Posted: November 29, 2015 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Travels
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Matrioshkas: Vintage set, exactly like mine.

– If it happened that right now you were tele transported to a different reality, in any place in the world where you have no connections, what would you have to take along?

I was asked that question once. Many things came to mind but I could not pinpoint the right answer.

-That´s because you need nothing. You should only need yourself. The rest are tools to be reacquired or just burden.

It is difficult to anticipate how simple and complicated all that could be, or to what extent that would be true or false.

I have spent the last five years of my life going around owning the minimum. Keeping a light luggage means having to decide frequently what to leave behind, and what travels with me. Those decisions gotta be practicality driven.

Some of these things, a few but still, I have kept not out of absolute necessity, but out of some sort of loyalty, memory or nostalgia. Some times I have decided not to give in into getting something new, even if I badly want it, to save space for what I already have.

I have kept a photo album put together to bring along. A collection of DVDs with school works. A Swiss army knife. And gigabytes full of memories, and the fear that some day all that could explode in a cloud of zeros and ones.

I would have been difficult to predict that after a while, the nostalgia for things changes. The nature of the things longed changes. Recently I have remembered my old set of Russian dolls, wondering whether those still exist. Or where did I leave, to whom did I ask to store the other set of Russian dolls that a friend gave me as a present. I have thought that I have no pictures from when I was a child and my parents were young, and I would want to have it.

Humans and things get entangled in complicated relationships. For some reason things are thought to be there to fill voids we can´t.

In Astoria, walking west in the 31st Avenue, you cross Vernon Boulevard to find yourself in front of the East River. It is a surprising spot in NY, kind of underrated, sort of hidden, with far less audience and visitors than it deserves.

spring NYThe other side is Roosevelt Island, and the skyline behind is Manhattan. If you turn right, you would find eventually in Astoria Park, which is a more visited and acknowledge spot, closer to restaurants and bars and the N,Q line. But if going left, then surprises pile.

spring NY (5)You can plan a BBQ on the Socrates Sculpture Park, a name more sumptuous than reality checks. There are a couple of statues, and cryptic installations, mixed with a welcome green-grass in a corner of Queens, where red brick rules.

spring NY (3)It´s a reserved spot for cyclist, picnic-style families, yoga practitioners and dog walkers.

If you keep walking the path, after a momentary step into the Vernon Blvd at Broadway, you are right again entering through a Costco gate, heading to a waterfront that is the Rainey Park.

spring NY (7)spring NY (8)The exit takes you to the 34 avenue… you can then decide to go back or keep walking a longer distance to Queensbridge Park. Or none of these and just take your walk back to the red brick heading to 21st Avenue, and again to Broadway, and 31st Street, in a green Astoria.

spring NY2

Or the lack of it…


Gravity is technically a force. Actually the most powerful force in the universe, holding planets and stars on course. The reason why they connect gravity with seriousness, in crimes, it’s because there is also gravity in intention. With purpose a route is set, a path that can be walked step by step, toward a core that draws us, preventing us from hesitating, from taking a turn, from thinking it twice, from floating away. Indecisiveness is like floating away, when the core has lost strength, or when the core is there no more.

tree rootsI have done my backpack, and then undone it again. Feeling that your backpack stares back at you is a good sign of floating. Just floating. Not even away. Then I discover: that´s why plants have roots.

Without purpose, the way to stay on the ground is having roots. Or at least an anchor that ties you to the port, while the moment comes to sail away. Sail to another destiny, to another harbor, or simply to a shipwreck.

woman triggeredThere’s gravity on projects, and a migrant tends to take a path following a project. The project could be survival, or love, or change. But what happens once we are passed survival and we are supposed to be living, or change turned into habit? Then there’s the unbearable lightness of being. Then there are no roots, and without roots, anchor or a strong intention, there’s only floating.

Say, moving to a new country, or a new city, it’s like meeting new people. It’s awesome. It’s being in a mission, if for survival or success doesn’t really matter. All focus is placed on a goal, on a core. It’s aiming at a heart, or running away from the shot. That’s danger: anticipation. then there’s the peace that comes right after the bomb exploded, the shot was taken… When we either hit target or dodged the bullet. When danger is past, time freezes. Or rather, there’s only time. With much time, indecisiveness.

