Sunday, December 31, 2006

El año que viene en Cuba!

"Spanish New Year's Eve (Nochevieja, or Fin de Año) celebrations usually begin with a family dinner, traditionally including shrimp and lamb or turkey. The actual countdown is primarily followed from the clock on top of the Casa de Correos building in Puerta del Sol square in Madrid. It is traditional to eat 12 grapes, one on each chime of the clock. This tradition has its origins in 1909, when grape growers in Alicante thought of it as a way to cut down on the large production surplus they had had that year. Nowadays, the tradition is followed by almost every Spaniard, and the 12 grapes have become synonymous with the New Year. After the clock has finished striking twelve, people greet each other and toast with sparkling wine such as cava or champagne, or alternatively with cider."

The 12 grapes are eaten not only in Spain, and I look forward to the time when my wife Yuliet and I can celebrate this tradition together, hopefully in a Cuba Libre.

To my friends all over the world, I love you, I miss you, Happy New Year, les quiero mucho, les extaño muchisimo, Feliz Año 2007...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Veselé Vánoce a šťastný nový rok

The Czechs and Slovaks get off to a good start with a traditional house cleaning at the beginning of December. This is not ordinary house cleaning, but a week long effort.

The Christmas Holiday season officially begins with St. Nicholas Day. This marks the start of baking Vanocni Cukrovi (Christmas candies and sweets). Each family has its special goodies to share with other families and friends. Part of the Holiday includes visiting friends and celebrating together. It is customary for those who had quarreled during the year to forgive each other publicly.

A tree is bought, secretly hidden away; no one is allowed to see it until after dinner on December 24th. Only the head of the household trims the tree, done on Christmas Eve morn, and only he or she can see the tree until that magic moment when Jezisek, the Christ child arrives (which always happens after dinner).

The Christmas tree is decorated with handmade ornaments using walnut shells wrapped in colored paper or gilded. Some use eggshells decorated to look like fish or angels. Colored pin wheels resembling snowflakes and stars are hung by a thread. A small crèche is placed at the base of the tree. Gifts are put under the tree before 6 o’clock in great secrecy.

One December 23rd people go out and buy the traditional Christmas carp for dinner. Several days earlier, huge wooden barrels appeared in the cities with live carp swimming around in them. The buyer points to the fish he or she wants and the fun of trying to catch it begins. Most often the carp is taken home alive and allowed to swim in the family bathtub until Christmas even morning. Best cuts of the carp are covered with flour, dipped in egg, covered with bread crumbs and fried. Lesser cuts are baked with dried prunes and served with dumplings mixed with butter-fried cubes of bread. Some carp is made in plain gelatin as Rosol and served cold as salad. The head and tail are wrapped in white cloth, boiled, and the stock is made into soup with vegetables and served with croutons.

There was caroling in the streets and homes on Christmas. Sometimes the carolers carried miniature Bethlehem scenes along. It was customary to invite them in for a glass of wine and vanocka, a sweet bread made with nuts, raisins and candied fruit. There is much dancing and eating after the fasting which ends on Christmas Eve. Sometimes little boys dressed as The Three Kings to out singing for treats.

Dinner begins at 6 o’clock with members of the family standing and praying together, and then when the mother gives the signal, they all sit down at the same time to dinner and no one is allowed to get up, no matter what ! They may share aplatky and honey before the meal. Christmas Eve supper might include pearl barley soup with mushrooms, carp, potato salad, fruits and decorated cookies. In some families there is a custom of putting a small coin under each person’s plate to symbolize wealth in the coming year, and that coin is carried around for good luck. When dinner is over they all stand at the same time and wish each other a Joyous Christmas Stastne a Vesele Vanoce. Then they embrace and finally rush to the tree and the gifts are distributed and opened. A quiet evening is spent until Midnight Mass.

Sometimes the children slept on a bedding of straw on the floor under a table or the Christmas tree. This custom allowed them to take part in the Lord’s poor and humble birth.

Christmas dinner might consist of giblet soup with noodles, roast goose with dumplings and kraut, braided coffee cake, kolace, fruit, nuts and coffee. Some games were played. One is the placing of tiny lit candles into nutshells and floating them in a tub or water; the player whose candle burns the longest is the winner.

The Christmas tree represents a symbolic ladder to the heavens. As a result of this, ornaments are hung on the tree depending on what their symbolic position is in life. As an example, vegetables and fruits are closest to the earth. Therefore, they are hung on the lower third of the Christmas tree. Houses, churches, people and animals should be placed in the middle region of the tree. Birds, angels, moons and stars should hang from the middle of the tree to the top to symbolize their closeness to the heavens.

Angel: Represents the angel who appeared before Mary, asking her to be the mother of Jesus

Popcorn: Signifies the rope Joseph held as he led the donkey to Bethlehem

Walnuts: Are for the gifts from the three wise men

Oranges: A special fruit only available during the Christmas season

Wheat: A symbol of life, prosperity and nourishment

Cloth as the base of the tree: Represents Jesus’ swaddling clothes

Apples: Remind us of Adam and Eve

White dove: Placed near the top of the tree to evoke peace

Carrot: Often given to a new wife to bring good luck in the kitchen

Mushrooms: Considered to be lucky and mean good fortune is at hand

Pine cones and evergreen trees: Symbols of eternal life

Corn: Symbolizes prosperity, fertility

Pickle: Hidden on the Christmas tree

Whoever finds it first on Christmas morning, gets an extra gift left by St. Nicholas (Svaty Mikulas).

