Monday, November 30, 2009

The White Man on the Left

This kid in my Black Intellectualism class has been giving me problems since the course started. Today he decided that his "post-modern dialectic" enabled him to dismiss not only feminism but gender, race, and class as things that are "non-real." I asked him whether the rubric of post-structuralism might better apply to his opinions, to which he retorted, "That's part of post-modernism." Perhaps, but that's debatable even when limited to temporal consideration. That is, the historicity of modernism is debated, so how can post-modernism - as a response to modernism - lend itself so easily to such delineation?

But what really gets me about this kid even more than his half-baked interpretations of major intellectual movements is his White Male Privilege. It is mighty convenient for him to dismiss race and gender as mere and meaningless social constructs, seeing as he is a white male and thus the recipient of major social privilege. This is, of course, the same kid who told me I was rude to interrupt him during a speech he was making about bell hooks, a speech that was self-indulgent and betrayed a lack of basic information acquisition (ie: he didn't read the book) as well as a misguided and wholly inappropriate analysis. I pointed out that hooks advises men that the most important thing they can do in combating sexist oppression is realizing their own male privilege and how it exploits others, namely women. Moreover, I explained, whiteness is always privileged in our social reality, so the acknowledgment of one's white privilege is the crucial first step in deconstructing and eradicating it. "Well, hooks is saying we overcome these privileges with compassion," he retorted. But actally she isn't. Compassion is one of those tricky emotions that, based on perceived empathy, lends a moralizing quality to a relationship. That is, to feel compassion for someone or something is to pity it.

My dear Bessarabian princess, you may say, that is indeed exceedingly annoying. But what did this man do today? Well, it was a bit more benign than what his class friend said last week, which was that Haitian people are uncivilized. When asked how he defined "civilized," he said, "you know, like when people can behave without killing each other." Aha! So by that logic, our great nation of the USA is not civilized. Inroads, mayhaps?

I've noticed before that this student and his friend like to talk between themselves while others are speaking. I saw today that their private conversations happened exclusively while females were addressing the class. For an individual so committed to his own transcendence of sexism and racism, this student was being exceptionally rude. At one point I told him very quietly that I found his side comments distracting. I said exactly, "I find your side comments distracting. " He looked at me and said, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

To dismiss an objection to one's transgression of classroom etiquette is, I think, a tall expression of one's privilege. The fact that this individual values his personal conversation over another's ability to listen to and thereby participate in classroom discussion exemplifies the individual's internalization of self-importance based on his whiteness and his maleness. This self-importance is validated by the media, by political structures, and pretty much everything else in our societies. That in itself should not produce surprise at this student's actions and attitudes. However this particular individual fashions himself to be somewhat of a Leftist radical. He therefore should be attuned to the realities of privilege and discursive power. I have encountered many men like him on the Left (like the guy at the Brecht who was shocked at my being "so smart, also so pretty" - like, thanks, douchetard, for realizing that girls have brains, and also for reminding me that my worth as a human being is entirely dependent on his and other men's judgments of the aesthetic value of my body), and each time I feel more and more disenchanted by the purported radicalism of the movement. Men seem to think that if their surface politics are lined up, they can still take advantage of the male privilege afforded to them by mainstream society. But how can we resist hegemonic structures of oppression when we ourselves recreate and thus legitimize them?

What bothers me most about this episode is that this young man - if he even retains a memory of the incident - will remember me as a nag, a scold, someone to be dismissed as a mild annoyance, when in reality, I was calling him out on something much more profound and referential to the macrostructure. We women of the Left really have to get our acts together on this because it seems that some men aren't willing to question the role they themselves play in our suffering.

It's too bad this reflection won't happen in the Gallatin(TM) classroom. The end of this particular class witnessed a casual mention of "jungle fever" and the merits of the World Music section at Barnes and Noble, topics which deserve, but unsurprisingly did not receive, thoughtful discussion.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Every vegetarian's favorite holiday

On this happy "Thanksgiving Day," I would like to dedicate some weblog space to the people who lived on the land here before land became something that could be owned. These people have suffered and continue to suffer from the patriarchal capitalist exploitation imported from Europe and instituted here under the auspices of a "people's republic" now referred to as the United States of America. I am speaking of course about the indigenous people.

