't actually remember whether a specific moniker caught up.
Me, I thought I'd call them The Bond Years.
As in "Bond —James Bond", the fictional British spy.
And why not?
There was an "agent 008" that could replace 007 (as M was constantly reminding the character originally played by Sean Connery) and as any Ian Fleming's aficionado well knows there were certainly more than ten "double zeros" [were you not to be one, you can find out a lot about the superagents here.]
My reason to name these decade as The Bond Years was basically that: the year 001, 002, and so on. Each has a double zero.
But as the end of the decade now approaches, it kind of dawns on me that (on a personal level, that is) there is probably more than just appropriate for me to call them that. My father's death, in 2004, that of my mother's in 2008, and this latest news on the death of my dear friend Peñate Zambrano make me think that they, these years, have behaved a lot like the British spies with the double zeros: with a licence to kill.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Yo Te Lo Pido!

To understand what do I mean by the title of this posting, you'll have to listen to "Amores," where Midiala Rosales treats you (in her own words) to "a compilation of classic songs combined with new rhythms."
"What I wanted to do," says Midiala on the press release announcing that her music is now available in websites like, "was to rescue these beautiful old melodies with such gorgeous lyrics and present them in contemporary arrangements, with a mixture of styles and rhythms ... I wanted an album that sounded pretty much like Miami."
She does have a great voice and "Ódiame" —included on the album whose cover is above— is to my rather non-professional ear an outstanding effort.
If you want to know more about Midiala, go here:

A Golden Evening-iii

Getting the right shot at sunset on this specific site has proven to be elusive. There have been more than a couple of evenings where I've gotten there just a few seconds after the light was the right one. For now, this is my latest effort. The wide, slightly cropped shot, and a narrower view. Hope you like it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

For Your Eyes Only

'Mirroring Nature' is the title of the painting depicted above, which I have borrowed (without asking for anybody's permission) to include here. All that to justify my invitation for you to read what Jesús Rosado has to say about it and its author, Rafael López Ramos.
Go here: to enjoy both the critic and the pix.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Golden Evening-ii

These were taken just eight minutes apart on Saturday! Kind of like them a lot!

A Day At The Races

OK, for the record, Dario Franchitti won the 2009 IndyCar race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday.
The video is my "I-was-there" proof. Did nothing but enjoy the race, the sun, and the views.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Golden Evening-i

Having tried my hand at capturing a sunset, and not precisely with a professional camara (not that I fashion myself as a professional photog) I thought that it might be a good idea to picture another one. So, here you go, enjoy them! If I can find a better frame to shoot from, I will.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Golden Evening

There it is, the cropped version of this one pix I shot last evening on the way home! Those of you who have seen the original know that the setting is definitely less than ideal!
But it's such a beautiful sunset that it certainly makes you want to stop, get your camera out and snap a pix!

I did!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nature At Work-i

Neither this nor the two other pix on my previous post are uploaded here because I may consider them masterpieces.
With this one it is more a case of feeling aware of your surroundings.
While walking to the bus stop on Wednesday 10 June, 2009, with the sun shining bright after a few days of overcast skies and plenty of rain in Miami, I glanced to my right and there it was, the moon, at 7:15 in the morning! (Give or take a couple of minutes!)
Astronomers tell us that although it doesn't shine by itself, it glows basically because it is reflecting the light from the sun, the moon is actually very bright —brighter, as a matter of fact, than any other natural object in the sky.
It is right there, in the middle of it all, between the palm frond in the background. Enjoy!

Nature At Work

The idea here is basically to share the lucky shots you get when you happen to be in the right place at the right time (if there is such a thing as that regarding one's proximity to lightning during an electrical thunderstorm!)
At left there is the flash that struck on Friday 5 Jun, 2009, right in the middle of the rooftop basically across the street from the building where I go to work every day, a few seconds before the bolt that hit the building farther away, as shown on the right.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Father's Day-iii

