Friday, February 7, 2014

Propaganda and Perspectives

Tuesday, January 28th

Our first night in Havana, and thank goodness Mija and Rob were drinking their rum on their balcony next door - we slid the door mostly closed, and with a mind of its own it jumped shut, and snap! it locked us out.  

Mija and Rob called for help for us, apparently we're not the first.  There is a sticker - in Spanish - at belly-button level - in really small print - saying don't shut the door or you'll be locked out.  So if you are a Spanish speaking midget with really good eyesight, you're good.  The rest of us - not so much.  

Our rescuer (who was laughing at us - you Americans aren't so smart after all!) tells us - in Spanish - that we're not the worst.  One Chinese couple spent the night on their balcony (feeding the mosquitos) and were only discovered when their delegation reported them missing the next day. 

We fall into bed - two queen beds pushed together (no king beds in a nine story hotel - go figure) and the beds are so hard any body part in direct contact with the mattress immediately falls asleep.  Plus the box spring is wrapped in naugahyde (bet you wondered what happened to all the world's naugahyde - no worries, it's here) and every time one of us rolls over the beds squeak.  Loudly.  It's like sleeping with the Mouseketeers. 

Bleary-eyed we head downstairs, to a grim windowless room to be lectured by Camillo, a former Cuban diplomat (he's still Cuban, it's the diplomat part that's former) about why they are right and we are wrong. Complete with the dreaded power-point presentation.  It is really too early for this.

He says all Cuba wants is freedom, independence and self-determination.  I'm thinking "yeah, there are a lot of Cubans out there who'd probably like that, but what are the chances?"   

But he's talking about the country; the blockade has really crippled their economy.  And yet there is no mention of those Soviet missiles...or the years of mutual distrust and suspicion...he does say the CIA has tried several hundred times to assassinate Fidel.  I find it hard to believe the CIA is that incompetent, but I'm in the middle of reading Robert Gates' autobiography, so I'm biased.

There are billboards all over calling the American blockade the world's longest running genocide...
Camillo says all the people whose property was confiscated in the revolution (except those who went to America) have been paid back.  (Really, both of them?)

He says "Why can't we have a better relationship with the US?  The US relationship with the Saudis is strategic; they are a monarchy.  Not a democracy.  Maybe if we had oil..."

They're looking for it.  Oil.  In the Gulf of Mexico.  If they find it, that's a whole 'nother Oprah. 

But I'm remembering what Gabriel Fawcett, our fabulous East Berlin tour guide said.  If you kick out all the business owners, all the people who work hard and think for themselves and know how to build something, all the people who know how to manage and grow a business, how to negotiate and improvise, what are you left with?  

They can open up the economy to free enterprise, but after 50 years of state control and no entrepreneurship, there's no experience.  It's gonna take a while.  And as we know from history, desire for self-determination follows fast on the heels of prosperity.  Good luck with that. 

Finally, fresh air and sunshine!  As we drive past the Peugeot dealership, half a dozen young men are pressed against the glass. You can buy a car now, (at least in theory) but with your government salary you cannot even begin to afford one.

Havana harbor used to be one of the most polluted places in the world, and it's smack in the middle of the city.  But they are closing the industries in Havana harbor, and relocating the port west, and making it way bigger.  To MariĆ©l. With huge investment from the Chinese - and maybe the Koreans? I can't read my writing, the roads were so bad and the bus was bouncing.  And in the back of the bus it's worse.  I tried to use the bus bathroom, and it was like trying to pee while riding a mechanical bull.  

Daniel, an Architect involved with the restoration of Havana, gives us a walking tour.  In one area the cobblestones are made of wood - the man who owned the house here had a wife who complained about the noise of the horses and carriages on the cobblestones.  Problem solved.  

It is colorful and not having cars is a definite advantage - contrast this with Paris or Florence:
and in much better shape than the rest of the Cuba we've seen, 
altho there are still some pretty decrepit parts of Havana.  
And apparently they're still pretty mad at the Spanish too, for old cannons that anywhere else would be in museums are used as bollards.
In parts of old Havana mansions have been taken over by squatters, and the restoration can't even get started until they all agree to move and are found new houses.  The only way to evict someone is if the building is in danger of falling down.  Several building look like they are ripe for eviction, yet laundry still flaps from the balconies, and women lean out to catch a cooling breeze.
We visit a Santeria museum - it's a combination of Catholicism and African religion, and it gives me the creeps.  There is a Santeria dancing exhibition that has the hair on my arms standing straight up.  

"It's all about fairy tales" Tim says.  Scary fairies.  

On to Mojito making and Salsa dancing lessons!

Abelardo is rapt:
We are just thirsty.  
Best Welcoming Drink Ever.  His secret? a dash of Angostura bitters. After the third Mojito we were all ready for our dance lesson...

Our teacher would not let you sit down.  And no matter how bad we were (and we were pretty bad) she would not give up.  Then she and her husband began to dance, and my confidence turned to despair.  I'm taking Salsa lessons when I get home.  

Al is so bad, he tries to trade shoes with Paco, the Salsa dancer. Good day.   Tired but happy.  

Dinner was in an old mansion now turned Government Restaurant. It is gorgeous, makes me wish I had seen Havana before the revolution.  Makes me understand what the people who were kicked out lost. And the service is pretty much what you'd expect from a restaurant where no one can ever get fired.  More beans and black, pork and chicken.  We joke that the chicken walked all the way to the restaurant.  

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