What follows are the words of Ohcumgache (Little Wolf) of the Northern Cheyennes, who were made to migrate from their ancestral homelands to barren lands in the western parts of this country. The desire to "go north" refers to the Northern Cheyennes' 1877 attempt to escape what was basically the concentration camp where the settlers made them go. The Northern Cheyenne, along with all the indigenous peoples of the earth, are a violated people: their culture, language, bodies, lifestyles have all been violently subjected to the greed and racism of the colonial "settlers." They have been coerced into poverty and shame. As they have little to no recourse for their losses, the least I can do is mention their plight on this day when we are meant to celebrate having "befriended" them.

"We have been south and suffered a great deal down there. Many have died of diseases which we have no name for. Our hearts looked and longed for this country where we were born. There are only a few of us left, and we only wanted a little ground, where we could live. We left our lodges standing, and ran away in the night. The troops followed us. I rode out and told the troops we did not want to fight; we only wanted to go north, and if they would let us alone we would kill no one. The only reply we got was a volley. After that we had to fight our way, but we killed none who did not fire at us first. My brother, Dull Knife, took one-half of the band and surrendered near Fort Robinson...They gave up their guns, and then the whites killed them all."

- from Dee Brown, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West." (New York: Washington Square Press, 1970.)

The images of helpful Squanto sharing corn with the Pilgrim settlers, and of Sacagawea generously guiding Lewis and Clark across the Missouri riverbanks - these are misleading, and serve only to obscure the true history of the indigenous peoples of this country.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I am so unpopular in the Gallatin(TM) School

I'm taking this "Colonies and Empires" class at the Gallatin(TM) School, and so far it has been a bit of a disaster for this Leftist individual because of hostility from the humanitarians in the class. Now, I'm all for justice and equalitarianism, but I have been trained well by Antonio Lauria, so I know a nuance when I see it. And I see a lot of them.

Anyway, we have these weekly assignments in the class to post online our responses to the week's readings and class discussions. The blog can be found here. Anyone unfamiliar with the Gallatin(TM) School might be surprised by the untourniqueted bleeding of hearts and, in some posts, the general lack of logic.

On Thursday, we had a discussion about "women's rights" and how "we" can "help" "them." We talked about an article that detailed Mavis (wife of Jay) Leno's involvement with the anti-Taliban movement. Mavis was opposed to what she viewed as the oppression of Afghani women through their forced donning of the burka, the garment that fully covers the body and face. One student in the class argued that it was good of us to help these women by overthrowing the Taliban. However, data indicate that the women affected by the burka edicts were those in the urban areas of Afghanistan, and that under the Taliban, the number of violent sexual assaults against women, including instances of rape, significantly decreased. While I happen to think that a revolution in consciousness is a better approach to eradicating sexual assault, the burka cannot be discounted as a positive factor in this effort. Also, since most Afghani people live in rural regions, the anti-burka brigades often lose sight of just whom they're trying to help, and tend to sensationalize what they see as a broad - and not local - social problem.

However, with a few exceptions, this week's responses on the blog were not entirely welcoming of this perspective. I argued in class that Mavis Leno's movement demonstrates the interconnectivity of the political and commercial elites and ruling powers of this country. Moreover, the imposition of the "Western" lens onto the Afghani women's lives was (and continues to be) highly innapropriate and in fact a show of hegemonic intervention, especially in its later military manifestation. Perhaps an examination of our conceptions of liberation would be useful here, as we associate it with overt sexualization and objectification of women's bodies. Are not both systems "oppressive" in this model?

