2017 Grateful 38

I’ve heard the stories. A sister dying in Ireland a minute after her brother died in Australia (they say he picked her up on his way by). An otherwise healthy mother dying the day after her daughter (think Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher). Apparently there is such a thing as broken heart syndrome. Back in 1990  Japanese researchers called it Takotsubo syndrome.  It’s also known as the widowhood effect. It’s got something to do with the heart being assaulted by a sudden, massive release of stress hormones. It’s like a heart attack, except that the arteries are fine.

In Cienfuegos, in Cementerio de la Reina (Cemetery of the Queen) sits the grave of a 24-year-old-woman who supposedly died of a broken heart back in 1907. La Bella Durmiente. The sleeping beauty.

The cemetery, named after Queen Isabella of Spain, opened its ground in 1837. It’s on the other side of town – far from the yacht club and the villas. And sitting as it does in what looks like the middle of a nowhere trying to be a somewhere, adds to  its otherness.  It’s not nearly as impressive in terms of notable notables or statuary as the Colón in Havana, but it’s got more by way of atmosphere and personality. Colón is like a rich debutante, outwardly confident and inwardly uncertain, whereas La Reina is more like a middle-aged beauty comfortable in her own skin. And she’s definitely a she; statues of men are few and far between. [The last time this struck me about a cemetery was in Milan.]

A local woman, perhaps a cemetery employee, asked where we were from. When we said Ireland, she took us to an Irish grave. I wondered what she’d have done had we said Hungary. But Irish? In Cuba? From the 1800s? How did that happen?

Back in the 1820s, the sugar industry was booming. Slavery was big. The plantation owners wanted to boost their numbers  and have more white guys on hand to keep the slaves in check. So, get this: the Council for White Population went to Maryland, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania and rounded up a few hundred Irish, along with French and Canary Islanders, and tempted them to come start the ‘white colony’ of Cienfuegos.

Marina was the daughter of Limerick man, John O’Bourke, who was one of the Irish to take the Council up on its offer. He married locally and in true Irish form, had ten children. He called his plantation Nueva Hibernia and was known around the place as Juan. On his death, the plantation was sold, although Juan Jnr still had a share in it and was himself administrator of another plantation worked by 500 slaves.

Marina, one of the daughters (I think of Juan Jnr), was an abolitionist. She owned one domestic slave, Matilde, whom she would later help buy her freedom. Once free, and funded by Marina, Matilde herself became a wealthy property owner, lending money, in turn, to Cabildo Real Congo, a black mutual-aid society. Like her former mistress, she, too had a social conscience and worked tirelessly towards racial equality in the new independent Cuban.

Of course, we missed  Barrio O’Bourke, where the family settled and were I to go back, it’d be on my list of places to see. Needless to say, I found out all of this back at my desk in Googleland and see from the comments on Mapping the Irish in Cuba, that a certain Don Morfa of Yaguaramas is thought to have been a Murphy from home. Imagine. The things you learn.

With the remains of soldiers from the Spanish Wars of Independence buried above ground level in the walls, the world seemed well represented. It’s a beautiful spot. Definitely worth the effort. [Check this blog for some great photos.]

I’ve had a bad week. I’m still buggy. I feel like the Irish Sea is sloshing around in my head. I only ventured out when I absolutely had to and even then I was an embarrassment of tissues and phlegm. I never thought I’d hear myself say it, but this week, I’m grateful for the Internet and the wealth of information I can pull up in seconds. It really does open new worlds at the push of a button. And while my brain wasn’t able to concentrate on much by way of work, it benefited enormously from the between-headache educational dalliances with Google. In another life, I met Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, and I met the inimitable Louis Pouzin, inventor of the datagram, and were I to meet them again, I might be a tad more effusive with my thanks.




Nincs probléma

As a child, I hated going to the dentist. I couldn’t stand the way this kind, well-meaning man would tell my mother that the p-a-i-n wouldn’t be too bad but that the d-r-i-l-l might be s-c-a-r-y. I was 10 years old for God’s sake. Surely he knew I could s-p-e-l-l? As a teenager, I dreaded going to the hairdresser.  My colourist once got into an argument on the phone with her boyfriend and forgot about my peroxide. This happened the same day my passport expired. I had to live with that photo for ten years.  As an adult, living in Budapest, I now break out in a cold sweat at the thoughts of going anywhere near a phone company. To date, by my reckoning, my attempts to get wireless Internet in my flat have cost me 21 hours, a complete set of fingernails, and my dignity.

For the purpose of this account, let’s not go with the usual Company A, Company B, or Company C. Let’s instead do something completely radical and call them, say, Company T, Company U, and Company V.

T is for thrasonical

My electrician assured me that my flat was wired for a phone and therefore I should get wireless Internet. Nincs probléma, he said. I cajoled a Hungarian friend of mine into coming with me when I paid the first of three office visits to Company T. I had every form of ID imaginable, including my birth certificate and vaccination records. Best be prepared. We explained that I wanted wireless Internet in my flat and that my KFT was registered at one address but that the Internet was to be installed at another. We filled in the forms, handed over the various proofs of identity and were assured that a technician would call out, to the right address, the following whenever.  Nincs probléma.

And call he did, on schedule, but to the wrong address. I called my friend. She called Company T. They said they’d have to reschedule. Nincs probléma. Then they sent me a letter confirming that I had cancelled my contract; shame we couldn’t do business, etc. What? I went back to Company T with yet another Hungarian-speaking friend and went through the whole scenario again: explanation, confusion, clarity, assurances, forms, ID, and signatures.  Almost two hours into the process, just as I’d signed my name for the umpteenth time, I was told: sorry, whoops, Company T didn’t service my building after all.  mmmm…

U is for unthirlable

So I tried Company U. I decided to phone. The woman I spoke to was a breath of fresh air. Of course they could supply me with Internet. Nincs probléma. What package did I want? I was on a high. I couldn’t believe it. The technician would be out in a couple of days. He came. He saw. He told me the wires wouldn’t reach from the second floor to the fourth floor. Terribly sorry and all that…but they couldn’t help me after all. Anyway, he said, almost as an afterthought, I should be dealing with Company T as they provide Internet to most of this building.  I checked with two of my neighbours and yes, one used Company T, and the other used Company U. mmmm…

So back I went to Company T. I knew the drill:  explanation, confusion, clarity, assurances, forms, ID, and signatures.  Just let me check one thing, the girl said, again nearly two hours into the process. Yes…. it appears that your building is oversubscribed. Sorry! Oversubscribed? I blew a gasket.

V is for verisimilitude

Next stop on the Internet tour was Company V. Same drill: explanation, confusion, clarity, assurances, forms, ID, and signatures Nincs probléma. But, wait! They could only give me mobile Internet. It wasn’t what I wanted but I was desperate. It worked fine for three days. All was well with the world. Life was good. Then, for no obvious reason, it stopped. I went to their office with my laptop and the offending stick. It works fine, the chap said, having checked it on his machine. He was busily texting his mate and not even looking at me! In a voice that would freeze the blood in Berlusconi’s veins, I reminded him that I was the customer; that I should be his priority; that he should cease texting and look at me; that I was paying for a service I wasn’t getting; and that my Internet DID NOT WORK. And then I broke down.  Dignity? What dignity? I flung myself across his desk and bawled.  I couldn’t take any more of this. People got hooked up with Internet every day. Why not me? He checked my laptop. He checked the stick. He did what he had to do. And he fixed it. Nincs probléma.

First published in the Budapest Times 12 April 2010