Opening Statement



Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Cuba Story 2: Contramaestra!

Read the Complete Story @ On The Road in Cuba!

March 1996




We drive into the town of Contramaestra, a couple of hours later; another old Spanish town forgotten in time. Head for the city centre near the plaza. Circle about in the car looking for a place to stay. Contramestra is an endless vista of old ruins. A mad mix of Spanish colonial, the occasional American deco structure. We drive past an old rundown Soviet flatbed army truck; closest they'll ever get to public transit in this poor place! 

The locals are just standing around -nowhere to go, nothing to do. Look at the despair in their faces! Some seek refuge in the doorways. Under the stark palm trees. In the little park in the centre of the plaza there's a hula hoop contest! Little school girls with skinny stick legs swirl them around and around their impossibly tiny waists. The innocent brown faces squint under the glare of the hot relentless mid- day sun.

Everyone looks up as we pull up front of an old run down building,  "La Cucharacha Motel" as Matilde half jokes. The faded sign promises air-conditioning! Says they accept payment in pesos! Willy slips into the office, returns a few minutes later to explain the situation, "They only have two rooms with air conditioning."

We wearily cart in our bags through the wall of heat. Unpack. Take a cold shower with a hose and a pail in the shared, stained shower stall at the end of the hall. Close our room window shutters. Shut out the sun's glare. 

The rattly room air conditioner in my room slowly kicks into gear. Lucky there's electricity! And a black and white Soviet era t.v. set! That's as good as it gets! Don't drink the water though! Ugh! What's scurrying about in the sink? There's not much spring left in this bed. Boy does it sag!

"Well, it's beeg!", Mati notes, "Willy + Ramon only have two small beds in the other room. Mas pequito!"

"Well, we can figure out the arrangements later. It's dinner time. Let's eat!"

The menu shows spaghetti is served morning, noon and night. An over boiled mess with a runny red sauce. My entourage decides to head to the countryside to see what they can scrounge up for supper instead. I decide to wait. Sit on the rusty, wrought iron balcony. Drinking a thick black espresso. Smoking a cheap Cuban cigarette, a Cuban quick fix, until they get back. 

"So what did you find?" Ho boy! I grow silent. Mystery meat? I wouldn't feed that to my cat, but can't say that. Not here. They try so hard to please! 

"Listen amigos, I don't think so. No. No. I will be fine! Dinner can wait"

It's a good thing too! Next day they've each got a very bad case of diarrhea. Later on, out of desperation I slip out for a stroll. Aha! A dollar store! Its dark and musty inside. The shelves are bare, but for a case of Coca-Cola. And, in a locked glass counter -a Neilsons "Mr. Big" bar! A prized trophy.

"So uh, how much?",  $1 for the "Mr. Big" bar. 75 cents for a Coke. "Well, all right then, I'll take Mr. Big and um .... a can of Coke." 

The handful of locals grow silent. All eyes upon me. The clerk takes out his key. Slowly sticks it into the lock. A low murmur. "Somebody bought the "Mr. Big" bar! Somebody bought the "Mr. Big" bar!" 

How embarrassing! On the wrapper it says it's made in Toronto at a factory I drive by every day. The Canadians have arrived in Contramaestra!  Perhaps a hint the Americans will be returning too? 

I quietly place two crisp US dollar bills on the counter. The clerk desperately fishes about the old, battered cash register for enough change. I quickly slip back onto the street. Beat a mad retreat to our hotel room with my booty.


Willy greets me, quite excited, "Guess what? There's a concert at the Tropicana tonight. A local band knows some Beatle songs! They came to ask you to go see them play! Can you help them learn the lyrics better in English? We'll bring the camcorder. Tape it!"

"Okay! Okay! Willy, get out the ghetto blaster. Where's your Beatle tape?  Put it on. Let's see what we got. We'll go over the lyrics with them beforehand to practice. Willy, you can translate! Matilde and Ramon too!" 

This definitely appeals to the teacher in me. Plus its looking like another end of the world party, as I unravel the electrical cord. Lean over to the wall to plug it in. Then ...

"BBBBBBBBBBBZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!"


Oh no! The Soviets wired the hotel for 220 volts way back when! We sit, dejectedly staring at the burnt out player. Our last link with the outside world. Ramon later managed to fix it! At home, we'd just toss it out! But here? Once it's gone, quite possibly there's no more ghetto blaster for Beatles tapes. 

"Well, amigos. Amiga.", I sigh, "I think I'll cut my losses. Take a siesta. We can still go to tonight's show! Figure out what to do then. All right . ­Hasta luego! See you later......."

To be continued ......

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