Opening Statement



Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Habana Diary: Club Rio [1997]

Habana 1997



Stepping out into the warm Habana night. A blast of hot air. The hellish heat. The pleading horns. A pounding, frantic salsa beat. The beat of life. Of Cuba and the night. Pouring out the beaten black doors of Club Rio. echoing down the dark quiet streets, off the dilapidated sun baked apartment ruins.

We slip the doorman a crumpled dirty ten dollar bill. American dollars. No pesos here. Not anymore. A giant hulking black man in his tired tux. He swings open the door.

Eee-yah! Eee-yah! Hands clapping to the beat. Mati tosses back a wisp of golden hair. A raging beauty. A Cubana Marilyn Monroe. Or is it Madonna tonight? Crazy spandex pop dreams. Bare midriff. Mesh top. Dun beat.

Flicks her lipstick stained cigarette to the floor, crushes it with stiletto heel. Grabs my hand. Flashes a girlish smile. Everything lost, all the impossible problems y cares to the swirling salsa beat.

A hopeless puff of air conditioned relief. Lost among the sweaty clammy bodies. Thick smoke. Wild flashing lights. Tugging my hand, we collapse on a worn couch. the cheap vinyl sticking to our skin. In a dark corner. Among the lovers. Fingers entwined. Bodies pressed tight together. Wet stolen kisses. Crazy laughter.

We survey the room. The grimy dated sixties decor. A peeling mural. Typically Cuban; of chicas with big butts. swinging round and round with chicos in tight bulging pants. Eyes wander along the cracked winding bar. More bodies pressed tightly together. Heaving. Swaying. Reaching for a drink.

The bar man pours rum shots. Passes out long necked cervezas gulped back in the heat of the moment. Resting in puddles of water. Ashtrays heaped high. The locals wear their best. Yesterday's hip fashions. Lost in the backwash of Cuba. Of time. The amiga's giggle. Whisper. Throw back their hair. The chicos lean back precariously on their wooden stools. One arm propped up on the bar.


It's a Cuban carnival of life! An old man wanders in looking for a light. Tobacco powder falling out the end of his dried out cigarette. "El Popular". Cigarillo negril. As good as it gets. He sways to the beat. Bumps hips with a girl. Everyone laughs. Somebody passes him a shot. He knocks it back. Licks his lips. Wanders back off into Cuba and the night.

Two police stroll in. Hike up their gun belts. Tip back their caps. Coolly checking out the crowd. Belly up to the bar, they soon are distracted with a drink. The music's cranked up. Trance like. Matching. Surpassing the blasting, pounding, mind numbing beat. Disco. Rap. Latino. Overdrive. Nothing makes any sense. Why should it?

Along the dance floor the jinetera sit. Legs spread. Tits all but spilling out of their skin tight minis. College boys on vacation in loud over sized Hawaiian shirts lean over, cop a feel. Choose a chica for the night. Laughter. Winks. Ven aca, mi amor? Que tal?

The chicas tug their latest hombre out onto the heavy swaying dance floor. Let the guys take them for a spin. The floor's packed tighter and tighter. Impossibly so. With a heavy sigh the music and bodies pump up the salsa beat. More frantic now as the clock above the bar hits three and we move into the homestretch.

The chicas jump up from their couches. Chairs. Mati too. Pelvis' gyrating from somewhere deep inside the pit of their tummy. Gut. Tinny horns blast among the bass beat roar. Mini's sliding up slender legs. Tight asses. Svelte hips. Hands on tummy. Tongues breathlessly between the lips. Bodies sway back and forth. Round and round. To and fro. It's a Cuban ritual: the beat of life. Of Habana, Club Rio and the salsa night.

And then: more disco. Rap. Tired oldies back home. But here? It's new? It's wild! It's international! Forbidden fruit from the world beyond. An impossible dance dream melting into romantic ballads. Lush overtly sentimental strings. Chicas swoon as the chicos hit back the last of their drinks.

Mati grabs my hand. Pulls me out onto the dance floor. Our moist drenched bodies, sweat upon sweat. The swell of her breasts. Hot breathe. Her cheek to mine, I close my eyes. Everything but everything just disappears. The music takes over. We sway in a crazy, timeless embrace.

The lights flicker on. Rubbing our eyes, we spill back out onto the still, silent streets before dawn. Laughing. Strolling hand in hand along the Malecon. The sea wall. The sheer madness of it all. The joy of life. Con mi mujar en Habana y la noche.


Saturday, 27 December 2014

Kulture Kult's Koolest Top 10 Khristmas Albums!

Tip: Best time to buy Christmas albums cheap is after Christmas! See below:

Ho ho ho! Fa la la la la, la la la! It's time for the Kulture Kult Ink Kristmas Musik Guide! Don't be a grouch no matter how exasperating Christmas might be. Here's a Christmas Top 10 list of recommended tune-age to help survive if you're up against the wall and about to scream. There's no lumps of coal, except as noted. So say "No!" to bad Christmas music! Grab some grog, put yer feet up by the cyber heath. Enjoy!



#1] Santa's Got Mojo: A Electro-Fi Christmas Blues Celebration. 

This indie CD tops my list because everybody will like it and it will never offend by being boring or bland. Think of it as a great blues rent party. Mel Brown + His Homewreckers' fiery blues guitars smoke the way through the new classic, "Don't Plan No Party This Christmas" [Hear]. Also the old chestnut roasting over an open fire standard"Winter Wonderland" Jack DeKeyzer's delta steel blues take on "The 12 Days of Christmas" gets real low down [Hear]. The chords will make you shiver. By the "8th day" of Christmas, you n' Jack'll both be feeling like a "Hoochie Coochie Man" [or lady]. Your guests will be gladly hollering for a Christmas pipe, or reaching for a hot Toddie to fortify the old constitution, and blow those old blues away, doggone it! 

Local Electro-Fi Canuckster Andrew Gallaway's roster of award winning Juno blues makers are stellar on tracks by stalwarts Fathead, Morgan David, and Snooker Pryor taking over the blues horns, harmonicas and guitars for a track or two. All this and more! Bottom line? Lots of stale old Christmas hard nuts get a good cracking in what is just one hands down kool album, Christmas style or not. It's just so lively and well done, well heck, folks won't be able to stop tapping their toes whether they like the blues or not. Go for it! Please note: probably easiest and best to buy directly from Andrew on his website @ Electro-Fi

Fallback/ More of the Same? "Santa's Got Mojo 2" on Electro-fi! For a taster try Fathead @ Santa's Drunk!