This is an excerpt from my posting:

"Mavis Leno’s anti-Taliban 'feminist' efforts exemplify the danger of such misperception. Charles Hirschkind and Saba Mahmood’s article 'Feminism, the Taliban, and Politics of Counter-Insurgency' explains that humanitarian “relief” directed at the headscarf or burka are symptomatic of a more general Western demonization of Islam. Leno’s organization has a myopic and underdeveloped vision of women’s realities under the Taliban; it ignores the political history and culture of Afghanistan and Islam in general, most disastrously overlooking the US’ role in this history, particularly as related to the US’ Cold War regional motives and strategic tactics. With Leno’s help, women in burkas become helpless victims of a brutal political force. These women are denied agency over their own lives and their own definitions of freedom and religious expression."

I am looking forward to more negative feedback. Class is so much more interesting when everyone's feisty.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm not dirty; I'm just shedding my uterine lining

Making my monthly purchase of menstruation-catching supplies just now, I had a bit of a charged incident with my otherwise ultra-friendly Bangladeshi bodega man. I reached out to take my change and he said, "Sorry, I cannot touch. My religion." Now, I'm all for mutual respect and tolerance of difference, and I'm probably the last person to bash on someone for having religious beliefs of any stripe (even if I find them antiquated and sexist, which in this case I do), but I'm sorry, if you can't touch other people, MAYBE CASHIERING IS NOT THE PROFESSION FOR YOU. Morever, not only as a customer but as a human being, I object to being made to feel inferior and dirty due to something over which I have no control - namely, my being in possession of a vagina. Theological uptightness over women's bodies is something unfortunately well-enshrined in our social and political systems today, but I still find it shocking when I am reminded - explicitly or implicitly - that I should be ashamed for something my body has been doing as a biological expression of normal physical maturation and health since I was 12 years old.

I promise this will probably be the only post about periods, but maybe it shouldn't be. Why relegate something so common and indeed natural to the realm of secrets?

Speaking of bizarre male interactions, I was approached by a bro in the library today asking me not for a cigarette but for conversation about pointless shit that did not need to be conversed about. Some may call this flirting. I call it "Why are you talking to me can't you see I'm reading about the plight of the Chinese worker" or, alternatively, "This is a library have you been in one before or do you just play lacrosse." This incident was highly unusual given my tendency - which dates back to my early Horace Mann days - to completely frighten the type. It could be my volleyball calves or maybe my black nationalist sympathies, but I find that I have the unique power to at once mystify, frighten, and emasculate any man in a polo shirt. (Recordamos la cita del año pasado con Gallaboy, quien me preguntó "So, uh, when did you get turned on to this angry feminism stuff?" ) Anyway, the bro was forced to retreat after I (unintentionally, I swear! sometimes it just comes out!) shot my I-can't-believe-you-exist face following his comment about freshmen girls being "scaredy cats about walking home alone at night." Yeah, maybe they're scared because THEY COULD GET ATTACKED BY DOUCHEBAGS LIKE YOU.

We have a lot to do, ms. hooks. Chapter 5: Men - Comrades in Struggle.

[Photo ripped from]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Colonel Sanders Reports for Duty: UN Confused, Distraught

Thanks to Spencer, our resident libertarian, for this gem. Apparently a Colonel Sanders (that's the KFC guy) imposter got a little handshake action from Ali Treki, the President of the UN General Assembly, last week, in what seemed to be a suspiciously easy imitation of Yes-Men infiltration tactics. I suppose I'd rather have Col. Sanders represent the US military industrial complex than the other links of command we have going for us, but the UN security forces are supremely apologetic and assure the international community that they will definitely, definitely not let this happen again.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Yes Men

I love them.

And I loved them last year, too.

My man Arun Gupta from El Brechto interviewed them for The Indypendent, which you can pick up at your neighborhood bagel place, provided that your neighborhood bagel place is Native Bean on A between 4th and 3rd. I know mine is.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Group Projects in Sociology Class, or Why People Get Uncomfortable Around Me

In Sex and Gender class this morning, we were asked to list the three major differences between women and men among "people like ourselves." My list looked like this:

The phrasing of this prompt is objectionable because
1) it assumes a commonality among all of our working definitions of what is "women," what is "men," and what is "people like ourselves";
2) the use of the the dual categories of "women" and "men" encourages and validates the acceptance of the sex and gender binary, a flawed social construct if I've ever seen one; and
3) the only actual differences are perceived and not necessarily real (oh hey, Aristotle).

