Sunday, May 29, 2011


I mentioned my father's interest in being an artist early on... But neglected to mention that he kept up with his painting, off and on, over the years. Herewith a painting he did in 1938: in dire need of serious cleaning and a little repair. But you can see the's probably where I got mine.

"Shipwrecked" by Edward Andersen, oil on canvas, 1938

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day: Edward Andersen

Given the holiday coming up, and bearing in mind that we're celebrating not only the invention of the outdoor gas grill, the "blowout" sale and clamdiggers for men, but also honoring the men and women of the armed forces who have served to keep us free -- I submit a tribute to my dad.
Corporal Andersen, December of 1941
     Ed Andersen served in World War II from August 12, 1941 (the day he enlisted) to August 27, 1944 when he was discharged. He was a Staff Sergeant in the Army Air Force. 
     He was born in Philadelphia in June of 1917 to Reinholdt and Annette Andersen. Annette, my grandmother, had actually been born in the States, but returned to Denmark almost immediately afterward, to return here 16 years later, so she was an American citizen all her life. My grandfather, middle name Fred, for whom I'm named, was a naturalized citizen. One of the good things about having very meticulous and organized parents and grandparents is that I still have my father's baptism certificate, my grandparents' marriage certificate, my grandfather's naturalization papers and an entire journal, kept by my father during his time in the Army, from his enlistment in Philadelphia in August of 1941, into February of 1944 in the South Pacific.
     They lived on York Street in North Philadelphia in a house with tall windows and a marble stoop which, I'm sure, my grandmother and her neighbors kept sparkling by scrubbing it every Saturday morning. By all accounts it was a difficult childhood, not damaging in any way (though I'm sure a well-trained therapist could find all manner of dysfunction), but my grandparents were strict (to be expected) as was my great-grandmother who lived with them. The few pictures I have of her show a small, compact woman in voluminous black clothes, usually sitting in an armchair with a potted palm somewhere in the background.
     My father sang in the choir and aspired to be an artist, something that was frowned upon, I guess, by the family. He quit school to go to work, and traveled out West to California to visit family there. He worked on a farm. He was an extra in a movie, a Warner Bros epic called "Valley of the Giants" starring Wayne Morris and Claire Trevor. He did house painting with my grandfather and during the Depression, using my grandfather's panel truck, they did odd moving jobs, including taking loads of baseball equipment and uniforms to and from the train station for the Phillies. As a result, along the way he got to know some of the players, collected autographed baseball cards and other memorabilia, including game balls inscribed by the likes of Babe Ruth, all stuff that would be worth a fortune today. But while he was in New Guinea during the war, my grandmother took it upon herself to clean out his room and throw it all away. I have no doubt she didn't know what she was tossing out, but I don't think he ever entirely forgave her, either.
     He met my mother on Cape Cod after the war when he was stationed at Camp Edwards and they married and he brought her back to Ardmore, PA where he and a friend had an antique/refinishing shop. In addition he also brought my two half-sisters and my half-brother, children by my mother's first marriage. They weren't exactly children at that point, and I think a lesser man might have balked at dating, much less marrying a woman with a ready-made family. But he made it work and he made those kids his own, as much as my brother and I are his.
     He worked hard, doing whatever was necessary to earn a living, eventually taking over the restaurant my grandparents owned in Haddonfield, NJ -- the Homestead. It's not something he and my mother did entirely willingly, but my grandfather was dying of cancer and my grandmother needed the help. And so began a good twenty-five years of long, long days; getting up at four in the morning to go over the bridge Dock Street in Philadelphia to buy produce and fresh fish; spending ten to twelve hours on his feet in a sweltering kitchen, and overseeing a staff of waitresses, dishwashers and cooks that became as much a family to me as my blood relations were. When I was born and they brought me home, he proudly presented me to the kitchen staff, the beaming father with his firstborn son. Upon being presented with me, one of the dishwashers, Ruth, a stringy, no-nonsense black woman from Camden assured my father, "Don't worry, Mr. Andersen, them homely ones always turns out the best!"