#2] Jacob Miller + Ray 1: Natty Christmas [1978 Rewind Version] [Hear]

This was a tough call! Recent reissue of these root reggae rockers' rub a dub 1978 Christmas album is easily Santa's Mojo's reggae equal. The pumping bass, chucka chucka reggae guitars, and Irie root's rap will prove an infectious music hit with most everybody whether they listen to reggae or not. All the Kristmas Klassic tunes are instantly recognizable too. Santa's Mojo however lands on top at #1 on my list. Natty Christmas might not exactly be to all ahem, non musical tastes. However, most listeners will probably have no clue whatsoever what Jacob + Ray are singing about in their trez kool island patois anyway. Take your pick.

Natty is "Christmas time in the ghetto"! And "Natty Dread's No A Santa Claus", that's for sure [Hear]. Both Santa and he like a Christmas pipe, or two or three but long hair and beards notwithstanding, truer words were never spoken! One track rolls into another for a good time Natty Santa reggae fest of smokin' Christmas stokers including "All I Want For Christmas [is My Collie Herb]" [Hear]. Jacob Miller + Ray I will "Deck the Halls" [Hear] with, well go figure it out yourself ..... And worry not! Justice prevails! The police arrive to establish law, good order and the American way before the "12 Days of Christmas" are over! It's quite hilarious. All in very good fun. 



Trad version!

Two versions of Natty Christmas are available. You will probably find them on line  if you search hard enough. One has Jacob Miller's face roughly added to a trad print of Jolly Ole St. Nick smoking his pipe. The other has Natty Santa in a ratty, old over sized costume holding open his bag of, ummmmm, gifts! Yeah that's it!!!! 

The first is from an orignal rather rough, noisy vinyl copy. The second "1978 Rewind" version is a remaster/ remix with new rap overdubs included on some tracks by Red Rat and Turbulence. They are quite amusing too, despite or perhaps because of the gangsta act and are sure to impress anybody under ohhhhhhh ....... 30 or......... 40 or ........ 

Hmmmm! I'm not sure if this CD comes with a government warning but let's throw one in just in case! Attention: This disc should only be bought in Canada by Khristmas Karolers who have a bonafide prescription for Mr. Harper's Grinch Brand "Medical Marijuana" O' Cannabinoid's!!! So go put that in your vapour pipe and smoke it, Justin T! Maybe next Christmas eh!?

#3] Ulta Lounge Christmas Cocktails



Shake it up baby! Mambo! Twist! Shout! Big band/ small combo square rock and roll cocktail lounge klassic subtitle says it all: "Hi Fi Holiday Cheer from Santa's Bar". Think 1950's/ 60's prosperity boom! Smart setters! Hi fidelity tastes! Getting plastered at Christmas! Third spot Kulture Kult spot on our koolest khristmas album list is awarded for straight foward Christmas drink appeal while being snappy enough to entertain everybody without becoming a drunken snooze fest.  Mix and stir with a strong dash of "So bad it's good" weirdness and voila! A real Khristmas Kult Klassic!

Compilation features plenty of kissy poo "Christmas Kisses"[Ray Anthony], swarmy " Winter Wonderlands" [Peggy Lee] and cascading Christmas Hollywood Strings [Jingle Bells]. plethora of top big band music singers, instrumentalists and studio producers abound Christmas slumming it in orchestras and small combos [Dean Martin / Kay Starr]. Can't forget to mention the wurlitzer dude either [Santa's Coming/ White Christmas]!



Rabbits + Bunnies: Hugh Hefner at home in the Khristmas Lounge! 1950?!?

For a post cool take focus on the real men and playboy bunnies lounge headspace and the fascination with normalcy [check "Ring Those Christmas Bells" n/a] throw in a few "race singers" [Lou Rawls / Nat King Cole]. Some "latin sounds" [Rudolph Mambo]. Do I hear a rumble?! Ironically the whole worlds about to explode under foot with a social upheaval/ overhaul few originally sipping back their ultra lounge White Christmas Cocktails would'vrealized. There's still plenty here to raise an eyebrow or two if you are really listening. However, here's betting most partiers will be oblivious! It all just sounds like too much fun! You know better. Enjoy!

Fallback/ Supplementary: I've had Ultra-lounge Christmas Volumes 1-3 on pretty heavy rotation for many a Christmas now. The first disc is a clear cut winner though there's plenty more where that came from if you are so inclined. Vinyl reissues are also available! That is very authentic! What else? Cocktail dresses, thin black ties, and of course a cocktail/ mocktail shaker!

#4] Bing Crosby "Voice of Christmas: Complete Decca Christmas Songbook"



Der Bingle: Betcha he just met Natty! Ha!

Number 4 is a heaping serving of 100% "White[bread] Christmas" with all the homespun fixings! Big gift pack of the Bingle's best in this hefty 2 cd set is all you will probably ever want or need for the Kulture Kult Khristmas music bar. Less bellicose than Frankie [Sinatra] or Sammy [Davis Jr.]. Straighter than straight compared to old Deano [Martin]! Main "dolls", the Andrew Sisters [Jingle Bells] are featured throughout! Bing's sentimentality is so thick and oddly convincing [Christmas in Killarney] that he could've sold it by the gram bag. Swoon as old Bing croons [White Christmas 1942 + 1945], still in his Christmas toque, scarf and gloves or if indoors, around ye olde Christmas tree with his smoking jacket and pipe. 40's movie style orchestration might garner a few smirks, but it's hard not to get all teary eyed in a good way and boy can he sing!


Tip: Find the record version! You need it!

Throughout his long career der Bingle recorded countless Christmas albums and remakes. All his primo Decca recordings from the 1940's and 50's are here in one place. Lots of boomers will have grown up hearing Bing on the family record console every year for decades. Back in the day, these trax would've been released on 45 singles and short but sweet 20 minute record albums which were more powerful and moving without the danger of Christmas cake overdose we get here. If you see a decent used vinyl copy, or the new reissue, snap it up! Otherwise, sprinkle these tracks liberally in your Kulture Kult Khristmas mix [God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen]. Stir up the cockles of the frozen 21st Century heart for just a bit again over the Christmas season! And score a big one for Bing's beyond the ultra lounge authenticity + pureness of heart! 

#5] Elvis Presley's "Elvis' Christmas Album" [1957] [Hear]



Possibly death was a good career move for the so called "King of Rock and Roll". Even his title should've belonged to Chuck Berry or Carl Perkins, in my books. But our #5 Khristmas album finds Elvis in fine form firing on all his 1950's rocking blues and gospel cylinders in a very powerful vocal tour de force. On bended knee ye King of the entertainers gets down before manger and child. With a sneer makes all the bobby soxxers cream their jean belting out the triumphant Santa Bring My baby Back + Santa Claus is Back in Town.  His million dollar fifties white boy who can sing like a "negro" vocal histrionics get one damn fine work over on White Christmas and the perhaps more apt "Blue Christmas" [N/A] steals the show. Big secret here is that the second side of the disc was actually a remarkable Elvis goes gospel stand alone collection of rock o' the ages trax like Little Town of Bethlehem + It's No Secret. At it's worst "Elvis Christmas" 1957 is a "so bad it's good" klassic. At it's best it's a thoroughly good Elvis album from back in the rock and roll hay-day. Take your pick! Either way: Enjoy!

