February 25th, 2010

La Habana

Say you want a revolution, well, you know...

Aha! Final post, and then, my Cuban opus complete, it is back to Mexican adventures.

Our funky yellow 'Coco' taxi, which looks somewhat like a coconut, delivered us right to our destination, and then broke down. While we glanced lovingly at the Karl Marx Theatre, which looks like any other theatre except it has Karl Marx' signature plastered across the front in 20 foot tall letters, our poor taxi driver started taking the bike apart in an attempt to fix it. We casually sauntered away, through a nice neighbourhood, towards where the embassies are (the Vietnamese and Venezuelan given best place).

After gong to an abundantly supplied cigar shop, think floor to ceiling cigars in a large room, we got another, more conventional taxi to the LennON Park. There is an old guy there whose entire job is to take the Lennon specs out of his pocket when a tourist comes along, and put them on the bench-seated statue's face. After sitting for photos, we moved on to the nearby Colon Cemetery, burial place of history's important and rich, in lavish above-ground crypts. It was here, at the funeral of Eduardo Chibás, that the young Fidel Castro made his political debut, standing on the grave and making a passionate speech. Many presidents are there, a very crooked one of whom has a low door with windows looking down into an underground crypt, his idea being anyone who looks musty bow down. The inventor of the daiquiri is buried here. One grave has a giant marble 3-3 domino on it, and the sequence of a game; the lady buried within had a stroke during a game because she could not place her last piece, and when they pried her hand open, the 3-3 was within. The memorial to members of the Cuban fascist party is there, whose symbol was a six-pointed star. The monument for the communist revolutionaries is there. There is a crypt shaped like an Egyptian pyramid, and a monument to fire fighters who died when a factory owner called them to a fire at his factory, but failed to tell them it was full of explosives. Nice.

The only grave layered in flowers is that of a lady named Amelia, for she is said to have performed a miracle. She married on the same day as her sister, and Cuban folklore says this will be great fortune for one but terrible fortune for the other. Amelia died during childbirth, and the baby died too, and thus they were buried together, with the child at the mother's feet. Being Catholic, the locals do as Catholics inexplicably seem wont to do and cracked open the grave some time later, and found the baby at the mother's breast. Miracle, or crawling zombie baby? Either way, there is a ritual of walking around the grave and touching the headstone statue and making a wish. If the wish comes true, one returns to leave a plaque of thanks.

The cemetery, as one can guess from the above, contains many narratives of greed, power, corruption, heroism, and passion, with a little bit of magic. It is also stunningly beautiful. Hiring the guide was the best money we spent on that island. Not only did he tell us of the cemetery, but again, he was another source of information on life under that government. He was most pivotal to my understanding of the culture of science on the island, his daughter being a PhD student in biology, who only months ago was able to use a microscope for the first time in her life.

We retired back to our hotel, and then had dinner in one of the many restaurants with a salsa band, who are, of course, government employees. As is usual, to supplement their income these talented musicians sell burnt CDs, and, as is a sad standard, their pitch is that almost all of it is covers from the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack. We began to ask which CD they were most proud of, and invariably it was one with something other than BVSC. I'm sure Cuban musicians wish that soundtrack had have been a double CD; those 19 songs, along with Guantanamera, make up most of what these guys play day in and day out.

On the final day, in the few hours before we flew out, Nae and I went to the car museum. We had expected, with all the fine 1950s American cars in the fleet, this might be the finest examples of these. Sadly, it was not. Mostly, it is made up of the persona cars and motorbikes of the revolutionaries, or those appropriated from Batista's officials, or foreign consulates. Seeing that Fidel rode a Ducati, while Batista's police rode Harleys, I was a little sad. Of interest though, were very old crank-started, chain-driven, woodern-wheeled trucks, and the only brown Model-T I am likely to ever see.

Thus, getting the same happy taxi driver who drove Chris and Honor to the airport to do the same for us, our Cuban adventure was over. Would I go again? Surely. There is still much mystery and interest for me there. In particular, I would love to attend the May Day formalities, and there is everything outside of Havana to see. Naomi, however, has stated that she doesn't want to return until after a new generation of leadership has taken over. While she was not against the communism, she was concerned that the revolutionaries have become unable to approach certain things flexibly, and that the war may have had lasting effects on them detrimental to leadership. For me, to answer questions like this, another trip is warranted.