Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cuba Trip 2011

The most striking thing to me was the comparison with our last trip five years ago. Right from Miami Airport-seeing the many jet flights and lines of passengers--it was apparent that things have changed. This loosening up in American policy allowing Cubans to travel more frequently has obviously contributed to this--along with many more tourists than were seen on our earlier trip.  It was also striking to see the changes in Havana.  Five years ago the predominant view was of crumbling buildings with only a few signs of restoration.  I know that those of you who were first time visitors probably still focused on the decay, but the progress has been remarkable.  Last time we saw building shells in Old Havana we were told that they would be torn down and replaced by mini parks.  Personally I had no faith that they could accomplish that—but in fact they did it. Havana is one of the most exciting cities in the world.

A highlight was the tour with Mario and it would have been a disappointment if we missed that opportunity because of his illness.  For the “dancers” it was great to have the opportunity to experience several different venues.  In that regard I also noticed a change--less emphasis on the traditional.  It seems that they have gotten over the idea that tourists wanted only to hear Guantamera (and the Buena Vista Social Club revivals).  Tropicana was better than last time, and it was a thrill to be able to dance on the stage.

The Mission visits were more varied than last time and again presented us with the opportunity to interact with ordinary Cubans such as the Jewish family in Sanctus Spiritu.  It was very satisfying to see the progress with the new building in the old folks home-as that was only in the planning stage in our previous visit.

The session at the Interest Section was another study in contrasts.  The last time we had a presentation by a button down shirted, necktie wearing, business suited representative who gave us the standard line in support of the 50-year embargo.  It was not only the appearance, but also more importantly the open minded attitude. that was such a refreshing difference.  It gives at least some hope that maybe things will someday change.
It is hard to say too much about the role Abel played in making our trip so enjoyable and educational.  I am sure that everyone now understands why Dudley and I made it a condition to have him as a guide. He was even more comfortable with us this time and felt free to express some thoughts about the regime that he would have been more circumspect about before.  My hope is that the travel restrictions will somehow be relaxed so that we can travel freely to Cuba.  I would say the same thing about Cuban governmental restrictions that would permit ordinary Cubans, such as Abel, who do not wish to defect, to visit the U.S.

This was a great trip--and a wonderful group of companions.  Kudos to Susie for making it happen.

Hi Susie,

Thanks so much to you and Dudley!

What a wonderful experience! Camaguey was interesting, though I'd have rather flown into Santiago and proceed westward to Havana. This morning, Raul announced significant socioeconomic loosening, so maybe USA travelers can visit without specialized visas. 

The people…their ¡MUSICA! everywhere and so joyous, sensual and infectious. You could organize a whole tour for two of our group's couples and their fellow aficionados just around dancing across the whole island. I love what I perceived as the apparent Cubans' conscientious sense of being participants in a social experiment dedicated to community. That was important to me.Their society has tried pure socialism with its errors. Apparently Fidel said so in 1975. Citizens in our own country need to appreciate our economy, and its usually successful mix of social and capital opportunities. Puritanism of any sort is a dubious endeavor.

The Interest Section guy gave us what I feel was a profound insight into community when I asked about whether the government had the consent of the governed: people tend to be content with their everyday realities. Cuban regulations are mostly an exaggerated version of our own need to submit our plans to city councils, zoning boards, engineering and building departments, and FDA etc.. When they frustrate our desires, you could say we have "bumped up against the government" and are either temporarily or permanently disgruntled. 

Abel was great. I loved his nuance of societal self-criticism. Our country could benefit as much as theirs from mutual travel between us so that more of our thoughtless population might gain something from the social sophistication he exudes. And he was warm and fun.

Havana Havana Havana. I grew up in the country chasing cows off highway 66, so I love cities.

Though his name escapes me (I'm terrible with names), the time we spent in the presence the author, architect and revolutionary in Havana was a true unforgettable learning experience about art and honor. 
In regard, however, to the young artist we met in the wonder home/garden we met was another story for me. Having been a struggling artist, though successful enough to make a living doing just what I wanted to do with my art, I was interested to hear what I felt to be the cynical careerism (typical of all schools of art that I knew in NYC) of the artist who so nakedly sought to fit into the art "scene" in the USA. Moving to Cuba to be more interesting to Mary Broome and emulating the styles of his heroes didn't supply to my sense of what I hope artists bring to the world—struggle be damned. That's judgmental of me but that's what artists invite when they display their work. RenĂ©e had very positive feelings about him and his work. Ibrahim may have developed a bit of an artistic gimmick, but at least it is his own and I like the print I got just because I do. It would be interesting to research some other artists to visit, maybe in a dedicated tour. 

I was a bit disappointed—probably unrealistically—that each of the mission beneficiaries seemed to me to be so involved only with their specific religious sects. I was glad to support them as people, but I would have liked it better had they presented themselves as more committed to their communities regardless of one's desire for eternal life. Unfair again, no doubt. I would happily support community centers—but that's not what our visas (thank you Susie!) allowed.
 It was wonderful to travel with you all. We hope we have made some enduring friendships and look to see you again. 

OK, Susie. What's next? I hope to be able to find the time to go on an adventure with you again.

With warmest regards,