Back in December 1983, some 20 years before his death
Back in December 1983
some 20 years before his death
My father was my hero not because of any medals or because he was all powerful and knowledgeable. His weakness did not make him less of a man for me. He succumbed to that weakness because he was a man, a human being. It was a failing of him, but he was not a failure. He proved it by confronting the failing brought about by his weakness, and by not letting it subdue him, by rising every time after the fall.
There are things, areas where I wish I had his strength. For all the satisfaction that I am sure he got out of seeing me, us, his children, succeed or do things right, there may have been dismay or disappointment on seeing us fail. Not because we displeased him, I'd venture, but because he knew we could do better [the pix here is from December 1983].
In essence, he taught us to be ourselves. Which is probably how it should be, I think. You start comparing yourself to people and inevitably there will be differences.
Let me just exemplify.
He was frugal where I’ve been profligate.
While I am a total klutz with manual chores, either for home repairs or at fixing automotive engines, he was dexterous. Ambidextrous, as a matter of fact.
How skilled on using either hand? He would like there was nothing to it start working on an engine, say dislodging a stubborn spark-plug on the driver side by manipulating the wrench with his right hand, and without missing a beat and barely shifting his body transfer the wrench to his left hand and effortlessly start working on the opposing plug on the passenger side.
The dexterity had been forced upon him. Left-handed at birth, he learned the use of his right hand back at the little private school that he had been sent in as a child.
Learned, I said, but read rather he was tormented into. The owner-principal-lone-teacher sat him on a chair, tied the left arm to his side and gave him a pencil. Cruel perhaps even by the standards of the end of the 1920s, which is when all this happened. He was matter-of-fact whenever he told this story.
By the time his schooling ended he had for all practical purposes lost his left-handedness. His calligraphy [because there was such a thing to learn when he was little] was almost impeccable and unless you knew the story nothing on how he handled himself would betray the fact that he was not born right-handed.
None of us his three children inherited the left-handed gene although all my three children did. That pleased him to no end. It’s not as boastful as it may sound. Just the fact that our children were his grandchildren was good enough for him. On those not frequent enough occasions when the telephone would bring us again together at a distance nothing was more important to him than to know what was happening with each one of them. “How’s ‘Hummingbird,’ still taking dance classes?” he would ask.
Distance for one, as well as my own failings conspired and there was at the end from my children’s side less than the reciprocity I would have liked.
By moving away, I sheltered them from the danger that armed strife represented. In the process, and it doesn’t really matter how hard you try to keep the connections open, the family that nurtured you becomes a stranger to the one you are caring for.
This is neither a recrimination nor a complaint, and certainly not a grievance, just a simple fact of life. In the end is actually nothing to dwell on; unfamiliarity is after all a killer.
Any recriminations after all I would have to direct to myself. Measures, decisions I once thought to be pragmatic, convenient, smart ones, turned out to be wrong.
I saw him last in February 1998, a few weeks after the second time I saw him cry: It was at the hospital where he had been operated on for prostate cancer.
Not that those were the only two times he cried.
Years before, a few weeks before the threats to my safety materialized in an attack that imperiled the life of my second child, he took me to the airport. Tears swelled in his eyes, my mother told me, on their way back home after seeing me depart.
And so it was that in April 2004, when cancer finally put an end to his life, I was absent. Could never comfort him nor bid goodbye to him in person. My lasting memory of him this disembodied voice that faltered, as mine did, during our last phone chat.
And so it is then that I remember him and his emotions. It is so then that I cry. Not because he died. I cry. Because I miss him.

Father's Day-ii

Payito & me, in a crop of a family photo
Payito & me, in a crop of a family photo

As human beings we are not of course strangers to tears. A certain kind of crying will always stay with us. The moment you see —or hear about— that type of crying it will impress in your mind. Take for example this friend of mine that I never saw cry and yet gave one of the most honest answers I’ve ever heard.
At the time we were having this conversation 'Platoon' was all the rage in theaters. He’d not seen it —and, most likely, never saw it.
“Don’t like war movies,” he replied when asked about what he thought of it. “War movies make me cry.”
This from a man whose many medals for valor and bravery and whatever soldiering prowess you can think have proudly displayed in his living room.
It was on another level and for different reasons the same with seeing my father cry —the pix here is cropped out of a family photo taken about 1958.
A man with a weakness certainly but not a weak man who that time at the cemetery showed me however unwillingly that your sensibility does not in any way sap your strength or diminishes you at all.
That is of course a lesson that you’ll learn if and when you have the right frame of mind. When you are not out to psychoanalyze every one to death. And, most certainly when you are not a manipulative jerk.
One reason I think that most of us men avoid crying or even acknowledge that we may cry at times is because of the danger that comes from those who will exploit that piece of information. Believe you me, that person interested in finding out what makes you tick has more than just a congratulatory word for you in mind.
Should you blurt out that respect from your peers is important to you [not in the sense of being the ultimate definer but more in a kind of I’ll-say-this-’cause-after-all-what’s-wrong-with-a little-Rodney-Dangerfield-in-each-of-us] beware if he later greets you each and every fucking time with a, “I respect you, my buddy!” or some kind of variation.
Probably too late for me to take advantage of that lesson, I have now finally come to understand why my father hid that emotional side of him.
And also why, other than Mayita, I may have been of the few to ever see him cry.
Neither one of us was out to manipulate him or take advantage of that soft side of him, much in the same way that neither Mayita nor me thought less of him for having a weakness, his occasional and distressing falls into alcoholic stupor.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Father's Day-i