Buyer Beware: Elvis recorded any number of schlock Christmas albums afterwards for many, many years! Accept no substitutes for this Christmas 57 album! Cover features the Kings faced wrapped up like a Christmas present. Inside the gate fold sleeve were bonus cheesecake photos of our 50's teen dream striking oddly homo-erotic facial expressions for the girls. Go figure. A time piece, not to be missed!

#6] Phil Spector: "A Christmas Gift for You!"



Phil Spector's roster of girlie R+B singers are all here along with his trade mark "wall of sound" guitars, horns, drums, and chorus etc. etc. etc. This sparkly snow tinged trip back to early 60's teenage angst has weathered the decades incredibly well! "I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus" [Ronettes] is a sexually charged Christmas vocal orgy that's yet to be topped! Rudolph's Nose is sure getting pretty red [Crystals]. Still, make no mistake "Christmas [Darling Come Hone Soon]" [Darlene Love] is the dangling chestnut that originally scored big as the hit single from this superb, and ever so powerful and smooth Khristmas klassic #6 album. And each teenage opera of the heart despite the blatant innuendo still sounds so darn innocent too! Today you can bet everybody would be singing something outright vulgar and obscene instead. Be sure to add this album to your Khristmas mix!

Versions: The original vinyl album and later CD both feature the very early 60's "Christmas" fan cover. Later 70's + vinyl copies used the Phil dress up cover instead. The latter are the kool collector album should you wish to go vinyl. Spector makes a very scrawny, sorry assed teen Santa idol on the cover indeed, his seemingly reassuring platitudes on the album outro "Silent Night" notwithstanding! Claims to fame? Psssst Phil! It was never you -it was the amazing singers!

#7] Ventures "Christmas With The Ventures" [Hear]



It's 1965 and these all American boys still don't even know the times they are a changin', baby! Textbook Ventures read on a Christmas album lands at #7 on the kool list with a straight up Rock Guitar 101 set. No excess surf feedback. No musical soul whatsoever, rubber or blue. As a sop for the times the note perfect guitar strains of the Beatles "I Feel Fine" wind in to then only promptly segue right back out again [Rudolph]. Bottom line is the Venture's bedrock, very proficient, tried and true versions of all the old Christmas standards like [Santa Claus is Coming] [Sleigh Ride] + [Jingle Bells]. This Christmas is sure to anchor any top Christmas music orgy firmly in the rock and trad departments, no apologies given or sought. Here's to simpler times!

#8] Blue Hawaiians "Christmas on Big Island"



Mix the Ventures with a Hawaiian lounge surf band high on Valium. You get the playfully languid "Christmas on Big Island" album tripping in at #8 on the top 10 Koolest! Hawaiian, pedal steel and surf roots mix, tantalize, bewilder, then morph to do it over and over again. Pleasant Christmas aural wall paper with a hint of you are being played by this crack ace studio band who definately know their stuff, have paid their dues, could do this in their sleep. Regretfully, all audio and video links for the "Big Island" seem currently blocked on Youtube.  [Tut! Tut lads! Very bad for promo/ sales!] Will see if I can add later. A comparison of the Blue Hawaiians take on "White Christmas" and "Blue Christmas" tells all. "Mele Kalikimaka" gets the ultra lounge treatment supreme. "We Four Kings", a surf drum makeover. Lots more!

#9] Johnny Cash "Christmas With Johnny Cash" 



The Man in Black meets Hank Williams at Christmas time. The gravelly prophetic voice of Johnny's hangover regrets contains enough folk wisdom from the bottom of the bottle to continue to add a quirky everyman's take to the old Christmas standards and then some [I'll Be Home For Christmas] + [Christmas As I Knew It].

Versions: Like Elvis, Cash recorded an endless list of Christmas albums over the years. The later Johnny Cash Christmas recordings have fuller voice and arrangements and can get mawkish and overdone. Better this stripped down, early Cash sound like on his final Def American Recordings. For your convenience, I've posted the correct cover art above.

#10] Karajans Mozart Requim [KV 636]



Christmas morning, after the presents and hoopla are over, I like to grab my Christmas coffee for a quiet spiritual Christmas moment. This is the album I play! After that, the Christmas tunes come off heavy rotation [except for the odd party or two or three or .....] and it's back to our regular scheduled musical programming for another year. Thank God! I hope you like this addition at #10 as much as I do. Hope the Kulture Kult Khristmas Top 10 Klassics help get you through Christmas this year too. 

Playlist Notes:

Best bet, in my books, is to rip all your Christmas CD's to Itunes and make a playlist of the best trax. Add to it each year. Numerous collections of everything else, kool and not, will nicely round out your collection. The list above should get you off to a good start!

Add your own favourites below!!!!!

COMMENTS:

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas In Cuba 1996! [Complete]




Chapter 1

December 24 1996: 

I remember Christmas in Cuba. Early in the evening Matilde and I are in our room at Josef y Luisas’ casa, in little Bohemia, not far from the cathedral in the city centro, Santiago de Cuba. A bare light bulb dangles overhead the simple little white washed room, bathing a handmade stool, our rumpled bed in its penetrating glare. I stoop by the stool, wrapped in gay red and green Christmas paper, tacking up a cardboard Christmas tree to the cracked wall. Placing her gifts beneath. The none too secret lumpen shapes of make up, a Walkman, a pair of Reebok shoes.


Mati prances about the room, Wheee! My mujar Cubana, such childlike joy! In her bare feet, cutoffs, a halter top, dancing to a Madonna Christmas song crackling from our ghetto blaster. No. Not the Virgin Mary -the other one. Leaping off the bed, to the kitchen to fetch my gift. Gingerly putting it under the tree, the heavy sweet smell of fresh roasted coffee beans fills the air.

Giggling, hand daintily over her lips, she tosses back her thick black mane of hair with careless abandon, a twinkle in her big baby blue Spanish eyes. Eyeing the gift, I reach for my crumpled pack of cigarillo negrils atop the rickety dresser top. Lighting a cigarette, taking a hard acrid drag, the hazy blue smoke curls through my fingers, spreading out across the room. Plopping herself  on the bed beside me, Mati’s tickling fingers reach under my shirt. Collapsing on our backs I playfully run my hands through her hair, down her slender neck. Breathlessly she whispers, “No! No! Not now. Let’s open the gifts!” 



"Ummmm. I wonder. What is it......?” I wink. She tenderly brushes her lips to mine, directing my gaze with a tiny pout to the little package underneath the tree. I whisper in her ear; “Matilde, aunque soy pobre todo esto que te doy vale mas que el dinero porque si es amor/ [Although you’re poor, all this you give to me is worth more than money because it is truly love].”

