A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

1. Just Like Talk Radio; We're On A Tape Delay

The first in a series of seven entries; all delayed by one week

As a U.S. citizen, there is but one place on this entire planet that I may not legally go. Canadians, Japanese and Europeans regularly vacation there but I am forbidden to join them. Tomorrow, however, I am going to that place because an exception to the law now exists. Some background information will help.

6cdb1d10-2cea-11ea-acb0-0f482072bce3.jpg

In 1917, the U.S. Congress passed legislation titled Trading With the Enemy Act and President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law. The objective of this law was to stop any American from trading with our enemies during World War I. Various countries from Germany to Japan and including Myanmar and Sudan have appeared on this list over the past 98 years.

North Korea was once on this list, but President George W. Bush in 2008 whittled the list to a single country, Cuba, which had first made the list during the final days of the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama have all annually renewed TWEA sanctions against Cuba.

What is now called the Cuban Embargo was initiated in response to the confiscation by the regime of Fidel Castro of private property owned by both Cubans and Americans in 1960. The current embargo—legally created by Congress under provisions of the Helms-Burton Act – implements strict economic sanctions, travel restrictions on Americans, and international legal penalties against other countries that trade with Cuba. It is intended to force Cuba to adopt democracy and free markets. Embargo and trade sanctions helped bring down apartheid in South Africa but it hasn't brought down the regime of Fidel (and now Raúl) Castro.

6ce61990-2cea-11ea-863b-f9176e00fa00.jpg

Last month, Cuba, for the 23rd time, saw U.N. General Assembly member nations condemn the U.S. economic and trade embargo of the island by a vote of 188 to 2 (the U.S. and Israel). That means that 188 votes (including Canada, The United Kingdom, Australia, etc.) approved a resolution presented by Havana that condemns the U.S. for causing "over $1,126 trillion in damages" as a result of over 50 years of trade sanctions. The embargo - or blockade ("el bloqueo") as it's known in Cuba --is the most visible symbol of decades of contentious relations between my country and the nation of “Dictator” Fidel Castro.

a21b02b0-2cea-11ea-acb0-0f482072bce3.jpga1883890-2cea-11ea-acb0-0f482072bce3.jpg

In 2008, Fidel Castro, now 88, then and now in poor health, abdicated power to his younger brother Raúl Castro, now 83. Raúl Castro was re-elected as President in Feb. 2013, and announced that he would step down in 2018. In recent years, Cuba has implemented economic reforms designed to create free enterprise, some restrictions on property use have been lifted and some foreign travel by Cubans has been allowed. Many would agree that the 11 million Cubans continue to live in a nation of oppression and, it is said, suffer gross human rights abuses. But, even they would agree that the tide is slowly turning.

Five years ago, American government subcontractor Alan Gross made his fifth trip to Cuba posing as a tourist while actually working on what the New York Times called “a secretive program to expand Internet access” in Cuba. He was working for the U.S. Government at the time. He was arrested and is now in prison there. The Times is now calling for a “prisoner swap” to free him. The ingredients of this stew are all rotten with the fixings contributed by both sides.

In my opinion, the real issue in not ending the embargo may very well be U.S. Presidential politics. Florida looms large in elections for U.S. President. Since 1976, Florida’s 29 electoral college votes have gone to the ultimate winner of the Presidency every time (6 times for Republicans, 4 times for Democrats) except once: 1992 when Florida favored George H.W. Bush over winner Bill Clinton. Any proposal to end the embargo would severely anger older Cuban-American voters who, by my research, deliver well over 500,000 votes in each Presidential election. Even though recent polls show younger Cuban-American voters supporting an end to the embargo, they don’t vote with the same frequency.

During President Obama’s first term, travel sanctions were loosened to allow Americans to travel to Cuba as “licensed” travelers. To get a “license,” one must be “engaged in certain specified activities” including “purposeful” travel including religious, cultural, educational and people-to-people travel. But, having no “purposeful” travel in mind, I resigned myself to not visiting Cuba.

That remained the case until the evening of September 4, 2014, when true love BR and I dined with her dear friend Jeff at The Farmhouse in Kansas City. Small talk led to Jeff remarking that he and his wife, Joyce, were going to Cuba in November. “You should come,” he said, “but the trip is full.” The next day, Jeff called BR with news that a couple had canceled. We were in.

