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The Cuban psyche is shaped, some might say warped, by four fundamental factors:
1. We’re on a slab of land you can drive across in 15 hours. Water hems us in. As on every island, there’s an intrinsic self-reliance tempered by that nagging question: what’s beyond all that blue, blue sea?
2. Revolution, capital R. Almost 50 years of it. Dignity, self-esteem, solidarity with the downtrodden, and kick ass culture are part of the post-1959 Cuban DNA at this point.
3. Blockade, capital B (for Bully, Bollocks, Botched, Bogus, Besieged).
Some days, like yesterday, I do think it’s twisted, this Cuban psyche. What with all the melodrama. Then there are other days when it’s refreshing (the psyche, not the drama-rama), revelatory, and yes, downright revolutionary goddamn it.
When the small island that’s hard to get off doesn’t drive you stir crazy with the eternal question: what’s beyond all the water?, it unifies. Its simple state of island-ness, combining the tenacity of the underdog with the confounding irony of needing to be, but never becoming, self-sufficient puts us all in the same boat so to speak.
From Malta to Manhattan, name an island and you’ve got a co-dependent.
Even so, exactly how can an island, any island, become self-sufficient when it’s totally blockaded (ironically, that other fundamentally unifying element)? It’s sick and expensive the lengths the USA goes to screw Cuba. I won’t go into it here; you’ve got Google. But I’m quite sure history will judge – sooner rather than later – the US embargo policy as just that: sick, expensive, and cruel. Not to mention failed.
But back to right now.
The Revolution. It’s more grayed than frayed, as some might have you believe. Still, the former can be just as dangerous. Maybe more so. Frayed can be mended; gray just withers and dies.
Then there’s Fidel.
He was so influential for so long. His mere presence inspired, as anyone who has met him will attest. He was game changer personified. I don’t think he’s much different in reclusion: whatever his state of health, he still stirs hearts, minds, (and ire), influences events, and provokes thought (and fights).
How did I get off on Fidel? See how it’s always about him? Certainly the foreign press seems to think so, if their Enquirer-esque pursuit of anyone with the Castro last name is any measure.
But I was talking about the Revolution after all and what the Revolution is, essentially, is a compact between him and the Cuban people to create a more dignified life for as many as possible. And honestly, I think when it all shakes out, Cuba has done that as well, if not better, than any other country in the world. (Don’t agree? Live here for seven years, then we’ll talk.)
Not to say mistakes weren’t made and shit didn’t happen. Mistakes are still made and the excrement still hits the cooling element: making ends meet is a nightmare for some, a pipe dream for others. And those that have ‘resolved’ their ends to meet are probably making serious sacrifices and compromises to do so. They may even have to break a few laws or bend a rule or three hundred to get the job done. But from Calle Ocho to Callejón de Hamel, when you need a job done, call a Cuban.
Then there’s Havana’s decrepit splendor or splendid decay, depending how you look at it. No matter how you look at it, though, it’s here. High above clothes drying on the line a turret crumbles, the toilet overflows at the breathtaking Gran Teatro, and another dozen families are evacuated from a seaside building threatening collapse.
But it’s improving. Slowly, very slowly, but surely, Havana’s being reinforced and restored. I can imagine a day when every grand palace and collonade is all spruced up capitalistic-Home Depot style with luxurious landscaping and hot interior design.
When that day comes, no doubt Havana will look swell. But the traffic, not to mention the nostalgia, will be hell.
6 responses to “A Cuban Snapshot (or Three)…”
Loving the blog! Can’t wait to read more. -Tessa
Thanks Tessa. It’s fun so far and a brilliant way to procrastinate! Look for Monday’s post: How to Pass the Time during a Blackout (8 hour electricity cuts due to start next week and possibly run the rest of the year!).
Perhaps, for all its cruelty and wrong-headedness, the embargo actually has a thin silver lining; it galvanized the people. Commrades in hardship, the Cubans have certainly paid a steep price for American hubris, but ingenuity, solidarity, and a thicker hide seem to be a fortunate by-product (and unforeseen by its myopic American architects).
Now about the toilet paper…
well said companero!
And Im happy to report that Here in Havana, at least, the toilet paper crisis has subsided (if the woman double fisting 4 packs at the giant supermarket is any indication!)
This comment came in via my website (www.connergorry.com) and Senor Ruben was nice of enough to allow me to reproduce it here:
Your blog ‘Here is Havana’ is amazing! I cannot wait for your book to come out. What stuck out the most to me in one your entries was this:
“But I was talking about the Revolution after all and what the Revolution is, essentially, is a compact between him and the Cuban people to create a more dignified life for as many as possible. And honestly, I think when it all shakes out, Cuba has done that as well, if not better, than any other country in the world. (Don’t agree?
Live here for seven years, then we’ll talk.)”
It’s amazing that after all you guys are going through, the Cuban people still seem very supportive of the revolution. Is the medical care really adequate? The educational system free and
excellent? I just have to ask as I am surrounded in a sea of disinformation about Cuba here in the States. Your blog though provided a very candid and balanced account of life in Cuba. Very
I have to ask though. What brought you to Cuba? Overall, would you say the move was worth it?
muchas gracias for yoour support Ruben! People are pestering me to write a book and the more “travelogues” and memoirs/essays/vignettes I read about Cuba, I’m becoming more convinced that I should, even it it will mean some serious belt tightening for me and my beloved peludo (spanish for longhair hippie type). there’s so much pap out there! and while I sometimes devolve into the pap-o-sphere myself, I like to think mine is a little more informed at least.
but to your comments;
medical care is beyond adequate – it is good overall and very, very good when compared to poor developing countries of similar size and circumstance. and while delivery can be uneven and some health installations are in better condition than others and are better staffed than others (and better here can mean: number/type of specialists for health picture of catchment area; experienced; concientious – all cuban doctors are well trained, Im not referring to the baseline medical education but other factors contributing to ‘better’) no one has ever left cuba because they didnt like the health care! in fact, cuban americans coming back to USE THE FREE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM is a problem and is the reason, I suspect, that Cuba now requires all visitors and residents to produce prrof of health insurance upon entry to the country or buy it for something like $3/day.
on the education system: absolutely free even including law and medical school. Excellent? not by a long shot – at least as far as primary education goes. I dont have kids and have only taken one class in cuba so am not an authority on education, but I know this is one of the huge challenges in today’s cuba for a whole host of complex reasons that I don’t fully understand. Low pay and scarce resources definitely enter into it as does the EMBARGO which is like a broken record, but that rings clear as a bell when youve been seeing its effects up close and personaly like I have for eight years now and counting….
over all was the move worth it? As we say in New York: fuck yeah! for something a bit more thoughftul, see my last comment to a reader in this thread