Oct. 9 (cont.)
De todos moods (anyway), that night (post toilet tissue forage) laying contorted on sunken springs, Karli, Dana and I babbled excitedly about being in Cuba – as only novice Americans-in-Cuba can do.
We wondered what it would be like out there. Would see all the things we’ve heard about in the U.S?
Olive-clad, AK-toting soldiers on the streets watching every move of Cuban people…?
Communist Party spies eavesdropping on our conversations in order to report back to Fidel what was said…?
Cubans who would blatantly lie to us about how wonderful Cuba is because telling the truth about the horrors of their country might land them in one of Fidel’s torture-prisons…?
And what about this Martin Luther King church?
Is it a secret church operating beneath Castro’s radar?
We noticed that it’s impossible to see there’s a church here when looking at the building from the street. How did it come to be named Martin Luther King? Is he a hero here in Cuba, too? Why? Don’t Cubans hate Americans? Why would they name their secret church after an American?
Are we in danger staying here?
Our group leaders don’t seem to grasp the importance of toilet paper.
What if they also don’t grasp the importance of keeping visiting Americans safe in a Communist country?
Should we get up now, and plan an emergency escape route out of this secret church building?
No, seriously, should we?
We voiced our American-ignorant wonderings about Cuba till near-dawn, conking out mid-sentence just before a rooster’s crowing (through a seeming megaphone positioned at my ear) jolted us awake moments after dawn.
Immediately wide awake, we couldn’t wait to get out into Cuba.
More delicious fruit, and fresh-squeezed green orange juice, with fresh eggs (from that alarm-clock rooster’s harem, no doubt) for breakfast. Then shuttled into a sub-zero temperature room for ‘Orientation’ where we sat longing to step outside into the morning humidity – our shivering bearable only because of the interesting things the organization leaders shared with us in preparation for our first day on the island.
Very informative, that freezer-box orientation.
Through the knowledgeable American group leaders, and our Cuban facilitator, Armando, we learned about Cuba’s history (minus the U.S. slant).
We learned about Cuban currency, and their dual-economy system.
We were asked questions, then instructed to stand in designated portions of the room according to the different things we believed about Cuba.
We watched a funny skit about jineterismo in which the group leaders portrayed tourists, and Armando portrayed a jinetero (a tout).
After a lunch of cucumber salad, rice & black beans, ground (I think beef) and deliciously prepared soy, it was time to load the big yellow bus again with our impatient bodies straining with excitement to finally be going out into the streets of Cuba in the light of day.
As we lurched into and out of massive potholes along Havana’s streets, I felt like a bobblehead doll – except I’m real, and may have sprained a neck muscle.
In spite of the jiggling scenery, I was all eyes. I wanted to look everywhere at once. I wanted to morph into an octopus with a telescopic eyeball on the end of each tentacle.
Okay, so, impressions: kaleidoscopic (mostly broken) stained-glass widows…inspired architecture with supremely impressive sculptural detail on massive buildings (the kind you don’t see anywhere except in historical photos of the Roman Empire or ancient Greece) – most crumbling tiredly into cratered but surprisingly unlittered streets.
Some of the buildings are painted vivid, fruity colors which would be considered gauche in the States: key lime green, tangerine, banana yellow, peach.
The colors crackle and pop in a way Americans find endearing in kids, but tastelessly gaudy in adults.
Like, as adults, we should know better and tone it down.
Here, they are definitely not toning anything down.
I love that.
But there are also buildings in shades of gray with peeling pastel flecks giving clue to colors past. Building entrances are artistic wrought iron, or intricately carved mahogany doors of proportions wide and high enough to drive a herd of camels through.
There are enormous, pale aqua (sea air mold-coated) brass handles and door knockers. And, even on the most well-maintained mansions, more than half the tiles are missing from roofs; some have gaping holes that I doubt residents consider avante-garde skylights.
What do they do when it rains?
Tropical rains pour down like Niagra Falls. I’ve showered in enough of them to know how forcefully they batter…
All this awe-inspiring architecture is, tristemente (sadly), interspersed with ugly, cookie-cutter projects-style buildings with badly chipped paint, and fracturing balconies. Many of the balconies are so deteriorated, that whenever I saw people leaning on the rusty iron rails or frittering cement guards, I held my breath and prayed because Armando told us that people die in building collapses frequently enough for there to be ironic societal jokes about it.
Atop roofs, there are huge metal barrels sprouting wires that reach like crooked, witch fingers into open windows.
And everywhere, from almost every structure, laundry hangs like psychedelic fabric confetti sprinkled over iron gates and railings, verandas, across rooftops and other unexpected places.
In middle-to-upper class areas of the U.S., hanging laundry on the face of buildings is considered tacky, and property-degrading.
But in Cuba, it is a thing of beauty.
So straightforward and honest without any pretensions. Armando told us that clothes dryers are hard to come by in Cuba. Hanging wet clothes outdoors is what needs to be done to have dry clothes. And so they do it. That’s all. No judgements. No labels. People need dry clothes to wear. Period.
I like that.
In addition to laundry, Revolution slogans are EVERYWHERE. Seemingly on every inch of wall or building space, on overpasses, in store windows, on huge billboards along every main street. All in letters so gargantuan that a blind person would sense their presence.
“SOMOS LA REVOLUCION.” (WE ARE THE REVOLUTION.)
“EN CADA BARRIO, REVOLUCION.” (IN EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD…REVOLUTION.)
“CON NUESTRAS IDEAS, HACIA EL FUTURO.” (WITH OUR IDEAS, THE FUTURE IS MADE.”)
“EN LINEA CON FIDEL.” (“IN LINE WITH FIDEL.”)
Which I’m pretty sure does not refer to the unbelievably long lines of Cubans at bus stops (I didn’t notice Fidel on any of them).
“LUCHEMOS POR LA PAZ.” (“WE FIGHT FOR PEACE.”)
“HASTA LA VICTORIA. SIEMPRE.” (“UNTIL VICTORY. ALWAYS/FOREVER.”)
“NO HAY FUERZA CAPAZ DE APLASTAR NUESTRA RESISTENCIA.” (“THERE IS NO FORCE STRONG ENOUGH TO CRUSH OUR RESISTANCE.”) Referring, I assume, to their resistance to be controlled by the U.S.
“PATRIA O MUERTE!” (“HOMELAND OR DEATH!”)
“SOCIALISMO O MUERTE!” (“SOCIALISM OR DEATH!”)
“VOLVERAN!” (“THEY WILL RETURN!”) They who?
“AHORAR! SE PUEDE!” (“SAVE! WE CAN!”) Save what?
“VIGILANTES Y COMBATIVOS” (“VIGILANTES & COMBATANTS”)
And in every single Havana neighborhood we passed thru…
“CDR – COMITE DE DEFENSE DE LA REVOLUCION” (“COMMITTEE FOR THE DEFENSE OF THE REVOLUTION”) But isn’t the Revolution over already?
Wow, I didn’t realize while I was clicking away that I had gotten so many shots of these slogans.
Just went thru photos from today, and was able to clearly read these I wrote down. But there are about a dozen more that I can’t translate without my dictionary – which I don’t feel like getting right now because I’m as comfortable as it’s possible to be on these bed springs, and getting up for anything less than a bursting bladder risks not being able to happen upon another comfortable spot on this bed.
It’s funny, but in pointing out the sights today, not once did the American group leaders comment on these enormous painted slogans. Since slogans were the largest and most pervasive sights everywhere we went, it struck me as odd that they were not at all mentioned.
The omission makes them seem even more larger than life, if that’s at all possible given their already gigantor proportions…
“Diary of An American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land.”