“Si. Is Okay?” Damn. We may not be saints on Christmas eve. Not very religious either. But tonight is very spiritual all the same. In our hidden room, tucked away from the suspicious eyes of the policia; amor prohibido. Forbidden love. Los dos, the two of us, from different countries. Different worlds. In a land where relationships between a Cubana and an extranjaro/ foreigner are barely tolerated. In Cuba, where Christmas was banned as even a secular holiday until recently. Still isn’t officially a religious holiday, “Creemos en la amor.”

“Yes,” Absently Matilde reaches for my cigarette, with outstretched hand, a sudden little tremor, as she reflects upon my words, “We believe in love.”

“Davido! Matilde!” Josef raps on our door, “Dinner. Es ready!”

Laughing Matilde sits us. Straightens out her top. “Come. We can open our presents later!”



Chapter 2

Matilde and I sit, her hand in mine at the dining room table with Josef and his family. Its Christmas dinner. Christmas eve. Josef looks pale, thin, drawn. A bad year health wise, he’s had problems with his heart. The operation sounds pretty crude. There’s little medicine available. But there will be no more talk of that tonight -his family and friends are joining him for a feast!

His wife, Luisa scurries to and fro. The women help her in the kitchen. The men smoke cigarettes, pour shots of rum, catching up on the latest news. A quite traditional Cuban family. Nowadays, a very luxurious Cuban meal; fried chicken, rice y beans, sweet potatoes, a tray of sliced tomato and onion. Endless cups of thick black expresso laddened with heaping teaspoons of coarse raw sugar. 


Everyone is quite pleased. Josef y Luisa have done well renting out the rooms in their home to the foreigners for dollars this year. Indeed, reasonably priced and they treat us like family, making what for many would be a small fortune here. Together we toast their success. [1]

I look about the dining room; the tall arched ceilings, tiled wainscoting, marbled floors. Once this was a fine Spanish home, befitting an aristocrat. Before the revolution, the family also owned a prosperous plantation in the countryside; growing fruit, raising chicken, y cattle. After the communistas took over, only the house was left. 

Now 38 years later, it is worse for wear and tear. A ragtag collection of old lawn chairs, a simple cupboard, a shaky table collected below a grand old glass chandelier, sad reminders of yesteryear. But Josef is happy for the good companionship, the family ties. They couldn’t take that away! He tips his glass to us with a smile.


After dinner I pull out a pack of Marlboro's. American cigarettes! The men are quite pleased. Matilde too, for different reasons, with the foreign touch. Since she’s my girlfriend she won’t have to join the women in the kitchen, washing dishes, cleaning up, mopping the floors. She leans back happily in her chair, smoking a cigarette too, enjoying her new found freedom. Eagerly listening as we talk business. 

So and so’s 1959 Thunderbird needs new tires, even some old retreads would do. After he drives it into the ground? Nada. The hombres pour him another shot of rum. Laugh. Save up! Maybe in another year you can buy a bicycle. There’s some Chinese ones down at the dollar store. 

Hey a crosstown ride to work on the back of a flatbed only costs a peso! How much are you earning now as a teacher? Two hundred pesos a month? [2] Naw. A bicycles the way to go! Your wife can ride on the back, your daughter on the crossbar, then you can drop them off on the way to work too. You’ll save a lot that way! 


At a loss for words, I silently take a long hard drag on my smoke. Look about at the men. Mati leans forward, boldly crushing out her cigarette in the ashtray. Hmmm. She’s decided to join in the conversation too! “Maybe Davido’s going to take a cut in pay! Schools are being closed. Teachers might even lose their jobs in his country!” [3]

Ho boy! Here we go. How can I explain my situation to them? As terrible as it is for us back home? I gently kick her under the table. Me Querida, my dear, dear one..... 

“Que?!? What???” She stammers, quite perplexed. 

“Well. I think I’ll be able to hold onto my job but ahhh, I’ll keep in mind what you guys said about the car. Retreads. Or a bike. Ummmmm.....” 



“Closed? Si?”, Josef's cousin raises his brow, looks at Mati, at me. “Fidel [Castro] promised they won’t close a single school in our country! No matter what happens next.” [4]

The men all awkwardly nod in agreement to one another. Knock back their drinks.

“Hmmmm. That's very good, Raphael. Its different where I live.”

“Aha! My capitalista friend!” Leaning across the table, he pours a shot of rum into my glass, with a wink of the eye. “This is one of the advantages of our communista system.” 

“Amigo! Gracias! Pero/ but I don't drink. Somebody. Please. Have it for me.” 


“Bah!” Mati slams her fist on the table, reaching for the shot, just like one of the guys. Oh if it were only so easy for a Cubana! She tries. She really does. Maybe sometimes just a little too hard I think, “Eets all bullsheet!” 

“Pssst...Darling, that’s “it’s”. In English the “I” has an “E” sound. Don’t you mean to say....er...er...” 

Alas. I wag my head in despair. How complicated it gets when two worlds collide!

“Si!” She leaps up, one hand jauntily posed on her hip, the other waving in the air. “In his country still they have mucho! And they share!” 

“Pssst! Pssst! Matilde!” I roll my eyes, but there’s no stopping her now. 


“But here? For over a year he has been trying to send boxes to our country. Food. Clothes. Medicine. School Supplies. People have nothing. But the government Cubano? Ha! They want to take it all! Or charge 100% taxes!” 

Oh oh! Politics. The hombres nervously shuffle their feet. Staring at Mati. Towards the other women in the kitchen. So many taboos, all of them broken!

One wags his finger at her, “Mati! How can you say that? Your family! They fought in the revolucion! No? Josef too! And Raphael? He is a director for the provincia! It is not true!” 

“Listen. Guys.....” I tug at Matilde's arm, hoping she’ll sit down. Say the wrong thing, to the wrong people, in Cuba this could be very serious indeed. Always, she reminds me of that, but tonight? 

“No. No. Please.” Raphael winks at me. He does not want any trouble. Looking around reassuringly at the other guys, he waves for silence. “We are all family and friends here. We can talk. Yes. It is an emergency situation in our country, with the economy, the US embargo. But things are changing. Slowly perhaps....” 


He pauses in careful deliberation. Shrugs. Perhaps lost for words, he awkwardly flashes me a hopeful little smile “Well....one can go to church now! For Christmas eve!”

Si. Si. Si. The hombres wipe the sweat from their brow. Pass around the rum bottle. Hurriedly knocking back another shot in awkward silence. I notice Josef looking at Mati, then at me. Nervously he scratches his chest. With a smile, a shake of the head, he pats his hand on the table and laughs. “Yes. It is Christmas eve. We are friends. We are family. We are Cuban. Let’s all be happy. Please.” 


