by Walter Lippmann
Sunday, November 19, 2017, 8:00 PM
It’s been an exceptionally busy week. Having been away from Cuba for almost a year, my first interest was in seeing and checking in on various friends, and delivering the various things I brought for a range of them. One of my favorite things here is NOT having a car. My main form of transportation is what I like to call the “sistema de transporte dos pies” (the two-foot system). I use it as much as practical, but not being used to the mixture of heat (not too, too bad right now) and humidity, it’s not always practical.
For example, a couple of nice young people from Ocean Press, the Australian publishing company which specializes in Cuba-orianted books, picked me up at the airport and brought me directly to the casa particular in which I’m staying.
My first stop the morning after my arrival was with Sandra Gonzalez and her son Damian Donestevez, two Cuban friends I’ve known the longest. Damian was a translator at my very first adult trip to Cuba, the 1999 US-Cuba Yoga Encuentro in November 1999. Sandra was working when we met, and caring for her own mother at home. She worked at the petroleum planning ministry, and was the primary caretaker for her own mother. She has since retired.
Sandra, almost my age, has experienced a raft of health issues, and isn’t doing well, phyically. Sandra’s mom died years ago, and Sandra has gotten to look a lot like her mother. Damian is now Sandra’s primary caregiver. For them I brought a stethoscope, to monitor her blood pressure, and adult diapers, not yet available here.
Have also been in touch with Juan Jacomino, who heads the English department of Radio Havana Cuba. He spent five years as the media liason at the Cuban embassy in Washington. To him I brought good wishes. The station’s elevator, fixed a few years ago after being out of service for quite a few years, works well.
Back in the day, I used to tell friends that the broken elevator was “Fidel Castro’s Involuntary Exercise Program”. The English Department of RHC is up on the sixth floor, so imagine what it was like to walk up and down at least four times daily (lunch is served in a staff cafeteria across the street.)
Some over-the-counter US medicines are very popular and very hard to find locally, so friends ask friends to bring them these rare and appreciated products. Among the ones I brought this time were Ibuprofen, Advil and Tiger Balm (not made in the US, of course). Ramón Labañino, one of the Cuban Five who are now designated Heroes of the Republic, came by one evening to pick up Advil, Tiger Balm and garlic pills. Walter Tillow and his wife Kay, who’d helped Ramón’s family when they came to visit him in prison, sent these much-appreciated items.
Among the many other things I´ve brought on this trip was last Sunday´s NY TIMES, for Gerardo Hernandez. When they were in US prisons, they received the NYT every day after that full page add many of us contributed to in the campaign to secure their freedom.
He´s also going to receive a copy of the just released biography of Thomas Sankara, the leader of the revolutionary forces in Burkina Faso by Ernest Harsch. You can order it from Amazon here:
It´s always good to order such items from your local independent bookstore, or places like Eso Won in Los Angeles, our last remaining Black owned and Black oriented bookstore. You´ll pay a little more at Eso Won, but you´ll also be supporting a valuable institution, and not the behemoth corporation. http://www.esowonbookstore.com/
This is an incredibly beautiful day here in Cuba´s capital city. After doing my morning exercises (about that another time), I went over to the agro market at 19th and B to get some cooked food to keep in my room (in the refrigerator). Been keeping yogurt, mango juice and bottled water until today.
Now I´ve got some delicious smoked pork (lomo ahumado in Spanish). 19th and B is considered the best local agro market, a mixture of state and private dealers. I bought it from one man, and another neatly sliced it into individual cutlets, a service for which I pay separately (2 CUC). It´s from the same butcher I always use here, a very tall black man named Kiki whose dreadlocks go all the way down to his waist, and who is always helpful.
On to the Internet place (20 machines, 18 working, no waiting line at all. So nice, peaceful and quiet it´s a joy to work here. The price of Internet service has declined FIFTY PERCENT from last year (down from $2.00 to $1.00 CUC per hour, so I can take my time and work at my leisure. Rushed work is sloppy work, often containing annoying errors (mine).
Met a couple of interesting men who were visiting with the owner of my casa particular. One directs a program for universities who are having study abroad programs here. The other is an art professor at the New School in New York City. Hope they´ll join the CubaNews list and share their impressions about Cuba during their time here.
Had lunch yesterday at a new (to me) paladar on 25th and G streets, EL PRESIDENTE. A small place with but half a dozen tables, and a large bar adjacent to the tables. Good service, good food, reasonable prices (for those who can afford them ($28 CUC for two people). Most interesting was that my friend and I were the ONLY foreigners in the place. All the rest were locals.
This is a graphic example of the process of social differentiation which has been steadily taking place over the past couple of decades. Without interviewing any of the people at the other tables, I can say with confidence that such people are successful casa particular and other small business owners, or people who receive remittances from abroad, or both.
Also this week I made a run out to my favorite CD and DVD bootlegger, Roly, whose kiosk is just north of 23rd and 12th. The laws of the market helped this customer. Last year he was charging 1.50 CUC per disc. Now the price is down to 1.00 CUC each. I´m not sure when I´ll get around to watching these, probably not while here, but for a mere 9.00 CUC I´m now the owner of these movies:
ATOMIC BLONDE with Charlese Theron
THE FOUNDER with Micheal Keaton
LOOKING FOR FIDEL by Oliver Stone
COMANDANTE by Oliver Stone
INCONCEIVABLE ith Gina Gerson, Faye Dunaway and Nicholas Cage
ROUGHT NIGHT with Scarlett Johansson
LION staring Dev Padel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman
WONDER WOMAN with Gal Gadot
VESTIDO DE NOVIA by Marilyn Solaya
SOLO EN BERLIN with Emma Thompson, Brendon Gleeson and Daniel Bruhl
Who knows when, or if, I´ll ever get to see them, but at this price, they will always be available should I find the time.
Today is International Men’s Day. It’s been observed in various ways here for several years. Nothing was announced for today, but yesterday there was a premiere of a new documentary film about fatherhood. I misread the announcement in yesterday’s paper, and so missed the showing which was at one of the main theaters here in Havana, the Yara. With luck perhaps I can post a translation of some of the Cuban media reports. Here are links to the Spanish:
Soy papá… de cualquier manera próximamente en los cines