Cuba in Mind

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
Trip End Mar 01, 2007

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

My mother-in-law Rosemary has a great talent for picking the exact accessory to make an outing or afternoon extra special. For this trip, she's supplied Lucy with some great travel toys, including the best ice-breaker of them all, a Dora the Explorer magic pen colouring set. Just put water in the pen and it turns the black and white pictures into colourful celebrations -- and when they dry out, you can start all over again. Kids and adults everywhere are enchanted.

For me, Rosemary has procured The Old Man and the Sea (which I haven't read in 20 years) and a wonderful anthology on writing, edited by Maria Finn Dominguez, called Cuba in Mind. From the expected writings of Hemingway and Graham Greene to the insightful snippets by an ambassador's wife; from Anthony Trollope's 18th century visit to see the treatment of slaves on a sugar plantation to an extraordinary account of the Pope's visit in 1998, this is the perfect travel companion.

I've been marking passages that resonate with me, planning to blend them into my own travelogues, but for now, I thought I'd share a few quotes:

"All day long, Havana echoes with song. In the morning you are awakened by the melodic cries of the chicken seller, the vegetable hawker, the peddlers of coat hangers and the knife sharpeners. Each has his distinctive trade chant.... Their conversation runs in ripples and rills, and after a while, you will find the same cadence creeping into yours. When you call for the chamberman at the hotel, you don't say Camarero; you sing it." -- from Havana Manana, Consuelo Hermer and Marjorie May, 1930s

"'To be human, at least in Cuba, seems to indicate a magical sensibility.'" -- Politburo Chief Jose Carniedad, quoted by Elizabeth Hanly in "Santeria: An Alternative Pulse" (1995)

"Well, the worst thing I said was that I'd heard, by rumor, that Raul Castro was gay. And the second worst thing I said was that Che Guevara was cute." -- Allen Ginsberg, on why he was escorted from the country, 1965

When my grandmother came she brought a bit of Spanish soil
When my mother left, she took a bit of Cuban soil
I will carry no bit of homeland
I want it all above my grave
-- Carilda Oliver Labra

"'I can understand that someone would not like it here if you didn't see this country before 1959. People used to dig in garbage cans for food. Whole families used to live on the streets. I had a teaching degree, and for five years I couldn't get a job because there simply weren't enough school. And with so much illiteracy! To understand, you have to have lived it.... I wonder if you see me as a fanatic. Because I'm sure, in spite of its problems, that what this country is doing is right. I'm sure we're on the right track.'" -- Cuba cooking personality Nitza Villapol, author of what has been reproduced in English (without permission or payment) as the best-selling The Cuban Flavour, interviewed by Tom Miller (1992)

"'Our genius as Cubans,' she told me, 'is our ability to communicate with our bodies.'" -- Elizabeth Hanly, quoting Cuban ballet sensation Alicia Alonso

"The minutes passed, the hours passed, it seemed, and the line got longer, and there was never a bus in sight. At one point -- it must have been three A.M. or later -- someone got out a guitar, and a few drunken boys began beating out a rhythm on the walls, and a girl started singing, and Lula joined in from where she was standing, and, in a faint, high voice, she sang boleros and then Cuban songs, and then Yoruba songs and Beatles songs and even Russian songs. The time moved more quickly then, and the cola itself became a party, with frantic strumming and the beating of walls, and voices, two or three, taking melodies for a walk. Then the bus came, and suddenly the line, so patient, broke into ranks, and there was a scuffle, and someone shouted Hijo e puta, and a big white guy took a swing at a black...and we climbed up amid the mob, and grabbed some seats, and she fell asleep in my lap as we lurched back toward Havana." -- from Cuba and the Night, Pico Iyer (1995)

"This ancient heartbeat they pour out into the Cuban night from a little row of cafe hovels at Marianao. Or else they flood with song those smoky low-roofed dance halls where the poor of Havana go for entertainment after dark." -- "Havana Nights," Langston Hughes (1956)

"Later, outside on the street, the night air still warm and viscous, I reeled from the pulse and ardor of Cuba. I walked through the thick of it, letting myself imagine a scene in which the coming of the future, unimaginable and cryptic, fails to fully disintegrate what has already passed." -- from "The Flesh, the Bones, and the Beating Heart," Kimi Eisele (2004)

"Cubans live on music the way others live on bread and water." Composer Geraldo Piloto, quoted by Andrei Codrescu

"Perhaps it is philistine to hope for happy endings in Cuba, a place so steeped in short-term gaiety and long-term tragedy. It is possible, however, to hope for new beginnings. The final drama of Fidel Castro's Cuba may be that he has prepared a future for his country in which he and his ideologues serve no purpose, have no place." -- from Havana Then and Now, Robert Stone, (1992)

"I know now that I want to go back to Cuba as often as possible. My daughter will grow up knowing the island and her family there. For her, Cuba will not be an abstraction of lost hopes and misplaced longings, but a place of memories, good and bad mingling like any others. Whether my daughter will fall in love with Cuba the way I have, I cannot tell. But the opportunity to do so is one of the greatest gifts I can offer her." -- from "Simple Life," Christina Garcia (1996)
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