There’s something special to the feeling of meeting an old friend. There’s gravity in old friendship. There’s memory, a recognition of who you are in who you were. Gravity is continuity.

Re-Cognize. Someone remembers you from another time, another place. That’s a proof that you exist, you’re not a figment of your own imagination. It is also evidence that you were able enough to remain in someone’s mind. There must be some worth in that.


A friend told me once that I had developed a dangerous addiction to changes. Another friend had told me later that lack of gravity is what exile is. I hadn’t connected both till now.

Muddy water

Posted: March 2, 2015 by jennroig in English, Fiction
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Close to midnight. An ageless woman sings a blues, escorted by an organ, drum beats and a guitar. I miss a trumpet or a saxophone. white man flirts with a black girl next to the bar, and she likes the attention. They seem isolated from the rest, the only odd presence other than the Asian couple that joined last. The rest, everybody knows everybody at Showman’s. The audience seems local, familiar, perennial… Baby I love you rain or shine…  Isn’t something sweet to tell someone? The singer asks and no one answers. Nobody seems to have ever said it before.

The black girl stares to the white man, losing her smile for just that moment.I think of that first time when I listened to a jazz riff. A piano solo. A man whispering in my ear a definition of jazz.

The singer introduces next a Billie Holliday´s tune, saying that Billie believed in forgiving everything to her man, sort of a habit that she wont share… Hush now, don’t explain, just say you’ll remain, I’m glad you’re back, don’t explain…jazz-literatura-cortazar

I remember the first time I felt the jazz. Really feeling it, not reading about it in a Cortazar story…

An old black man’s just back from smoking… or from some other time, more than forty years ago, with his tight turtleneck and a beret as he could have used back then, when maybe Billie was singing that song herself… Right or wrong don’t matter, when you’re with me sweet. Hush now, don’t explain…

A Harlem postcard. So endemic as the noise of pipes in the winter.

words in earsA memory. A photo or a film engraved in some part of my brain tissue that could be real, or it could well be a fake. Words recovered or reinvented to repaint another bar, in another city, in another world.

Words coming with a tone, a texture… words like fur, or wind blowing on leaves. Words saying that jazz is an architecture built only over a naked structure, then improvisation fills the gaps, puts over layers of escapades, covers it with instinct and tacit understanding. Words in my ear, lips so close to my skin.

The singer doesn’t echo Billie anymore. It is channeling Nina, the unmissable in a bluesy night… I put a spell on you…

Thank God for my Barbieless childhood

Posted: November 26, 2014 by jennroig in Commentary, English
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I’ve heard there’s a new barbie in the market now. A Barbie that it’s supposed to be realistic, it’s smaller than classic Barbie, more curvy and… more anatomically possible. I’m not so sure about that. I haven’t read if manufacturers added anything that may remotely resemble a vagina… But that’s a discussion for another day. The thing is girls can add bruises and scars and cellulite when they play with the doll, so this one should make them feel better about themselves as females, as future women…

I grew up in Cuba, in the 80s. No Barbies in my toy kingdom back then. It was the Golden Age of the Soviet era. Everything was made in USSR.

Vintage set, exactly like mine.

Vintage set, exactly like mine.

I had a set of Matryoshkas, I had a baby boy doll with stuffed body. Or at least I thought it was a baby boy, even though it was dressed in pink… what a lovely thing to think for a girl back then. I had a lot of stuffed animals that I like to vaccinate pretending I was a nurse and they needed to receive medication via a syringe. About that baby boy doll, I remember I really liked that toy.

Of course, as a girl, there’s always this doll that you care a lot for. You don’t love it as much as you admire it. You don’t play that much with it, instead you put it in a visible place to be admired, queen among all the others, because you think it’s beautiful and you feel you would like to be like “her”.

For me, it was a tall doll, brown eyes with long eyelashes, black hair slightly curled, with a skin several tones darker than mine, like an Indian skin, or mixed race skin. Her body was solid, curvy, and with its round face you wouldn’t think it as thin. It wore a pink, loose dress and it had definitely an adult expression, a somehow distant maturity and mystery in her eyes. It didn’t look like a girl doll, but a woman doll.

