• Joshua Basseches
  • Part One | Introduction
  • Part Two | Early Life
  • Part Three | Leaving Cuba
  • Part Four | A New Phase
  • Part Five | Alchemy of the Soul
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  • Esther Allen
  • Constellations in Sugar
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    On Alchemy of the Soul: Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons

    Esther Allen

    "We are" —Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons announces, joyful and teary-eyed to be back after an absence of almost thirty years—"in La Vega, in the vecindad of Manguito, in the municipio of Calimete, in the región of Colón, in the provincia of Matanzas, in the Republic of Cuba." It's less a location than a whole giddy cosmography, as when a child writes out the family's street, city, region, country, and adds Western Hemisphere, Planet Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Universe. By sheer sonorous coincidence (one word derives from the Basque baíka, the other from the Arabic wāqi'), La Vega, the hamlet where Campos-Pons grew up, shares its name with a star: Vega, the brightest in the small constellation of Lyra, the harp, visible in the northern hemisphere from spring through autumn. Imagine a ten-year-old girl in La Vega, on tiptoe, stretched as high as she can, with her eyes turned upward toward a single point of light amid all the whorls and spirals that flow and scatter across the night sky.

    Your tocayo, your namesake, is someone who goes by the same moniker you do, a doppelgänger, the same road and yet not taken, a rose by the same name though not necessarily as sweet. Another of La Vega's many tocayos is Las Vegas, Nevada. That city got its name when the territory it lies in belonged to northern Mexico, only recently independent from the Spanish empire that controlled Cuba until the end of the nineteenth century. A vega is a fertile lowland or meadow; the region was so named in 1829 by a young Mexican scout who had wandered off into what seemed a barren desert, only to find a valley where springs nourished green meadows. The irrigating waters of Las Vegas, Nevada (literally "The Meadows, Snowstorm"), have long since been pumped dry, and the name now brings very different associations to mind in the nation Las Vegas belongs to. History's rolling dice, its spinning roulette wheel, have worked their ceaseless transformations on La Vega, Matanzas, as well.

    In the Caribbean, vega generally means tobacco plantation, the fertile lowlands of the southern latitudes being the best place to grow plants of the genus Nicotiana. But rather than cultivating tobacco, Campos-Pons's childhood home produced sugar. That makes it particularly emblematic of what the anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, in a crucial 1940 book, dubbed the Cuban counterpoint or contrapunteo Cubano: the perpetual dueling antiphony between "the most important figures in the history of Cuba."

    Don Fernando notes many similarities between Don Tabaco and Doña Azúcar, the rival main characters in his study. Both are made from tropical plants and are destined for consumption by human mouths. Both were used for centuries as remedies, though both have an even longer association with sensuality and vice. Both are often consumed to excess out of gluttony or addiction; both are known to be damaging to the human body. Both are of pagan origin, unmentioned in the Old or New Testament of the Christian Bible. Sugar, first tasted by European lips during the Crusades, arrived via the Arab world during medieval times. Tobacco was introduced to Columbus by the indigenous inhabitants of Cuba itself in the year 1492—one of countless unexpected byproducts of the discovery of America. Columbus (in Spanish, Colón; the town of Colón, near La Vega, is named for him) quickly grasped all that was to be gained by cultivating sugar in Cuba and brought cane to be planted there during his third voyage to America in 1498.

    Ortiz makes no secret of his preference. Tobacco is artisanal, grown, harvested, and rolled into cigars by skillful human hands. Over the course of the agricultural year, each individual veguero, as the workers on a vega are called, carries out the phases of production in sequence: planting the seeds, painstakingly clipping the leaves, selecting and drying them, and finally rolling the cigars. Tobacco is dry; its elements are air and fire. Tobacco is individual and leisurely; the lone veguero works unhurriedly toward the slow, particular pleasure of each fumador of one of his cigars.

    Figure 1 | Sugar bowl and lid, 1825–50, silver, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, gift of Louise B. Scott, 1953-13-4-a,b. Courtesy of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum/Art Resource, NY. Photo by Matt Flynn.