With my maternal grandmother in a picture taken 50 years ago
With my maternal grandmother in
 a picture taken some 50 years ago
We were on the outside looking in, Payito and me, as the marimba band played on that balmy October night. As was his custom, he stayed home instead of going to the party. It was hours later, when darkness had fully enveloped everything that he had said, almost I think on a whim, "Let's go see the dance!", and carried me with him.
That night I was too little to comprehend the reasons why my father would flatly refuse to attend parties of any kind, save for the occasional family gathering. Half a century after being there, propped up by him to the windowsill so that I could also watch the people dancing, my recollection goes back to how fortunate I was that my father [with my maternal grandmother on the pix above] was treating me like a grown up, as I was actually [but not really] going to the town dance. The delight was even greater on realizing that none of my other friends was there.
He was hardly against socializing and enjoyed bantering and shooting the breeze as much as anybody. But the setting had to be the right one. When little, me or my brothers would literally roll on the floor at the jokes he told. Looking back, I realize that it was not so much what he said but how he said it. Best of them all was his gesturing when performing the onomatopoeic rendition of the misadventures of this poor feline that fell into a well.
The urges of the hen and the duck notwithstanding, its caterwauling for help was futile, especially after the goat proclaimed: "Baaaaad karma, kitten! You're buggered!" [It's more profane and certainly funnier, depending on who tells it, in the original version, trust me. You can read my versions of the jokes he told both in English  and in Spanish.]
Years later, when I grew up, I had the answer to why his dislike for parties: sometime during his youth, never knew if during his service as a National Guardsman or back when he had been to Panama, for example, he took to drinking. Binge drinking, that is. He would stay away from the sauce for months, even years, and then, one day, slip and fall. Eschewing parties was avoiding temptation.
This wonderfully gregarious and happy man was still there when the demon of alcoholism besieged him. You knew he was still around. Even then, despite my lack of understanding why he did that, I knew that his sickness was a reflection of his sorrows, whatever they were. Don't know quite well how to summarize it but here it is: his affliction reflected a man with feelings, not just one burdened with an addiction.
That night at the party — and I don't recall having it happened at any other time— I was actually amazed to hear my father ask the marimba band leader and also the town barber, to play this one song that spoke of a long lost love. Couldn't ever tell if it was in fact that he actually missed a woman or just happened to like that song. His emotion was so raw and intense that I always thought my asking would have been an intrusion.
It was not until some 20 or so more years after that night, when I confessed to my mother how difficult it was for me "to get her [my future wife] out of my mind," that I would come to understand why at such a short age I had been able to gauge the strength of his emotion — things, by the way, have changed a lot since then and in time one learns to do away with memories, so the preceding phrase should only be read in the context of what once was.
By then it was the mid-1970s and for the first time ever I had seen my father cry. At the town cemetery where tío Roberto was being buried I climbed atop a wall to shoot pictures of relatives and friends attending the funeral. Panning the area, the camera lens showed me far from the rest by one of the mausoleums this man with slumped shoulders, grief overcoming him, that sobbed almost uncontrollably trying to hide his pain.  
Not physically as close as we had been back then at a more joyous occasion, both Payito and me were again together emotionally bonded —on the outside, looking in.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Father's Day

Payito, keeling, with tío Roberto
Payito with tío Roberto
 on his right 
For all the joy and all the fun that my father meant to me, to us, his family, as well as the fact that he was seldom given to displays of affection, I find it ironic that my more vivid memories of him revolve around a few episodes charged with emotion, tears at times.
Why I feel so? You see, my father was far from sophisticated, somebody that you really would have to make an effort to catalog as complicated. With people, there are always of course things that you puzzle over, why somebody does this or that. In that he was no exception.
What I mean by him being unsophisticated is that, as I learned over the years through the anecdotal retellings of his relatives and friends, throughout his life my father was pretty much unchanged in being who he was. A quiet, strong man, not given easily to emotions.
My father is my hero, I once replied to the teacher quizzing me and my classmates on who was the person we most admired. And in a room full of high school students among whose parents there were physicians and lawyers and wealthy landowners, both the fact that I could say it when nobody else thought likewise, coupled with my recognition that by their standards he was just an ordinary person, filled me with pride, even if he was not there to listen me say it. But he knew.
My first recollection of him dates from around my toddler years, when I probably wasn't even 3 years old. Don't call it exaggeration if I tell you that I can still remember my loud sobbing at seeing my father leave the house to join my uncles [one of them, Roberto, is standing next to him in the pix above] on some kind of errand that would take them away for who knows how long.
Come on, you might say, all kids cry at seeing their father or mother leave! True enough. What's different is that by that age I had already started to acknowledge that my father was the very first person that I consciously loved. As opposed to say the way I loved my mother, not any less but more in a kind of it follows that she's going to be loved anyhow. She is, after all, your mother, right?
An even stronger childhood memory of him was only a few years away.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

One-Eyed Jacks-i

'In Mortal Sin,' which Wilson Blass and Paulo Quevedo are co-producing, might probably benefit from some of the publicity surrounding the telegenic Roman Catholic priest Alberto Cutié (see the promotional poster at right.)
In a recent conversation, the Puerto Rican playwright/director gave us some background. In the play, Juan de Dios (Quevedo) falls in love with Milagros (Pinzón) and struggles on whether to maintain his devotion to God or his earthly affection to the woman.
Certainly nothing out of this world, and hard from a novelty.
In fact, Blass himself makes the point that his play is based on the real life stories of two Roman Catholic priests (both known to Cutié, not necessarily at a personal level.) One of them is a known university professor, says Blass, who left the priesthood to marry and eventually divorced the woman, not before tormenting and berating her for having caused his downfall.
In a previous incarnation of his as a reporter for a syndicated program on one of the major Spanish TV networks, says Blass, he was contacted by police. They wanted him to help them lure the other priest, whom at the time they suspected to be a pedophile, into a solicitation charge. Because he wasn't wired to register the conversation, Blass adds, he opted to warn the priest that they were being watched and later told police that the priest had actually advised him to leave the area, as it was a known place for homosexual encounters.
Some time later, that second priest was murdered by members of a teenage gang.
You'll have to watch the play at the Byron Carlyle to see how Blass ties this all up.
Some of this obviously resembles Cutié's story. The clandestine sexual relation. The dilemma of serving the Church or loving the woman. Unknown to most, says Blass, is that Cutié was the first to read the play and approve of it. Most striking is his assertion (belief, perhaps) that the play itself may have somehow pushed Cutié towards engaging in the behavior that ultimately has brought him to where he is right now:
"He projected himself (on the script.) It was his own life (that he was reading about,) without my being aware at all that it was so."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

One-Eyed Jacks

It was the only film that Marlon Brando directed.
Nowadays, many probably consider it a forerunner of the so-called Spaghetti-westerns that would make Clint Eastwood a familiar name all over the world.
Back then in the early '60s when I first saw the movie, as it usually happened with most films one of my interests was to find out what was hidden behind the title. ‘One-Eyed Jacks’ clearly did not translate to ‘El Rostro Impenetrable,’ a fact that kind of made it a challenge for me to settle the question.
Close but no cigar, might actually be the best way to describe the translator’s approximation to the conceptual part on the title.
As any movie fan knows, it comes from the line that Brando's character tells to the one played by Karl Malden: “You're a one-eyed jack around here, Dad, but I have seen the other side of your face." They both were, which explains the plural jacks.
The allusion is to the jack of hearts and the jack of spades in a deck of cards.
And because we know of their common history, we understand better what Brando's character is telling Malden's.
The recent controversy around the Puerto Rican-born priest Alberto Cutié brought the Brando movie to my mind.
Not that I am moralizing, condemning or absolving here. The point is, I think, that whether we like it or not, however we may approach the controversy, there is no more one-eyed jack around, we have all now seen the hidden face.
We all know too that Cutié’s story is not unique.
What may be surprising to many is the apparent link between Cutié and ‘In Mortal Sin,' the play soon to be staged at the Byron Carlyle theater in Miami Beach.
Mexican soap-opera actor Paulo Quevedo (who starred in Doña Bárbara) and Alejandra Pinzón (Colombian, one of the main characters in Sin Senos No Hay Paraíso), both pictured here, star in the drama written and directed by Puerto-Rican Wilson Blass.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Forever February

Februaries have always been good to me. Not that I've ever been particularly fond of blanket statements but there you have it: as far as months go, Februaries have always been good to me.
Let's see.
My mother was born on a February (how much credit should I take for that making it a good-for-me-month it's debatable, but read on.)
It is also the birth month for the youngest of my three children: coincidentally perhaps, born one day shy of the date, eight years before, when I first saw the brightest and prettiest eyes that once loved me the most, her mother’s.
February is when the attack happened.
I’ve always thought of it as the month of rebirth for my second child, barely a few weeks over seven months old when the two gunmen came to the house.
One of them snatched the baby off the nanny's arms, pushed the teenager to the ground, kicked the front door wide open and —shielding himself, perhaps, with the tiny body— joined his companion in shooting the place.
"Afterwards, my father cried like a baby," my wife later said. The gunmen had carried out the obviously intimidatory attack unaware that he was inside the house, and armed with a snub-nosed .38.
He had been unaware that one of the attackers was shielding himself with the baby. In finding that out later, he couldn't bear the thought that in shooting back, he had risked harming her, not the gunmen.