Then we had to break into groups of four and come up with a group response to the same prompt. My group was really hip to putting down "reproductive organ differences," "social expectations," and "how women are more future-oriented and men are more impulsive," citing the need to "do what the professor wants us to do" in opposition to what I suggested, which was to submit my own list of reasons as to why the assignment was in fact a futile exercise (see above). I of course made no friends in my grupito. But no matter! A year and a half at Bryn Mawr gave me a minor in Sex and Gender studies. For all of you who haven't gone to a women's college, this minor also can be earned through being a perceptive human being and/or experiencing oppression based on your sexual identity and sexuality.

The professor made an interesting effort at slowing down the decadent genderizing going on during the "sharing" part of the classtime (in which the groups presented their collective lists to the rest of the students), offering a somewhat classist interpretation of our struggle to create the lists. He chalked up our arguing to the fact that we are all overeducated, and that the same question posed to a less educated pool of individuals would produce less discussion and more concrete entries to the lists. He said that people get most nervous when they encounter an individual with ambiguous gender. I would say that's true because our assumptions of sex and gender so thoroughly inform our perceived comprehension of others' identities. However, combining "sex" and "gender" identities is problematic because it presumes too many social rules and adherents to (un)said rules. Moreover, eliminating the components of race and class from such a conversation detracts from the full and thorough understanding of what are the differences between men and women, or between men and men, women and women, or whatever. My whiteness is often more important than my womanness, depending on the situation. Do people pay more attention to me when I speak than when a black woman does? What about the fact that I am older or younger than this black woman? What about the fact that I have better or worse teeth than she? Whose level of education matters in the situation? I'll defer now to Nancy Seifer's account of how she came of age as an anti-hegemonic feminist, and the many difficulties she encountered when she tried to launch a political activism project: "It became apparent that it was not only liberal biases that made it so difficult for me to get strong support for what by then seemed like such a logical course of action to take. There was also some bias against me. I did not have a law degree or any other special credentials...I was also young and had the least seniority. And I was a woman."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I will never get a job if I keep posting so haphazardly

Welcome back for the semester, my comrades in American Apparel -clad arms at New York University. I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday's first-day-of-school fashion show, and by thoroughly enjoyed I of course mean was shocked and appalled by the parade of excessive consumption so pervasive on campus, and perhaps exemplified best by the LITERAL FASHION SHOW we had in one of my (Gallatin!) classes, in which two students were invited by the otherwise respectable professors to stand on the table and explain their outfits to the class. That wasn't the only confusing part of my day; I also was concerned about the Sternies, and why three hours into the term they already looked like they're carrying the weight of Jesus himself on their backs. Okay, Great Recession, blah blah. We in the Gallatin School for Individualized Study - or as I like to call it, Dinner Party College - have long resigned ourselves to the inevitability of under- and unemployment, so why not the rest of you Bobcats? The non-profit sector can't be that bad, especially if the entire membership of the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Association works for it! I'm sure there are plenty of opportunities to screw things up for poor people without working for Lehman Brothers!

Anyway, I am happy to report that these past two days have not been a total bust for the future of intellectual America. I had a lovely chat with my sister at the stroke of midnight of her 21st birthday, in which we discussed the merits of mixology, and why we screen calls from our father on midnight of our 21st birthdays. I also re-fell in love with Vietnam War history, and anything else JPeck can teach me. It's laundry time in the East Village, and I have 150 pages of Bourdieu to read for tomorrow. Until next time, I remain your rainy-day correspondent.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

sorry for the no-update season. here's an old diary entry to tide over my three very loyal readers, one of whom is my mother

