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Commentary, sarcasm and snide remarks from a Florida resident of over thirty years. Being a glutton for punishment is a requirement for residency here. Who am I? I've been called a moonbat by Michelle Malkin, a Right Wing Nut by Daily Kos, and middle of the road by Florida blog State of Sunshine. Tell me what you think.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

It's personal not business

Val Prieto aka Babalu Blog was featured in a front page story in today's Palm Beach Post. I posted the column below and recommend everyone read it. We find out whose eyes those are at the top of his blog and we get to understand Val's passion much better too.

A side note- The article mentions Val having his tv set to CNN. First thing I thought, CNN? OMG. Someone in Val's comments section thought the same and commented. Val's reply- "Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer." Anything you say Don Val, I don't want to be swimming with the fishes. LOL.

Open Post- Bright & Early, Right Wing Nation, Bullwinkle Blog,

The young woman in the family portrait had stunning almond eyes. For decades, they watched over the Prieto home as it swelled with relatives of three generations, vintage Cuban music and equally rhythmic pressure cookers filled with fragrant stews. They witnessed a quintessential Cuban exile story, that of a welder and a seamstress struggling to raise two children in a new country.

These café-colored eyes mesmerized the younger child. Valentin Prieto would look up to the photograph of his Tia Amanda and wonder what her voice had sounded like. He never knew. Amanda Lopez died of a blood disease in the early 1960s at age 19 in Cuba, several years before Prieto was born. She had played a small, but acclaimed, role in a Cuban film just one year earlier.

Growing up in a family of storytellers, Prieto heard all the most cherished anecdotes about his aunt, how she had been discovered by the director in the park one day, how she had attended the big premiere and, later, how she had made one dying wish: She wanted her loved ones to sing La Bayamesa at her funeral. The story goes that, when that day arrived, the streets of their eastern Cuban town resounded with the anthem.

Tia Amanda's eyes beckoned Prieto into an unimaginable Cuba, a place that flows across straits and bloodlines, a place that connects memories. He had left the island with his parents and older sister in 1968, at age 3. So the eyes in the photograph became his portal, if you will. So much so that he took them as his logo when he launched a Web site three years ago.

They symbolized what he loved most about his Cuban heritage: family, in the noisy, extended sense. Family means grandparents and aunts, cousins and nieces. It means in-laws and their grandchildren, school buddies and neighbors. It means big, sloppy cookouts and pig roasts for no reason at all.

"My childhood was a gift," the 41-year-old Prieto says, sinking into a comfy chair in his southwest Miami back yard, a canal-front oasis he calls ManCamp. There's a TV tuned to CNN, a fridge emblazoned with a Dolphins sticker and a tent for shade.

This is where the family gathers on weekends, as Prieto now happily plays the role of host. "My childhood is when I learned what Cuba was about: family. And that's something you have to pass on."

That's exactly what Prieto has done. He now shares his family, along with Tia Amanda's gaze, with the entire planet. His site,, has become so popular that Prieto gets frequent requests for interviews. This week, thanks to the headlines out of Havana, Prieto has been interviewed just about every day.

He's not a journalist, a scholar or even a pundit. He's a regular opinionated Joe from the 'burbs, a project manager for an architectural firm married to a Realtor named Maggie. He's a diehard Dolfan, weekend barbecue maniac, the loving owner of one wildly energetic pooch named Babalu.

His blog is a repository of his Miami childhood memories, his riffs on Cuban current affairs, his anecdotes from ManCamp, and his rants against fidel castro — lowercase, please.

From an August 2003 post on summer vacations spent at the now-defunct Hilyard Manor Motel and Apartments in Surfside:

"I sat around in the shade with my aunts and uncles listening to stories of their youth in Cuba, the simplicity of their lives.... We made fun of my aunts during the hour of pots and pans, that time of day when they carried pots and pans filled with food from room to room, back and forth, taking stuff they'd cooked and bringing back a different pot full of something else. There were the Canasta nights, partnered with my cousin Alex against my sister the Canasta Hustler and my Aunt Mary, the Bounty Woman...."

He started the blog as a gift to his nieces and nephew. He wanted to share with them the stories of his childhood, when he was the baby the entire family doted upon. After his grandparents died in the late 1980s, he sensed his extended family was beginning to drift apart, spending fewer holidays together. He recognized something special in his niece, Amanda, now 29 — like him, she was drawn to stories of family and Cuba.

Now Amanda has her own blog. When her son, Brandon, turned 1, Uncle Valentin gave them both a Web site name domain, nicknamed "Brandon's Puppy."

"That's one of my birthday presents to him every year. I renew the domain," Prieto says, beaming at the thought.

He hopes the boy, now 3 1/2, will learn all the favorite family stories well before he reaches adulthood. Perhaps he, too, will first see Cuba through café-colored eyes.

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