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Oscar Ramirez

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Cuba, Between History and Legend/Cuba, Entre la Historia y la Leyenda
by Oscar Ramirez   

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Books by Oscar Ramirez
· Cuba, I Remember You/Cuba, te recuerdo
                >> View all


Historical Fiction

Publisher:  Airleaf ISBN-10:  1600023436 Type: 


Copyright:  1/1/07 ISBN-13:  9781600023439

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Barnes &
Oscar Orbea
Oscar Ramirez Orbea
Alhambra Books

A collection of short stories based on Cuban legends and unusual histories, all told in thoroughly original and creative ways. All stories are narrated in English and Spanish on facing pages.Also includes substantial background information on the actual events on which the stories are based, as well as references for follow-up reading and historical illustrations.

Cuba, Between History and Legend provides insight into the foundation of the Cuban culture by spinning tales that incorporate fiction and fact. Ramirez-Orbea, a native of Camagüey, Cuba, a town showcased throughout this book, displays a passion for the traditions and historical background of his homeland. This book will serve as an introduction to Cuba for many and an opportunity to reminisce for others.

Ch. 3 Isn’t It Romantic?/¡Ay, pero qué romántico!

The door of the beauty parlor swung open and the client flew in, a big, red bow falling over her left shoulder, her straw hat over the right. “Titico, honey! They found Lolita’s tomb!” She then immediately and instinctively rearranged her bow and hat.

At that very instant, Titico, formally known as Robertico de la Cerda del Corral, dropped his scissors, put his pinkish palms flat up against his cheeks, and let out a high-pitched little scream like no other ever heard at “Titico’s Salon of Beauty for High Class Ladies, Est’d 1863”, namely Camagüey’s pre-eminent beauty parlor and rumor mill.

As soon as he screamed, Titico stopped working on his other client, a snooty-looking lady from Havana. Titico cried out, “No! I don’t believe it! When? Where? How?! Are they sure she’s dead? I mean, this is Camagüey, and sometimes it’s hard to tell … “

“I’m telling you, Titico, they found it! Or, more accurately, the peanut-vendor found it.”

“The peanut-vendor found a lost tomb? Girl, you finally lost your marbles! And no less than Lolita’s tomb. Of all the dead people in Camagüey the peanut-vendor was able to go and find the one tomb that the whole town has been looking for. No way!”
“Titico, I’m telling you, the peanut-vendor went today to have a smoke, like he does every morning after he’s done with all that singing that ‘He’s going, he’s going, the peanut-vendor is going!’. Well, this morning he finally went. To the cemetery. And there, among all those dead people, as big as life, was a sign!”

“A sign from God!” gasped Titico.

“Well, not exactly,” indicated the messenger. More likely from some guy or other that Lolita turned down during her ‘long career’ before she got small pox …” sniffed the messenger.

“E pluribus unum … ‘Among many, one’,” solemnly declared Titico, who pretended to be a Latin-speaking cosmetician and who never missed High Mass at Our Lady of Mercy, where all the ladies of high society worshipped and most of his clients came from. It did not matter to the hairdresser that his erudite E pluribus unum did not appear anywhere in the Mass.

At this point the client whose mane Titico was curling lifted her aristocratic head and commented, “A dead woman, a sign, E pluribus unum, not to mention the peanut-vendor and the measles… Titico, you have not introduced me to this very interesting young lady so overflowing with news…”

“My apologies, Countess!” the hairdresser groveled before the lady occupying the barber’s chair like Queen Isabella on the throne. “Countess, permit me to introduce to you Señorita Agustina Perpetua Angustias Dolores de Cangas de Lamar y Torreón de Arteaga y Ponce del Carrasco y Lazo de la Vega del Tejar y del Pozo,” managing to get it all out just before he finally ran out of breath.

“But they all call me Bon-Bón at the Casino Español!” cheerfully piped in the beautiful Camagüeyan lady, sending the other lady a bright and grinning smile, full of teeth.

(“Well, that’s a relief …” muttered the countess to herself.)