    Sugar, by contrast, is an industrial commodity, made by arduous labor and heavy machinery, created and consumed by collectives. The zafra, or cane harvest, which can happen only during the months after the cane matures (roughly January through May in the Caribbean), is a time of urgent, unceasing travail (Figure 1). (To a child, to Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, the harvest was a time of joy—"work, work, work, beauty, beauty, beauty"—far preferable to the tiempo muerto, the dead time, when there was nothing to do.) Sugar's element is liquid and the juices it is made from begin to rot the moment the cane is cut; sugar, by its very nature, imposes a radical division of labor. The various crews of workers—in the cane fields, the mill, the refinery—must all carry out their work simultaneously, each doing the same physical task, over and over, as fast as possible.

    And there's this: tobacco is male. Its use, among those of European origin, was initially reserved for males alone and often, even now, is viewed as a rite of passage into adult manhood. Sugar is female; it's the primary ingredient of the candy and sweets of childhood. Tobacco leaves are natural, still recognizable for what they are even when dried and rolled into cigars. The very word puro means both "pure" and "cigar." Sugar, meanwhile, is impure, unnatural. Sugarcane must be subjected to a long, brutal process of hacking, crushing, filtering, and distilling, whereby it abandons its origins to become something completely different from what nature intended. Sugar is an ambitious hustler, a whore. Writes Don Fernando:

    Sugar alters her coloration; she's born dark and whitens herself. A cloying mulatta who yields readily when dark of hue to the delectation of the common man, she then bedecks and refines herself in order to pass for white and strut out across the globe, acquiescing to every mouth and earning better and better pay as she climbs the principal categories of the social ladder.

    In La Vega—not a vega or tobacco field but a cane field or cañaveral, another name that by a quirk of history sends the mind rocketing out into space—Campos-Pons looks around for traces of her childhood. The ceiba tree and the stump of the old mango are still there, but the palm and almácigo (gumbo limbo) have been swept away by a hurricane. (For a small child, hurricanes, too, were festive times of wild excitement; the winds shook the avocado and mango trees, leaving the ground thick with fruit to be freely gathered, and everyone in town took refuge in a central shelter, all sleeping together in blankets on the floor.) The bricks are falling, one by one, from the sugar mill's tall, square chimney, as time and the elements gnaw away at them, but the rusting carapace of the bell still stands: a reminder.

    Video | The bell of the former Tirso Mesa y Hernandez sugar factory tolls, La Vega, Matanzas, Cuba. Video by Chip Van Dyke/PEM.

    The purpose of that bell was to imprison the natural agricultural cycle of sunrise to sunset within the harsh chronometrics of industrial labor. Of course, by the time Campos-Pons was born, the crews who performed this labor were no longer called slaves and had not been for the span of a human life. When she was small, Campos-Pons and her friends would adorn themselves in garlands of flowers, join hands in a circle, and sing, dance, and play on the same patch of ground where their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, their grandmothers and great-grandmothers, were stripped to the waist and publically whipped, the lash tearing deep into the skin, again and again, leaving infection and death, or scars that outlasted the bodies that bore them. (Yet La Vega, during her childhood, was, Campos-Pons recalls, a place imbued with "the kind of generosity, the kind of giving of self in a more engaging way that I have not seen in any other part of the planet.")

    In 1880, the Spanish colonial government decreed the gradual abolition of slavery in Cuba; all those still enslaved were to continue serving without pay for a varying number of years, and all would be free, and paid, by 1888. But abolition changed little at La Vega de Tirso Mesa, as La Vega was known in those days, with its fields, buildings, and equipment all owned by an individual named Tirso Mesa y Hernandez. The question of whether or not he owned the laborers, as well, turned out to be rather insignificant insofar as his financial interests were concerned. Before, during, and after abolition, the plantation continued to reliably effect the magical transmutation that all tobacco and sugar plantations are called upon to perform: the metamorphosis of fertile meadowlands and human muscle and sweat into money.

    Not much changed even in 1896, during Cuba's final revolution of independence from Spain, when the manor house in La Vega where Tirso Mesa and his family spent part of every year was burned to the ground by insurgent forces. The Mesa y Hernandez family was in Puerto Rico at the time, on their way back to Cuba from a European sojourn. When they learned what had happened, they changed their plans and headed for New York to spend the next five months in a luxury hotel before proceeding on a long and leisurely journey across the United States, then setting sail back to Europe.