194f0580-2cea-11ea-9c12-65bc7f708400.jpg194f53a0-2cea-11ea-9010-573276ff3199.jpg

Our trip, sponsored by and benefiting The Pap Corps, Champions for Cancer Research®, one of the largest fundraising organizations in South Florida dedicated to supporting cancer research of all types is, however, a Jewish religious mission with a full time religious itinerary. There are only about 1,200 to 1,400 Jews (estimates differ) living in Cuba but there has been a vibrant Jewish renaissance in Cuba in the past couple of decades. Due to the embargo, while there we will not do anything that is not of a religious origin, for a religious purpose or to learn more about the plight of Jews in Cuba.

Logistically, travel to Cuba by Americans is complicated by the fact that the TWEA still prohibits American credit card companies from clearing charges from Cuba so we cannot use credit cards. American mobile phone companies cannot do business there so our phones don’t work. Phone cards purchased in the USA don’t work but local cards are available for use at pay phones at a rate of $2.05 per minute for calls back to the U.S. And, of course, it goes without saying that no scheduled airline, U.S. or foreign, may operate scheduled service between the two countries. Only charter airlines may operate and then may only carry licensed travelers.

Cuban hotels, we’re told, offer “spotty” Wi-Fi internet access. Americans may bring computers into the country but may not bring a modem, portable hot spot or satellite phone or any other satellite type devices. As for Cubans themselves, most do not have access to a computer and, therefore, have no e-mail capability. Electrical current in hotels is 220 volt so the plugs are unlike those in the U.S. and travelers must be careful when they plug things in lest they be “fried” by the higher voltage.

Cuba uses two currencies.

19f816c0-2cea-11ea-863b-f9176e00fa00.jpg

The Cuban currency—the peso—may not legally be used by Americans. Foreigners must use “Convertible pesos,” known as CuCs. CuCs are currently pegged at 87 cents to the U.S. dollar. Cuban pesos have a much lower value than do Cucs. For example, a Cuban doctor, all of whom are government employees, is paid a salary of about 40 Cuban pesos per month. Trading currency on the street carries a legal penalty and a fraud potential. Trade a dollar and get just under one Cuc. Trade that same dollar and get around 24 pesos. But, as a foreigner, you cannot spend Cuban pesos. Foreigners may spend only CuCs. It is all very confusing.

Under U.S. law, when I return, I can bring home books, periodicals, paintings, sculptures, artifacts, art, records or tapes but I cannot bring cigars, local rum, coffee, or general “shopping” merchandise of any kind.

Cuban medical insurance is included in the price we paid for our mission. It covers 100% of medical expenses up to $25,000. It is recommended that we drink only bottled water and that we avoid ice cubes made with local tap water. Food safety here is similar to what one would expect in any “third-world” country.

The national beer of Cuba is Cristal (light) or Bucanero (dark). Cuban coffee is strong so many Americans instead order Cortado expresso with a bit of milk—Café Con Leche. Sugar substitutes such as Splenda or Equal don’t exist there due to the embargo. But, there is an abundance of real sugar because they produce it here.

6fe0aa00-2cec-11ea-863b-f9176e00fa00.jpg

Given the political situation in Cuba, at first, I was concerned about bringing my computer with me on this adventure. The details of my life are on the hard drive. The government of Cuba observes no right to privacy. What if they took my computer; what if they copied and read every document that I ever created and disliked something they found there?

I got over that fear and decided to not only bring the computer but to—at the urging of many friends—write my blog as I almost always do.

However, if occurred to me that it would be foolhardy to upload that blog day by day. I am told that there is much monitoring of electronic communication in Cuba. For that reason, I have decided to wait a week, day by day, to upload so that I am safe at home. I am well clear of Cuba and any recrimination that might occur because I wrote a thing that might displease a person in a position to express displeasure while at the same time holding authority over my movements.

Prudence is in order.

