Opening Statement



Saturday, 4 April 2015

Santiago de Cuba Diary: Meet Mike + Jim!

[An Afternoon at the Casagrande Hotel, 1996 ...]

“Jim. Mike. Let me get the next round.” The guys nod eagerly. Sweat trickling down their hot pudgy faces. Loud Hawaiian shirts cockily unbuttoned in the stifling mid day heat. They sit teetering on their chairs. 

I'm slouching back at my favourite table in the shaded elegance of the Casagrande Hotel. Leisurely enjoying a fat Cuban cigar. Rolling it around between my fingers. Listlessly stare off into space. We're seated at the terrace bar. Our empty glasses lined up before us. Quite frankly I wish I'd gone to the market with Mati. Or visited the Toronto Friendship school. Oh well, its not often that I make the Santiago tourist scene.


Cuban minstrels stroll lazily across the shiny, marble, terrace floor. Wander among the ornate wooden tables. Strumming folksy ballads. Hoping for a tip. Unfortunately drowned out by laughter as we boisterous extranjeros excitedly knock back our cheap rum drinks. Slinky Cubanas giggle gingerly at our loud boisterous jokes. I can see the tour buses lined up around the park below. The Casagrande is unusually busy. Hell, it's packed.


Gazing over at the grand old mahogany bar, I search for a waiter. They huddle apprehensively about the cashier. Smoking cigarettes. Dickering with the drinks. Our bills. Thoroughly overwhelmed by the crowds, they throw up their hands in despair. Silently cursing us. Tourism has been very slow to catch on in Santaigo. Quite frankly, I bet they don’t have the slightest idea what to do.


Shaking my head in dismay, I know it’ll be a long wait before they get over to our table. Usually I have the place pretty much to myself.  I'll prefer to sit alone or with a Cuban friend or two. Always at the same seat overlooking the park. The city centro. Even then it takes forever to get a drink. 

I look over studying Mike and Jim. I arrived today to find them already here at my jam packed bar perch with their Cuban amigas. Two typical Santiago mulattas. Tight spandex. Tan skin. They casually light their cigarettes. Check us out. Wink at me. Ho boy. 

Growing annoyed, trying to make the best of the situation, I wave to the waiters. One looks up. Recognizes me. Smiles. Wanders off into the crowd. So much for that.


“So. How long you been here?” 

Mike rolls his eyes with a bored shrug. He smiles. Lights a cigar, “A few days. How about you?” 

Absently, I gaze at Cespedes Park watching the steady parade of tour buses arrive and depart. I'm always amused by the Cuban carnival of life. The all too familiar hustlers. Jinetera. Bored amigos y amigas. Tired shoppers. Teenagers skipping school idly rest on the benches under the sprawling palm trees. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Sizing up the tourists. Peering at the hotel terrace. Watching us watch them. A Cuban theatre of the mind. Trying to catch our eye.

Sluggishly the police leaning against the Cathedral across from the park, seek refuge among the cool, dark shadows. Keeping the peace from behind mirrored shades. An ominous presence, probably lost on most of the visitors here. Too hot to wade into the melee, they chat up the chicas ambling over hoping to join us at the Casagrande hotel.


 “Since Friday.” Mike flicks his match into the ashtray. Stares distractedly at the crowded steps. At all the young chicas. Smiling demurely at us. Hoping to get invited in. “I’m getting married.” 


“Congratulations.” I sit up. Surprised. His amiga covers her mouth with a dainty hand. Wrinkles her eyes. Giggles. “Who’s the lucky girl?”


“Dunno yet.”, Mike winks. Throws his arm over her shoulder. Nuzzling up close, she plants a big wet kiss on his cheek. “Jim and I met these two on our way in.”

He pauses, gallantly puffing on his cigar, tapping the ashes into the huge glass ashtray on our table. “They don’t speak English very well. I don’t speak Spanish either but .... er .... David, meet um .... I think these are Yamile ...... and Maria, or something like that. Jeez these Cuban names!”


Politely I nod to the girls, “I’m not sure I understand.”


“Look. I got a ring.” Pulling it out of his pocket, he shows it to the girls. They look at Mike. At each other. Exchange excited glances. Babbling away in Spanish. 


“I’m still confused.”, I smile weakly.
   

“Well. I’m going to find a nice Cuban girl. Get married. Take her back home to Canada with me!” 


“It’s a lot more complicated than that Mike.” I puff on my cigar. Wondering whom he’s putting on.
   

“Yeah? They sure are friendly. I’ll meet somebody.” He smiles. Slowly purses his lips, lazily blowing a big smoke ring in the air. “I’ll find a way.” 


“How are you going to talk with them?”

Undaunted, Mike pulls out his pocket dictionary. Waves it at me with a grin. I wag my head in dismay, ”But how will you know if you’re right for each other?”


“Listen man! Cubanas are great! I want one!" He pauses as if in mid thought, "I’m sick of Canadian chicks. The damn attitude thing.”

Staring at me intently, determined to make his point, he begins to count off their Cubanas' qualities on his finger tips, "No chip on their shoulder. Traditional. Very feminine. Sexy as hell. That’s all I need to know. Why, just check these two out!“


“You’re damn right, they’re fucking gorgeous!” Jim sits up. Bleary eyed. Dangling his hand over Maria’s shoulder, he casually fondles her tit. With a grin Maria leans over. Runs her fingers down his chest. Blows me a kiss. “And uninhibited .... is that the word?", he shrugs, "Boy do they like to screw!” 