Those are some of the reasons why Februaries have been good to me. Optimist that I am, I'd probably say the same for any other month.
After all, it's not only Februaries where, once the event is gone, you realize that life’s still around just because something that's not precisely definable prevented things that would have put you in harm's way.
Roll back to just a few weeks before the attack, in November.
Early in the morning on a slow day for news, we are invited to join friends on a trip to
Guatemala. The invitation's actually for my bureau chief, who's to meet his brother returning from a private visit to the United States
. He inquires if I can tag along and the answer is yes.
Departure time: “We’ll let you know,” he is told, with the understanding that we’ll probably be boarding sometime in mid-afternoon or early evening.
This is the era before cellular telephony and though portable (car-mounted) phones and radios were already in use, neither one is available to us. Time passes, and as lunch time approaches, we board my friend's old VW microbus.
He’ll drop me home and we'll both be back at the office in the afternoon to take care of whatever news develops, and also wait for the phone call to head to the airport.
As luck would have it, some unexpected traffic jam diverts us from our usual route to the Boulevard de los Héroes, for many years now bustling with shops, cafes and restaurants with outdoor terraces.
As we past Manolo's just across the median, I tell my friend, "Let's stop for a bite." The u-turn is just a couple of blocks away. As we approach it, my friend asks: “What if they call?” He answers himself: “Nah, they said departure time mid-afternoon, let’s go.”
So we stop at Manolo's and 'a bite' turns into a rather moderately long lunch, ice-cold beer poured into frosty mugs to help us both wash down the food.
We finally make it home. Because it’s not too far away from his, I walk to the house I am heading to and as soon as I enter, the phone rings: “They called. Take-off is about now, think we can make it?” my friend asks. “Call them and find out," I say.
He does, but it’s too late. I usually make fun of the manner in which we in my native country usually reply to queries of, “Are they still there?” The answer will invariably be, “Acaban de salir, si se apura los alcanza.” (They just left, if you hurry up you’ll catch up with them not too far away.)
Most likely, the “just left” happened long ago enough for the people you are looking for to have returned.
Not this time, though.
On approach to the Guatemalan capital national airport, the plane crashes and our friends, all of our friends on board, are killed.
It’s hard to think of the disaster as an accident, given the experience and skill of the pilot. At the same time difficult to pinpoint as the product of sabotage. And if that was the case, were we, my colleague and I, also targets of the attack?
Can’t answer that, I fear. Whatever the answer may be, for me one thing it’s clear: goodness or kindness is not, should not be attributable to months.
So hear or read my introductory assertion as God has always been good to me in Februaries, always good no matter what the month, day or year.
I probably don't deserve it but hey, who am I to buck His will?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monsignor and Me-i

In time I will be blogging about subjects other than things from the past but as you may understand, when you have 40-plus years of work to think about there is plenty to remember. Not all of it is good not everything is bad. There are things that even now I wish I had done differently. I could be of course speaking for just about everybody and not just myself.
There is an element of pride in remembering where I was at a certain point in time and how I reacted to things. But there is also a distinctive touch of humility that comes with it.
Allow me please to explain.
Just a glance to the reprint of the interview with monsignor Romero, that you can see in my previous post, shows a number of mistakes that I have regreted since the original time of publication. The opening sentence: "Cualquier persona que conozca..." I would have liked to substitute for: "Cualquiera que conozca..." To say the least.
And just immediately after, beginning the second graph, there is also another glaring mistake that basically made me cringe when I first read it: "Y es que no hay motivo..." I wrote. My mother, who taught me a lot about writing, was certainly not responsible for that one.
At the time of reprint, I could very well have asked that some of the mistakes I had noticed were amended. I can honestly tell you this: the thought never entered my mind. Then, as now, the pride is not enough I hope to make me vain. In short, neither the clippings nor my present writing am I offering as perfection. This is me, then, warts and all.
You will naturally look at pictures from years past. An "I was there" kind of statement, should the reproduction of newspaper clippings not be enough to convince you. The pix on the right is one of those. I am at the foot of the stairs with three other Salvadoran journalists on our way to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. It was the first flight from El Salvador to the neighboring nation since 1969, when both countries fought in what came to be known as the "soccer war".
Newspapering, journalism in general, abounds in examples of not too careful writing.
On ocassions, specially when working for a wire service, where your story has to be ready for transmission before the competition can send theirs, the rush to beat them sometimes compounds the mistakes. Your goal is to get the facts straight, get them fast, and put them out the fastest with no mistakes —or as few mistakes as possible.
As we all know, that doesn't always happen. The dispatch reproduced at top left is but another example: to the writing mistakes in the original story, as published on Wednesday 26 March, 1980, in the Mexican daily Excelsior, you can also add the repetition of a phrase at the end of graphs 13, 14, and 15. Whether it was me, my editors, or the typesetters at Excelsior that made the mistake, no one can now tell.
Mind you, the way you wrote your story and filed it from a Thirld World country in turmoil like El Salvador was not specially conducive to perfection. You composed and edited your story on humongous machines whose keyboard you banged with all the strenght your fingers could muster if you wanted to put out an "idiot tape" that would give you a five-by-five readout.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Monsignor and Me

