Opening Statement



Saturday, 6 August 2011

Santiago de Cuba: Faded Glory, Lost in Time!



Ahh -the anticipation of travel! This weekend I finish packing. My flight leaves Monday, and with a little luck I'll be in Santiago de Cuba by lunch for this summer's Cuban Schools Project trip. Professor Jose Luis and I plan to meet later on in the day to catch up on old times. He can update me on the situation at the Cuban schools. We will make the rounds for a week.Then I hop a jet back to Toronto. It's a short three to four hour ride each way. I can hardly wait!

The whole world seems to slow down under the hot tropical sun beating down on Santiago de Cuba. From the Sierra Madre mountain tops towering over the city you can see Jamaica on a clear day. Santiago was one of the first Spanish settlements and sea ports in the Americas. Over the last five hundred years or so it has evolved into a mad backwash of history, a city time seemingly forgot. The Spanish, French, American and Soviets have come and gone, the cities mix of architectural styles reflecting the decaying and faded glory of it's colonial past. It is also considered the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution where Fidel Castro and the Heroes of the Revolution waged guerrilla war against all odds and won. Far to the south of Habana, Cuba's political capital, Cuba's second largest city is a curious world of it's own most tourists to Cuba never see.

There are a few resorts doting the coast a distance from the city, which itself has few of the modern amenities we might expect, usually making it a day trip at best to view it's historical buildings. That would include the Cathedral outside Cespedes Parque, the architypical Spanish church and central park or "plaza" to be found at the heart of every great Spanish city. There's the Casagrande Hotel from Graham Greene's "Our Man In Habana", as comically mysterious and insane as ever. The crumbling five hundred year old Castillo and Spanish battlements, all but empty now, still guard the harbour entrance to the sea.

At the site of San Juan Hill the ghosts of Teddy Roosevelt and Antonio Maceo still duke it out over the victory claim for the decisive battle in the War of Spanish Independence, amongst the aging cannon placements and overgrown trenches. The bustling Casa De Trova is where generations of musicians preserve and pass on the  traditional "son montano" musica as it evolves over the centuries, strumming their tres guitars during the busy matinees. The timeless and constant beat of AfroCuban drums in the city doorways and streets bang an irresistible hypnotic beat rising and falling with the sun and the heat, and every so often erupting into a mad dance of conga lines snaking up and down the hilly streets.

Thick lush tropic vegetation, huge sprawling ferns and towering palms surround and interweave some of the oldest stone European buildings in the Americas. There are still cigar factories where they are rolled by hand. Cafe counters on the street corners serve endless cups of steaming hot expresso. Late 1950's classic American cars from before the revolution still drive the city streets. The dilapidated though still busy downtown shopping street is without any brand name stores or restaurants. Whatever overpriced goods slip through the US embargo sell for local and convertible pesos though there's a good music store. The local ceramics and abstract paintings are quite cheap, very artistic and well made.

 
Huge rooftop tiled barrios of rickety home built atop home upon home spread out endlessly down the foothills of the city.Smoking old industrial factories and rundown warehouses can be seen along the harbour front in which ancient rusted tramp steamers lazily sleep at anchor under the intense tropical sun and heat against a majestic mountain backdrop.

Santiago de Cuba has many very reasonably priced bed and breakfasts and small family run "palladar" restaurants, or on occasion I have just stayed in the teacher room at the Toronto Friendship Community School  atop the Guardiola's home, who have become like family to me. Other times I have stayed in an air conditioned room at Josefa y Louis's huge grandly tiled downtown casa where I have always been likewise welcomed. Then there's the towering Santiago Melia hotel, one of the few newer buildings in the city, in this case an oddly placed post modern construct, and perhaps monument to Santiago's late, in fact not way too late twentieth century period. Last visit it had a truly 5 star buffet and accommodations. Since it is only a short walk or cheap taxi ride from the city centre, it is near to all my teacher friends, the school and places I wish to visit. In my graying middle age, I've booked a room there for this short one week trip, unlike in years past.

If any of you are familiar with my CSP postings on the ENO/REO website in the 1990's you will be familiar with my many adventures "going local", so to speak, when I never would've even considered this, but times change, and the Melia also has a wonderful outdoor swimming pool. I look forward to some sun and water sport during my off times, maybe also to just lie there and read a good book under the palm trees, as this is both a work and vacation trip. The Internet service should also be a big plus if it's working, the dial-up service elsewhere is tenuous at best. With a little luck I will also arrange a day trip with a group from the school to go out snorkeling on one of the beaches further down along the coast. All work and no play can makes for sad boys and girls when September once again rolls around!

Well, I should get back to packing and so on for my trip. Busy, busy, busy. I know I said I don't work summers, but I think this is different. Despite the tasks I wish to accomplish, and it would be great to also teach class a bit, this work, if we can call it that, is very pleasurable. I can't quite consider it work as such. It's more so service perhaps. I believe that as a Catholic teacher we do have a duty to provide service to others. It's especially important here in Santiago de Cuba.

On my next posting I will explain more about my Cuban Schools Project, and what we do. Please stay tuned.

 

No comments:

Post a comment

Communist Girls ARE More Fun!

Communist Girls ARE More Fun!
See below ...

Communist Girls Are More Fun #1

Communist Girls Are More Fun #1

Communist Grrrls are More Fun #2

Communist Grrrls are More Fun #2

Communist Grrrls Are More Fun #3

Communist Grrrls Are More Fun #3

Communist Girls Are More Fun #4

Communist Girls Are More Fun #4

Art at the Paris Louvre: What does it mean?!?

Art at the Paris Louvre: What does it mean?!?
A careful analytical study!

Help! I Have No Arms!

Help! I Have No Arms!
Please scratch my back.

I can't find my underwear!.

I can't find my underwear!.
Have you seen them!

Weee! I can fly!

Weee! I can fly!
Look! I can crawl thru walls!

I have a headache!

I have a headache!
And a broken nose.

I have a square hole in my bum!

I have a square hole in my bum!

Here try this, it's very good!

Here try this, it's very good!
No. You have a bird face.

I have an ugly baby!

I have an ugly baby!
No I'm not!

Let's save all our money + buy pants!

Let's save all our money + buy pants!
OK but I need a new hand too!

Oh no! I got something in my eye!

Oh no! I got something in my eye!

You don't look well.

You don't look well.
No. My head hurts +I have a sore chest.

Would you like a bun?

Would you like a bun?

Chichen-Itza: Lost Maya City of Ruins!

Chichen-Itza: Lost Maya City of Ruins!
The Temple of Kukulkan!

Gotta love it!

Gotta love it!
Truly amazing!

Under Reconstruction!

Under Reconstruction!

Temples + Snakes!

Temples + Snakes!

The Snake!

The Snake!
It runs the length of the ball field!