Friday, January 25, 2013

I’ve Been Packing (Havana)

 One more day in deep freeze purgatory and I’m out of here.

I haven’t traveled much since 2010 consequently just getting in a mobile entity beyond bike or subway is a delicious thought.

Packing is always a trip! I’m not really up on how much Air Canada will extract for one bag destined for cargo. I know there’s nothing they don’t charge for and give little in return.

I was reminiscing when I took one of my first flights with American Airlines in 1966. They handed me a menu as I was seated. I had a selection of beef or chicken. Being a ground round Indiana boy I pleaded for beef. When the meal came it was chicken. I had such a look of disappointment the stewardess suggested I wait a few minutes  then casually  walk to first class. That I did. It was my first experience with the class system. Everyone I knew growing up was either ten dollars above or below prosperity. And yes – they fed me steak and drink and plied me with comfort. Not Air Canada – it’s grief and thief.

Travel is in my veins.

I’m always apprehensive until I arrive at airport, check in and board. From that moment on I wholly submit.

I’ve been to Havana a few times dating back to 1992. I arrived just after a brutal hurricane that stomped unmercifully all over the city. There were broken palms, thick patches of mud and stones in the street.

My first thought – I love it.

I stayed in the old Presidente Hotel. No air conditioning and broadloom from ceiling to window to floor. The room had the smell of Nixon’s rotting corpse. I loved it!

All night congas beat a steady rhythm beyond the flowered window ledge. The moment they ceased a rooster started barking – then more roosters. I could hear them answer in the way distance. I figured they just wanted to get some hen. I loved it!

By 5a.m. I’m tossing and turning in a pool of sweat. I get up and look out the window and sunrise was creeping across the landscape. Everything was in pastels – pinks, blues, greens, - soft color. I loved it!

By morning I was ready to eat. