Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Nueve años despues

As nine years ago, so I again spend my first morning in la Habana in front of the exhibits in the Museo de la revolución, weeping. Every quote by Fidel tunnels into the heart and stomps its foot with gentleness, perseverance and intelligence. Every photo, with hope written across the faces, smacks me down.

I know it's easy to say from a place of freedom, where I can buy what I want and eat what I want and travel where I want, but I would gladly take the powdered milk Cubans are offered as part of their rations in exchange for the silence that fills a world without advertisements. I would stay home, for the privilege of a nearly empty storefront, and things as they are gathering dust behind the glass. Choice makes me crazy. The multiplication of desire, until it becomes a sickness. I came back to Cuba to find again the sadness that is things not working, and the beauty that is things not working, but still working better (I really believe this) than capitalism.

Some small notes from my days follow below.

Two ten year old boys who stopped playing baseball with a stick and a bottle cap any time someone walked between them on the street. They waited patiently, then continued.

The cream light of crumbling buildings, combined with that distinct, heavy dust that diesel fuel leaves, together covering everything and infusing the air with a colour like frangipani, so that everything, under dust, seems to glow.

Anibel, the architecture restorationist, who was offered an ipad in exchange for two boxes of cigars by an American tourist, and had no money or way of getting the cigars, and so had to let the offer go. He gave me a ration booklet, filled with small notes on how much oil, sugar, meat, beans and soap he was allotted each month, and how much he had used. Small strokes of the ball point pen, marking down his time and his hunger.

Anibel's nephew, who talks to me for an hour on Prado, at 2 in the morning, about how he does think it can work. How there are many like him who still believe in the thought and the conviction in the Revolución.

Pedro, the driver, who stops in the middle of the night, on the way back from Viñales, so that I can record the sound of a million crickets and cicadas singing through the dark of the tobacco fields and the casava plantations and the mango trees.

Pablo Milanés, after the recorded music had been turned off, getting out his guitar at El Gato Puerto, and singing to a crowd who knew every word of every song, and sang with him.

Rumba from the window of a house in Centro, at 11am the morning after New Years. Slow instrumental, slow drums, slow bells.

Music. Music. Music.

The crumbling Malecón, where I stood nine years ago in a rainstorm.

Walking at night, anywhere, in complete safety.

Walking at night.

Three Korean boys on a trip around the world. One of them left their diary and address book on the wall of the Malecón, and a tourist gave it to me because I said that I would find them and return it. And in all the city, with the help of a dozen kind Cubans, luck and the only address in the book that was written in Spanish, I did.

Sleeping through the morning after music all night, with the waves drowning even the traffic noise out and the wind from the sea coming in the window.

Cuba has changed. The convertible peso has introduced another double economy, which has raised prices for Cubans and made the tourists pay thirty times what they once did for food and drinks. There is greater sense of dissatisfaction; there is even more restlessness. The internet has arrived, though it is impossible to access for many. There are jineteras y jineteros, men and women who attach themselves to foreigners in order to get taken out for meals, to get money, to exchange sex or company for what they need. There were so many white men walking around with young Cuban women on their arms. I stared at the men, and they often looked away, embarrassed. And beggars have finally appeared. Much of the time now, the talk turns to selling cigars, or to a request for money. I don't remember that happening even once, nine years ago. Nor do I remember tinted windows, car alarms.

But it's still quiet enough to leave room for music, for amiable talk on the street with whomever passes by. For Danzón in the squares on the last thursday of each month, all the old men and old women paseando, the women flicking their fans, then stopping, and turning to their partner, to dance with beaming smiles while the six piece band plays on.

Te amo por siempre.