“Si Josef. So. Darling. Do you want to go to church tonight? It is very beautiful on Christmas eve.” 

“It is okay.” Raphael nods, “The children are getting dressed to go. You better hurry.” 

Mati stares at me in silence. Wary now but determined, rolling it over in her head. Usually she knows what to do best. But tonight? Christmas in Cuba?  It certainly is different, for both of us. She’s not too sure what to do, “All right. But we go by the backstreet. It’s best to be careful.”

Si...........”

Chapter 3

"Dos patria tengo yo: Cuba y la noche/ 
Two fatherlands have I: Cuba and the night." 
*Jose Marti*[1]


Matilde and I step outside the house into the pitch black night. Cuba y la noche. Its just before midnight. The long narrow street is silent, for most Cubans tomorrow is just another workday. We stand under the dull street lamp waiting for Miguel. Mati is resplendent in her flowery cotton dress, and white pumps. Her hair pulled back into a bushy pony tail. The usual assortment of bangles; a ring for every finger, the bracelets. I chuckle. Very Cubana -except for the rosary around her neck. “Mati, that’s to hold and pray."

“No. No. I saw Madonna's video.”

Hmmmm. I’m wrong. It’s very Cubana too. I lean over, kissing her on the cheek, “Si Querida, you look very beautiful but.....

“Ahhh. Here you are!”, Miguel greets us from the doorway. “My mother and father say to be careful. Nowadays many desperate banditos prowl the streets at night!" 

Behind him, Josef y Luisa nod and wave good-bye, securely bolting the tall wooden door with a heavy steel bar. Miguel lights a cigarette, cupping the match in his hand. Steps out onto the street in his freshly pressed pair of black slacks, a clean white shirt. Twenty five years old, a computer technician at the telephone exchange, he is doing well for a young man his age in Cuba these days. I am somewhat surprised he is coming with us. The religious were not allowed into the parti until very recently. [2] Perhaps it is still not wise for him to be seen at the church? “Miguel! I thought you were a Communista?”


“Si.” He smiles. Thoughtfully he takes a drag on his smoke, tossing the burnt match in the gutter, “We all are."

“Except for Josef.”, Matilde notes. She taps at her watch, to remind us its almost midnight.

“Yes. Well. I have less trouble this way...”

“But, maybe tonight will create a problem for you?”

“No se/ I don’t know. I will make sure the children are okay. Come. They are already at the cathedral. We’re going to be late.”


Silently we walk down Calle San Basilio. Each of us alone with our thoughts. I peer at the darkened lane ways. Mindful not to say much, draw any attention. Mati quietly takes my hand. Together we navigate the cobblestones, careful not to trip on the forgotten old weathered streetcar tracks, now long fallen into disuse. Passing the rows of crumbling Spanish houses, the stars above peaking out between the ornate stone roof gilding. Past the huge wooden doorways. The shuttered windows. The rusted wrought iron grates. The high doorway portals. The cracked masonry and weathered walls. A sleeping city in ruins.

Quietly we enter the city square. Cespedes Park. I sigh. Wipe the sweat from my brow. The heat of the night. Thirty degrees C. Very typical Santiago de Cuba. A mad mix of the holy, the profane? I nervously chuckle to myself. [3] [4]

Happy party sounds spill out from the corner terrace of the Casagrande Hotel. From down a side street beside the church a mad salsa beat pours out from a courtyard discotheque. Before us looms the municipal government building blanketed in the dark. 



Look! Police lean against its flat forbidding front. Watching the park where more wait, in silence, huddled, resting on the park benches under the palm trees and ferns. Eyeing the churchgoers streaming into the cathedral. The peel of church bells ring from the twin ornate steeple towers. 

It’s midnight! I gaze up at the lone crosses atop the copper coloured, cone shaped cathedral tower roofs. [5] In between, a stone angel, weathered, horn in hand, looks out to the park. Heralding the days of future past? Or a new beginning? Pointing at the sky above, I gasp in surprise, “Look Mati, a shooting star!"

“No. No.” She winks at me. “A spy satellite. The Americanos must be watching too.”

Hmmmm. But there’s no time to figure it out now. We join the crowd heading towards the cathedral. Under a homemade fresco of the nativity prominently displayed above the arched doorways along the pillared entrance way. Inside we go.The service is about to begin.........


Chapter 4 

*Y el Verbo se hizo carner, y habito con nosotros/ 
And the Word became flesh and lived among us.....*
                                                                                           (Juan 1:14)

December 25 1996

From the back of the packed church we watch, standing inside the huge gaping doors, gazing into the cavernous old stone Spanish cathedral. The ecclesiastical procession makes its way through the crowd. The padre, the altar boys in their flowing robes. Nothing fancy. Tattered. Worn with simple pride. Between the folds, a glimpse of jeans, clean white shirts, worn sneakers. A simple wooden cross held high.


Slowly they proceed to the altar past a giant tinfoil star, edged with a trim of bright flashing Christmas lights. In the centre a chipped statue of the baby Jesus, his arms outstretched, a very heartfelt if not garish supplication. It's Christmas in Cuba!

On an old battered organ, a chico leads the choir. The Hallelujah chorus. The rhythmic beat of clava sticks. Maracas. The sweet pungent scent of incense fills the air.

The padre places his missal upon the lectern. The altar boys fan out beside him, heads bowed in prayer. Carefully he adjusts his glasses. Smiles. Raises his arms: “La gracia de nuestro Senor Jesucristo...../The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."


The congregation murmurs its response, “Y con tu espiritu/ And with your spirit."

We make our way to a small side vestibule near the front of the church. Mati sits on the broken pew. Miguel and I lean against the cool stone wall, watching the crowd joined together in prayer. Heads held high. A simple wonder -a natural charm. Pressed tight around us, a bedraggled mix of the young, the old. Black. White. Most dressed in their finest, first world hand me downs, their Christmas best.

Beside us, a young mulatto couple hold hands. His baggy clothes hang loose on his thin, emancipated frame. She’s decked out in her finest spandex, gay lipstick, high heels, hair carefully pulled back into a bushy bob. Very Cubana -petite, there’s been very little to eat. It has not been a good year. Shoulders held high, a simple pride. Tonight is very special -as best it gets. Curiously they look over at Mati, at me, and smile.


Before us, three campesinos from the countryside, sit in homespun white shirt y pants. Their straw hats and stick walking canes held tight in gnarled callused hands. Hand rolled cigarettes tucked behind the ear. Unshaven. What to do when there’s no razor blades anymore? On the floor lie their burlap bags. Fruita. Maize. A live chicken peers out, squawks. Their offering, to be left afterwards up by the altar. Giving what little they have -who could expect anything more? They watch in humble silence.