Posted by paulej4 15:13 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

2. Importing Ebola?

The second in a series of seven entries; all delayed by one week

We arrive at Miami International Airport at 5:30am on departure day, November 4, 2014. We enter Door "G" on the departure level and proceed past the World Atlantic Charter Airlines ticket counter where there is a long line of people, many with their baggage wrapped in plastic. These appear to be Cubans or relatives of Cubans who are not subject to same travel embargo as are we. They are returning to the island with “gifts” for relatives.

19ecf330-2cea-11ea-acb0-0f482072bce3.jpg

Our flight is K8 426 Xael Charter. It takes about 1.5 hours to check in which involves close inspection of passports, visas and travel licenses issued by the U.S. Department of State. There is a $20 fee to check a bag. The checked bag and a carry-on must together weigh 44 pounds or less. The flight time is scheduled for only 45 minutes. However, during the boarding process, one of our flight attendants becomes ill on board the aircraft so we are deplaned and told to wait until a replacement can be found. Ninety minutes later, we board again and we're off.

During the flight we complete a health card asking if we have a cold or fever or have been exposed to someone with H1N1. They don’t ask about Ebola. We also complete an immigration card where, under the question about the purpose of our trip, we check “other.”

072bd690-2cf3-11ea-99df-8ddcf8c29971.jpg

Upon arrival, we proceed to the arrival hall at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport. (Cuba observes Eastern time) We line up at the immigration booths with passports, airline tickets and visas in hand. Immigration officers ask a strange question: “Have you been to Dallas, Texas?” BR, who owns a home there answers truthfully and is pulled out of line. The Cubans have heard about Ebola in Dallas and she is suspect.

After much ado, she clarifies the situation by explaining that she lives in Kansas City and they lose interest for the moment. BR clears immigration only to find an official on the other with a doctor in a white coat behind him, asking people where the person from Dallas is. BR just remains silent. I am following her and am asked about Dallas. I have not been there is a very long time and I tell them that. Then, while leafing through my passport, the officer asks, “Have you been to Africa?” I am stuck on this answer. She holds my passport which holds stamps from Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. “I have been to Africa,” I say, “but not for a very long time.” She looks at the dates. Higher ranking officials are summoned. A doctor in a white coat arrives. I don’t speak Spanish beyond being able to order a cerveza and to ask “Como esta?” For reasons unknown to me, the whole mess subsides and I scurry past to claim my checked bag. My list of countries visited has now officially grown to 115. Other than Canada and Mexico, Cuba is our nearest neighbor but it has taken me a very long time to get here.

After that we turn in our medical cards and collect our checked luggage. When customs or immigration officials ask if we are bringing any donations, we are directed to answer “No.” If we say “Yes,” they take the donations and turn them over to the State. If they press, we are to say we are bringing “Gifts.” We are told to volunteer no information if questions are not asked. We are clearly reminded that, if asked, we are to truthfully say that our trip is of a humanitarian nature to be with members of the Jewish Community.

All arriving luggage is X-rayed. We were advised to not put electrical appliances in our luggage to include hair dryers, curling irons, phones, charging cords or electrical adapters. Those should be in our carry-on luggage. I am careful to pack in exactly that way. Once all checked luggage is delivered to all members of our group, we walk out together in the Green Sign Lane which means we have nothing to declare upon which a duty might be levied or that would be prohibited inside the country. We are told to not go to the lines of Cubans waiting to exit. All their luggage must be weighed and inspected before they are allowed back into their homeland.

072e95b0-2cf3-11ea-8c89-6dd79a3361f7.jpg

We are headed for the Meliã Cohiba Hotel, Vedado, Habana, Cuba. We are escorted by Miriam Levinson who was born in Cuba and left as a pre-teenager in 1958 to live in the United States. Since travel restrictions were loosened, Miriam has been to Cuba 140 times. Vicky Prince, a Cuban resident, is to be our guide.

Upon arrival at the hotel, a very nice and modern high rise, we are immediately summoned to lunch on the second floor where everyone looks at BR and me wondering if, in fact, we are Ebola carriers. The hotel asks Miriam if there is someone with the group from Dallas. BR’s luggage tags have her Dallas address which the hotel noticed when delivering our luggage to our room. Soon, they get over it and we are given room keys and told to relax for 45 minutes before meeting again in the hotel lobby. We never again say the word 'Dallas’.