We took the cat to the vet that Ana Vera told me about it’s a drab yellow tile fluorescent sterile death glow operation attached through a parking lot and gate maze to the school of veterinary science medicine and I had gone there earlier in the day to scope it out it’s open 24 hours so El Sexto, Ramiro, and I took Ludwig cat to see what’s what about feeding him and parasites and whatnot even though I thought the visit might be superfluous because he looked and felt so much better than when we got him uncovered from the ants outside the Foundation building on 13 and he cried so Ben nudged him with his foot and Heather and I adopted him from the boys so they could go to Santa Clara. Anyway we’d been feeding it from this syringe that Jo Anne bought minus the needle from the Melia Cohiba infirmary store milk we secret from the dining room in glasses they nag us to return. Inventory control is tight everywhere in Cuba where they actually count the candies you buy by the hundred like for Phil’s birthday pinata and not just give you some handfuls and charge you a dollar like at Fuscos. People like to wait around to be specific here. So the vet sat at his desk and said what do you need we went in before the dachsund – those shits are everywhere – and after the bear Husky character who looked fuzzy and uncomfortable. The clinic was across the street kinda from Quinto de las Molinas, where Yami had originally said to drop it off because people there take care of cats but I was thinking no because it might get eaten and that would have been worse than dying all tucked in my tank top with the ribbon like it did last night when it grabbed with its tiny claws and then stayed there, eyes closed mouth open even though the vet said he’s fine but you’re not planning on leaving him here are you and of course I said no because El Sexto had said he’s watch him for the weekend while we were in Trinidad and Cienfuegos where we might run into that couple that met on 2nd street and lives in Brooklyn even though they’re an architect form EAST BERLIN and an old-school snapshot photographer from London they met at the Hole where Roni took me once in high school before we both made different friends and it was her birthday yesterday and Sarah Nathan’s I remember these people with love and also missing but okay I chill with El Sexto now whose tag El Sexto* is his reconceptualization of heroism, an idea he feels has been co-opeted by the Cuban government to manipulate and mold the Cuban people into worshipping heroes that may not be theirs, an process which disregards individualism and everyday heroism, like that which allows the Cubans to resolver. Somos rebeldes todos, he says, because how can you not be rebellious when you live inside such a repressive system. He goes around with Bulldog budgeting spray paint and says he would tag more creatively than the simple script he does but this material is so expensive and sometimes difficult to get that he’d rather have his concept in many many places than in one colorful mural. Anyway Heather hit it off with Ramiro last night who makes his own shoes and does a good Jim Carrey impersonation and we taught them some choice English phrases like chicks before dicks and the translations of some Beatles and James Brown songs even though Ramiro’s English is pretty serviceable but he has the same problem as my dad because he’s trying to learn a language from books and discs and has a whole vocabulary that seems like it could be put to use only in the most specific of circumstances – where is my horse?, for one – and he seemed skittish around the cat even though he was clearly harmless in El Sexto’s chest pocket on the left-hand side (my right, his left) and Ramiro even paid for the vet 3 pesos which is 15 cents to me and like a dollar or two for him it’s always hard to compare money like that my sister said my table was confusing so I’ll fix it some other time when the internet is free and I can upload my pictures too. I lost a memory card’s contents including my Book Fair J-sauce statue photos and all the ones I had before this trip like from London my birthday New Years Halloween and all of Matt’s parties I’m sad about that because I should have backed them up before I came but my computer’s fucked and everything so the moral of the story is now we have to figure out what to do with the cat’s body which is easier than figuring out what to do with the cat so for now it’s all wrapped up where it used to snuggle in Alissa’s Beach Bash bat mitzvah June 12th 1994 towel Gd that was a long time ago and I remember it being fun for me and Ricki even though she became Erica soon after. So we’re off to Ludwig now for a slide show or something stimulating like that and I’ll have to break the news to Heather first then we’ll let it seep out becaue I told Jo Anne over guava milkshake this morning it was icy and she cried a little but not because the juice was icy but because the cat died

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guava season is almost over, but it’s almost time for mangos

This weekend I went to Las Terrazas, which is the last place Che trained before going off to fight in Bolivia. It’s a really beautiful nature preserve. We met a bunch of medical students from the US who invited us to a US-culture gala this Friday. We’re supposed to wear traditional dress, which I imagine is blue jeans and a t-shirt. Oh, America.