Barbies actually came later to my life. My aunt came back from Angola with two of those, when the war ended or at least Cuban troops were dismissed. One was dressed in white, like a bride. The other was dressed in black, like an elegant femme fatale or a millionaire orphan. Both were skinny, so tall with impossibly long legs. They used heels, but they couldn’t stand, they needed some sort of plastic device to help them stand. I didn’t play with those either. I sat them in front of the queen, on the other extreme of the shelf.

As a woman, I left behind those dolls a long time ago. Not just because I’m a migrant and dolls don’t fit in my luggage, but they were out of sight even before, when my mom moved to Havana and I refurnished my bedroom as university student.

Now I wonder if I don’t have a lot to thank to that queen doll. Even if I envied her, even if I wished I looked more like her, with those big mysterious eyes and darker skin and less like myself. As every girl/woman, I would want to be different. Back then more than now. But also now.

Yet not to the point of having plastic surgery, or spending hours and tons of money on makeup, or rejecting who I am and how I’m made. I’m fine with the way I am, even when I’m not at my best. Maybe it’s true and I have that doll to thank for, because at least she had a body that resemble mine, because she resembled a human female, not an impossible fantasy of some feverish, sick mind.

How to spot the “right place”

Posted: November 13, 2014 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Travels
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That may sound like an odd question. Especially to those who have remained in the same place for most of their lives. But there’s a particular group among humans who really enjoy moving around. Those may understand the point of this question.

It’s a twisted joy, I admit. Of course we all seek for that sense of belonging, for someone or something or some place that we can relate with, that can recognize us, that we can recognize ourselves there… Still, there’s pleasure in being willing to keep looking where can we be better, of not giving up and settle down for less that we really want or believe we deserve.

Then, after a while living in different places, shifting from location to location, a sense of being “rootless” starts to develop. It grows, keeps gaining space inside us in an inverse correlation to the volume of the things we own The less we have, the more light we become. With this sort of lightness, a sense of freedoms then comes to plant a flag, or maybe spreads its wings… And that’s a wonderful feeling for those who own it… The flip side to that is that not everyone gets it, o a certain solitude comes along with the bargain.

Fascination of the Night by Leonid Afremov

Fascination of the Night by Leonid Afremov

There’s also the feeling of not really have a “place to return”. We were there, we’ve done that. Place after place. Suddenly we realize we don’t fit in our hometown anymore. Homeland becomes a ghost, or rather a unicorn, depending of whether we believe memories were real at some point, or were they always figments of our imaginations.

But no matter how much we really enjoy that sense of freedom, that lightness, the eyes are always vigilant trying to spot that “right place”. A right place for us. A right place for me.

The sad thing is that I don’t have an answer to that question. I have fallen in love with cities before, at first sight. I have thought I had arrived to my right place to later start feeling the same urge to go elsewhere, to leave again.

Maybe there’s no right place. Maybe the new place is always right, and time tames that thrill turning it into something different. There’s placer as well in what is familiar. I guess it depends on what we are willing to give up, give in, or just give.

This is the original, unedited English version of my interview to Katie Kross, published on AméricaEconomía on September 1st.


Katie Kross, author, academic and professor

Katie Kross is the Managing Director of the Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment (EDGE) at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Profession and Purpose: A Resource Guide for MBA Careers in Sustainability (Greenleaf Publishing, 2014).

Could you introduce the goals of EDGE to AméricaEconomía’s readership?

As the world’s population continues to rise and become increasingly urbanized and industrialized, one of the biggest business questions of our time will be: how are we going to sustainably provide the energy and natural resources needed to meet that demand? The ability to access and use resources efficiently is an opportunity for competitive advantage not just in the energy sector but in nearly every industry.

At EDGE, we help current and future business leaders understand how energy and environmental challenges present both risks and opportunities for businesses. We offer education programs for MBA students, convene thought leaders, and pursue research on topics at the intersection of business, energy, and environmental issues. Fundamentally, these are issues of corporate strategy and competition that are going to be paramount for business leaders in the next few decades.

For a news consumer, it would seem that today every effort to foster sustainability is against business profits. What’s your main argument when convincing students and influencers about the need and benefits of implementing sustainable business practices?