     Some time after my brother Robert was born with Down syndrome -- and my parents were told in no uncertain terms that the best thing to do would be to put him in some kind of a nice institution and forget about him, since he wasn't likely to live much past his 'teens -- Dad started hiring what we now call developmentally disabled people to work in the kitchen. He had a natural way of working with them -- mind you he hadn't graduated high school -- and eventually, when the grind of the restaurant became too much, my parents sold the place, he got his GED and went to college at what was then Glassboro State Teachers College, earning a certificate in Special Education. He was in his mid-50's at the time.
     What followed were what he often described as the happiest 12 years of his life. He worked at the Bancroft School in Haddonfield, for people with special needs. He could walk to work through a wooded area near home, passing Hopkins Pond where the bones of Hadrosaurus foulkii -- the first nearly-complete dinosaur skeleton ever unearthed -- were originally excavated on the eve of the Civil War. He taught the young people in his charge practical things like how to count change, how to make a sandwich, how to take a bus. The PhD's and others with Big Special Education Degrees scoffed and were probably a little jealous of my father's success, and of the program he started that got some students out into the world, taking public transportation to work at local businesses, living full lives.
     Upon retirement he and my mother, who had begun to slow down considerably, stayed in Haddonfield for a few years, then moved a few miles away to Riverton, a move I don't think either of them was ever entirely happy about. But they made the most of it. Mother's health deteriorated, so they brought in local ladies to help with the housework and cooking and care, and both my sisters chipped in with their support. After my mother died in 2005 at the age of 96, Dad stayed in the house, being looked after and fussed over by his "girls" as he called them, smoking a pack of unfiltered Camels a day and enjoying a couple of Manhattans, a few beers and the ubiquitous Tastykakes. He became frail and forgetful and, though he rarely admitted it, I think he was done in by my mother's death. They had been together 56 years. 
     When it looked as though money would become an issue, he reluctantly agreed to move into a senior living facility -- where he lasted about a month. A series of falls landed him in the hospital. He had fallen numerous times in the house, often hitting his head and I think the damage was done over time, rather than right away. After the last bad fall -- he was trying to get out of bed to go have a smoke, I think -- he was in a rehab facility where, when I would visit, I was never sure if he knew who I was. He would talk about seeing his mother and my mother and one day I got a call that he had been rushed to the hospital unconscious. Chris and I visited him there in the emergency room. He was in the hospital only a few days more before he died, July 20, 2008. Chris and I were both with him when he passed, holding his hands. 
     Apart from my own death, I don't imagine I'll ever have a more profound experience.
New Guinea
     His time in the war was, not surprisingly, hell. A kid from Philadlephia suddenly sent halfway around the world to New Guinea, where he got dengue fever and malaria and spent time with the natives there who nursed him back to health while his squadron moved on, coming back later to pick him up. The journal he left gives an almost day-by-day account of his time there, the danger, the fear, the heat, the good times, the Australian lady he met (!) and wooed, the bugs, the "Japs" as he called them, and his friends, many of whom didn't come home.
     But he did, as he was meant to. Here's an entry from September 20, 1943:
Just to show how fate takes a hand in things. While I was in Moresby (Port Moresby, Australia) waiting to come up here (Silly Silly) I was asked if I wanted to go up at once or wait a few days. I replied that it made no difference to me. I was sent up on the first flight. It was a toss-up between Jerry Ryan and myself who was to go first – he was supposed to go up first but something happened and I took his place. He came up on the plane in my place and then the very sad news of his death reached us. He was on one of the planes that were shot down in the strafing and bombing raid here on Aug. 15, 1943 – So thanks to the intervening hand of fate – I live to go on.
     And then there's this letter, pasted onto a page of the journal, from The White House, Washington:


"You are a soldier of the United States Army. You have embarked for distant places where the war is being fought. Upon the outcome depends the freedom of your lives: the freedom of the lives of those you love -- your fellow-citizens -- your people.

"Never were the enemies of freedom more tyrannical, more arrogant, more brutal.

"Yours is a God-fearing, proud, courageous people, which, throughout its history, has put its freedom under God before all other purposes. We who stay at home have our duties to perform -- duties owed in many parts to you. You will be supported by the whole force and power of this Nation. The victory you win will be a victory of all the people -- common to them all.

"You bear with you the hope, the confidence, the gratitude and the prayers of your family, your fellow-citizens and your President-- Franklin D. Roosevelt."

      My father was, above all, a gentle, generous man who never failed to say how grateful he was for the life he'd had, how fortunate he was to be in his own house, surrounded by people who cared for him. To the very end, lonely and lost without my mother, he maintained a smile and an interest in our lives. It took a lot to make him angry, and not too much to make him happy. Giving his eulogy, which I managed to get through without entirely falling apart, I told the assembled mourners that "I think my father was the finest man I ever knew". I don't foresee ever having to rethink my position.

Thanks, Dad. For so many things.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Message From Kona

Well, it seems our new cat is smarter than we dreamed. The other day we were both out for the day and when we came home, lo and behold, Kona had figured out how to type a message to his original family in Hoboken and send it via email! And all the time we thought he was just sitting there, staring into space. Turns out he was studying us. Hmmm... I wonder what else he has up his, er, sleeve.

In any event, I'm sure you've always wondered what your pets are thinking, so here's a sample: A Message from Kona:

Dear tom and Becky and ThomaS—

Well my New Humans are a Way for a while and They left their computer on so im sending you a quick Message because I know they have been sending You updates about me and I wanted to add my 2 cents. Im still getting the hang of this thing and tYping with 2 paws isn’t easy so I hope U unnderstand. Plus ive been watching how they send the email so here goes.  

I cant believ its been too weeks already and I feel pretty at Home here.  They are nice humans and the one guy Kris –is that right?-- hes the real Cat Person I can tell he had another cats before Me since I can smell at least one other cat in the furniture and the Rugs, which are very nice BTW-- they have a bunch of oriental rugs that are wool which I like... the wall 2 wall I don’t like so much but that’s just Me

Anyway They are Both verry nice to me once I decided  to move in. the first couple of nites i wasn’t so sure but They left me to roam around and sniff and explore and find places to curlup and all and i kept my disdance at first because who knows what kinds of humans these are when They aren’t with you acting all nice and sweet. But it turns out They really are nice and sweet and don’t mind when I curl up on their laps when Theyre on the couch watching TV or at this Computer

They have fish too – a big aquarium in the living room, and the tall one whos called fred he has a small aquarium in the den right near this computer and i can watch the little fish swimming around which looks boring too me. They cant curlup on someones lap or jump up on the shelves and give the humans a hart attack.

They have two flights of steps up to this apartment and i like running up and down them, its very good exercise and once in a awile They let me out so I can explore the hallway but not enuff to suit me so i have been trying to open the front dor but i can’t get a good enuff grip on the door nob. but I keep trying because the tall one Fred, he thinks it’s hilarious when i try and open the door. He also laughs when i fall over with my legs in the air so he can rub my tummy and scratch my chin. And when I sit in the windowsill or curl up on this big wool blanket They have for me he takes pictures and tells me how hansome i am, which is true but it gets a little embarassing

Plus theres a ghost here too. I think I can see him once in a wile, he just stands there looking … well, dead ... but he seems okay. He has a red neck tie and I try and talk to him but he doesn’t answer and the humans fred and Kris don’t know what I’m talking about. So They clap their hands and ask me what im talking about and to be quiet. So what do I do, try and tell them what im talking about or be quiet? It’s kind of a mix message if you ask me.

Last week the tall one Fred brought his brother Robert home from the group home where he lives and I played with him awhile which was nice. Fred took a picture (suprise suprise!) and here it is

Kris has gone to visit his friend Joan and from what I heard when he was on the phone with Her they're going to see some one else called FabberZay (?) who lives in a museum so that means I am alone with the tall one Fred for a couple days. It's fine and we have already taken a couple of naps together.

So I think I hear him coming back from the storr so I’m going to the front door and see if I can sneak out when he opens the door, but hes always too fast for me but its worth a try. And you shuldnt worry about me at all. These new humans are really nice and loving to me and God knows the tall one fred will take all kinds of pictures for you to see. Now I know what angelina and brad feel like!

Love Kona

PS, don’t worry you’ll always be my first famly.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011


We have a cat. A new cat. Well, new to us. His name is Kona and he came to us via Facebook: the Burmese Rescue Group. A family in Hoboken, NJ (Mom, Dad and a little one) were in need of a new home for their champagne male Burmese, Kona. The little boy is allergic and no amount of vacuuming, air purifying, cleaning, separating in different rooms... nothing seemed to help. And now there's another boy on the way and it came down to the children or the cat. No contest.

So Thomas, Kona's original owner for the past 10 years, and the family's companion for the last eight, posted on the Facebook group and Chris responded immediately. Initially we thought we'd go up to Hoboken and meet the family (and, of course, the cat) and see what we all thought of each other. But by the end of the week, the family had decided we were The Ones and told us that if we wanted to, we could take Kona home with us on Saturday.