“And you would be …?” Bon-Bón then added, her eyelids already beginning to droop with hauteur.

Noticing this, Titico jumped in and, in an experienced manner, and taking an even deeper breath, he announced that the lady on the barber’s throne was a new client, a most distinguished lady from Havana, who has recently married a Camagüeyan count. Titico had the truly district honor to introduce to Bon-Bón Señora Caridad de las Mercedes del Carmen del Boniato y Peñalver de Cárdenas del Calzado y Agravida de Los Lazos, Countess of (and here Titico did have to take a second breath) de las Cabezas del Regino y Orbachea de Izarregui y Sarriegui, managing to get all this out just before he finally collapsed.

“But at the Club, they all call me Kikí,” interjected the gorgeous Habanera, the newly revealed Countess Kikí.

(“God be praised …” whispered , Bon-Bón looking off to the side.)

Then turning to the subject at hand, Titico turned to Bon-Bón and asked her with great insistence, “But tell me, darling, about Lolita, how ever did the peanut-vendor find her?”

“It’s like this, the peanut-vendor knew of this little plot of land at the cemetery that he had believed for years to be unused. Well, for the last twenty years or so he has gone there just to lie down and have a smoke every morning after his rounds. This morning, though, he goes to the same little plot and—wham! He sees this sign, painted white like a corpse, with black letters of death all over it, and Lolita’s name and surname, and a poem written on the sign!” concluded Bon-Bón.

“A poem for the dead!” cried out the countess Kikí. “Now, this is the Camagüey I came here to experience! And what did this poem say, Señorita Bon-Bón ? I’m a great lover of literature, you know! Especially when they write it to dead people …”

Upon hearing Kiki’s innocent question, Bon-Bón lit up like a Christmas tree. This was the moment she had been waiting for since she burst into Titico’s temple of beauty. Quite slowly, Bon-Bón moved to the center of the beauty parlor; once there, she stood perfectly still; then she linked her hands below her ample bosom; and finally raised her head as if she were addressing the Royal Box at the Teatro Principal. She then began reciting with little talent but great pomposity the poem she had made sure she committed to memory before leaving the peanut-vendor back at the cemetery and taking off for Titico’s beauty parlor and rumor mill.

Bon-Bón commenced, affecting a phony Spanish accent and making a lot of sounds that no one who spoke Cuban Spanish ever made.
Here lies Dolores Rondón,
Her life now come to an end.
Draw nigh, oh man, and ponder (peering at her audience)
The earthly pursuits, to wit:
Pride and Vanity, (she lifted one index finger; then, the other) Wealth and Power. (ditto for the movements)

At this Titico and Kikí looked at each other, knowingly, and nodded their heads smugly, in agreement. Bon-Bón resumed her oratory:

To naught each one shall come.
And immortalized will only be
The evil that is rejected
And the good that in fact is done!
Bon-Bón immediately closed her recitation with a slight step back and a curtsy. She adopted a downcast and tragic look, now pondering the verities she had just prophesied and then steadied herself by resting one of her well-manicured hands on a cabinet full of curlers.

Immediately, encores and kudos from her audience of two. Titico even fell to his knees before our Camagüeyan Melponene, offering her a bouquet of roses in the form of a feather duster from the shop.

“How wonderful! How marvelous!” cried out the countess Kikí. “The folly of love! The tragedy of passion! A love so strong that it overcomes death and separation—not to mention small pox! My breast could beat with such a love! But just don’t tell my husband … he would only take advantage …”
“Me, too! Me, too!” chirped in Bon-Bón. “I know I could be loved by a man just as passionate! But, first, being single, of course, I need to meet one …”

“Ladies! Ladies! Of course, we can all feel that love and inspire such passion—we’re Cubans!” added nationalistically Titico. And then he whispered in an enigmatic tone, “On this island, the Tropics weave their magic spell …” he trailed off, mysteriously, never quite explaining exactly how the Tropics weave that spell or what they could do for Cubans and their love life............

