I remember them all with nostalgia and affection; in the case of Galis-Menéndez because he was the founder of the program. He was a man of nice personality, extremely educated; a man devoted to his family, his studies, and his work. I think he was a man of exemplary conduct, and also a great colleague in Escriba y Lea.
Dubouchet was in some way my professor at the University during my days as a student, so there was respect between us, the one a student feels towards her professor, but we were also very good friends. When Cepero was still alive and the program was broadcast live every Friday night, we all got into the habit of going to the Emperador restaurant after the program, to have a few drinks or dinner.
We often went out on Saturday night, Cepero and the three of us panelists with our respective couples. We used to go to any of the Havana nightclubs, although we generally didn’t enjoy the show or danced because what we did was listening to Cepero´s stories, all kinds of jokes. We sat at the table and Cepero began to tell his stories at about 10: 00 p.m., and sometimes it was already until 3:00 a.m. and he was still telling stories. We made a good team, we were very close, both from the professional and personal points of view. The same happened when Galis-Menéndez fell ill and then died and Dr. Enrique Sosa joined the program. Sosa was also an excellent person, with whom we built up a good relationship, and in that sense he was capable of filling the absence of Dr. Menéndez. By the way, there is an anecdote that I think I have never told anybody. Do you want me to tell you?
Sure, Dr. Ortiz. I was going to ask you!
The first day Sosa participated in the program he was practically forced to do so, because he didn’t want to. Television impresses you, you know. It still happens to me after over 40 years of participating in this program.
When Sosa started, something funny occurred. We were asked about an important figure, but we didn’t ask if he was fictitious or not and we couldn’t answer the question. It was “Perico, the donkey,” which actually existed in Santa Clara. The donkey used to go around the city and everybody gave him some bread or something to eat; he was the city’s pet. We couldn’t think of that. I did know Perico’s story and I had even seen the monument built to this famous donkey in the city. At the end of the program, Sosa said:
“I have been the real donkey for having accepted to come to this program.” After that anecdote, we always made fun of him due to his phrase, because it’s one of the famous phrases we could compile to write about the program.
When Sosa died, suddenly, Professor Angel Herrero replaced him as a panelist. Herrero had been participating in the program every now and then when any of us had to travel, had a problem or got sick. Then, a few years later, when Dr. Dubouchet could no longer work in “Escriba y Lea”, Fernadez Bulté joined us and, shortly after, Félix Julio Alonso López, who began to train as a panelist in the program and finally replaced Bulté, because this great colleague unfortunately died. I have always had a good relationship with all of them, of friendship and comradeship, and I hope for it to continue that way; as a united and strong team.
When did Escriba y Lea go on the air for the first time?
It was on Friday, December 5th, 1969, that is, more than 40 years ago. At first, it was a live television program.
Dr. Ortiz, while watching this program, I have realized that during your work trips you have also visited many famous historic places. Could you tell me which ones have impressed you the most?
It is a difficult question to answer. For example Italy made a deep impression on me, because there you can find a lot of art, what you have learned from books, seen on slides or studied at the University with Dr. Novoa. I remember for instance, when Dr. Novoa talked to us about the Louvre Museum and told us that the first thing we were going to find as we went up the stairs was the Winged Victory of Samothrace. When I had the opportunity to go to Paris and visited the Louvre and found myself standing in front of that ancient and beautiful sculpture, I remembered Dr. Novoa. We usually have little time for trips and therefore can’t see everything you would like to see, but sometimes you know exactly what you want. I knew I was at the Museum and the time I had for that visit, so I dedicated my time to see the “Mona Lisa” (also known as La Gioconda, the Aphrodite of Milos or “Venus de Milo,” and the halls on Dutch painting.
The pyramids and the Sphinx really impressed me when I went to Egypt, but I was I really moved by Tutankhamen’s treasure, because everything is there: how the rite was, the vessels where the viscera were kept, the golden sarcophagus…It’s now that you ask me that question that I remember Sosa asking me once: If you had to visit another city again, what European city would you chose? I answered him without the slightest hesitation: Rome. Rome was a city that impressed me a lot. I think that a great deal of our civilization is found there, the one we got by way of the Spaniards, their institutions and buildings. When you go to the University of Havana, you can notice that the style of the buildings around that institution preserves the spirit, the air of Greece and Rome. I could also tell you many things about Mexico, the United Sates, Germany or Brazil, where I have been to so many times, but we do not have time for that.
The works by Michelangelo you have seen?
The Sistine Chapel and, among others, Michelangelo’s David, which is amazing, like The Pity, which is located in San Pedro. ‘The Pity’ is a wonderful piece.
You have also worked a lot for radio in Cuba, since your voice is heard on the Havana Radio station.
This is a 15-minute show broadcast on Tuesday afternoons. It is called “Entre Libros” (Among Books) and it is aimed at encouraging reading and not at carrying out literary critic. My aim -and I have tried my best to do so- has always been to talk about Cuban books and authors in the program. For example, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Cuban literature –with the publication of the poem “Espejo de Paciencia,” as I’m sure you know as a native of Camaguey province-, I dedicated a program to Silvestre de Balboa. I referred to its author, to how it was discovered and how some people think it is an apocryphal poem, although I prefer to believe it is real. I think that the character Silvestre de Balboa -whose historic existence has been proved and that it’s the author of the poem- is lovely, due to his naivety and to everything he shows by way of his writing. Many of the roots of our cultural identity are found in that poem.
The program has dealt with great writers of both the 19th and the 20th centuries, some of them almost forgotten, although I have recently seen a certain kind of interest in talking about writers like Ballagas, Florit, Poveda, Boti… about that important period of our literature, a period of fresh impetus, and that is not always known as it should, and also about younger writers.
We started the interview by talking about your happy childhood, which I would describe as the spring. Now you’re experiencing the autumn of your life, but I have the feeling that that happiness has existed in both periods. How do you see this, Dr. Ortiz?
There are storms and cyclones in the spring and in the fall… I’ve had a bit of everything in my life. Now, making an assessment, I think, I have had a happy life professionally speaking. I could study the degree courses I wanted, I have worked on what I wanted, traveled to many interesting places, met people, some of which have became loved ones, close friends.
These are people with whom you not only share not your life, like family, but that are also very important from the point of view of literary or artistic creation. I believe these things enrich your life. I have a beautiful family, not only the one I have contributed to create -my husband, two daughters and four grandchildren-, but my family in general, my uncles, my cousins, etc. All of us have tried to maintain that concept of family, inherited from our ancestors. I think that families are as important as schools and that what you learn at home always prevails, regardless of storms.