Back in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, when I was a Washington, D.C.-based foreign correspondent for one of the three main wire services that I worked for during my many years as journalist, a top State Department official used to say that relations between countries should not be viewed as a snapshot, but rather like a movie.
The same can be said of course about life itself.
The fact that the official used this argument to sometimes avoid answering a controversial issue does not rest validity to his point, which in my opinion he had brought to the context of international relations from some other discipline.
Many times and for different reasons I constantly remind myself of such a view. Occasionally, it comes to mind rather forcefully. Such has been the case in the past few weeks, while looking over old papers and files and remembering some of the issues I have written about and some of the people I have known or interviewed.
One of those people is Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, the archbishop of San Salvador assassinated by a sniper on 24 March, 1980, while officiating mass in remembrance of the deceased mother of another Salvadoran journalist, Jorge Pinto h.
I quote the view held by the former State Department official because of the picture I am posting here. It's the scanned page of the interview that "el Padre Romero" (as most Roman Catholics in El Salvador called him, even when he was already Monsignor Romero) granted me back in 1977, a few days after his formally assuming his new position. Originally published on 6 March, 1977, it was reprinted on 30 March, 1980, the day thousands congregated outside the National Cathedral in San Salvador to attend his funeral.
In future posts I will reminisce some more about Romero. If a life, especially in cases like that of monsignor Romero, shouldn't be judged solely by that one instant in time when something was said or done, what about the opposite? What if your views are firm and solid and remain, no matter what? Shouldn’t that snapshot account as a total reflection of your lifework.
Among the many people that loudly denounced his murderers there were, I am sure, some of those who in the early months of his fated tenure as an archbishop referred to him as “the old son of a bitch" for his refusal to embrace their radical positions.
Neither the people who opposed him and probably rejoiced on his death nor the radicals who hounded him probably ever listened to what Romero held true. As you read in the interview, I asked him whether there was in fact a "new Church."
His answer may have been equivocal to some but it was clear for anybody to understand: "The Church is perennial. The Church is always the same: a Church that extends Christ's mission in the world."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The General and Me

The scattering of patrons was the first signal to us that something was amiss. Like that rustle of leaves you hear in the forest, when there is nobody else but you out for a stroll to enjoy the solitude and every step you take makes the little creatures scamper and run for cover.
Next it was Paola and her friend who had joined us at the table for a drink and in hearing the commotion, glanced back at the entrance door and, faster than you can even think to ask “What the hell's going on?” both got up, mumbled something unintelligible and headed to wherever exotic dancers go when they are not occupied trying to fleece you.
While we might have then qualified as good ol’ boys, the Club Safari was not one of our usual haunts. Fact is, we had not been there before and after that night, were never again to visit while it was still in business. Had it not been for the fact that my colleague and coworker had earlier made Paola's acquaintance —one of those chance encounters where you exchange pleasantries, find out what the other one does and let time and opportunity decide whether to pursue a second meeting— we might have very well stayed true to the usual after work routine: clock out, hail a cab, and head for the joint where the beer was cold, the appetizers tasty, the food plentiful, and everybody knew your name (that one is from Cheers, I know, so sue me!)
You talked shop, pondered immortality, ate enough to keep alive, and drank not to oblivion but enough to get a buzz and be grateful that you were riding cabs and not driving. That way, you didn't have to worry about the stalking national policemen out to extort anybody on the streets, whether you were young and dumb enough to be at the wheel after having a couple (or more than a couple) of drinks or just an anguished father rushing to the nearest drugstore on duty.
To this day my friend and I still wonder why we didn’t follow the scattering patrons.
