by Lang Phipps
Socialist slogans on walls and road signs in Havana.
Amor es la mejor ley (Love is the best law.)
Servir y recibir (Serve and receive.)
Socialisme es fuerte (Socialism is strength.)
Cuba es que linda (Cuba is beautiful.)
Venceremos (We conquer.)
Con Patria y sin Amor (With country or without love.)
Por la vida, no bloqueo (For life, no embargo.)
37 anos y no paramos (37 years, and no bleak plateau.)
Off Havana harbor at 8 a.m. Monday, I notice that we are the lone craft in this once great port, other than a distant freighter. The city appears immense, much larger than I'd expected. It has many skyscrapers in its midst, and it stretches across the coastline for what looks like miles. The stillness in the harbor gives it a deserted feeling however, as if a neutron bomb has fallen and only the structures remain. Once we get into the city though, this is reversed, and all we see are lively people moving around a city that is falling apart.
At Marina Hemingway, moments after our arrival, I see something my American eye is not quite ready for. A black teenaged boy glides by us in a single scull, and coming the other way, two black girls -- looking for all the world like they should be on the 3 train out of Brooklyn -- are deftly stroking a two-seater shell. Seeing our putative underclass at play in this preppiest of sports, awakens me to the fact that I am in a new country.
The people of Cuba: gentle, intelligent, proud, clueless, naive. They have been fucked over by the Spanish; over and over again by the U.S. And yet we never get a bad vibe from anyone here. Even the police, who I feared most, leave us alone.
I see no homeless people here. Rag-tag street urchins do not tug at your sleeve for change the way they do elsewhere in the Caribbean. Everyone is neatly dressed, lean, but not hungry looking. No one seems to be employed, but they are singularly graceful idlers. After many years of practice, I guess they've turned lounging into a occupation of sorts.