Our luggage has been delivered to our room—a two room suite—and as I unpack it becomes clear that my luggage has been closely inspected. My toiletries are not as I packed them, zippers are awry and neatly folded items are refolded in a manner not to my normal practice. But, everything is there.

Wi-Fi exists but Google insists on me providing a password that I do not know so it appears that email on my computer will not be happening. My iPhone won’t receive business email either but I say, “No problem.” The computer is mostly here for writing and downloading photos anyway. Who cares? Later, I decide that I care and I use my personal email account to request that Tom at the office see if he can fix my problem remotely.

We meet in the lobby and board a bus to take us along the boulevard known as the Malecόn which borders the seawall into the old city.

There are virtually no new automobiles in Cuba—again due to the embargo. American vehicles here were built in the 50’s and have been maintained because nobody can buy a new car. I quickly note that there are many cars of the late forties and fifties. I see lots of Chevys—55s, 56s, 57s, a few 58s and only one 59. By 1960, the embargo was on; so you see no American vehicle made after 1959; none. 074021e0-2cf3-11ea-92de-811e1a720d3a.jpg072b1340-2cf3-11ea-b39b-37070ac183a4.jpgf39ba3c0-2cf3-11ea-901d-437036118726.jpgTherefore, there are many innovative modes of transportation in Cuba ranging from rick-bicycles, horse drawn carriages and “CoCo taxis” and motorcycles with sidecars. The vintage automobiles are magnificent and bring an ambiance to the place unlike anywhere I have ever been. Not all the cars are old; a brand new BMW 740 Li sits in the driveway of the Meliã Cohiba. There are new or newer Russian and Chinese vehicles and a smattering of other makes, particularly Reanault.

We disembark and walk. Many buildings are falling down. There is nearly no maintenance being done on any building—we see a few painters one time—and, as a result, the city is and has been crumbling. But, the streets are very clean. There are few very old people. But, the kids are all happy and smiling. We stroll past the Plaza de San Francisco to the most beautiful “Jewish Hotel,” The Roauel, I have ever seen. It boasts stunning stained glass, the most impressive of which reigns over the lobby atrium four stories over our heads. The ancient elevator lifts us to the rooftop where we gaze over a city that, were it not for the embargo, would be glistening with refurbished buildings and rooftop gardens. Sadly, those are not apparent. But, what we do see is sublime. A Kosher Deli, closed for some reason, sits across the street. 0739e050-2cf3-11ea-b4b7-756e169fda0e.jpg074048f0-2cf3-11ea-901d-437036118726.jpg0734b030-2cf3-11ea-9255-6f4327ce54b1.jpg072baf80-2cf3-11ea-8a33-abc20cb1ceee.jpg07421db0-2cf3-11ea-8492-6bc81c9318e3.jpg073ced90-2cf3-11ea-bf26-915956a7ec0a.jpg

Back on the streets we walk and decide that we are anxious to return here on subsequent days for time to meander. There is a chocolate museum. There are cafés, restaurants, hotels but very few shops. Buildings are in various stages of renovation or crumbling. The streets are clean and there is no graffiti.

We are given the opportunity to stop and sit in a government owned and operated bar. BR has a glass of white wine and I order a cerveza as we avoid ice cubes. Both are cold and tasty. When the bill comes, it is for four CuCs: the equivalent of four U.S. dollars. Four. Our friends opted for mixed drinks at a nearby five-star hotel. Their drinks, they told us, were five CuCs each.

Back to the bus we return to the Meliã Cohiba Hotel for a couple of hours of rest before we meet the group at 7:00 to walk a couple of blocks to dinner. I write while BR catnaps. We are going on very little sleep and the adventure has taken its toll.

The group parades two blocks to our dinner in a “Private Home.” Essentially what has happened here is that the government has loosened its restrictions on capitalism and allowed individuals to start businesses. So, rather than dine in a government owned establishment similar to the place where we had our beer and wine this afternoon, we are patronizing an eatery owned by a private citizen. It occupies the second floor and roof of a large home because the law won’t allow a privately owned restaurant such as this to be located in what we would think of as a commercial space. There are no signs on the street to let us know that a restaurant exists here.

