Sunday, May 1, 2016

Cuba Dispatch # 6: The Cars of My Youth

by Pa Rock
Former Owner of a '57 Chevy

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The amazing thing about President Obama having his picture taken in front of an image of Che Guevara is that it did not happen much more often.   The image of El Che is everywhere – on buildings, posters, post cards, the back of tourist buses – and I even found one very nice drawing of Che that someone had done on the surface of the street by the Malecon.  There are not nearly as many images of Fidel and Raul Castro in sight.  I bought some old Cuban stamps from a street vendor – and Che was featured on many of those.  He is easily the most iconic image in Cuba, and indeed, one of the most iconic figures of the twentieth century.

Our day began with a talk and discussion led by Marta Nunez, a Cuban – trained sociologist who also has a PhD in economics.  Ms. Nunez spoke primarily of gender issues and the LGBT community in Cuba.  One of the points she made is that there is a fair amount of homophobia among Cubans.  The average family in Cuba has one to two children (1.62 children, to be precise), and machismo is encouraged because if a family manages to have a son they want him to be straight to carry on the family line.

Ms. Nunez pointed out that many of the professionals in Cuba are women, but in the machismo society they have to leave their jobs as doctors and lawyers and engineers in the afternoons and go home to become full-time housekeepers.

Mariela Castro, President Raul Castro’s adult daughter, has become a spokesperson for the gay and lesbian community, a cause that her mother, now deceased, fully supported.  The younger Ms. Castro is the Director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education.  Several years ago she proposed a bill that would allow transgender people to have gender reassignment surgery.   That bill passed the national legislature, and now Cubans may have sex-change operations which are completely paid for by the government.    Our speaker, Ms. Nunez, is a friend of Mariela Castro's and has worked with her on policy.  She said that Ms. Castro, now in her fifties, is a married mother of three adult children.

Another medical procedure which is free in Cuba is abortion.  Abortions have been legal in Cuba since 1962 and have not become the political issue that they are in the United States – primarily because so little of the island’s population identifies with any of the Christian religions – including Catholicism.   Abortions, like sex-change operations, are free.

The government also provides incentives for parenthood.  New mothers can receive up to one year of maternity leave, but the last six months of that leave can be given to the fathers, allowing the mothers to return to work.  Miss Nunez said that most of the men elect to go to work and leave the child care to their wives.

This afternoon I had intended to slip off from the group and revisit Old Havana.  As luck would have it, and as I predicted in yesterday's posting, there is an American movie being filmed in Havana, and the street in front of the Malecon (Cuba's famous seawall) was blocked off -  a fairly necessary route to get to Old Havana - and the rerouted traffic is clogging up the side streets.  The movie is the latest installment of “Fast and Furious.”  I did walk down to the area where it is being filmed, but didn’t run into any stars – at least none that I recognized.  It does look like they are going to use a bunch of Cuba’s classic American cars in the movie.  I haven’t seen any of the “Fast and Furious” movies, but will definitely go see this one.

I checked IMDB - the Internet Movie Database - and discovered that the next movie in the "Fast and Furious" series is tentatively called "Fast 8" and will star Charlize Theron, Scott Eastwood, Vin Diesel, and Kurt Russell - among others.  Ethan Hawke (see yesterday's dispatch) was not listed in the cast so perhaps he is in Cuba just on vacation.  

Regarding the cars, I have heard some people describe Cuba as being "frozen in time," due to the U.S. blockade of the island nation which went into effect more that fifty years ago during the Kennedy administration.  The Cubans have kept - and kept up - thousands and thousands of classic American automobiles which were in use on the island at the time the blockade went into effect.  As parts for the cars were needed, the inventive Cubans found ways to keep their automobiles running..  The streets of Havana and beyond out into the countryside are packed with the cars of my youth.   Many are being used as privately owned taxis - especially the old convertibles.  I would estimate from my own observations that at least forty-percent of the cars on the streets of Havana are American models made in the 1940's and 1950's.  It's almost bumper-to-bumper nostalgia!

It's worth the price of a ticket to Cuba just to enjoy watching the old cars drive by!

Tonight we went the Cafe Madrigal to hear a pair of guitarists who played and sang old Cuban folk songs.  They called themselves “troubadors.”   Wonderful music – a very nice evening - and the cold "Bucanero" beer was so good that I treated myself to a second!

Hasta manana!

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