Professional Reviews

Cuba, Between History and Legend
Short Story Collection
Cuba, Between History and Legend
Oscar Ramirez-Orbea, PhD
300 pages

One of the benefits of being a writer is having the flexibility to reshape what has happened in the past so that it offers a different perspective and allows a rejuvenated point of view. Cuba, Between History and Legend, is a collection of nine stories based on legendary tales about Cuba. Dr. Oscar Ramirez-Orbea, author of Cuba, I Remember You and co-author of several Spanish language audio programs, mixes poetic license with historical fact. The author displays an enthusiasm for the history that adds value and depth to these colorful stories.

There is a range of subject matter to sink into here: Catholicism, unrequited love, political protest, and devil worship are a few of the areas the author exposes in the history of the Cuban culture. “Aimless” and “Letter to an Unknown Woman” look at the events leading to the executions of two religious men. Brother Joseph Diaz Pimienta is burned at the stake after a life drifting between the Jewish and Catholic faiths. The other, Father Esteban, is killed by firing squad for speaking out against the then Spanish ruled-government. The significance of religion in the Cuban community is vivid in these tales. The torment these men face when struggling with their personal beliefs versus those of the society they live in is movingly illustrated by the author. “Isn’t It Romantic” is a bittersweet departure from government facilitated executions. A bit of gossip in a beauty salon reveals the sad story of Dolores Rondón, a widow who died indigent, possibly from small pox, possibly from something one catches when living off of the kindness of men. A hand painted sign is placed at her grave with a love poem that the nosey Titico and Bon-Bón believe was written by a man who once loved Dolores, but whom she ignored.

“The Hardest Thing” is the most intriguing story in the collection. Manuel Agüero y Ortega, a wealthy man from an important family, takes in a homeless woman and her son. The woman becomes his housekeeper and her son builds a strong bond with Manuel’s son. As young adults, the boy and Manuel’s son duel over a woman whom they both love. Manuel’s son is killed. Forgiveness and resurrection are the themes of this tale. In this story as in many of the other stories, the author skillfully seduces the reader with complicated characters.

The author’s descriptive pen encourages the reader to connect with the characters and to become immersed in the fantasy world he creates. The notes section at the end of the book will guide the reader in seeking additional information about the historical background of the stories. The author has included artwork with each story that helps to pull together fact and fiction. This title is available in both English and Spanish allowing for a broader audience base.

Cuba, Between History and Legend provides insight into the foundation of the Cuban culture by spinning tales that incorporate fiction and fact. Ramirez-Orbea, a native of Camagüey, Cuba, a town showcased throughout this book, displays a passion for the traditions and historical background of his homeland. This book will serve as an introduction to Cuba for many and an opportunity to reminisce for others.

Melissa Levine
For Independent Professional Book Reviewers

Cuba, Between History and Legend
Cuba, Between History and Legend/Cuba, entre la historia y la leyenda
By Oscar M. Ramírez-Orbea, Ph.D.

This delightful book, by Dr. Oscar M. Ramírez-Orbea, author of Cuba, I Remember You, takes the reader back on another delightful journey to the author’s native homeland, Cuba. This book does not go back to the author’s life or to the politics of Cuba. Rather this book straddles the history, legend, and lore of that island nation. It is difficult to classify this book. The author explains it this way:

The book you have in your hands is not a history book. It is also not a book about Cuban legends. Its subject matter lies somewhere in that gray in-between. Each story is based unquestionably on fact, at least in part. There is concrete historical evidence for some aspects—and sometimes for most aspects—of each tale. Around
these historical facts, however, the Cuban imagination (as well as this author’s own interpretation and rendition of events) has created a pearl of legend by layering over each grain of truth. It is in this world of unavoidable and delightful ambiguity that the characters, events, and settings narrated in this book live and breathe.

