Sunday, May 1, 2016

Cuba Dispatch # 3: A Walk through Old Havana

by Pa Rock
El Turista Viejo

 Monday,  25 April 2016:

Our morning began back at the Hotel Nacional with a talk by the CBS bureau chief here in Havana.   Portia Spieglebaum is originally from Brooklyn, New York, but she married a Cuban diplomat who is now deceased and has lived in Havana since the 1960’s.     Portia has two grown sons whom she raised in Cuba. .  She described Cuba from a socio-economic perspective, noting the major changes that have occurred since the revolution. 

Portia depicted young Cubans as not being as tied to the country as their parents were.  She also gave an interesting perspective on Fidel Castro, noting that in the eyes of many Cubans Castro made Cuba and helped to define and promote it before the world.  Without him it would be just another poor Caribbean island, but now, after the successful revolution, people around the world have knowledge of Cuba and understand who its leaders are.

She also talked about her work and the experience of covering visits to Cuba by each of the last three popes as well as the Obama family's recent trip to the island.

(Peter Kornbluth told me later that Portia Spieglebaum grew up in Brooklyn, but that for a time her parents owned a farm in New Jersey where they raised chickens.  He apparently had told her that there was a chicken farmer traveling with The Nation group.)

Lunch was at a crazy place in Old Havana called La Bodeguita del Medio.  It is reputedly where Ernest Hemingway learned to love the mojito – a very popular Cuban rum drink.  Mojitos were part of our planned luncheon - and mine was delicioso!  After lunch we walked many of the cobblestone streets of Old Havana.  One of the more interesting places which we visited was a design and print shop that Michelle Obama and her daughters (and her mother) had visited on their recent tour of the oldest part of Havana.  Michelle had left a handwritten note complimenting the business, and one of the designers had turned the note and her photograph into a poster.  We watched people making their art at the shop – it was a most interesting stop on our tour of the original city.

I quickly got lost from the group (perhaps due to the mojito!) and had to stumble around on my own for over an hour until I re-encountered my travel companions.  One of the highlights of my individual tour happened when three street musicians began following me playing a Cuban ballad.  I wasn’t sure they were really tailing me, so I crossed the street – and so did they!  I finally gave them a U.S. dollar, and they departed happy – in search of some other damned yanqui turista to shake down!

This evening we attended another lecture at the Hotel Nacional, this one presented by a Cuban urban planner who discussed the history of architecture in the city of Havana.    This evening was one of the few in which we did not have a planned meal, so I went into the park area behind the hotel and had a ham and cheese sandwich.  Afterward I went in search of the peacocks.  I found one hen begging for food among the many international tourists, and then the male screamed his location to me.  He was older than mine, with a beautiful full plumage.  The poor hen would be a fool not to fan her tail feathers at him!

Then, to my surprise, I saw four guineas darting around the park.  It could have been a television show:  Rock’s Roost Goes to Havana!  I half expected to see Rosie and Riley come romping through the palm trees.

Tomorrow we will be leaving Havana and traveling to guest lodgings in some private homes in a place called Vinales – three hours outside of Havana.  It will be interesting to explore some of the countryside and see more rustic parts of Cuba.

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