Houses and Churches: Symbols of village life

Farm Animals: Traditional symbols of everyday village life

Birds: Symbols of joy and cheerfulness

Swan: Symbol of gracefulness

Pineapple: Symbol of friendship and hospitality

Owl: Symbols of wisdom

Musical Instruments: Symbolizes the joy that music and singing brings during the Holiday season

Stars, Moons & Angels: Symbolizes the closest you can get to Heaven

During the Dark Ages, natives of remote northern Bohemia (present day Czech Republic) originated an art form in glassblowing, which not only holds a unique place in the 4000 year history of this ancient art, but has become a cherished part of Christian tradition. The Bohemians had learned his skill (a heritage of Egypt) from wandering Venetian tradesmen. They used it to create glass ornaments for adornment of the fir tree in their Yule celebration of the winter sun solstice. Early Christians adapted this custom of decorating the evergreen to their celebration of the birth of Christ, and thus the Christmas three was born. Down through the centuries, the glass blowers of Bohemia became famous throughout the world for their blown glass Christmas ornaments. The root of early glass blowers remained in Bohemia, where beautiful ornaments are still produced, using forms over 1000 years old.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Oro para Lisandra Guerra en Copa Mundial de ciclismo en Moscú

La Habana, 16 dic (AIN) La cubana Lisandra Guerra conquistó hoy la medalla de oro en los 500 metros contrarreloj durante la segunda jornada de la Copa Mundial de ciclismo de pista, que transcurre en Moscú.

La velocista de 19 años de edad completó la distancia en 34.336 segundos, a una media de 52.423 kilómetros por hora, para superar su récord nacional de 34.609, tiempo que le reportó la medalla de bronce en el Campeonato del Mundo en Burdeos, en abril pasado.

La matancera tomó desquite de la belarusa Natallia Tsylinskaya, actual titular del orbe, quien la había superado el viernes en la final de la velocidad.

Tsylinskaya cronometró 34.802, en tanto la lituana Simona Krupeckaite detuvo los relojes en 35.200 para lograr el bronce, la misma presea que alcanzó un día antes en al velocidad.

Lisandra se quedó a menos de medio segundo del tope universal (33.944), fijado por la australiana Anna Meares el pasado 18 de noviembre en Sydney, en el transcurso de la primera etapa de la Copa.

El viernes, la doble campeona mundial juvenil de Viena 2005 se quedó a sólo una centésima del primado absoluto en la velocidad ( 200 metros ), con crono de 10.841 segundos, por los 10.831 que fijó la rusa Olga Slioussareva en Moscú, el 25 de abril de 1993.

La becada del Centro Mundial de Ciclismo en Aigle, Suiza, conquistó el primer triunfo para Cuba en una Copa del Mundo, desde la victoria de Yumari González en el keirin de la fase de Monterrey, México, en abril de 2002.

Ese éxito se une a las sendas medallas de plata de la propia Lisandra en la velocidad y de Yoanka González en la carrera por puntos.

También hoy sábado, Alexis Sotolongo y Yasmani Poll quedaron relegados a los puestos 28 y 35 en la velocidad, con respectivos tiempos de 10.506 y 10.712 segundos.

En la prueba, siete hombres bajaron de los 10 segundos, encabezados por el holandés Theo Bos, quien cronometró 9.892, muy cerca de la plusmarca del orbe (9.865), que fijó el canadiense Curt Harnett en Bogotá, el 28 de 1995.

Para el domingo está prevista la participación de Yumari y Yoanka González en la prueba del scratch, Michel Fernández en la carrera por puntos y el trío de Alexis Sotolongo, Yasmani Poll y Julio Cesar Herrera en la velocidad por equipos.

Después de Moscú, la Copa del Mundo de ciclismo de pista continuará en 2007 con sus dos ultimas fases en Los Ángeles (19-21 de enero) y Manchester (23-25 de febrero), previas al campeonato del orbe, señalado del 29 de marzo al 1 de abril en Palma de Mallorca, España.

-Javier Clavelo Robinson

Summer in Andalusia

I'm just back from my travels, and came across this video that makes me long for my old life (albeit one that never included a race in Japan)... The videos were uploaded to YouTube by this user: zak78.

Mario Llerena, 93, Dies; Castro Ally, Then Critic

Published: December 12, 2006

Mario Llerena, a Cuban intellectual who was an early representative of Fidel Castro in the United States but who broke with him before he took power because of Mr. Castro’s shift toward Communism, died Sunday in Miami. He was 93.

His daughter, Stella Portada, said yesterday that he had died of natural causes at an assisted living center in Miami after recovering from a bout of pneumonia.

Mr. Llerena met Mr. Castro in Mexico in the mid-1950s as Mr. Castro was preparing for an invasion of Cuba to overthrow the military dictator Fulgencio Batista. At Mr. Castro’s request, Mr. Llerena put into writing the democratic ideals that underpinned the Castro movement in the early days of the uprising. The document, "Nuestra Razón" ("Our Reason"), was published in Mexico.

It was in 1957, a few months after Mr. Castro was widely believed to have been killed in the invasion, that Mr. Llerena played a pivotal role in skirting General Batista’s attempt to censor any news about it.

Read the rest here.

Photo (c) John Orris/The New York Times; Mario Llerena in 1957.