Our guide, Miriam, tells us that the meal costs the equivalent of about $45 per person and includes an appetizer, salad, an entrée (fish, meat, chicken, lobster, shrimp or vegetarian), dessert (flan, chocolate or cheesecake), one mixed drink, one glass of wine and one bottle of water and tip. That is about right for an American to pay for what we receive. However, when one considers that the salary for a doctor in Cuba is $40 per month, we quickly see that this “Private Home” dining experience is for tourists and the rich and not for regular Cubans to enjoy. The meal, by the way, was good but not great.

We walked back to the hotel on streets that all agree are amazingly safe (we hear several “Buenos Nochas” greetings from passersby) except for the condition of the sidewalks. I look down to steer us clear of cracks (similar to what we might find at home) and holes (pits, really, which would be guaranteed to deliver a lawsuit in the U.S.)

I am delighted with the day, ebullient about being Ebola free, satisfied that Big Brother is watching but not interfering and happy to be in a new place learning new things with BR at my side. Life is good for BR and me. Cubans might see it differently or they might agree. What is clear: our expectations are seemingly very different.

Posted by paulej4 16:05 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

3. Private Restaurants? Well...

The third in a series of seven entries; all delayed by one week

I am awake at 6:15 while BR snoozes. The Wi-Fi delivers a quick look at the website for The Kansas City Star and I see that the Republicans have won virtually every contested office in yesterday's elections. Google is available and there is a rundown of news that appears to be exactly what I would see had I logged on at home.

I am unable to retrieve business email but I can get email at a personal address.

Coffee revives me while I read and I am soon ready to walk the Malecόn before breakfast. I have time for only four miles. This oceanfront drive is lined with broken sidewalks and crumbling buildings. Everywhere else in the world, this would be top dollar real estate, shiny and expensive. Here it is hovels or inhabitable ruins. The ground floors of apartment buildings are boarded up; elsewhere they would house shops and bars. Without private enterprise and private ownership, nobody invests in these structures or creates a business to anchor them.

I have yet to see a pharmacy, food store, hardware store, upscale shops or t-shirt stores or nail salons or car dealerships or dry cleaners or ice cream shops or bakeries or butchers or green grocers. They must be somewhere but they are not where the visitors are because I have looked. I have seen one shoe store and one clothing boutique. The parks, such as they are, are well tended but empty of local people.

Today, we have a late breakfast on the hotel’s second floor and are just in time for a 9:20 lecture by Dr. Maritza Corrales. She speaks of Jewish history in Cuba and takes questions from our group. Later, we board the bus for a trip to the Cuban Fine Arts Museum. I am taken by a painting, "La Dama del Lago." Then, it’s back to the old city.

8d7b6ca0-2cf4-11ea-901d-437036118726.jpg

The rest of the tour group heads for the upscale Café Del Oriente while BR and I opt instead for a more downscale lunch of paella ($15 each) and share an $18 bottle of wonderful Chilean Frontera Conchay Toro Sauvignon Blanc at a less posh establishment a block away. At Café Paella, our fellow diners dance while a trio serenades us. BR delights them and the wait staff by awarding them HDS company buttons which say in Spanish, “Soy Amada,” (“I Am Loved”). They love them—and her. BR has given these to our flight attendants and our fellow travelers along the way and received big smiles in return. For desert, we pause at the Museo Del Chocolate for—guess what. It is scrumptious.

8e251a20-2cf4-11ea-aeef-e10438be8c97.jpg

As a side note, it is important to mention that at the banόs (toilets), toilet paper is not a standard feature. Instead, an attendant sits outside the door. As you enter, in exchange for 25 centavos (or more), she hands you two sheets of two ply tissue paper. Hopefully, that’s enough. 8e19f690-2cf4-11ea-a777-47494ceac22d.jpg

Next, the bus takes us to the synagogue, “Beth Shalom Patronato” for a visit with Adela Dworin who delights us with tales of Jews in Cuba. The Jewish Community Center’s role here is similar to what BR fondly recalls from the JCC at home. In the lobby of the synagogue is a photograph of Adela with Fidel Castro whom she has twice met. The government has had only good relations with Jews here; on that point, all agree.