Monday, March 30, 2009

it's hard to plot a revolution when your gchat is acting slow

The internets are super-bad and expensive here so the bloggoretti with sauce has been on hold for a while - sorry, champs. Suffice it to say that Cuba is psyched about Barry, even though he's what the French call a "dirty poseur" (not to be confused with Sanchez), and I just want to know why people are so quick to get their rocks off with him JUST BECAUSE HE'S BLACK. This makes no sense to me. I mean, hooray for black people getting to be president and all, but WHAT ABOUT THE CHANGE AND HOPE? I mean, change AND hope, right? The United States is really impossible. I wrote a poem about the United States; here is the first part:

The US and A
hip hip hooray
we've fucked up the world
but we're not done for the day.

We hate skin that's not white
we like to use our weapons to fight
those who espouse real democracy and freedom
they should just go fly a kite.

There's your foreign policy in a nutsack.

The edits are forthcoming, sticklers. Don't worry - I actually do know how to count a rhyme scheme.

Wilson and I need to go practice Chan Chan for the open mic nite at Fresa y Chocolate.

Monday, March 23, 2009

He gets his sesame seeds over the table

I called Uncle Billy's friend who lives in Miramar, and I found out, among other things, that he is an underground baker, and we're planning a trip out there to clean him out of oat bran surprise and any other whole grains he may have. His wife is a psychologist for intersex patients and also women with problems related to menopause. I guess psychotherapy is taking off here; maybe it's a sign that people can worry about things other than subsistence. And now that Cuba's out of the Baseball Classic, there's really not a whole lot else to pay attention to.

One more tomato-onion sandwich for the road

One reason I didn't give my sister my driver's license before I left was because I had a feeling I'd need it at some point. Cuba is pretty lax about drinking laws - apparently people are supposed to be 16 to buy alcohol, but beer vending machines probably do little to dissuade underage consumption - but apparently they tighten up about car rentals. It came to pass that only UNC Juan and I were qualified to take out the tin-can Hyundais that we needed for our go-west-young-man trip, but I have never in my life driven a stick shift and so I had to put up a good game face while Caitlin nearly had a conniption in the passenger seat next to me ("Okay ease into the clutch...not the gas! Not the gas! Okay, go into first gear. First gear! It's over and up! ") - well, that's almost a lie; she was very patient and we didn't stall at all, at least until we had to switch places again to return the car on Sunday, and maybe that was a little more precarious because sometimes the Ministry of Transportation doesn't do a good job of labeling cross-walks, and certain drivers who don't actually know how to drive the cars they're in may not see said cross-walks, and let's just leave it there, noting that no, nobody got hurt and yes, we did get our deposit back.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

things you can buy in cuba to determine what is valuable in society

a price list:

pesos = moneda nacional (what Cubans get paid in)
CUC = pesos convertibles (what tourists get in exchange for other currency. Supposedly tourists can spend only CUC legally, but it is easy to exchange CUC for moneda nacional.)

1 CUC = 25 pesos = 1.35 USD (approx.; including the 30% fee for exchanging USD into Cuban currency)
1 peso = 4 cents CUC (approx)

glass of guava juice.....2 pesos
mango juicebox w/ straw....95 cents, CUC
rum and pinapple juicebox w/ straw.....90 cents, CUC
personal pizza pie.....10 pesos
tortica (sugar cookie)...1 peso
movie ticket, student...2 pesos
ticket to see the Venezuelan National Symphonic Orchestra.....5 pesos
photocopy of La Historia Me Absolverá...25 pesos
same photocopy of La Historia Me Absolverá, offered later in the phone number
bunch of sunflowers.....15 pesos
bus fare.....40 cents, moneda nacional
use of University bathroom.....20 cents, moneda nacional
entrance admission at the Afro-Cuban religion museum in Guanabacoa.....2 pesos
price to take photos at the Afro-Cuban religion museum in Guanabacoa.....2 CUC
lunchbox with rice, beans, tomato, boiled yucca, and pork.....25 pesos
lunchbox without the pork...15 pesos
packet of Lucky Strike Silver 2cigarettes.....2.45 CUC
two hours of internet access.....12 CUC

