Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where Does Everyone Go When the (Communist) Party is Over?

Years ago when my wife and I were newlyweds, I wanted to buy my wife a greeting card for an important anniversary. I think it was the eighth month since our first date. Near my work was a drugstore with a greeting card section that was half Spanish and half English. The English greeting cards were riddled with double entendre. It was the type of humour that would have been mild on the loading dock where I worked but didn't express the tender feelings of a newlywed.

My Spanish is mostly a slow motion affair. If someone leaves El Diario on the train, I can break my teeth on a story and walk away with something. When I went into the Spanish section of the greeting cards, I found that they really expressed what I was feeling. The photography and drawing evoked romantic themes. The verses expressed a range of emotion far closer to what I was feeling. I ended up buying a Spanish card for my wife. I understood about two thirds of it. The rest I figured was probably OK.

When I went to visit my mother in Seattle once, the American music on the plane was awful. I was switching channels every five minutes. I switched to the Latin channel and stayed with it through three time zones. That was the plane ride that I discovered Ricardo Arjona. It is amazing how many different types of Spanish music there are, from bachata to Europop, from Andean music to the various forms of Cuban music. I once heard a British radio program that matched points in Africa with various types of music in the western hemisphere.

Maybe it's my Sephardic ancestry. Maybe it's someplace I've lived in this life or another. I always get a feeling from Spanish speaking people that their ancestors boarded a different boat from that boarded by my family. The Spanish speaking world is always on my mind. I feel that choices made years ago made me who I am today, and that I am looking at who I could have been.

I have always been fascinated with how people cope with totalitarian government. My father since he was Jewish did not experience the regimentation and thought control of Naziism. He saw the Hitler Youth marching. My aunt used to see Der Sturmer posted with its lurid headlines. But my aunt and father were outsiders. They observed the Nazification of Germany. It was a different experience than feeling it quicken their pulse or melting into a cheering throng. I had German teachers explain it to me later with varying degrees of candour.

My father always used to stress that life goes on, that much of life is the same here as it is there. I like to take a nation's pulse by sampling its entertainment. I have watched propaganda videos from Poland and North Korea. I have seen Iranian movies made for domestic consumption and for foreign film festivals. I like movies that show how ordinary people live. I like to sample as many variations of ordinary as possible. Watching movies is my way of traveling. I get claustrophobic if I watch three American shows in a row, unless it concerns Acadian French, Melungeons or some other ethnic group that interests me.

Today I was daydreaming of Cuba. For some reason its communist system just keeps on. Will it fade away or implode? What new challenges will the next revolution bring?

I brought up some Cuban pop music. There is a great group called Boni and Kelly, that sings the type of Italian music I used to listen to in high school. They are popular in Cuba, having been trained in Cuban schools. Additionally they have an international following. Some of their music is more Euro, some more African in its influences. Here is a link to their website. I am really happy to discover them. Their lyrics are not political. Some groups give you the feeling that there is a hidden message in their lyrics. Boni & Kelly do not seem that way. Their music would fit nicely into any Latin Top 40 playlist I wish them and their country well. With Cuban music and Cuban baseball*, a free Cuba has some great days ahead. I hope those days start soon.

* Cubans are avid baseball players and fans. Baseball distinguishes Cuban identity from Spanish identity in a way that bullfighting does not.


I included the two videos below from Boni & Kelly

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