Miguel nods to his cousins. The girls wave. Sitting daintily with the other little muchachas across the church from us, gathered behind the choir. Eager to arrive early, they found a good spot. Observe the service in wide eyed wonder. In simple, lace, homemade party dresses, pretty ribbons in their long braided hair.



I look about at the Santiago community, gathered together, in simple faith, in prayer. Thinking of Christmas back home in Canada, from a world far removed, with few of the familiar trappings; the bright lights, fancy decorations, the rich bounty; plenty of gifts and food to eat. Our heads also bow in thanks at midnight service. But here there is hope of so much more. The locals crane their necks, watching the padre. I close my eyes in prayer, surrounded by the beauty of the Cuban mass, the innocence, the romance of the Spanish language. In light of the poverty does it all not say so much more?

“Dios todopoderoso tenga misericordia de nosostros..../ May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to life everlasting.”

"Amen."



Matilde beckons me over to a little side altar, “Ahhh, Mati it's the Virgin Mary!”

“Que?!? No! She’s la Senora de la Caridad del Cobre.”

As we kneel, I gazed perplexed at the Cuban statue, the crown, the blue veil, the flowing white gown. The baby Jesus in her arms; the cross, the halo. A darker face, but we are in the Caribbean; “Querida, it’s Mary!”


“La Virgin de la Caridad!” She rolls her eyes, looks at me quite shocked, “Don’t you know?”

“Okay. Okay.” I lean forward, to pick up the little prayer card she’s dropped, as she closes her eyes in prayer, “Is this Lazarus?


“Aiye! Davido, it is Eleggua!”, sadly she wags her head, raising her brow. 

“No. I'm sure it's Lazarus!”

“Eleggua!”

“Matilde, this is Lazarus, from the Bible.”

“You must be loco! It is Eleggua. E-l-e-g-g-u-a! The guardian of all pathways, the keeper of the gate!”


Ho boy! Of course! Like many Cubans, sometimes both black and white, Mati practices the Yoruban faith. Dating back to the days of the Spanish conquistadors. The slaves being converted by the cross and the sword secretly worshipped their Afrocuban deities; the Orishas, under the guise of the Catholica saints. A spirit for everything, each with a Biblical name. Lazarus? Or Eleggua. Mary? Or La Virgin de Caridad. Both became uniquely Cuban saints.

Tonight is the last night of the ancient bembe fiestas. Outside in the alley beside the church from a courtyard not far away, I hear the mad frenzied beat of the drums. Tolerated -there but not, echoing among the back alleys and rooftops -lost but not lost, an Afrocuban spirit drifting across the years. The drums, as always, beating out an ageless tattoo.



I watch Mati, recalling how in colonial times the rich Spanish women would’ve dressed up  in their finest Catalonian dresses, the men in tails. Flocked to the church. Afterwards mingling briefly outside with their African servants and slaves. Acting Christian. Being nice, but for a brief moment on Christmas eve. Mass at the cathedral: a bourgeois decadence. The Vatican's authoritative stamp of approval for a class system based upon wealth and race, no longer tolerated after the revolution. Now Mati prays in silence, in her favourite cotton dress, openly, proudly, her first visit ever to a cathedral on Christmas eve. Nothing more need be said -in her own way she too knows oppression. In Cuba -a tie that binds. Behind us the congregation chants the Kyrie Eleison;

“Senor, ten piedad -Lord have mercy.

Cristo ten piedad  -Christ have mercy.

Senor ten piedad -Cristo ten piedad.”

Quietly, I repeat the words to myself. Wondering, whom among us are really sinners? And whom are saints?


Back at the pew. I stand beside Mati, holding her hand. She crooks her finger, whispers in my ear;

“The padre says it is the Evangelio de Segun San Juan. Umm, numbero 1:1-18.”

We listen, intently with the congregation, as he reads the Gospel;

“En la principio existia el Verbo.... / In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God......


The sermon is in Spanish. I can’t follow much of it. My thoughts drift to the message of John; “And the Word became flesh and lived amongst us.....”  

In the person of Jesus, God becomes one with us -a Christian platitude? I think I’ve heard it all before. I’m not very religious these days. Rather cynical I guess. In Canada, we often say these words at church. Maybe we even teach them at school. Easy enough -but what does it mean anymore? Content to praise God, pay lip service, we go on with our everyday lives. Business as usual, everybody screwing each other around. At least that's the way it often seems. Queens Park Toronto? Now there’s a place that really cares, is filled with the spirit. Ha! And in Cuba? Does the little baby on the silver star by the altar really matter, even here? Who believes in miracles anymore?


 A hushed, excited murmur! I gaze toward the church doors. A line of policemen hands on their hips are standing against the back wall! Watching intently! In Cuba, only the parti organizes and speaks at any large gathering. Billy clubs now in hand, they nervously exchange glances. Suspiciously staring at the padre, the congregation. King Herod's foot soldiers? I nudge Matilde. She casts me a knowing glance, “Si!” anxiously she fingers the rosary around her neck, “Mucho problemas. You’ll see.”


A straw collection plate passes by, from hand to hand. The Cubans humbly toss in their crumpled pesos, their meagre centavos. A few dollars too. I look about. Yes, there’s other extranjeros/ foreigners from the resorts outside of town. Must’ve come in on their own. I didn’t see any tour buses outside. Doubt the cathedral is where the party is at. Christmas? The resorts will lay out quite the spread. But what's happening in town tonight? 

The policemen argue at the back of the church. Echoes of confusion. My mind's awash. Que pasa? Que? Nada?!? Nothing??? We are not expected here tonight.

The padre stands at the altar. The choir gently sings “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” in Spanish. Adjusting his gown, he looks up to the congregation for the Eucharist Prayer, “El Senor este con ustedes/ The Lord be with you.”

The congregation grow silent. Without prayer books, many of them don’t know what to say. They listen carefully to the old-timers who still remember the Order of the Mass, trying to join in the response. I know this part pretty well. Roll it over in my mind. Distracted. Whispering in English, "....and with your spirit.”



“Levantemos el corazon/ Lift up your hearts.”

“Lo tenemos.../We have lifted them up to the Lord.” 

Somewhere, from far in the back, the tiny cry of a baby echoes through the church. The padre, hands raised in supplication, pauses for a moment. Smiles. Hushed silence. Que pasa/ What's happening? 

The little Cuban girls cover their mouths. Giggle. The women exchange glances. Smile too. They know! It's a very profoundly simple, heartfelt truth.

“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”

“Es justo y necesario/ It is right and just.”

I can hear the rustle of the policemen shuffling their feet.


It is the mystery of faith with a Spanish twist. The padre looks up from preparing the chalice. He clears his throat, “Este es el misterio de nuestra fe.”

A murmur sweeps through the Cuban parishioners, “Anunciamos tu muerte, proclamamos tu resurrecion. Ven, Senor Jesus.”