As I recall, we got to the place around midnight. It had been one of those spur of the moment decisions you take after suddenly deciding that the night's still young and why head home just now. It’s early, we used to say, sun’s not up yet!
It was also a Friday, which by that time everybody had started calling L'il Saturday: Sábado Chiquito. A testament I think to the power of advertising, where the nickname originated at about the same time that Chepe Toño (the character that promoted the more popular alcoholic drink made out of sugarcane) set house in Salvadoran lore —once he did, you never again invited a friend to go out for a drink, you went to “get a Chepe Toño,” that is “a echarnos un Chepe Toño!”
How and why that type of stuff stays on we might talk about it some other day. However it happens, what's clear is that you just don't improve on such sayings just like that. Somebody tells you on a Thursday how grateful we need to be because it is "Almost Friday" (Cachi Viernes) and it sounds contrived, just won't stick.
In time, I came to realize that we were both (my friend and I) being watched over and protected more than we probably deserved. God, it is said, takes care of children, drunkards, and fools. We were certainly not drunk and way past the age of innocence but we certainly qualified at that precise moment as fools. Read on.
“Better you both take cover. It’s the general,” Paola told my friend, who got up to inquire about the ruckus while she was safely hidden behind a column. So were the waiters, the dancers, the bouncers, and all the other patrons. Except for the two of us still sitting and nursing our drinks, all other tables and chairs were empty.
By "the general" she meant José Alberto "El Chele" Medrano. It was the early 70s and while both my coworker and I knew well enough who "the general" was, neither had ever made the general's acquaintance.
You didn't have to work in a newspaper or even read the newspaper to know who "the general" was. Fame and notoriety surrounded him.
The pix here shows him leading a column of national guardsmen at the time of the war between El Salvador and Honduras, in 1969. I've always thought that it was staged. Were you to look at the original you might notice even more how Medrano's boots are rather shiny, odd if it's rainy weather in the countryside. Unseen is the .357 Magnum revolver he was usually photographed with, in a holster across his chest.
Back in the days when "death squad" had still not made its entry into the political lexicon in El Salvador, Medrano was reputed to be one of the earliest founders or sponsors of such groups. A “death squadder” was still someone you only associated with the sordid and clandestine campaign of annihilation of marxist urban guerrillas or common criminals in South American countries. As you can see from the reminiscence here by the veteran journalist Francisco Romero Cerna (Don Chico, to most everybody) there was a lot to be fearful of or at least apprehensive about were you ever to cross “El Chele” Medrano.
Fact is, as per Paola's rushed and hushed warning to her friend, my coworker, that night, you didn't even have to cross "the general". Most of the patrons that night at the night club were regulars, therefore familiar with his coming into the club, drunk as a skunk, and fire away his weapon. Was anybody ever injured during such a display? My guess is that all the scattering patrons would rather not stay put to find out.
“What do you think, shall we scamper away? She thinks, and so does her dancer friend, that we ought to,” said my friend.
“Too late now for that,” I replied, as “the general” made his entrance into the lounge, dutifully holding his .357 Magnum on his right hand and followed by his bodyguards, who promptly cased the joint to make sure that no one would dare confront or threaten the old soldier.
Even Salvadoran teetotalers can precisely distinguish the different stages of drunkenness. “Picado” is the equivalent of “a buzz”, and “zapatón” (roughly, flatfooted) defines the guy who’s actually well imbibed but lucid enough to realize that he is, at the same time trying to prevent his listing to either side by stomping rather than walking.
As soon as we saw him head to our table, we both realized that Medrano was neither “picado” nor “zapatón” or even “dead drunk”. He was actually as it is said “on autopilot”, the palimpsest stage of alcoholism evidenced not by the unsteady walk or the stench of alcohol, but rather by the nothingness behind the dark and bloodshot eyes.
“Good evening, general, sir," I greeted him, as Medrano pointed his revolver right up to my forehead (a rather difficult target to miss, if you really want to know.)
“How are you doing, sir? Good evening,” my coworker dutifully chimed in, as "the general" waved the revolver to his right.
There was of course no answer from "the general." He more or less waved the Magnum around, strolled for a few seconds by the empty tables, and left.

