Opening Statement



Tuesday, 21 February 2017

On To Habana! [2017]

[Links to be added ...]


Arrived back in Toronto, on a cold winter day. The supreme irony of my life and times as of late, is that I've got a touch of sunstroke! Alas! Too much time spent swimming and tanning among the white sands and turquoise waters of Varadero. 
"Life's a beach," or so they say, "and then we die!
Perhaps! My memories of this month's Cuba trip are all very warm and pleasant. Still, in my restrained reverie, less talk of the Cuban sunshine and beaches are certainly in order, if just for a bit.
All thoughts now drift back to our quick day trip to Havana. Or "Habana", ["A-Bah-Na"/ Ditto "Bare-A-Dare-Oh"] as our Spanish Cuban amigo y amiga friends are apt to write it and say, in the local tongue.


Habana Cuba: A tarnished pearl for the America's. The long, lost capital city of a the rogue socialist state. One that dared give the US the finger and survived, despite a very severe and troubling 50 year old plus US economic embargo.
Not that we Canadians, with our policy of constructive engagement, ever paid that futile Yank rubbish much mind. Indeed, I suppose I am no stranger here. My first visit was during winter 1981, when the Russians were still in town, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the botched US sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion. I even spent a summer here in 1997, on "Cuban School Project" business. Renting a little seaside apartment in the eastern suburbs of Miramar, I'd stroll each morning along the Malecon seawall down to "Habana Vieja"/ old Havana, in the city centre, for meetings at the Cuban Ministry of Education.
But that was years ago. I'm afraid I've long lost count of how many times I’ve enjoyed visiting this lost jewel city of the Americas, but I ramble ....


Flashback to now; It's a lifetime or two later. I'm with Janet. We've been together 16 years or so! With us are our good friends May, Wendy and El Gordo. So, it's off to Havana we go, early morning on a bright sunny February 2017 day:
For $200 CUCs [Convertible Cuban Peso's = about $250 Canadian], the 5 of us find a dashing, powder blue 1955 Chevy Belair with Jose, an “off duty” taxi driver, outside in the hotel parking lot. It’s about a 2 hour drive there, another 2 back from Varadero. Jose also drives us about Habana for the day, wherever we want to go. Finds parking, waits on our beck and call. Jose’s young, bushy tailed, a real go getter. Recently married with a 3 day old baby. He's perfectly delightful. Think "Uber" Cuba style – a great, very safe, and friendly deal! I suppose we could've haggled the price down further, but why bother, make it strained?


First stop –"Revolution Square"! Our Chevy pulls up curbside along a bevy of brightly colourful, faithfully maintained 1950’s American cars. Buicks, Chevys, Fords, Pontiacs, Studebakers, the list goes on and on. Most predate the 1959 "Triumph of the Revolution" and the attendant 1961 embargo, when the mafio’s and other assorted Amerikan bad boys were sent packing.
We spill out of our Belair into the mad, hot mid day sun. Stumble about the huge revolutionary parade grounds at the foot of the Jose Marti memorial tower, where Fidel once delivered his fiery speeches. Che Guevera and Camilo Cienfuegos gaze out at us from across the years, their huge, heroic portraits now adorning the surrounding government buildings, spread around the square. Stalwart, having survived 11 US presidents, they now await the latest bandido, Donald Trump!


Crossing under the harbour causeway to Morro Castle, we lunch at a nearby small, very rustic, Cuban communista themed "particular" bar and grill, not far from Che's old home digs. Portraits of Fidel and Raul smile down on us. A rooster struts about. We feast on fired chicken, plantain, salad and drinks in a courtyard under the sprawling palm trees. The house band entertains us with a bevy of sweet, very melodic and "authentico" trovas and sons. It's much, much more food than we can eat. Perfectly prepared. The cost, with a big tip, is about $15 CUCs each! 
From the castle tower wall, we gaze out across the glistening harbour at the wide sweep of Habana Vieja and the Malecon seawall. To the east is the bustling suburb of Vedado, where we are headed next, in search of some good, cheap Cuban cigars!


Unfortunately, the famous, downtown Partaga's cigar factory, behind the old US styled Capitol building, is now closed. But it's not all bad news -the whole neighbourhood is finally being renovated and restored. Much of old Habana is a designated world heritage site!
Cigar production is being centralized, with the different brands now still being hand rolled at the nearby Vedado "Corona" factory. Photos of past visitors including El Papa John Paul 2 and Hugo Chavez are posted on the cement walls. Strolling among the many floors of row upon row of cigar rollers we slip one nicotine coloured fellow $10 on the sly for 2 huge fat ones, as fresh as you can get, for El Gordo to enjoy later back on the beach!


Unfortunately, I 've had to quit smoking tobacco for health reasons, but my buddy is still a hard core Cuban cigar aficionado. At the downstairs store he loads up on boxes of top brand name Cuban cigars, well below the cost one would pay back home in Canada -puro/ pure perfection with a bonafide government stamp!
Heading back into old Havana, we drop the ladies off at the restored 1909 "Plaza Hotel" courtyard cafĂ©. They tiredly plunk themselves down beside the Venus style fountain for a series of long, cool well earned drinks. A lively guitar and percussion band of chica's in skimpy red miniskirts. The prerequisite line up of sleepy eyed, Latin Lotharios. They seemed amused. In all fairness, I somehow suspect cigar factories and communist bars aren't really their thing.


