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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.
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.