Finally we head back to the Meliã Cohiba for two hours of relaxation before meeting in the hotel lobby for a 7:15 departure to dinner. 8e1562b0-2cf4-11ea-8926-311e90561a40.jpg8e1a92d0-2cf4-11ea-96f9-d5507999216b.jpg8d80c3d0-2cf4-11ea-99df-8ddcf8c29971.jpg8d7d4160-2cf4-11ea-8492-6bc81c9318e3.jpg8d800080-2cf4-11ea-b39b-37070ac183a4.jpg

I spot a new car. It has Diplomatic plates. Again, I try to get business email. Researching my lack of success, I find this message from my friends at Google: Google restricts access to some of its enterprise services in certain countries, such as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. If you try to sign in to these services from these countries, the following error appears: You appear to be signing in from a country where Google Apps accounts are not supported.

I assume that this is but one more feature of the embargo.

Our dinner is at another “Private Restaurant,” this one written up in the New York Times a few months back as being very good. Success must have spoiled it. The service was poor; bad enough that the owner came to our guide and returned the pre-paid gratuity saying that they didn’t deserve it. I’ll bet you never saw that happen before, did you? In addition, the food was a step below so-so. They didn’t offer to refund that part of the bill. I cannot recommend Salazar Dona Eutimia.

Posted by paulej4 16:16 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

4. "Oh, God; could it really be?"

The fourth in a series of seven entries, all delayed by one week

Cuba is where everything is moving but nothing has changed. Here, every day is, as in the movie, "Groundhog Day," a repeat of the one just passed. In most places on this earth, one returns to say how much things are different. Not so, here, I suspect.

In our spacious two room suite at the lovely Meliã Cohiba, we are sleeping on a mattress that has seen better days in a room where the drapes only open if the occupant wins the fight with the rollers and hooks. We have been warned to use bottled water for tooth brushing. The electrical outlet in the sitting room doesn't work. On the other hand, the hair dryer is excellent. Maid service is very good. We received this handwritten note, in English, when we returned to our room last night: “Hello!! Dear Guest: Good Morning. Welcome to our Hotel. I wish you a nice stay and unforgettable days. Thanks for tip. Your Maid, Roxane.” We left two U.S. dollars on our bed last night and will repeat that for each night we stay. In relative terms, that’s a lot of money for Roxane, assuming she gets to keep it all.

At 9:15am, we’re on the bus and off we go to The University of Havana. We see a sublime campus in the middle of the City occupied by the same sort of students one might find anywhere in the world. The education is free—if you can get in—and the internet, with some sites blocked, is free. Free expression is encouraged but organized protests against the government or anything it does are prohibited. Our student guide speaks poor English so Vicky translates for us.a1eb6630-2cf5-11ea-84f0-ed5524ed664f.jpga1f63ba0-2cf5-11ea-a431-e1a727f13486.jpga1ebb450-2cf5-11ea-966f-7dcccb3af0fb.jpga148e4a0-2cf5-11ea-a777-47494ceac22d.jpg

Next we go to the Hotel Nacional where we tour the manicured grounds and take in the view from above the Malecόn. This is where mobsters met and persons both famous and infamous have stayed. Among those pictured as having been here include U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Venezuelan President Caesar Chavez, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Russian President Medvedev, Kevin Costner, Mobster Meyer Lansky, Barbara Walters, Charlie Rose, John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, Steven Spielberg, Frank Sinatra, Walt Disney, Robert Redford and more and more and more. Many ask why we didn’t stay there and the answer is that the rooms are musty and electrical service in unreliable. a13adae0-2cf5-11ea-aeef-e10438be8c97.jpg

