It’s hard to believe September has arrived, but for those of you who haven’t looked at the calendar, HELLO! Summer will soon be over (sob) and it’s time to welcome fall. That means put away all your swimsuits, sunscreen, beach towels, I could go on and on, but I’m already sad and teary-eyed.
Much like last year, I want to share a little about what I did this summer and hopefully you’ll leave comments and tell us what you did. I was fortunate to go to Havana, Cuba.
First let me write, I could and may (not) pen a book about my trip to Cuba, but I want to give you a taste, hopefully a flavor of what I experienced.
Before I go any further, I must qualify my story, with the fact that this is my story. There’s still a lot of controversy about traveling to Cuba, especially here where I live in Miami, but none of that interests me.
Cuba is a country in transition. Just last month, both our country’s re-opened embassies in Washington DC and Havana after 54-years. The ferry has been approved to start transporting people from Key West to Havana. For me going to Cuba, felt similar to my trip to China in 1993 for the first time. There was a “sinister feeling,” almost like I was breaking some rules. Modern conveniences were difficult to come by, except of course in our hotel where four US Senators were also staying. Outside the hotel, toilet paper is rare, so we had to pay for a sheet at public restrooms and restaurants. We came prepared with Kleenex. On the other side of the island, Europeans and Canadians regularly visit beautiful beaches. I’ve seen pictures of those, but Americans aren’t allowed.
I went to Cuba on a cultural tour with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art to celebrate the 12th Annual Havana Biennial. Over 175 countries from all over the world, including the United States participate, by sending artists and their art to celebrate various mediums – canvas, sculpture, performance art and dance. It was held indoors, outdoors, in exhibition halls, factories, streets, on the Malecon – there was art everywhere you turned, and people enjoying it speaking in dozens of languages. I was able to purchase a small piece of art from a 4th year student in the 5-year program at the International School of Art, which is part of the Prestigious Institute of Superior of Arts. He was working and I tapped him on his shoulder and asked him about a piece that was hanging in a corner. I have his email and look forward to staying in touch with Luis.
Vintage American cars are on the roads. Chevys, Buicks, convertibles and sedans – you see them everywhere. Only the driver knows exactly what kind of engine is under the hood. It might be a VW engine, with Volvo parts and, well I’m not a mechanic, but the bottom line is, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
me in blue shirt and shades
The old architecture and buildings throughout Havana are glorious, spanning every period of design, but sadly in terrible condition and decaying fast. Looking at a building is as if one is staring at an impressionist painting – the pastel pinks, yellows, greens, blues – all so sad. We kept hearing talk of people/countries wanting to come in and restore, but that all depends on the future … the future…?
When in Cuba, the drink of choice is the mojito. I can tell you, it’s an easy drink to enjoy. It’s rum with lots of sugar, lime juice, soda water, ice and mint. La Bodequita Del Medio is supposed to be ranked the 2nd best bar out of 7 in the world. It’s home to both the mojito and daiquiri . It’s where Ernest Hemingway drank many of his mojitos, so of course, we had to indulge. Part of the tradition is to sign your name on the inside wall. The tough part is finding a spot. You know I did.
We visited Hemingway’s house, which is not on the water. He is so often connected with the water, because of his novels, especially the Pulitzer Prize winning The Old Man In The Sea, which he wrote while living in Cuba, but he never lived on the water. He wanted to, but his wife forbid it.
When Hemingway commit suicide in 1961 in Idaho, the Cuban government left the house exactly as it was and turned it into a museum. He had 22 cats and 2 dogs. He met Fidel only once.
When I came into the world, it was the 60s and I remember learning that whole “duck and cover thing” in grade school. Any of you remember? Well, I went into the bunkers and through the tunnels built for the Cuban Missile Crisis stand-off in the early 1960s. That’s when CIA operatives went into Cuba during the “Bay of Pigs” mission to overthrow Castro and the rebels, only it failed escalating the Cold War. President Kennedy and USSR Khrushchev had nuclear bombs pointing at each other and were REALLY close to pushing the buttons, or putting in the code numbers, or whatever – DEFCON – OVER! Remember I wrote earlier that I’m not a car gal, well I’m a history buff, so I was in wow-wow-land!
My tour group took the ferry across the bay to the small working class town of Casa Blanca, one of the city’s oldest settlements in East Havana. The bay’s the soul of Havana. The statue of the Christ of Havana stands over the arriving ferries and welcomes people getting off and there are electric trains we’re told run regularly – difficult to imagine.
I was raised Catholic and it was special for me to attend Mass and receive Communion in Cuba. My tour group was leaving but Mass was just beginning, so I told them to go ahead, that I’d figure out a way to get back. It was a sweet church on Christ Hill in Regla. When it came time to offer the sign of peace, it was beautiful how people seemed to really take time, pause and look into one another’s eyes.
I didn’t see one person texting throughout the whole service. It was an experience that I’ll always remember. It’s interesting to note, Pope Francis will be visiting to Cuba in a few weeks and then coming to the States.
I loved visiting Cuba and meeting the people and look forward to returning. There’s so much more I could share, but this post is long enough for now …. and I didn’t even get to write about my trip to Dana Point – another story, another time. Now I can’t wait to hear your stories about your summer. Please post them in the comments section. xx cindy
… and keep coming back for more book reviews and chances to win the latest novels …