paulfraser (paulfraser) wrote,

Talkin' 'bout missile love

Return of the Dragon. On the third day in Cuba, we did what needed to be done: we went to the Museum of the Revolution. The eastern part of this is the Granma Monument. This houses the 18m, 12 berth yacht that, having trained up with various malcontents in Mexico (there are many), 88 scruffy, bearded young men (Fidel was 30) stuffed themselves onto, sailed for 10 days to Cuba (they were meant to take 8, and missed a planned uprising), ship-wrecked, and then mostly got shot fleeing into the jungle. The revolutionary war didn't start well, but is all history best read elsewhere.

In 1959 after taking power, the revolutionaries moved the yacht to Havana, and in '76 put it in this massive glass coffin surrounded by soldiers that I estimate to be 500 metres from the water, lest someone steal it, I guess. It is cute, but the glass is filthy and the view is further obscured by platforms and girders and all manner of etcetera. Far more interesting, however, is what else is on the site. Going counter clockwise around the boat from the south, you pass the eternal flame for the revolutionaries (it is a war memorial, after all); bits of a US U2 spy plane shot down during the Bay of Pigs Invasion, along with an example of the type of SAM used to shoot it down and the requisite explanatory text about what shits the Americans are; an OT-34 Soviet tank (that's the one with the flame thrower) that Fidel himself fired twice during said invasion, before working out it didn't have the reach to hit anything and switched to something else; a couple of planes seized from Batista's air force during the revolution, a truck that students used some years earlier in an attempt to kill Batista while he was in his palace surrounded by soldiers (it didn't go so well for them); and the sweetest toys of all: 2 tractors converted into tanks by farmers for use by the revolutionaries, painted in the orange, black and white of the 26th of July Movement. One had a flame thrower, and was called, yes, Dragon. Words cannot contain the awesomeness, so you must check out the gallery.

Next was the Museum of the Revolution proper, which is in the former Presidential palace and still has bullet holes everywhere from the student assault. It starts its exhibitions from the first seeds of discontent and the first communist party, tells about their first leader Eduardo Chibás (who promised to provide evidence of corruption on his radio show during a broadcast the following week, and when he couldn't show squat shot himself on the way out of the building) and follows through the Revolutionary War, the Bay of Pigs and through the continuation of the Revolution (every social reform since '59 is called part of the revolution). It has a special room dedicated to the deceased Che and the internationally unknown Camilo Cienfuegos, the secret exit Batista used to get to the roof and fly away when the revolutionaries came for him, his golden gun (and several years before the film!), torture devices used by the former government that make you clutch at you fingernails and genitals, and buckets and buckets of propaganda. I personally found it to be overall interesting, if a little long and buried in minutiae, but it did detail the war well and, interestingly for me, how socialism was instituted in practice. Naomi did not like it at all, mostly due to the perjorative treatment of the 'them' and the glorification of the 'us'. It is, however, a war memorial, and there is not one anywhere that doesn't give a slanted view of events, or at least glorify those it is convenient to glorify.

Out the front is an SU-100. I like tanks.

Following this, Chris and Honor wished to see a cabaret, and Nae and I tagged along to check out the district the theatres, larger hotels and the like are in, the Vedado. Ticking off another must by getting a big, floating, yank-tank taxi, which dropped us off and then roared off so as not to have to carry locals and get the moneda nacional, we found we had been misdirected yet again by a certain book and we dined on Rapido pizza instead of true peso pizza. Rapido is one of two state-run fast food chains, and my word, it is the worst pizza ever. Cold. Liquid cheese. What looks like processed processed meat. The highlight was an indecipherable argument between the old man who appeared to be the wash clothe, and the rest of the staff, which almost came to blows three times.

Heading to the Hotel Nacional, where we were to leave the others for the cabaret, we discovered that night, in that place, there was a performance of the Grupo Compay Sugundo, the name the surviving members of the Buena Vista Social Club play under. We stayed around and noticed after the gig the bank members driving a way in Ladas, one class and all. The night was salsa magic, but the whole way through I wondered why Joe Hockey had gotten into the nugget like it was Hey Hey It's Saturday and started fronting the world's most famous salsa band. Ooooooo, can I say that? Naomi, the designated non-Anglo-Saxon, says yes.
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