A poster appears prominently in multiple places in Havana. It refers to the “Cuban Five.” Alongside five photos, the poster at El Aljibe’s Havana Club, our lunch spot, reads as follows: “Who are the five Cuban Heroes jailed in the U.S.? Five young professionals who decided to devote their lives, away from their homeland, to fighting against terrorism in the City of Miami, the hub of most aggressions against Cuba. The five men were put on a manipulated trial in Miami, a completely hostile city dominated by a Cuban-origin Mafia, where no fair and impartial trial was possible in keeping with U.S. and International Laws. On March 10, defense attorneys made their case in the Miami courthouse before the Appeals Court. As we wait for the Appeals Court to hand down its ruling—a decision that could take several months—call on all dignified people of goodwill to join the increasingly larger movement of solidarity with the five Cuban heroes who are now political prisoners in the United States.” We are told that two of these men have since been released but that three remain in U.S. jails. They are the persons I mentioned on Day One’s blog that were the subject of an idea to “trade prisoners” in return for Cuba’s release of American Alan Gross who is currently being held in a Cuban prison.

a150faf0-2cf5-11ea-8492-6bc81c9318e3.jpga14c18f0-2cf5-11ea-99df-8ddcf8c29971.jpgAfter lunch we head to a local dance school and are treated to a performance. I buy some musical instruments there for Megan (continuing a tradition that goes back many trips). We wrap up our day with a final stop at Estudio Taller Fuster (the studio of local artist Taller Fuster) where whimsical ceramics and paintings abound. Fuster is described as the Cuban Picasso or Gaudi. I buy a tile and BR finds a painted empty bottle of Cuban rum that she cannot resist. From there, we head back to the hotel, arriving around 4:30. a1f3caa0-2cf5-11ea-8fcf-7ff6c972b121.jpga1ec5090-2cf5-11ea-be73-3f32b79a489e.jpga1e5e7f0-2cf5-11ea-9a44-01f9812662e6.jpga15bd060-2cf5-11ea-aeef-e10438be8c97.jpga1626010-2cf5-11ea-a777-47494ceac22d.jpg

I find today’s note from Roxane: “Hello!! Dear Guest. Good Morning. Thanks a lot for tip & gift. I am a lovely person. Thank’s. Have a nice day!! Your maid, Roxane.” I assume the “lovely person” reference is a response to BR who left “I Am Loved” buttons—in Spanish “Soy Amada”—on the pillow along with our tip.

Meeting at 6:15, we are off again to dinner. Tonight, we go to Gringo Viejo (The Old American). It’s OK.

To wrap up this long Thursday, we take in a performance of the Havana Ballet; the 24th Festival Internacional de Ballet de la Habana, to be precise. The performance was held at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba. Our seats cost 25 CuCs, about $25 U.S. Cubans could buy tickets, depending upon the seat they chose, for amounts ranging from five cents up to fifty cents. Under the direction of the famous Alicia Alonso, the lengthy performance (9:00pm-11:20pm) contained dances from the full “Prologo Para Una Tragedia” inspired by “Otelo, el moro de Vencia” by Shakespeare to an energetic “Tango” interpretation to a farsical “As You Like It” and on and on and on. The coach ride to the hotel was our latest foray in the nighttime of Havana. Absolutely, positively, nothing was happening at 11:30. Few cars were out; few pedestrians could be seen. a1fa5a50-2cf5-11ea-be24-27242c8d2ec7.jpga13cd6b0-2cf5-11ea-8926-311e90561a40.jpg

During the day I ask why virtually every ground floor window and door in virtually every residential building is protected by decorative iron bars. The answer given is that when the Soviets left Cuba in the nineties, “things got pretty rough.” We are told that the City is very safe but the bars send a menacing signal. I am relieved to hear that “those days are past.”

In Cuba, we see virtually no construction activity. No cranes soar into the sky, no orange cones close roadway lanes, no concrete trucks roar down streets and no building seems capable of withstanding much more than a brisk wind. Here, maintenance is a forgotten concept. Buildings are in a wide state of disrepair whether occupied or not. Much of what we see is a dirty grey color reminding me of what depressed me when I visited Russia a few years ago with my son. We did today see some stores and shops and even a supermarket of sorts. I asked if we could visit but there wasn’t time. Vicky told us about her state-issued food ration book. Many on the bus were startled. She can buy only so much for her family. If she wants more she must go to “private” purveyors who charge much higher prices—if she can even find what she needs. The only billboards one sees are festooned with political messages; no products or services are advertised. a1ef84e0-2cf5-11ea-bfcf-014e19f51ef8.jpga1e8a710-2cf5-11ea-b6ec-e307cdc3a5a1.jpg