    By early 1898, around the time the USS Maine exploded in Havana's harbor, it had become quite clear that the arc of history was bending away from the Spanish empire. That year, Tirso Mesa and other moneyed members of Cuba's sacarocracy—most of them, like him, comfortably ensconced elsewhere— belatedly rushed to donate funds to the insurgency, eager to make a show of support before Cuba's new rulers came to power. Tirso Mesa contributed 20,000 French francs to the Cuban rebels, sent via New York from an address on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris, where his family had taken up residence. The pseudonym under which he made the donation was Colón.

    Later in 1898, of course, Cuba's insurgent forces and their U.S. allies pushed the Spanish empire out of the Caribbean for good, and the U.S. raised its own flag over Cuba and settled in to occupy the country. The house in La Vega was rapidly rebuilt and, in 1900, the Mesa y Hernandez family moved right back in. A few months later, however, Tirso Mesa y Hernandez returned to the United States on a quick errand. He had decided there was an additional measure he needed to take in order to protect his family's interests in those tumultuous times. He petitioned the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for citizenship, solemnly swore before the judge that he had resided continuously in New York City since 1888, and brought in witnesses to swear to the truth of his statement. His citizenship secured, he swiftly went home to Cuba, to La Vega.

    Just after the second U.S. occupation of Cuba (1906–08), the Office of the Chief of Staff of the War Department published a small volume called Road Notes Cuba 1909, a kind of verbal map. Road No. 9 leads from Vega de Tirso Mesa to Calimete and is described as "a fairly good dirt road, practicable for wagons in the dry season." The book reads: "From Vega (2.5 miles south of Guareiras) take road running southwest, following standard-gauge spur; cane fields both sides, no fences. Telephone line following road (three wires)."

    At every stage of the thirty-mile trip that follows, the same terse description recurs: "cane fields both sides." Even with telephone wires running along it to attest to the presence of economic interests with urgent informational needs, a dirt road crossing through miles of cane fields doesn't much resemble a casino.

    This La Vega has no ringing bells or blinking neon, no ka-ching of coins pouring out of slots, no fortunate winners dancing with delight and calling for another rum cocktail, lighting up another cigar. Nevertheless, those flat, fertile fields stretching as far as the eye could see were sending a remarkable flow of glittering cash into the Mesa y Hernandez family coffers.

    By then, Tirso Mesa himself was dead, having passed away in 1908 while at Colonia Violet, another of his several Cuban plantations. The body was transported to lie in repose at the family mansion in Havana and was buried in the family vault in the vast Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón—a vault that Tirso Mesa had had built four years earlier at a cost of $17,057. It's hard to put a dollar value on La Vega itself at that point, but among the many other considerable properties that made up Tirso Mesa's estate were some securities held by his New York bankers, which in 1914 had an appraised value of $563,221. Those securities alone would have an economic value today equivalent to a fortune of $82.4 million.

    Figure 2 | "El Gran Mundo" cigar label, 1898–1920, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, gift of Dr. Ellery Karl, 1975-74-2-21. Courtesy of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum/Art Resource, NY.


    Don Fernando Ortiz prized tobacco because it is aristocratic, artistic, the result of a highly discriminating process of selection, and hence a subject of infinite connoisseurship. In a single box of puros, no two are exactly alike. The type of cigar known as a corona, or crown, is called that because it is made exclusively of leaves plucked one at a time from the topmost part of each plant. Tobacco production is obsessed with quality, and in its hierarchies the finest and most expensive product comes from Cuba: the habano. For that reason the centrifugal forces of the global market send cigars grown and manufactured in Cuba everywhere across the planet to eager connoisseurs unwilling to accept any substitute (Figure 2).

    Figure 3 | Workers harvesting sugar cane, Cuba, ca. 1908, National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, gift of Herbert A. French, 1947, Washington, DC. Courtesy of Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection.