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. I repeat the words to myself, touched by the beauty, the hope, of their Spanish translation.

“It is the Padre Nuestro,” Matilde whispers, “ How do you say it? The Our Father?”



“Padre nuestro, que estas en la cielo/Our father who art in heaven,” The chicos bend their heads in prayer. I feel her gently reaching for my hand.

“...santificado sea tu Nombre/hallowed be thy name...” My thoughts drift back to my first visit here; a school trip, an empty church, in 1992.....

“...venga a nosostros tu reino/thy kingdom come...” I remember all the many efforts to reach out, to help the Cuban Schools, for the past 5 years.......

“...hagase tu voluntad/thy will be done...” Often a futile task, lost in the everyday shuffle of life. No easy answers, in Canada or here, no matter what we do.......



“...en la tierra como en la cielo/on earth as it is in heaven...” Mati catches my eye and smiles. Hmmmm. Can she read my mind? Yes, of course, we met on the project!

“...danos hoy nuestro pan de cada dia/ give us this day our daily bread...”

It’s all relative, I suppose. Mati, her family, her friends -they have so little, there’s so little they can do.....

“...perdona nuestras ofensas/ and forgive us our trespasses...” Then again, half the time I’m lost. I look at her standing beside me, at the police by the door. Being together, especially here, she is in so much danger. A Cubana, with an foreigner; amor prohibido -they won't like that. I wish I knew what to do. I can get back on my plane and fly home, but her?

“...como tambien nosotros perdonamos a los que nos ofenden/ as we forgive those who trespass against us...” 


A siren blast! Whistles.The police are blocking the church door! I can see more of them coming in. A nervous murmur ripples through the church. Good God its hard not to feel hate!

“...no nos dejers caer en la tentacion/and lead us not into temptation...”

“No no!” Mati gasps, “Don’t worry! There are foreigners here. They won’t do anything -yet!”

Ho boy! God help us! Show us a way! “...y libranos del mal/but deliver us from evil.”

“For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever......”



The padre explains its time to offer each other the sign of peace,

“La paz del Senor este siempre contigo.” Matilde blushes. An old woman reaches out, they embrace. A simple human touch -of peace, good will. No matter how bad it gets, Mati’s got it. She looks about, beaming. Good God -that’s why I love her so. Her hearts always in the right place.......

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed” The communion procession makes its way up the main aisle. “Pssst! Davido! I got the rosary! Can I go?”

Is she serious? I look at Mati. Oh my God! Yes -dulce Angelita! Sweet angel! “Sure, if it was up to me......”


As the service draws to a close, the padre walks to the communion railing to address his flock. “Mati! Que pasa? What’s happening?”

Mati translates, breathing excitedly into my ear, “He says he knows everybody is worried because we cannot afford enough food to eat this Christmas, let alone a tree. He says we have something here though, that we cannot buy for pesos, for dollars. We have Christmas. This is mucho mas, more -Jesus Cristo is born....................He is inviting everybody to sing happy birthday to the baby Jesus!”

At first, it begins slowly. The congregation awkwardly shuffle their feet, peering nervously at the police by the church doors. One by one, they join in song, growing more confident, catching the spirit. In the simple voices, a newborn hope, for most of them a first -the spirit of Christmas in Santiago de Cuba. The padre reaches out. Together, everybody joins hands. Amigos. Amigas, Chicos. Chica. Muchachos. Muchachas. United in hope, in love, and in song.



 As the song finally comes to an end, as the last voice trails off, a few awkwardly begin to clap. Soon, everybody is clapping. They clap. They cheer. They stomp their feet. Louder and louder and louder, a thunderous roar, rolling off the floor, echoing from the churches arched ceilings, stone alcoves and vestibules. It echoes out the huge open window shutters, the wooden doors, to the street, to the park.

The police tap each other on the shoulder, spread out along the back church doors. Legs squared, tapping their billy clubs on their open palms! In Cuba, this is unheard of! Solidaridad? Comunidad? Strength? In a land where there is only one way.

The padre raises his hands, trying to silence the crowd, at first to no avail. Nods. Among the confusion, some of the locals lead the children rapidly out the church side door. Soon it's closed off too, the police now standing guard. Miguel, Matilde y I are tightly pressed up against the inside wall of the church, amongst the crush of the crowd. Clapping. Cheering. Still stomping their feet, “Miguel! Your nieces?”

“Si, I saw them go!”



“Por Favour! Por favour! Please!” The padre waves his hands in the air. Steps back up to the altar, catching everybody’s attention; “Pueden ...../Go in the peace of Christ.”

“Demos gracias a Dio..../ with the grace of God.”

As the choir sings “Noche Silencia”, he slowly begins the procession to the door. Row by row the congregation begin to follow. The policia step back onto the street, spreading out through Cespedes Parque. Paddy wagons at the ready. 

The tourists hurriedly head outside, trying to wave down the taxicabs. They pull up to the curb. The padre surrounded by the faithful, peer outside. “Quick! Rapido!” Matilde grabs my hand, “They won’t do anything right now. It is time to go!”

And so we head back out, into Cuba y la noche, the Santiago night.............



Chapter 3

*La luz luce en las tinieblas, y las tinieblas no la sofocaron./
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.*


                                                                                      (Juan 1:5)

We slip out the church, skirting the park, keeping close to the brightly lit cathedral. Past the tourists trying to cram into the taxis. They scratch their heads. Looking about for a fast ride back to the resorts. Across the street in Cespedes Parque, the police stop the parishioners. Demanding  their i.d. Eyeing them suspiciously. Asking many questions.

Hurriedly, we make our way to the corner; the Casagrande Hotel. The maitre’d stands on the steps out front, blocking our way, “No no! Not tonight! We are closing early. Go home. Please!”

He nervously shuffles his feet, stares at the park from the open terrace. Behind him the waiters put up the chairs. Turn off the Christmas tree lights. Anxiously, Miguel gazes at the paddy wagons parked along our route back home, “Come. It is not safe. I know where we can go.”


We duck down a quiet, pitch black, side street. Follow an alleyway. The clack of our footsteps echo along the cobblestones, off the cracked courtyard walls. Come back into the lamplight out front the Palacio Provincial, a few blocks away. Huge black y red Communista banners hanging from the pillar arches. We continue at a steady clip down the street through Delores Parque. Pass under the palm trees, past the empty benches, the statues of the revolutionary heroes, without a word, alone in the night.

Miguel points to a lit doorway -an all night local haunt. Finds an empty table y chairs in the courtyard, under a towering palm, where between the ferns, obscured from view, we can watch the street. Matilde y I sit back while he goes to check out what to do. We sigh with relief. Its pleasant, cool for Cuba, not unlike a Canadian summer night.