There are different ways that sustainability practices return value to businesses. Some are direct – for instance, energy and waste reductions may lead directly to operational cost savings. But often, sustainability practices yield intangible benefits, like improved brand reputation, worker productivity, or employee attraction and retention. For example, retailers who have implemented green lighting strategies in their stores have yielded not just energy savings but also increased sales in those stores because the new lighting makes for more appealing merchandising.

When speaking with MBA students, I encourage them to understand how to make the “business case” for sustainability. That means understanding how sustainability is linked to these intangible benefits and then quantifying them in terms that can stand up to shareholder scrutiny. The business case will vary by company and by industry. But sustainability will never survive as a business strategy purely because it is “the right thing to do”; it must also be the profitable thing to do.

– In the long run, what would you suggest to MBA students and candidates in terms of career choices that bet for sustainability as a center piece of their activity?

For students who are interested in sustainable business, there are opportunities to work in the corporate sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments at big corporations. There are also opportunities to work in sustainability consulting. But there are also ways for MBAs to apply their passion for environmental and energy strategies in many other roles. They might work in a traditional MBA role – in marketing, finance, or operations – but incorporate sustainability principles into how they think about those roles. They might also choose to work in business development or operations for a company that is working directly on cleantech or energy technologies.

In my book, Profession and Purpose, I try to illustrate that there are many possible paths for MBA graduates who are interested in putting their passion for sustainability into practice—whether that is as a sustainability program manager for Facebook, a green product marketer for Johnson & Johnson, a portfolio manager in the “impact investing” industry, or any number of other options.

– To what extent the private and public sector is prepared to offer such careers to students? To what extent the role of entrepreneurship can be of relevance in pushing forward sustainable business models, ideas, innovations, and practices?

Most of the world’s largest companies have established corporate sustainability or CSR departments. But sustainability is still a relatively new business practice, so the jobs within those departments are evolving as companies become more sophisticated in their approaches. The sustainability jobs that will exist 5 years from now may not exist right now. So, job seekers who are interested in these roles have to be entrepreneurial in their approach to the job search, often writing their own job descriptions.

There is also the need and opportunity for entrepreneurs who are inventing new approaches to the world’s energy and sustainability challenges. We have seen tremendous growth in energy industry hiring, and I expect we will continue to see exciting innovation opportunities for the entrepreneurs who want to address energy and environmental challenges with new solutions.

– What do you think are the biggest challenges that corporate America faces when adopting more sustainable business practices? And how do you see these challenges can be different from other regions in the world, such as Latin America?

One of the challenges that corporate America faces when adopting sustainable business practices is the challenge of measuring and quantifying the “business case” for sustainability. As I mentioned earlier, sustainability can yield substantial intangible benefits for companies, but it can be hard to measure, monetize, and report on those benefits to shareholders. Organizations like the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board are working with industry to bring standardization to sustainability disclosures, but there is still much work to be done.

Another challenge is that many corporations that have an established sustainability program have already captured much of the “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to operational efficiencies. They are now moving onto address sustainability issues that are more complex, involve more stakeholders, and require more systematic change. For instance, achieving a goal of zero waste, which Walmart has set, or assessing the sustainability of all of your products’ materials, like Nike is doing, can be more complicated challenges to tackle.

– As a female leader who advocates sustainability in business, one could argue you have to face a twofold resistance. Is that so? What do you say is the biggest resistance you must overcome?

I am proud and inspired to see many female executives leading in the sustainable business realm. Some of the women whose leadership I take inspiration from, for instance, are Linda Fisher, Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) at DuPont; Bea Perez, CSO of The Coca-Cola Company; Diane Holdorf, CSO at Kellogg Company; Trisa Thompsen, VP of corporate social responsibility at Dell; Hannah Jones, VP of Sustainable Business & Innovation at Nike; and author Christine Bader, among others. I’ve also found groups like the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future to be useful for making connections with female mentors and collaborators.

There is, in general, a strong collegiality among sustainable business practitioners. Further, sustainability is a business disciplines that benefits from diverse perspectives and stakeholder inclusion. The sustainability challenges that businesses and society face require ingenuity, creativity, and collaboration from all corners of the world, from men and women alike.