    In sugar production, though, all that matters is quantity: to produce more, more, and more (Figure 3). By the 1940s, Ortiz's time, the centripetal forces of empire and economic domination directed all Cuban sugar to a single market: the United States. During World War II, sixty percent of the sugar used in the Allied soldiers' rations, their chocolate and condensed milk, came from Cuba. Not that this was readily apparent to the individual G.I., for, as Ortiz emphasizes, all sugar, no matter where it comes from—and even if it's not made from sugarcane at all, but from beets—looks and tastes the same, its origin a matter of utmost indifference. All refined sugar is just sugar: a uniform flow of tiny white crystals with no discernible flavor apart from sweetness. Ortiz's observation on the undifferentiated nature of sugar anticipates Andy Warhol's famous dictum about democracy in the United States: "You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking."

    Figure 4 | Fidel Castro giving a press conference upon his arrival in Havana, 1959. Courtesy of Magnum Photos. Photo by Bob Henriques.


    In January of 1959, when Fidel Castro's revolutionary forces triumphed and the U.S.-backed government of Fulgencio Batista was routed, people across the globe cheered and toasted each other with Cuba Libres (Figures 4 and 5). Castro took a triumphal tour of the United States that spring to visit Washington, DC, and address an ecstatic crowd of thirty-five thousand in New York City's Central Park.

    Figure 5 | Cuba in the throes of new revolution, 1959, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC. Followers of Fidel Castro are shown posing with rifles on a monument in Matanzas, Cuba. The sculptures are of José Martí and a female allegorical figure of liberty brandishing broken chains.


    By the time Andy Warhol quipped that no amount of money could get you a better Coke, though, nothing at all could get you a Coke made with Cuban sugar—which did not impact the flavor or status of your Coke or the president's. Therein lies the key difference between a global brand and a fungible commodity.

    The Cuban cigar, however, was another matter. Before President John F. Kennedy banned the import of any and all Cuban products, he had an aide rush out on a special, urgent errand. The next day, February 2, 1962, when Kennedy signed the United States embargo of Cuba into law, twelve hundred H. Upmann petit coronas, his favorite habanos, were safely in the President's possession—a stock far larger than Kennedy himself would need for the short time left to him, but not at all sufficient to last through the many decades of the embargo to come (Figure 6). That October, the Cuban missile crisis brought Planet Earth as close to annihilation by nuclear holocaust as it has come.

    Figure 6 | President John F. Kennedy smoking a cigar at a Democratic fundraiser in Boston's Commonwealth Armory, 1963, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC.


    In the signal year of 1959, the year of the triumph for Fidel Castro's revolution, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons was born. While Campos-Pons was a toddler growing into a small child, the revolutionaries' impulse was to liberate the national economy from the bitter legacy of sugar. Despite this national movement, the bell in La Vega went on making the same demands and issuing the same orders, and the cane fields and trapiche were the same unforgiving taskmasters as they had always been. The people of La Vega still inhabited the barracones where their grandparents or great-grandparents once lived as slaves. Meanwhile, the Cuban economy faltered and sank into ever-deeper dependence on another great power, as the centripetal force of empire redirected the flow of Cuban sugar toward a new lone buyer: the Soviet Union.

    Then, in 1969, the Cuban government did an about-face, seized on the implacable logic of sugar that Fernando Ortiz had defined—the logic of more, more, more—and decided that therein lay the path to economic independence, to freedom, at last, from the shackles of empire. Cuba would produce the greatest sugarcane harvest in its history: the Zafra de los diez millones, the ten-million ton harvest! With its earnings from this single massive harvest, Cuba would settle all debts to the Soviet Union and still have surplus funds to finance its own development! For the first time in world history, a small, poor country would achieve independent socialist prosperity! All Cubans knew that even at its height in the early 1950s the national sugar industry had never produced much more than seven million tons, and, in the years since the revolution, production had declined by fifty percent. But therein lay the challenge—and the thrill (Figure 7).

    Figure 7 | Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro giving a hand with sugar cane cutting, 1969. © SPUTNIK / Alamy Stock Photo.