Neither my friend or me ever made much of the incident. We were at the time old enough to have surpassed the "age of invulnerability," that absurd feeling you have that nothing will ever harm you that characterizes your teen years. Perhaps naively we just thought, "why run, if we haven't done nothing."
Once when we reminisced about the story and younger friends listening inquired whether the general in fact pointed the gun at either one or both of us or just waved it around, and also whether it was the famed .357, my recollection is that we just exchanged a look —the one that says that when you are staring at the wrong end of the barrel of a gun, details like that are meaningless, you just thank God for shielding you from harm.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why Not The Real Thing?

Anybody who watches TV has probably seen the commercial.
In the ads for this car manufacturer, an apparently unbiased driver explains why he chose this specific model. Since all other carmakers are promoting their sedans as "having the features" that his chosen model has, he says, the decision is clear: why not buy the one they are comparing themselves to?
That take on comparative advertising resembles the one you might probably find in many major American cities. Pictured above is a poster on a Miami Metrobus, where riders are invited to find out about Islam, headlined as "The message of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, & Muhammad."
I'll leave the theologians to debate that.
Not being one, for me the answer is already clear and runs along the lines of the one given by the driver in the aforementioned commercial: I already have Jesus, I'll stay with the real thing.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Teacher

En otro lado, también, tengo esta reminiscencia de mi madre. De nuevo, la versión en español la agregaré luego.
My mother died August 12, 2008. Whatever good I have in me I owe it both to her and to my father, who died April 15, 2004. Anything bad I am or have, of course, it's me... only me.
The way my family tells the story I learned to read at a very early age. Long before I was ready for school and perhaps even longer that school, and teachers were ready for me. As it should be clear to anybody, I don’t recall how it happened. Which probably helps me for the purpose of this story, as the idea is not to provide a detailed account. Needless to say, I cannot tell you either why or when or how did I become conscious of my ability to make sense of the alphabet. And by that I mean not only the skill to identify the individual letters, but also the ability to make sense of how they were to be spelled out once they were strung together into words. Most likely at the beginning it happened with words written in chalk on a blackboard, although I certainly cannot discount the possibility that they were first handwritten on pieces of paper while my two aunts (both my father’s sisters on his mother’s side and both still in elementary school) cared for me and did their school homework. Fresh (should there be anything to be so called after more than half a century of having first happened) is the memory of sitting on their laps and following the rhythms of the spoken word as they learned, practiced and polished their reading skills.
This is not however about me. At a certain point in my life, I’m sure, there may have been some boasting attached to my reading skills. Children, after all, are like that. Go ahead and tell your tot how good he or she looks while frowning or squinting and there will be no end to frowns or squints followed by roars of laughter.
As the story goes, it was at that time of my aunts doing homework when my grandmother discovered my precocious ability to read. Not because of my parroting whatever they were reading at the time. We lived at my grandmother’s house in this semirural town in South-Eastern El Salvador, either by coincidence or design next to the elementary school for girls where my mother was one of the teachers. At times, when my restlessness would make her patience run short and perhaps in an effort to soothe my demands to see my mother—whom I knew to be there just a few steps away, caring for children that weren’t hers—Ma Menche or some other relative attending us (there was already my brother, Reynaldo, to take care of) would carry me to gaze at my mother through the open window, while she labored on showing her pupils the wonders of the alphabet. "Teacher, teacher, your son is at the window again!", the girls would yell. And it was there next to the banana plants and the cashew tree, not far away from where the mango tree shaded the wooden sink where Ma Menche did the laundry later to dry al fresco that I would fall asleep in her arms, while looking at my mother write on the blackboard and lead her pupils in reciting the alphabet and learning the wonders of language through words that in their simple structure had in them hidden the complexity of discoveries yet to be made.
And so it is hyperbolically how one day I was babbling baby-talk and the next I’d be reading off the first-graders book. And sooner than most children, be anxious for the daily paper to arrive to chuckle with the comics. Gazing at my mother while she was busy teaching to other children was not, I think, the only way I learned to read. At bedtime The Arabian Nights stories would come alive with her retellings. Her words I believe did more than just calm down whatever fears you go to bed at night when you are little. Perhaps a better way of explaining this would be to say that by the time I got to see in books or magazines pictures or illustrations of the things that Mayita narrated to me at bedtime, I was not actually looking at something new. More of a side-by-side comparison of images with the ones already planted in my mind by my mother’s words.

The Imagine Game

Por ahí tengo, en otro lado, este relato que hice para mis nietos. La versión en español la agregaré luego.
Wrote this story a long time ago for my grandchildren. There are eight of them now.
“Let’s play the game, Koko!”
As usual, it was CP the one asking her brother to initiate what the five of them had come to know as The Imagine Game. And also as usual Xuxi had only smiled at Koko, glancing at him like saying, “Gee, I was wondering how long it would be this time for Kaké —CP’s other nickname—to ask us that.”
As Xuxi smiled broadly at Koko, Junior stared expectantly at the three of them and L’il Bean, the youngest in the group, did likewise not too far away.
The Game was not properly a game at all.
It was a trio of old Spanish ballads made into a lullaby. Silly phrases off an old fairy tale, some would call it a fable, modified every time the story was retold anew. Phrases that as their mothers knew well made no sense. Words in short that would make them laugh, precisely because they were absurd, long before they knew what absurd meant or were even aware of the existence of such a word.
More importantly, the game was basically just about anything the five of them could come up with every time they played it. As each and every one of them had found out, it was a learning tool. Because in playing it, they had also learned a lot —about each other, and about themselves.
Junior, who was no Junior at all, had been the one to teach them that the one day she had replied to Xuxi’s request that anyone say aloud a four letter word for care and affection.
“Nana!,” Junior had shouted at the top of her lungs.
And L’il Bean, who as both Koko and Cinnamon Panda had been ready to say “love,” knew that she was right.
“Not all four letter words are bad, as you can see,” Xuxi said.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Primer posting

Lo acabo de crear.
¿Por qué Como decíamos ayer?
Simplemente, la frase del fraile ha sido siempre una de mis preferidas y el antetítulo con que mi mentor en periodismo solía publicar sus comentarios editoriales.
Luego abundaré más en el tema, si es necesario.
Pero en síntesis, es porque recoge tanto el que la vida tiene que discurrir sin resentimientos ni rencillas ni rencores (o, de lo contrario, se gasta) como también el que debe ceñirse uno a principios.
En más de 40 años de presencia en el mercado laboral, el grueso de esas cuatro décadas ha sido como periodista. Lo mismo como redactor de EL DIARIO DE HOY de El Salvador en mis inicios que como corresponsal de agencias extranjeras ahí, en mi mismo país, o reporteando desde Washington, D. C., Miami, Fl., o zonas rurales y urbanas de naciones tan diversas como Corea del Sur, Francia, Tailandia o Cuba.
Así las cosas, no tiene nada de curioso que a lo largo de esas cuatro décadas, muchas de las notas que en algún momento he escrito hayan tenido que ver con Cuba.
Para muestra, dos que me he encontrado por ahi al andar, como dice la canción, "buscando cosas viejas".
Hay una nota de 1997 que puede verse aquí,, y otra más reciente, ilustrada al tope y que se puede leer aquí, .
Por ahí nos vemos ... o nos leemos.