"Oh Boy! Cigar Factories! A Communist Bar!"

Janet and I nip up to the rooftop patio for a moment alone. Enjoy an excellent free view of the city centre. We admire the looming, Gothic style Bacardi building, and the US style Capitol State dome. It's a mad mix, or a back splash if you will, of Spanish, French American and Russian architecture. The lingering legacy of so many would be conquerors, now long since come and gone, as Habana hopefully welcomes the dawn of a new century promised by Obama and Raul last spring.
El Gordo and I hop back into our Chevy for a cruise over to the nearby "Romeo y Julieta" factory store for a few more boxes of cigars. The shop sign still reads "H. Upmann", another well known Cuban brand that tops his list, but no matter. Unfortunately, there’s not much there. The mad crush of Chinese and Americano touristas' now flooding Habana are buying up all the cigars they can find. It's resulted in a new kind of Cuban shortage. However, this time it's one that's meant much more money in the Cuban economies long, bare pockets.


El Papa y I talk writing [or something like that ...]

Afterwards, Jose drops us off at Papa Ernest Hemingway's "Floridita" bar, a few blocks away from the Plaza Hotel. We nudge our way in through the jam packed crowd. $15 CUCs buys us a couple of drinks, expensive by Cuban standards. Our perch at the bar is but an island in the stream of endless daiquiri's and tourista bravado, the permanent Floridita happy hour still going full tilt, considerably much more so than I've ever experienced before!
A lively Cuban band whips up the swaying throng into a mad dancing frenzy. The flood of daiquiris splashing across the bar, along the sheer sweat from the crushing late afternoon heat soon drenches us to the bone. At his favourite bar seat, El Papa's statue sits, drinking it all in with a knowing smile, as an endless line of ... er .... literary fans excitedly line up for a snapshot.

 
For $10 CUC’s the musical groupo sells us a copy of their latest cd. They even play us a few tunes off of it live in case we are uncertain if we will like it or not. Pose with El Gordo and I for pictures. Wave us off at the door as we stumble back to rendezvous with the ladies back at the decidedly more cooler and rather more stately Plaza Hotel bar.
Come dusk, we are headed back to Varadero, happily exhausted from our far too short day trip. Still, it will provide endless, happy, snapshots for the mind during the cold Canadian winter months ahead. Of Habana, a long, lost pearl of the Americas! Of, a fascinating city, now hopefully brushing off the mists of more desperate times! Rediscovered once again, where it's always been, in the bright sunlight a scant 90 miles south of Key West, a 3 hour flight from Toronto. Redefining it's place within the America's, on it's own distinct, and mixed socialist-capitalist economic terms, amongst the madness that otherwise prevails, as the storm clouds once again gather over the USA .......


A Camilo Cienfuegos Revolutionary Bank Note Signed By Bank President Che Gueverra!
COMMENTS: 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

this blog used to be more about education news and ontario teachers, sadly it has changed to be more about the retirement life lol

David Chiarelli said...

Yes! This blog pretty much has always reflected my life y times. Since i retired there has been more of a focus on "grey power". I take pride in continuing to be an education advocate. I fight for the social justice issues which were always a big part of teaching for me too, but in different forums perhaps.

You will find this teacher thrust still underpins my monthly Teacher Free Speech News y Views. Otherwise, i remain very active outside our ranks in other different wider local political community causes, as reflected in many of my other blogs especially from over the past year. Other than that? I like to write about my travels y adventures now that i don't have to wake up to go to work everyday.

I am very saddened by the direction our teacher union movement has taken in cozying up to the government y consider that a betrayal of much of what we fought for over the past 25 years or so. However, that must now largely be a fight for those still on the frontlines to be relevent and successful. Unfortunately, I don't think i see that happening anymore.

Meanwhile i find myself out on the streets with a very vibrant y active generation of protesters both new and old, fighting the good fight like we once did. Much more interesting! Sadly, the Ontario teacher movement no longer seems to be a vibrant part of that anymore, and so i suppose my focus is less and less on "education" per see.

Meanwhile my new readership has gone through the roof. For example, my blog on " Cannabis Culture y LGBTQ Inclusivity" had more readers yesterday alone than i had in the whole month of July 2012 when i was reporting on the OECTA MOU. What to say?

This blogsite is always changing y i suspect it will continue to do so. I plan to still cover education specific issues that interest me as they arise. And hope other teachers will turn their attention to grey power along with me in the years ahead. We have a lot of useful knowledge y skills. It helps us. It helps others.

At anyrate, suppose i will have more 2 say later. Thanks for following along. Reading. I think i will always ge a teacher, write from a teacher mindset, in my approach to this blog, y hope it stays interesting y worthwhile!

Pax!

David C

PS: Remember, teacher guest blogs are always welcome here!

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