This book contains nine stories with a basis of history but layered with legend and myth. The nine stories are “The Mouth of Hell / La boca del Infierno,” “Kidnapped y Pirates! / ¡Secuestrado por piratas!!,” “Isn’t It Romantic? / ¡Ay, pero qué romántico!,” “Aimless / Sin brújula,” “The Hardest Thing / Lo más duro,” “Letter to an Unknown Woman / Carta a una desconocida,” “Heaven-sent / Don del Cielo,” “The Secret / El secreto,” and “The Interrogation / El interrogatorio.”

As you can tell this book, like Cuba, I Remember You, is written in both Spanish and English. This makes it possible for both English and Spanish speakers to read this book. It can also be employed to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) or for English-speaking students to learn Spanish. There is a beauty to the Spanish prose that makes reading the Spanish, even if I am not conversant in the language, a romantic adventure.

The first story, “The Mouth of Hell / La boca del Infierno,” is about a lady known as Leonarda who was tried for “public scandal.” The “public scandal” is that she is being tried, it appears, for witchcraft. The time of this trial? The author informs us: “After all, this was Cuba in 1682. At about this time, up in the English colonies, around Massachusetts, there was a town named Salem. And at their witch trials, they also would have no air conditioner and no ceiling fans.” This was also, I might add, a time of great religious upheaval in the wake of the Reformation and societal upheaval and religious wars in Europe were rampant. The colonies did not escape those consequences.

“Kidnapped y Pirates! / ¡Secuestrado por piratas!!” takes place at what is today known as Guantánamo Bay. It depicts the bravery of a bishop caring for his flock during and after a pirate attack on their town.

“Isn’t It Romantic? / ¡Ay, pero qué romántico!” relates the tale of unrequited love and the beautiful Lolita Randon felled by smallpox. It is a legend about a mysterious wooden sign at the pauper’s grave of Lolita.

“Aimless / Sin brújula” is a backwards chronology of Joseph Diaz Pimienta, who was burned at the stake by the Holy Office of the Inquisition on the 25th of July, 1720, in Seville, Spain. It is written as if he were dictating his final words as he was being tied, then burning, at the stake.

“The Hardest Thing / Lo más duro” relates the origins of the Holy Sepulcher of Camagüey and the Camagüeyan tradition of the Holy Sepulcher procession. It is a touching tale about redemption and forgiveness.

“Letter to an Unknown Woman / Carta a una desconocida” is a letter written by an accused priest during the religious persecutions from the 1820’s to the 1840’s, although the events sound as if the persecutions happened when the communist Castro government assumed power.

“Heaven-sent / Don del Cielo” is a tale “told” by a vulture and his life and travels. There is a sense of anthropomorphism in the tale.

“The Secret / El secreto” begins “Bishop Morell opened his eyes and realized he had died.” This reminds me of my mother admonishing against some sort of activity because I might “wake up dead.” But what is the secret? That’s for you to find out. I did like the Hebrew phrases uttered in this tale—I guess the inclusion of Hebrew (and in other tales Latin) makes this book a polyglottal codex!

“The Interrogation / El interrogatorio” talks about Cuba’s patron saint, the Lady of Charity and her festival, and how Ernest Hemingway, a non-believer, donated his Nobel Prize for Literature to the shrine of the Lady of Charity. The tale relates the interrogation of Juan Moreno, but perhaps with a bit of anachronism? The notes say the interrogation occurred in the 1600’s, but the narrative has the officer asking Moreno if he would like some Starbucks coffee. Or is this a way to straddle the ancient with the modern?

Each story concludes with an Epilogue followed by notes. The notes give a historical account of the tale as well as resources to follow up on researching the event, people, and places.

The book also finishes with a section listing further resources in English and Spanish for the reader who wants to know more about Cuban history, legend, people, and literature.

Overall the stories capture the rich imagery and romance of the island nation. They follow the Greek ideal to seek “the good, the true, and the beautiful.” The romance of Cuba’s names come through. The book also contains many pictures, photos, and paintings relating to the history, geography, lore, and faith of the nation and people of Cuba. The stories tell of the struggles and persecutions of the people, especially the minorities of race or faith.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the stories and came away with a renewed respect for the people who are one of our southern neighbors.

Review by: John L. Hoh, Jr. of

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