When the embargo is eventually lifted and investment comes to Cuba—as it surely will—there will be no shortage of places to tear down, build up, remodel or rehabilitate. Along the waterfront and on the squares, there are precious few coffee shops or bars or sidewalk cafés and that will change. There is no McDonald’s or Subway or KFC or Starbucks or Houston’s or Chevrolet dealer or Ace Hardware or Macy’s or Nordstrom or Quik Trip or Taco Bell or Marriott or Dairy Queen or Walgreens or Apple Store or AMC Theater or, well, anything of that sort. These brands are everywhere around the world but they are not here, just 90 miles from our shore. The run down and bleak Havana waterfront will be reborn and bustle with tourists and entrepreneurs. Cruise ships will call on what will become the busiest tourist port in the Caribbean. I have naively predicted that President Obama, with nothing more to lose after this week’s elections, will lift the embargo “within 90 days.” Everyone scoffs at that notion but then, with serious faces, they ask me, “Do you believe it could be true? Oh, God; could it really be?”

Posted by paulej4 16:26 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

4a. Cart: Car Art

Random Shots

My favorite thing about Havana? Old Cars. Here is a taste:d5b690b0-2cf6-11ea-807d-2ba1a71c5ede.jpgd5bc5d10-2cf6-11ea-b419-bd5942197333.jpgd5b8daa0-2cf6-11ea-8569-f99228dd1064.jpgd5b35c60-2cf6-11ea-8e84-b97f9e41cfd2.jpgd5bb72b0-2cf6-11ea-9ca5-efa64534958d.jpgd5b9ec10-2cf6-11ea-b26d-798471f30da4.jpgd5bcab30-2cf6-11ea-8642-0bf497e00c05.jpgd5b3aa80-2cf6-11ea-8dde-b51935fcf59b.jpgd5b5f470-2cf6-11ea-a5d5-23daa188fb7b.jpgd5b928c0-2cf6-11ea-a9b3-6dfce0453cd9.jpgd5a3f310-2cf6-11ea-a4b7-67e40cc9ec60.jpgd5a5c7d0-2cf6-11ea-9907-030065fecea4.jpgd5b57f40-2cf6-11ea-9bcb-3d6b1cf8466c.jpgd5b41fb0-2cf6-11ea-a127-5d430423523a.jpgd5adde20-2cf6-11ea-9316-07155e784712.jpgd5a838d0-2cf6-11ea-8f25-596dd2cdeab9.jpgd540c470-2cf6-11ea-a777-47494ceac22d.jpgd53f8bf0-2cf6-11ea-84f0-ed5524ed664f.jpgd53fda10-2cf6-11ea-966f-7dcccb3af0fb.jpgd53838f0-2cf6-11ea-b6ec-e307cdc3a5a1.jpgd53c57a0-2cf6-11ea-be24-27242c8d2ec7.jpgd5388710-2cf6-11ea-be73-3f32b79a489e.jpgd526fae0-2cf6-11ea-8926-311e90561a40.jpgd526acc0-2cf6-11ea-966f-7dcccb3af0fb.jpgd50ce330-2cf6-11ea-b6ec-e307cdc3a5a1.jpgd50c9510-2cf6-11ea-966f-7dcccb3af0fb.jpgd50da680-2cf6-11ea-be73-3f32b79a489e.jpgd50ce330-2cf6-11ea-8926-311e90561a40.jpgd50c9510-2cf6-11ea-a777-47494ceac22d.jpgd5156eb0-2cf6-11ea-be24-27242c8d2ec7.jpgd51547a0-2cf6-11ea-84f0-ed5524ed664f.jpgd4f849c0-2cf6-11ea-be24-27242c8d2ec7.jpgd4f75f60-2cf6-11ea-84f0-ed5524ed664f.jpglarge_592654d0-2cf7-11ea-8569-f99228dd1064.jpg5920d690-2cf7-11ea-b419-bd5942197333.jpg59225d30-2cf7-11ea-807d-2ba1a71c5ede.jpg

Posted by paulej4 16:30 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 8) Page [1] 2 »