I said I’d publish in a couple of days but it’s been three weeks. I have been so busy with my new novel I have not had time to finish the story on Cuba. Advanced copies for my book A Soldier’s Son have been printed for review purposes only. Preordering my book will be available in May with publication August 1st. But on to Cuba.
It was a typical beautiful Cuban day, as Jake and I were dropped off in downtown Havana, the capital of Cuba. This is an old city first founded by the Spanish in the 1500’s. It has a population of over 2.1 million and is located south of the Florida Keys, where the Gulf of Mexico joins the Atlantic Ocean.
We didn’t bring maps or guide books and felt like renegades, wandering in a forbidden city. The streets were lined with old Cheys and Fords of the 50’s. Most of them were rough but there were also classic’s restored to the optimum. They reminded me of my 56 Chevy Bel Air, I called the Salmon, because it’s body was pink and it had a black top and black and gray fins. I owned that baby forty years ago, and sold it for 500 bucks when I was young and dumb,long before it was a classic.
On the drive into the city what really jumps out is the 16th-century architecture. It fills the eyes with Neo-classic, Baroque buildings often on the verge of crumbling. The buildings, like its cars are also occasionally, beautifully restored. They are multi leveled and ornate, columned with black or white iron balconies, window coverings and iron gates. In a row of buildings, one building may be painted solid blue, another green or pink and then others would be the color of concrete. There were a few modern, Russian built hotels and buildings that seemed startling, out of place.
As we walked through the urban area we would find a dead chicken or two with their heads cut off and blood running in the dirt. These were signs of voodoo practiced in Cuba, which is a combination of African magical ritual, sorcery and sprit possession. The majority of the population is Christian and of that approximately 60% are roman Catholics. But the caricatures of voodoo can be seen in alleys, or plazas where women dress in colorful costumes selling clothes or offering pictures with parrots and pirates. Bands play and restaurants are open and various vendors hock anything you can think of. It was fun and festive. We also stopped at the Ernest Hemingway restaurant where the author drank many whisky and soda’s. Pictures of him lined the bar and there was even a wooden statue of Hemingway that you could take your picture while sitting on his lap.
The sidewalks and cobblestone streets were often hazardous, with unmarked holes, real ankle breakers, Jake said. In Havana there were police on street corners carrying machine guns. On some corners there were little concrete stations for the police to stand or sit in. As we moved along the crowded streets, prostitutes would come up and follow us and usually a male would ask if we would like a pretty girl. It became funny, watching the girls follow Jake. He’d cross the street and they would cross over too, smiling in their bright dresses and high heels. Prostitution is supposed to be illegal but it is supported in a community desperate for a way to earn a living. Havana is commonly referred to as a home to sex tourism. Some of the trade deals in underage girls, acknowledged in whispers but finally being dealt with by the government.
On many of the corners poor folks sell Cuban sandwiches or other foods or goods. Each food product is a landing zone for pesky flies. The stores we entered had very little to choose from. Many of the shelves stood half empty of whatever they were selling. We stopped in an attractive government owned restaurant. I went to use the bathroom which was clean but all of the toilet seats and paper were missing. This is common and we were told it is because people are so poor they steal anything, including toilet seats.
We wandered through more plazas, and museums getting a feel for the city and understanding of the Cuban revolution, the infamous Bay of Pigs and other misdeeds of America. The main square is Plaza de la Revolucion or Revolutionary Square. It is one of the largest squares in the world, surrounded by government buildings and statues to the revolution. It is known as a venue for Fidel Castro’s speeches. It is home to the Jose Marti Memorial, a star shaped building, over 350 feet high, surrounded by gardens and a statue of Marti, a national hero of Cuba. On another building is a giant mural of revolutionary hero Che Guevara.
Where ever we went, people were very kind and each one we talked to told us stories about how difficult it is to make a living. I asked several people where Castro lives and the same thing was said every time, they don’t know, which was curious to me and an indication that Castro was afraid and out of touch with his people. At night we would strike up a conversation and quickly they might ask if we need a room they can rent one in their home. Sort of like AirBNB. We did go to one home and what they offered upstairs is the kind of dark and rundown place I might have stayed in, if I was ducking the police.
We spent an afternoon at the beach which was very clean and wonderful. A place where the locals would come with their families to picnic. This was far from the crowded strip of beaches and huge hotels with docks and boats and fishing excursions. Another night we went to a professional baseball game at a dilapidated stadium. The bathrooms were the worse you can imagine. They had nothing for food. The field itself was in excellent condition but the seating was old and small and each seat had a metal frame like a wheelchair. The seats might have been an adequate size 70 years ago, when folks were smaller.
On the last night we attended a free outdoor concert with maybe 30 or 40 thousand people. The pot was strong in the air and most of them were Jakes age, and of course many were drunk. I ducked into a bar so Jake could mill around without his dad tagging along. I sat down for a beer and within a minute two young prostitutes sat down on each side of me asking for a drink. They said they would get fired if I didn’t buy them one drink and it could be a coke. I didn’t finish my beer and left without paying for their ten dollar cokes.
Of course the world has changed and now that Obama has opened the doors to Cuba it will change to. This is a good thing for this poor country, still reeling from it’s revolution.