So north we drove to meet this beautiful family and their amazing pet. He really is much more handsome in person. We visited for a half an hour or so, then put Kona in his traveling carrier; the family also gave us his litter box (a really cool design that doesn't need a scoop! You kind of roll it over on its side and the litter sifts itself into a long, deep tray and you just pull it out and dispose...brilliant!); some Meow Mix and his food and water bowls and we made our way back onto the Jersey Turnpike. (By the way, more on Hoboken later. It's a very cool little city!)

Disoriented and probably a little afraid and angry, Kona talked most of the way home, when he wasn't trying to punch his way out of the carrier. When we got him home, he prowled around, getting the lay of the land. He didn't want much to do with us: the hissing and bared teeth were a pretty good hint. So we kept our distance for a couple of days, until Kona started sidling up to us, sniffing our feet or hands, getting close enough to get a vibe one way or the other. By Monday evening, after work, I was on the floor with him and he was nuzzling my hand, begging to be scratched behind the ears. In the intervening week, he's started to curl up on my lap when I'm watching TV, or at the computer. He really is a love sponge...

The other funny thing is that, like many cats, he loves doors and closets and is often to be found sitting at the apartment door, crying to be let out. And he's smart enough that he's figured out how the doorknob works and what it's for. Periodically there will be this soft thud and scratching on the front door, and I'll look over to see him hanging by his front paws from the doorknob, trying to turn it! It's hilarious and really fascinating.

"What's in this closet? I have to know!"
 During those first few days he naturally spent a good deal of time sniffing the air, or sitting very still, staring straight ahead. I suspect he can still smell our late female Burmese, Mehitabel, in the rugs and the upholstery. He can probably also commune with the spirit we suspect haunts the apartment: a man who once worked in this building when it was still a commercial property. He had a heart attack and, I believe the story goes, fell down the service elevator shaft. Cats are much more finely attuned to that kind of thing. (I, at least, have not had the pleasure...)

He sleeps a lot during the day, and howls a lot during the night when we're trying to sleep. But he is very, very loving and absolutely beautiful, with a silky pale beige coat that's sometimes a little grayish, and the most amazing green-gold eyes.

It's nice having the energy in the apartment again, that unique sense of the presence of a living thing that only pets (particularly cats) can impart. Apart from being awakened at two or three in the morning by what sounds like a very peeved baby crying, I'm glad Kona's here. Of course as Chris insists, Burmese bond to one person for life, so he'll always belong to Thomas of Hoboken. We're caretakers.

Or, as Chris also often says, furniture in the cat apartment of life.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Although my mother died in November of 2005 -- and it is hard to believe it's been that long -- I thought I'd pay her a little tribute here, since so much of who I am is the result of who she was.

She was born in New Bedford, MA on December 16, 1908, to Severino Pina and Maria Fraga, Portuguese immigrants. But her father returned to Portugal when she was a child, and she was raised by an aunt on a farm on Cape Cod. The aunt spoke no English, but raised her and her two sisters -- Carrie and Eva -- with what I understand from the occasional stories she told about this period of her life, was an iron hand. Her given name was the Portuguese Isaura, derived from the ancient Greek: Isauria was a region in South Asia Minor, in ancient geography, and derives its name from contentious Isaurian tribes, fiercely independent mountain people who only submitted to the Roman Empire around 70 B.C. Which explains a lot.  The nickname for Isaura is Kay, and that's how my father and her friends here knew her.

She was married three times and never mentioned her first two husbands. For good reason, as I later learned. Let's just say they were apparently not nice men. My half sisters from the first marriage never spoke of their father, either. But it's safe to say that she married very young the first time (at 16) to escape the drudgery of that farm, but wound up in a worse situation. Among the family papers I recovered from my parent's house is the divorce decree.

By the time she met my father, she had four children, including the aforementioned half-sisters, and two half-brothers. They met at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod just as World War II was ending and the third time, as they say, was the charm. My father was a kind and generous man who accepted the fact that his bride-to-be had several -- older -- children, and brought them all (except for one brother who stayed behind on Cape Cod, where he still lives) down to the Philadelphia suburbs, where he opened an antique and furniture restoration store in Ardmore, PA. I came along somewhere along the line and there were times when they would have to take me to work, where they bedded me down in one of the drawers of a Chippendale dresser.

Eventually they moved across the river to southern New Jersey where, after some years, they wound up taking over the operation of the Homestead Restaurant in Haddonfield. It had been owned and operated by my father's parents, and when my grandfather (for whom I was named) became too ill to work, my parents stepped in.