Minstrels wander among the tables playing trova musica; sad romantic ballads, on their beat up Spanish guitars. Young couples cram about the tables, holding hands. Amigos knock back shots of rum. Pass around cigarettes. There’s laughter in the air. A few tourists sit at the bar. The jinetera saunter over, in their spandex tights, split skirts y heels. Soon are sitting on their laps. Whispering in their ear. They order them a beer. In a darkened corner, a old couple sway, a boozy dance, arms wrapped tight around each other.

Mati and I decide to order drinks. I sip my Tropicola, she her glass of wine, a late night, early morning Christmas drink. “So, Querida. I’m so sorry. We should’ve stayed at Josef's house tonight.”


She looks up at me, surprised, “Que? No. No. We see Jesus. There is hope!”


I pause. Mid drink. Pondering her words. Puzzled by her seeming innocence. “But darling, there is much trouble now.”

“Si? What did the prayer say? Deliver us from evil?”, she nods to herself, ”He will protect us.”

“Well. The Communistas say follow us too. Everything will be okay. Is this not the same thing?”

She smiles, puts down her drink, wagging her finger at me, “You think too much, I feel.”

"Ques/Eh?!?”

“Listen. You have a spirit, no? It is love. It can make the impossible come true. Otherwise? Nada. Nothing.", reaching over, she takes my hand, “Our life, it has no meaning.”

I gaze into Mati’s eyes. Amazed. At a loss for words. Such simple truths: love -a reason to believe? The reason for living? Whew!  Yeah, I guess she’s right. I think too much -often miss the obvious. Mati? She just feels it in her heart. Leaning over she kisses me on the cheek, winks, “Don’t worry, we will find a way.”



“Davido! Matilde!” It’s Miguel, “Come, we best go now. Rapido!”

We walk back home down the dark, narrow, winding streets, cautiously stepping around the pot holes, the worn streetcar tracks. Always watching -are we being followed? We pass the familiar crumbling building fronts. The arches. Pillars. Wrought iron window grates. The impossibly tall narrow wooden doors, bolted for the night. The street lights few and far between. Unreal. They cast their glare as if upon a stage, a theatre of the mind, Cuba and the night. Christmas eve? It's another world, so close to my heart. Otherwise? So very far away.

“Pssst! Buddy boy!” Mati giggles, squeezes my hand. Perhaps sensing my sudden loneliness.  My thoughts of Christmas, back in my homeland, in Canada, where snuggled in their beds everybody will soon awake, to so much more than this. Or will they? I look up at the stars shining brightly above. Feel Mati’s body pressed warmly against me. As we make our way down the street, she whispers in my ear, “ We go to our room, no?”


Miguel points to his house, a few doors away. We laugh and joke, relieved our little adventure is almost over. Or is it? He raps loudly on the door, calling Josef's name. We wait, patiently at first. Its quite late, he must be sound asleep. And the door? Its barred tightly from inside. We gaze up at the locked iron grate on the windows. Mierda! What to do? Miguel shrugs, raises his fist, pounding again and again on the heavy wooden door.

Suddenly a whistle blast. It’s the police! They pull up to the door on their bikes. Mati gulps, nervously begins to play with her hair. It must be her worst nightmare come true. So late at night. Los dos. The two of us. Ho boy!, “Darling, do you have your i.d.?”

“Mio Dios!” she whispers, “No!” God help her, she could get arrested for that alone. There’s nothing we could do, “Lean up against the wall, and please -don’t say anything!”

I move a few feet away, feel the cool stone against my back. Matilde stands at a distance in the shadows, her chest rising and falling, nervously tapping her fingers against the wall. We watch as Miguel turns to the police with a friendly wave, explaining Josef must be asleep. Reaching into his pocket he pulls out his cigarette pack and identification, offering them a smoke.

Down the block, on the steps, a group of hombres sit, passing around a cigarette, a bottle of rum. The pounding beat of Afrocuban drums rumbling out the bright doorway, into the night. They catch the policemen’s eyes. Wave. The police nod, handing back Miguel his i.d. The guys in the neighbourhood, the last night of the bembe fiesta, perhaps the police will just let us all be?

They watch in silence. One of them yawns. Miguel again pounds on the door, hollers for Josef, laughing, exchanging a joke with them in Spanish. Oh please Josef! Wake up! 

I can see Miguel sigh with relief. The wooden door shakes, light spills out, Josef peers through the crack; “Que pasa?”

Looking about, he sees Mati and me, crooks his finger. Quickly we step past the police and inside the door. Josef rolls his eyes, apologetically clapping his hands to his head. Stepping outside to talk to the police, he closes the door behind him.

Safe in our room again Matilde and I wait. Miguel, knocks, wishes us good night. “Don’t worry.” he winks, ”It’s okay.”

Chapter 4: Post Script



December 25 1996

“Querida, do you believe in miracles?” I sit on the bed, untying my shoes. Reach for my journal and a smoke. Matilde gazes at me from the mirror. Brushing her hair. Pulls it up. Back.Ties it into a bun. 

“Si!“, she blows me a kiss, “I have hope, mi amor. Don’t you?” Sitting down on the bed, leaning over, she whispers in my ear, “Feliz Navidad.”

Yes! Merry Christmas one and all! May the spirit of love be with you! As Jesus moves among us, so to is the Word truly made flesh!

The End



Alt Edit

The Second Edition of Christmas in Cuba was posted online this month: 

SERIES: Part 1 @  Here! Part 2 @ Here!  Part 3 @ Here! Part 4 @ Here! Part 5 @ Here! Part 6 @ Here! Part 7 @ Here! Part 8 Here! Part 9 @ Here! Part 10 @ Here! Part 11 @ Here! Part 12 @ Here! Post Script @ Here!

Footnotes

Chapter 2:

[1] Recent reforms allowed private bed and breakfasts to be rented out in the family home.
At the time it cost about $25 a night. An extra $5 bought dinner for everyone at the local market, the family included.

[2] 25 Cuban pesos = $1 US

[3] In Ontario, Canada, the Harris government was implementing education cuts that were being used to pay for a tax cut for the rich.

[4] Universal education from kindergarten through university is available across the island of Cuba. Primary and elementary schools have been built in the mountain, interior and isolated regions. Public secondary boarding schools, colleges and universities are made accessible for everyone in the larger urban centres.

Chapter 3:

[1] Poemas de Jose Marti: Dos Patrias 1:1

[2] Rapprochement between the Cuban government and the Roman Catholic Church occurred 2 years later during January 1998 with Pope John Paul 2's trip to Cuba. He visited Santiago de Cuba. Workers were given time off work to attend the papal events. See @ Report

[3] "Santiago de Cuba: Faded Glory, Lost in Time" @ Blog

[4] A current Google Map and photo panorama with stills is @ Here!

[5] Catedral de Senora de la Asuncion/ Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption

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