Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

November 15, 2017

Cuba, número dos

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 11:22 am

 

 

Mildew gnawed at the houses. Wires overhead drooped, entangled each other, some dangling like amputated jungle vines. Tree roots heaved up fractured chunks of sidewalk. Residual puddles from yet another hurricane-driven ocean surge festered with algae in front yards, basements and flooded garages. The street had more potholes than a California freeway.

 

As I said, the flavor of dark and dingy.

 

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Russians, of course, had been here. They of the Block-of-Cement school of architecture. But this was Vedado – reputed to be the snazziest neighborhood in Havana. It had been a dense forest left untouched as a barrier to pirates until the late 1800’s. Then, over the first five decades of the 1900’s, Vedado had spawned houses for the wealthy and casino-brothels for U.S.- based gangsters. This house was no decaying Russian box. It was a decaying home of some long-gone wealthy Cuban, its Art Deco exterior slowly evolving into a laboratory culture plate.

 

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The Russian contribution to all this was their withdrawal from Cuba in 1991 leaving fewer resources for Public Works.

 

We’ll see if the people are as beaten down as their infrastructure.

 

Tita, beside her husband, welcomed us at the threshold with a broad smile and flashing Castillian eyes.

 

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Inside: tile floors, high ceilings, thick walls. What the well-to-do in Latin America demanded to combat the heat. Everything, though old, was clean. Furnishings were sparse.

 

Our room: two beds with sparkling clean sheets, a tiled bathroom, and the best feature – a modern air conditioner.

 

“Do you manage this house for the government?” the Invisible Observer asked Tita.

 

Her black eyes flashed. “This is my house. You are my guests. Breakfast will be ready en seguida,” she smiled.

 

Her son, Alberto, in white shoes, sox, pants, shirt and cap, headed to the kitchen.

 

He takes his role as chef seriously. Sartorially.

 

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Our travelling partners, Dr. Robot and Flyboy, joined us for fruit, pastries and coffee. They caught us up on their previous twelve hours on the Socialist Island. Tita had directed them to a restaurant a couple of blocks away which they described as “great.”

 

Turns out that, seven years prior, a policy change in Cuba allowed small to medium sized self-employment enterprises like Tita’s “casa particular,” Taxi Man’s business, and paladares such as where our friends had enjoyed a dinner “as good as any in the States.” There are several hundred such categories including hairdresser and auto mechanic.

 

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Abel, Tita’s husband, smiled as we ate, then settled into a stuffed chair to watch TV. Official news flickered, focusing on stories with very different slants from those seen in the U.S.

 

Still puzzled by Taxi Man’s dissent, I.O. asked Tita about her parents and the Revolution.

 

“I come from Camaguey,” she straightened a little with pride. “Where we speak the best lexicon in Cuba. I was born in the 1960’s – after Fidel’s conquest – but both my parents supported the Revolution. And so do I. Did you have enough to eat?”

 

Our tour guide knocked at the door. “Your car for the day,” she flourished her arm toward a pristine blue and white De Soto. If any of us were disappointed that it wasn’t a convertible, we kept it to ourselves. Perhaps we were too busy breathing. The air was so thick, that inhaling felt more like sucking. It was only nine A M but our shirts were soaked with sweat and our skin as sticky as chewed bubble gum.

 

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De Soto Man had retro-fitted air conditioning into his 1950’s engine compartment. Ah-h-h. Forget convertibles.

 

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We would learn in the coming days that several things we’d seen were not as they appeared. Many of the 1940’s and 50’s era cars no longer drank gasoline. People were subverting the T V propaganda dished out by official channels, and Alberto’s white clothing (which we would see on many others) had nothing to do with the kitchen or his role as breakfast chef.

 

But on this muggy De Soto-ed morning, we set off to discover historic Havana, music and the 200 year-old ghosts that haunt Cuba to this day. Even older ghosts awaited us in Cuba’s mountains.

 

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