    In strictly economic terms, the plan was mad. It sacrificed all sectors of the Cuban economy to a single year of sugar production. Even in the unlikely event that a harvest of ten million tons were achieved, Cuba would remain at the scant mercy of the global commodities market, which had, again and again, cruelly undermined the value of whatever quantity of sugar it produced. In retrospect, it seems probable that what Castro sought with this exceptional Zafra had less to do with the nation's long-term economic well-being than with a nostalgia for the adrenaline-fueled momentum of the revolution he had led to victory just over a decade earlier. His charismatic drive to mobilize the people, demand the utmost commitment from all, stake everything on a single outcome, and wager the nation's economic future on this one scheme brought back the high stakes rush of the late 1950s, before the exhilaration of the revolution's victory and tumultuous, world-imperiling early years gave way to the mundane obligations and frustrations of everyday governance.

    In this revolutionary Zafra, the backbreaking labor of the mocha—the cutting of sugarcane by hand—would not to be left to those who lived amid the cañaverales, many of them the descendants of slaves, but would be assumed by the entirety of Cuban society and anyone else from regions across the globe noble enough to wish to join in. For sugarcane harvesting was a kind of work that "a free man can assume only on the basis of the most profound revolutionary consciousness," said Castro.

    1970 was the year of the Zafra, when all Cuba went to the fields to cut cane. Every physically sound Cuban over the age of eighteen participated, and brigades of internacionalistas came from France, Vietnam, Japan, Canada, and the United States. Once again, Doña Azúcar was drawing laborers from across the planet to work in her fields. This time they weren't abducted, shackled, transported on death ships, and, in the unlikely event they survived the journey, sold, branded, beaten, and forced into unceasing and merciless physical effort. This time, they came voluntarily, and for the short term.

    The workers were summoned, and answered the summons, on the assumption that just as sugar itself exists in indiscriminate quantity, the labor that sugar demands is also indiscriminately commodified and can be weighed and measured in brute totalities, with one set of human arms and back being equivalent to any other. Had anyone been listening to them, the people of La Vega could have explained that this isn't the case and could have predicted what was going to happen. Even an eleven-year-old girl like Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons—whose father first went into the cane fields to harvest when he was twelve, singing a Yoruba song he learned from his great-grandfather—could have told you. Alma Guillermoprieto, teaching dance that year at the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Cubanacán, where Campos-Pons later studied art, could have told you:

    Any dancer could have told Fidel that the movements of the dance of the zafra—elastic when stooping to the base of the stalk, where most of the sugar is stored, forceful when cutting the bundle of stalks with a single stroke of the machete, and precise when stripping each cane of its leaves—can't be learned in a single day, or even in several.”

    Anyone who grew up in La Vega could have told Don Fernando Ortiz that for all its vivid erudition, his clever contrast between tobacco and sugar got one thing wrong: the harvesting of sugarcane demands an extremely high degree of athleticism and skill. Cane harvesting is not a walkathon; revolutionary consciousness alone does not confer the ability to make effective use of a machete. A competent and experienced harvester cuts seven or eight times more cane in a day than the fittest ordinary human, and ten or twelve times more than the average doctor, lawyer, musician, artist, or professor pressed into service in the fields. The 1970 Zafra de los diez millones, which relied heavily on the work of people with no prior experience of the cañaverales, fell short of its goal by millions of tons. In its wake, Cuban sugar production slumped back into a long decline, the landscape of La Vega increasingly haunted by the spectral presence of desiccated machines, twisting railroad tracks, and crumbling smoke stacks: the all-too-concrete ghosts left behind by immense mountains of sugar that were never produced. The 2015 zafra, one of Cuba's largest in recent years, yielded 1.6 million tons.

    Video | Campos-Pons gathers with family and friends of her childhood home in La Vega, Matanzas, Cuba. Video by Chip Van Dyke/PEM.

    In Alchemy of the Soul, Elixir for the Spirits, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons pursues the argument that the people of La Vega might have had with Fernando Ortiz much further. She explodes his binary counterpoints and traces new constellations among the crystalline points of light she finds in history's dark sky. For Ortiz, the crux of the matter is this: tobacco is unnecessary. That makes it, in his eyes, exalted, poetic, intellectual, spiritual. Don Fernando describes his own work, the contrapunteo Cubano itself, as a juguete, a plaything, a bauble lighter than air, a series of smoke rings pleasurably exhaled during the leisurely consumption of a cigar. It was the introduction of tobacco, Ortiz maintains, that produced sixteenth-century Europe's utopias, often fictionally situated on islands in the New World: visions of an ideal world that coalesced as the great minds of the time watched hazy architectures of smoke from their cigars floating in the air before their eyes.

