. . . and More in the New Year

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Traveling to Los Angeles recently, I saw one young woman wearing a Che Guevara shirt and another clutching a handbag decorated with Mao’s face. The high-end toy and gizmos store near my office sells an expensive statue of Joseph Stalin; maybe it’s ironic in intent, but still. In other words, Marxism may have gone down to defeat in history, but as an ideal, as a cultural referent, as something regarded as positive and good and hip, it lives on.

—Brian C. Anderson, from his review of Dan Mahoney’s book, The Other Solzhenitsyn: Telling the Truth About a Misunderstood Writer and Thinker in the latest issue of The New Criterion.

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Perfuming the Culture Red

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Hints of mango and papaya

Hints of mango and papaya

This site has been relying on a visual metaphor for cultural emanations of communism. We never thought of the sense of smell.

We’re thinking again, what with the products that a Cuban company called Labiofam has just brought out, in hopes that the wafting aroma of Marxist-Leninist heroes will attract the cologne-buying public.

Bottles of “Ernesto” and “Hugo” are now available, one named after Ernesto “Che” Guevara of Argentina, the other after Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, reports Peter Walker in London’s Guardian newspaper.

The marketing description of “the Argentinian revolutionary’s personal aroma” is “fragrant citrus and woodsy notes,” while the Bolivarian strongman’s is being billed as “a fruitier scent, with hints of mango and papaya.” Labiofam, a Cuban enterprise that is “better known for making homeopathic medicines and dietary supplements,” worked with Robertet, a French firm, to develop these colognes.

Fragrant citrus and woodsy notes

Fragrant citrus and woodsy notes

The Guardian reporter notes the irony that Che Guevara, whose image has adorned college students’ dorm rooms for generations, should have a scent named after him. He was averse to bathing or even changing his clothes. This “supposedly dated back to his youth,” Walker says, “and is variously explained by a disdain for bourgeoise conventions or, more charitably, a fear of asthma attacks brought on by cold water.”

Kempt or unkempt, Guevara wore many berets, you might say, after the insurgency he and Fidel Castro led deposed the dictatorial Batista regime in Cuba in 1959. Guevara was a prison warden, presiding over hundreds of executions of accused counterrevolutionaries without benefit of trial.

He also apparently had charge of the island’s beverage-bottling plants, which the revolutionaries seized from Coca Cola, Pepsi, and other companies.

“Every one of those Che Cokes or Pepsis was an adventure,” writes the historian Carlos Eire. A nine-year-old when the guerrillas of the 26th of July Movement took over Cuba, Eire recalls that “no two bottles ever tasted the same. Awful, every bottle, every sip. I stopped drinking them altogether and stuck to seltzer, which was very hard for the Revolution to screw up.” (Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, 2003)