It was hard work. I always smile when I hear people who like to cook and entertain talk about how much they'd like to open "a little restaurant somewhere...". My father ran the kitchen (more on him in another post), and Mom ran the dining room, overseeing the staff of waitresses, keeping the books, making the place look nice and greeting the guests. They worked long hours -- 12, 14 hour days -- very often seven days a week. The Homestead became an institution in Haddonfield and when my parents finally had had enough and closed the place, it was a big deal.

All along the way my mother, who could be something of a taskmaster, raised me with a firm hand and instilled in me a serious work ethic (we were expected to do chores at home and help out at the restaurant) and an appreciation of what used to be called "nice things". A year and a half after I was born, my brother Robert was born with Down Syndrome. My parents were told that he probably wouldn't live out his teen years and urged them to put him away somewhere and just wait. Thankfully, Mom and Dad did not take this advice and managed to find places for Robert to live where he could learn and thrive. He's still alive, in a wonderful group home setting not far from where I live now. They didn't give up. And along the way there were other heartaches she had to deal with, which for reasons of privacy I'll not go into in any detail. Suffice to say that my mother had to deal with many of the illnesses and emotional and mental problems many families have to endure, and she suffered a number of losses along the way, including her sister Eva and her son, my older half-brother Jimmy, both to cancer.

She worked hard all her life, even after her retirement from the restaurant. She was active in the local woman's club, The Fortnightly, year after year winning blue ribbons for her flower arrangements and table settings. She cooked up huge, delicious pots of Portuguese soups, rice and lima beans (which sounds simple enough, and the flavor of which I've never been able to duplicate), chicken and rice, and New England clam chowder. The best New England clam chowder I've ever eaten, even on Cape Cod. (Well, once or twice some restaurant somewhere comes close, but for the most part what passes for New England clam chowder is basically wallpaper paste with minced rubber bands in it.)

She had a beautiful smile and a lilting laugh, and she loved to laugh. God knows, she deserved to. In 1955 they went to Europe. The pictures from that trip show a stylish, happy woman enjoying herself, laughing and enjoying herself in a way she probably never thought she would.

London, 1955

Every year in late spring, when I was in elementary school, and a few years after, we would drive to Cape Cod, the two of us in the big, black and white Buick. We'd stop in New Bedford overnight to visit her best friend in the world, Alice Mendes, who had been married to a prizefighter. They would stay up into the late hours, talking and laughing like schoolgirls. Occasionally they'd go out to a club where jazz was played. We'd stay on the Cape in boarding houses (this was long before Bed and Breakfasts), usually owned by widows who charged two dollars a night, and visit Mom's relatives. On the drive home, somewhere around southern Connecticut, I would be asked to help steer the car from the passenger seat while my mother deftly removed the girdle most women still wore in those days, one hand on the wheel, her foot still firmly on the accelerator.

Later on there were the dances at the Portuguese social club in Brooklyn, where her two sisters had moved. We would drive up early on a Saturday and land at my Aunt Carrie's apartment on Atlantic Avenue, a walkup, where "the girls" would catch up, my aunt would feed us, and everyone would take a nap. Then, later in afternoon, they'd start dressing -- this was in the days when people still dressed to go out -- and that night we'd go to the club, a few blocks away, also on Atlantic Avenue, down a few steps from street level: it was a long, low room, where there was a small bar, if I remember correctly, and a kitchen where the women would bring the food they'd cooked. There was live music, guitar and fiddle and vocal music from the Cape Verde Islands. And the people would dance. I would dance. Often my father took time off from work to join us and I can still see them: my 6'2 father and my 5'2 mother moving gracefully and happily around the floor. I used to love to watch them dance. It made me happy to see her happy.

These socials would go all night and I can still remember leaving the club, stepping up to the sidewalk and looking down Atlantic Avenue toward Brooklyn City Hall as the sun came up.

She enjoyed good health, pretty much until the last few years of her life when she slowly became crippled with spinal stenosis, eventually bed-bound. My father's health began to decline as well, and they had long since started sleeping in separate rooms. But he took care of her to the end, refusing to send her to a home or a hospice. Many nights she would try to get out of bed, unaided, and would fall. My father would wake up and try to get her back into bed but, too weak to manage it on his own, he would simply put his arms around her and they would sleep sitting up on the floor, until my sister Pat showed up the next morning to help around the house.