    Sugar, to the contrary, is absolutely necessary, an indispensable component of every human bloodstream. Therefore (says Don Fernando) sugar is lowly, base, animal, shackled by its own dystopian weight, bound down by every constraint the laws of biology and history can impose.

    The hefty glass components of the large and intricate plaything that Campos-Pons proposes, in response not to Ortiz but to Cuban history itself, embrace and underscore the corporality of sugar. They also deliver a strong reminder that sugar is distilled into rum—that is, spirits. In Spanish, too, espiritoso means alcoholic. In the bouquet they exude, the evaporation they undergo as they are distilled, and the temporary lifting, emboldening effect they have on human morale, the alcoholic spirits that sugar produces refute Ortiz's association of sugar with mindless weight. Furthermore, any purveyor's shelves, with their array of gleaming bottles of different sizes and colors, each vociferously touting the unique qualities of the liquid within, confirm that sugar does have a place in what Ortiz depicts as the masculine arena of connoisseurship, discriminant hierarchies, and differing price points. If no amount of money will buy a better Coke for your Cuba Libre, money will most certainly buy you a better rum.

    But the marketplace, with its hierarchies and quantifications, is not what matters here. Instead, the hollow, weighty transparency of these handblown vessels has been summoned into being to exalt the dense, liquid carnality of sugar and proclaim a property that sugar and alcohol share. Both are preservatives, saving fruit and other fleshly substances from time's bacterial ravages. Across the long reaches of the years, sugar and alcohol ferry flavors, moments, essences. The glass recipients in Alchemy of the Soul, Elixir for the Spirits call out in response to an old Cuban tradition that harnesses such vessels and their contents in a very particular way.

    When the woman of the house is with child, this tradition calls for the preparation of an aliñado. After the pregnancy is announced, a large, empty glass jar is placed in a cool, shady, out-of-the-way corner of the kitchen, and the slow process of filling it up begins. Children who shimmy up trees to pick fruit, or gather what the wind has shaken to the ground, will take a little extra for the aliñado; their mothers chop it up, whatever kind of fruit is in season and comes to hand, and put it in the jar. Yeast, sugar, water, and chunks of sugarcane are added in as well, and sometimes even rice, whatever is left of the white grains that showered the happy couple on their way out of the church. A bottle or two of the fiery cane spirits known as aguardiente go in, too. While the baby gestates and grows, writes philosopher Antonio José Ponte, new ingredients are incorporated into the aliñado, which gestates and grows nearby. Womb and glass jar are mysteriously twinned. Late at night when the house is quiet, the mother hears the glug of a bubble emerging from the depths of the aliñado while her baby stirs within her:

    The sleepless woman finds herself suspended between two abysses. In the window, stars and silent planets; in the kitchen, the microscopic odyssey of fermentation . . . . Vagabond constellations, stellar putrescences, all in unhurried expansion.”

    Within nine months, the jar is full. The aliñado is now ready for toasting the baby's birth and its christening. More will be sipped on the great occasions of childhood and adolescence, and the jar will come back out on the grown-up child's wedding day, the fruity sweetness of its contents countered by the bite of alcohol. At each celebration, the aliñado's, flavors will be different, as sugars and spirits evolve. When the next generation arrives to extend the lineage, the father's and mother's aliñados will be mixed in among all the other ingredients in the new jar, each individual aliñado as unique as DNA.

    The aliñado is a theory of Cuba and a theory of time, which takes in and transmits as much as it can contain, preserving the past, however sweet, however sharp, however bitter, to be savored in the infinite flux of its perpetual transformation. Alchemy of the Soul, Elixir for the Spirits extols and distills all the centuries of La Vega and every individual who labored there unceasingly, as many of them as there are stars visible in the sky, each one striving to make the utmost of the hand dealt by history, pouring a lifetime of mental fortitude, physical stamina, spiritual grace, athletic skill, and balletic pliancy into sugar, into the production of sugar. The lineage and life force of each of those unique beings flows in the singular and necessary liquor that Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons now holds to our lips.


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