Saturday, April 26, 2014

Easter Friends, Getting Older, Adios García Márquez, Sonia Garro, Two Sainted Popes, Swazi King

During Easter week, a young visitor on spring break from college, Estefani, is shown here working on her laptop in my living room in a position impossible for me to achieve any more. The other photos are of my daughter Melanie on Easter Sunday with our former next-door neighbors, now living in a retirement community. Melanie grew up with them always living next door. But, finally, they found that fixing up their house, over a century old, and going up and down stairs became too much. So now they live comfortably on the ground floor of a retirement community with all services, such as meals, provided and with access to planned trips. In the case of a medical or other emergency, prompt help is available. What’s not to like? I’m trying to pinpoint why I would resist living in such a place. Perhaps it’s the planning, first, that the planning is largely done for the residents, not by them—sure they have choices, such as which entrée to choose—but they don’t set the agenda, and, second, because there are few if any surprises. Too bland, too comfortable, I would say. But I may eat my words and be eating in communal dining room myself in the future if disabilities catch up with me, compelling me to live in a similar place.

 Now, at age 76, I’m finding out what getting older is really all about, something hard to imagine when you’re young.  People are living longer and becoming more physically and mentally disabled in the process. They used to succumb to a heart attack or stroke or even cancer and that was fate or the will of God. Now, medical interventions allow them to survive, though in a somewhat debilitated state—even cancer can become a chronic illness. Half of those over 85 are said to have a degree of dementia and there are more people in that age bracket than ever before. They require regular medical care and often care for daily living. So, retirement communities serve a purpose. Few of us will live to a ripe old age with no health problems or mental and physical disabilities and then suddenly drop dead without any warning—of what, pray tell?


With the death of Gabriel García Márquez, I’ve heard many mispronunciations of his name. First of all, though he is usually referred to by his double last name, García Márquez  (father’s first, then mother’s), when only one is used, it should be García, not Márquez which many commentators have used alone, including the NY Times. And on the radio, this error is compounded by pronouncing it as MarQUEZ, when the emphasis on his mother’s surname is on the first syllable (which carries an accent mark), Márquez (MARquez).  His mother was Luisa Márquez, his father Gabriel García, so he used García Márquez to distinguish himself from his father.  As mentioned in my new book, García—or García Márquez, if you prefer—wrote a book about his friend Fidel Castro over 30 years ago, but declined to publish it because he felt it would tarnish Fidel’s reputation. If that manuscript still exists, it should be resurrected now.

 A friend of this blog had the following (below) to say about the third Easter spent in prison, so far, of afro-Cuban Sonia Garro, a member of the Damas de Blanco. Amnesty International has not designated her as a prisoner of conscience (POC) because when she and her husband were up on a rooftop, surrounded by soldiers, he threw down a roof tile that hit one of the soldiers below, injuring him slightly. Amnesty requires POCs to have neither advocated nor engaged in violence. Both Garro and her husband were charged with “attempted murder,” though as far as I know, have not gone to trial.

 Well obviously the regime has said that if the husband is violent and the wife is a Dama, she's twice guilty. But it's clear that they were targeting Garro. Otherwise, why not arrest the husband only? It sounds like there are credible witnesses who finger him, and that no one has come forward to say that she was participating in the self-defense (aka violence). I can see why this would be a delicate matter for Amnesty, though. Since the law is whatever the Castros tell the courts to say it is, they can devise a charge that will stick -- in Cuba. In the real world, prosecutors would have to prove both intent and conspiracy, since Garro's pacifism, in her participation in Damas marches, is beyond question. An equitable court would inquire why it was thought necessary to hurl a dangerous projectile at the cops, and the answer to this question would go far toward vindicating the defendant. But this won't be an equitable court. Looks like Garro will be counting three, four, many Easters. (My friend should have her own blog).

 By canonizing two popes at once, John XXIII and John Paul II, Pope Francis is appealing both to more liberal and more conservative Catholics.  Many of us in the first camp were inspired by the short-lived papacy of John XXIII. Others felt more closely affiliated with John Paul II, whom I met at the Carter White House in 1979.

 A friend is married to a woman from Swaziland, whom he met while working as a nurse in that country. Now, I would recommend reading an article about Swaziland’s little known but medieval-type despotic king, Mswati III, appearing in The Atlantic under the title “Africa’s Real-Life Game of Thrones.” Another overlooked African despot is septuagenarian Teodoro Obiang, in power for more than 30 years in tiny oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country, whose horrendous human rights record I only discovered when translating some documents for Amnesty International.

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