I don't know that my mother ever entirely accepted me as a gay man, and she was never shy about sharing her opinions about some of my companions. The one she always liked and asked for was Jim, an ex who lives in Los Angeles. She (and my whole family, for that matter) very much loved Chris, who volunteered many hours of his time to sit with them, even staying over night from time to time, to watch them. She was always interested in my theatrical ambitions, but not-so-secretly always hoped that I'd settle down into some kind of regular job. It took her a long time, I think, to give up on the idea that I might suddenly wake up straight, marry and give her grandchildren.

But as tough as she could be, as much as she demanded of us (the sense of responsibility she instilled in me has taken on a life of its own and I am now what I'd call hyper-responsible), her love for me and all my siblings was never in doubt. I think she's had a hand in many of the recent events in my life, helping to make me a little more secure. I like to think that, wherever she is, she now understands me better and can see what all the sadness and loss and hard work were for. To this day something good will happen and I think "I'll have to tell Mom-- oh, yeah..."

So, Isaura, Happy Mother's Day. I hope I've honored you appropriately (although I'm pretty sure you're not so happy about the girdle story being out there on the Internet). They don't make them like you any more.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tired Old Queen at the Movies: Suddenly Last Summer

Oh, all right... a little something strange and wonderful for the weekend. If you haven't seen this one, with Elizabeth Taylor and Kate Hepburn, you owe it to yourself. You'll either love it or you'll end up with your jaw on the floor. Or some combination of the two.

And, of course, dear Steve Hayes (Tired Old Queen at the Movies) sells it, really sells it!

Taylor reportedly went through hell to give this performance; and Hepburn is almost, well, seems almost like a very, very good drag queen doing Katharine Hepburn. Judge for yourself, but make a lot of popcorn...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Yoani Sanchez and Generacion Y

How fortunate we are. How blessed and fortunate to be citizens of the USA -- free, as we are, to come and go as we please, work, spend our money (what's left of it after putting gas in the car and food in the fridge), to buy and sell our used cars and houses, to travel -- any number of the myriad things we take for granted every day. Yes, even here where, as one of my favorite quotes has it, "Freedom has ceased to be a birthright; it has come to mean whatever we are still permitted to do."

Yoani Sanchez
But, baby, do we have it good! All it takes is a scroll through a remarkable blog I just discovered via the Human Rights Foundation: Generacion Y, authored by a woman named Yoani Sanchez. 

According to a bio in the Huffington Post, "Yoani Sanchez, a University of Havana graduate in philology, emigrated to Switzerland in 2002, to build a new life for herself and her family. Two years later, she decided to return Cuba, promising herself to live there as a free person. Her blog Generation Y is an expression of this promise. Yoani calls her blog ‘an exercise in cowardice’ that allows her to say what is forbidden in the public square. It reaches readers around the world in over twenty languages. Yoani's new book in English, Havana Real, is now available for pre-order here.

"In November 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama, wrote that her blog "provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba" and applauded her efforts to "empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology." Time magazine listed her as one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2008, stating that "under the nose of a regime that has never tolerated dissent, S├ínchez has practiced what paper-bound journalists in her country cannot: freedom of speech." (There's more here.) 

Yoani's brief essays, no more than a few paragraphs each, are probably best read in the original Spanish (the translation of which is available via the website), but there's something about the English translations that lends them an slightly off-kilter poetry. And the stories they tell -- slices of Cuban life that display for all to see the miserable, hope-free world she and her fellow citizens endure -- make me glad (and I do need reminding) that I have the life I have.

For example, take this, from a post entitled "Laughter and the Congress: "Laughter is still an effective cure for the daily trials. Thus, on this Island, we bend our lips into a smile more for self-therapy than for happiness. Then the tourists take our pictures and go home saying we are a happy people, that we haven’t lost our sense of humor before all the difficulties. Ahh! The tourists and their explanations! We tour the world with the instant of that laugh on our faces — a laugh that preceded a gesture of disgust — or with the image of satisfaction that overwhelms us on resolving, after a year’s effort, a pair of graduated lenses for a child."

Or this caption from a photo on the blog (on the page titled "How to Help"): "It is not possible to have an Internet connection at home. One hour of Wi-Fi in a hotel costs about one-third of the average monthly salary."

Visit the blog and see if you don't wind up feeling at least a little grateful yourself.