It's snowing (again!) in Carlisle this morning, but spring training is underway and that's what matters. It's going to be a great year for the Pirates. And for right fielders generally. As I have written before, as long as we can keep playing baseball... Of course, one could argue that it is ridiculous to think about baseball when there is so much suffering all around us. How can we be dedicated to fun when there is hunger, war, disease, and loneliness? Can we make attempts to address human suffering and have fun? I think we can. Combining fun and solidarity will be on the agenda tomorrow at Carlisle Theatre, where Dickinson College students are organizing a fund-raising event for victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Something along the lines of a variety show: singing, comedy, dancing... A handful of CPYB students will participate and Daniela will perform her Flames of Paris solo. It's easy to be skeptical towards these kinds of events and our modest do-goodism in general: is there real compassion or do we help just to ease a guilty conscience? I've reflected some on this and am trying to be less skeptical because, in fact, I do believe most of us are sincere in our efforts. In any case, it would be wrong for me to worry about others' motives. It's the same as always: less talk, more work. Yes, time to get to work...
I don’t have faith. I should modify that: I don’t have the faith, not the kind so admirably identified by Clara Beltrán, a young woman from Sevilla who has a big career ahead of her singing cante jondo, the “deep song”. Although I don’t share Clara’s faith, I am moved by it. Seems somewhat paradoxical. And her saeta can move one to tears. Feel that. As she herself says, when she sings to her Christ she tears up. She also says quite emphatically that it's all about feeling, feeling that comes from faith. And then with that single pronoun she identifies something essential about saetas and, I believe, about cante jondo generally: the heart of things, the esential questions, are made real when expresssed in personal, intimate terms. (On the other hand, it’s quite funny how she catches herself when she’s about to utter something about having to sing to Christ figures that don’t mean much to her. But she doesn’t quite say it. She was on the cusp of giving voice to an uncomfortable truth regarding holy week celebrations in Southern Spain: contrary to the logic of Christian dogma, there are intensely held personal preferences regarding the iconography. ¡No te metas con mi Virgen! Count me among the guilty!) Back to the saeta: the suffering is felt intimately. There is nothing superficial about it. The voice, the gestures, and above all, the centrality of the setting, propitiate the comunication of intensely felt emotions. Pain so horrible it threatens our very existence. Love so immense it can redeem all. Is any of this real? She can be seen and listened to on this youtube video. Anyway, I came across this video in the context of my composition course, in which we listened to a few of the songs from Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. One of the songs is titled Saeta, and I wanted to give them some context, so that’s where Clara comes in. The point of listening to Miles was to talk about cultural borrowings. We didn’t get far in that conversation, but we’ll come back to it. (Above, "La chiquita piconera" by Julio Romero de Torres.)
Fidel will die and thousands of Cubans will pay homage. Fidel, the beloved! The leader! O, now we are orphaned. It won't be like the death of Franco, when, the legend goes, you could here the pops of the cava bottles being opened all over Barcelona. Newspapers around the world will print long obituaries. Novelists and experts on Cuba will weigh in. But before long things will change, and so too will opinions of Fidel. Soon, it will seem that almost no one had ever believed in him after all. Things will get better. There will be little nostalgia for the old days. But there will be some of a very predictable kind. People will say, "with Fidel this never happened". Crime, corruption, scandals of all kind. In fact, all those things did happen, but they weren't reported. Kind of like with Franco. The other day I was reading Granma, Cuba's official state newspaper, run by the Communist Party. I read an article about energy shortages and energy rationing. The double speak is fantastic. But not all the reporting is like that: some of the articles do seem to "play it straight" and now and then you can even find something that's critical. In any case, it can be interesting once in a while to get a glimpse into a rather different world. I guess I'm thinking about this because this past week I read two excellent autobiographies by Cuban writers who were imprisoned and tortured by Castro: Reinaldo Arenas (Before Night Falls, published in 1992) and Heberto Padilla (Self-Portrait of the Other, published in 1990). Both writers include detailed descriptions of their hellish experiences with Cuba's "State Security" apparatus. I can complain about the cold and snow, but I'm not really complaining. If I were really to whine about anything it would be worse than an embarrassment. I wouldn't be able to hold my head up.