“Ha. Ha.” Mike chuckles,” You gonna marry Maria, Jim?”


“Naw. She’s too old. Anyway I just wanna get laid. Jeez, it's so easy down here. Look at them all!” Sizing up Mike, with a glint in his eye, he looks around the bar, and whistles amused, “I suggest you just do the same good buddy!” 


“No way.” Mike grimly shakes his head. Stares sadly into his empty glass. At the bar. “I’m tired of all that bullshit. This time I’m serious.”


“Yeah?” Jim snickers, ”Cut the crap. I bet the ring is just a scam so ya don’t have to pay.”


I wrinkle my brow. Growing tired of  their nonsense and obscenities. “How old do you think Maria and Yamille are?”


“Hmmm. Early twenties?” Jim sighs in exasperation. He smiles. “I like them young.”


“How young Jim?”


“Well, I met one in front of the high school wearing some kind of uniform!”, he laughs, ” I dunno. The bloody school boys brought her over! Introduced me for a buck!” Resting his arms a top the table, he taps his fingers. Intently staring me in the eye. "I went to pick her up after supper. Fucking mom even came out to meet me. Kissed me on the cheek. Made me promise I’d bring her home by midnight.”


“How was it?” Mike whispers. Looking at Jim. At me. His eyes big as saucers. 


“Hmm. Small titties. Hips. Real skittish.” Scratching his head, he shrugs, "Kinda exciting, maybe, but I gave her $10. Sent her back home early in a cab. Nothing happened.” 


“Good God Jim. If she was underage, that could've been rape!”, I gasp. Placing my cigar in the ashtray, I squirming uneasily in my chair.

"Bet it wouldn't have been the first time!" snickers Mike.


“Ha ha!" Jim rolls his eyes. Grins. “Hey relax! This is Cuba man. It’s okay. Age of consent here is 15, if the parents agree. Everybody seemed like a happy camper to me!”

“You fucking idiot!” Sick to my gut, clenching my fists, I jump up. Angrily push back my chair, "That’s because $10 is a month wages. They desperately need the cash.”

“Hey! Don’t get your ass in a knot with me pal!”, Jim angrily pounds his fat fist on the table, fire in his bloodshot eyes. He stops. Nervously gazes about the suddenly silent bar, perturbed by all the unwanted attention. "Bah, I’m going to get a drink. Whatchya want Mike?”

Sitting back down, arms crossed, I try to catch my breath. Watch coolie as Jim struts off to the bar, indignantly hiking up his jeans. “What’s his name?”

“Dunno, just Jim. We all just go by first names here.” Mike stares at me suspiciously. Nervously draws on his cigarette, "Maybe you better cool it okay?” 

“You’re both nuts.” Getting up to go, I reach for my backpack, angrily pushing back my chair.

“Yeah?”, Mike shouts.” Well, we’re on vacation. Lots of us come down here for that. Maybe get a little drunk and do some crazy things. What’s it to you, eh?”

“Up yours!”

To be continued .....

1 comment:

David Chiarelli said...

My Writer Comments:

I'd originally written this story based upon a journal entry back in 1996. It appeared on the Education Network of Ontario [ENO] "Lounge" website. Like "Rumours of War", it fits in well with the building theme of Cuba y the Night, which is more or less a series of vignettes anyway, so I am adding it here. Otherwise it is a part of an unfinished mini novel "A La Santiago de Cuba" which I still might return to someday.

The US embargo was surely a burden enough for the Cuban people, especially then during the so called "Special Period" of intense economic hardship in Cuba following the collapse of the Soviet Block. Most Canadians I met down there, though still few and far between at the time, increasingly less so, did not come for sex tourism, but there certainly were characters like Mike and Jim. This happened. I think it shows how vulnerable the embargo made the average person, or family, and for what political gain? Also, regretfully, that there can also be the "Ugly Canadian", not just "Americans" too.

Since 1996, the island has rebound quite considerably. Hopefully with the "normalization" of US relations, the average Cuban, who are a very good, and decent people, will not be exploited through such economic hardship and it's attendant necessity and evils anymore. It might be easy to pass moral judgement on the girls, women and family in the story, but ask yourself, under different circumstances could the same thing not also happen here?

And so perhaps this is but a brief glimpse of the ugly seamy underside side of the human condition when all possibility of basic decency is pulled like a rug from underneath you? And for what and who's real gain?

Unfortunately, there was little or nothing I could do. I think you can see where I tried but it was impossible. Instead I came home and wrote this story. Maybe the pen, or nowadays the keyboard, is more powerful than the uncocked sword in these idiots hand, if you will, in trying to make a plea for social justice; that is for what is right, and for the right reasons, when all law and order nearly breaks down?

I very much appreciate the long wait inbetween entries for my faithful Cuba story readers, including those in the US these days. Without doubt teacher issues have once again predominated my blog agenda, for reasons self evident. However, there are still be a lot more Cuba stories still coming your way.

A Su Salud!

David C

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