Saturday, February 21, 2009

whoa hey i'm in cuba it's cool

Cuba is awesome and wonderful and beautiful and WARM. We're starting classes soon, so we've been walking around Havana a lot, seeing what is to be seen. On Wednesday, we went to a santeria museum in the Guanabacoa municipality and learned about the patron saint of Cuba. People are supposed to wear all yellow when they need a favor from her. We've seen some pretty glorious yellow outfits so far. The national Book Fair, co-sponsored by Chile, is going on now, and one of the sites is in this old fort that the Spanish built when they first came to Cuba. The first exhibition room I walked into was presented by a Vietnamese publishing house, and I got a sweet 25-cent poster of Leon Trotsky next to a food cart where they did amazing things with potatoes. The whole experience combined three of my main interests in life - Ho Chi Minh, french fries, and inexpensive Communist propaganda. We went to a lot of cheap music shows as part of the Jazz Festival that just ended. One of the theaters we went to had an outdoor patio with a huge painting of Bertie Brecht (ole!). The place where we're staying is run by the National Association of Small Farmers. They make us watermelon juice every day. We're near the Gran Sinagoga Bet Shalom, where I went to meet the other five Jews in Cuba (there are apparently 2,000 or so). I met Solomon, who proceeded to introduce me to everyone as his girlfriend. I should maybe mention here that Solomon is 85 years old. He carries around a New York Times clipping from an article about the Bet Shalom congregation. Apparently he's the only person in Cuba who can speak Yiddish. Bet Shalom gets money from synagogues in Israel and Miami. Solomon wasn't really interested in talking about Zionist politics beyond saying that people shouldn't kill children but the Jews need a safe home. I think that's about as nuanced as some embarrassed Jews get. In any case, on Thursday I went to see a famous statue of John Lennon (there's a Lennon Park and a Lenin Park here...what a great country). Apparently people steal the glasses off the statue all the time, so there's a guard stationed there 24/7. People are for the most part very friendly, especially when they're asking for money. One US dollar is worth about 23 pesos (moneda nacional), and a big lunch might be about 15 pesos. There is also the convertible peso, which is about equal to the US dollar. The system allows for certain goods and services to be very cheap (a bus ride is 40 peso cents, or about one penny) and others to be extraordinarily expensive for Cubans (a washing machine is 427 convertible pesos, with each Cuban making about 25 convertible pesos each month as a salary). For us though, everything is inexpensive except phone cards and the internet. Even when we got scammed by a ferry captain who wouldn't give change, we still spent only roughly 80 cents in US dollars, though for a Cuban, that would be enough for a book, a huge ice cream cone, or three Lev Trotsky posters (hoo-rah). We're starting classes for real next week,and I signed up for a sociology class called "The Theory and History of Cuban Thought, A Marxist Perspective." The Communist propaganda seems almost shameless here, with even the giant murals of Che proclaiming on every street corner, (We will be victorious in defending socialism). It's almost kind of kitschy. It is refreshing though to be away from the inundating commercialism of the US, and to see posters promoting agricultural production rather than skinny jeans and purple hoodies. People love to talk about the revolution and reveal its successes and failings in their experiences. One guy I met said that his father owned three houses under Batista, but Fidel's government bought two from him. I asked him if his father was mad that he couldn't keep his houses, and he said no, he was happy that there wouldn't be people suffering anymore from homelessness. I'm not sure that this response is standard, but people do seem to have genuine support for Fidel and socialist organization. I think they're very unhappy with the dual economy and the general difficulty of acquiring basic consumer goods like laundry soap and deoderant, but Cubans have been well-versed in the art of el resolver (resolving, figuring it out) for more than the 50 years of the revolution. People tend to make their lives work, and there seems to be a certain successful rhythm of life in Havana despite the hardship. It's not true that everyone here wants to move to the US, but it is true that everyone wants more money. The people might appreciate free schools and healthcare, but they have very limited opportunity to appreciate what's not free.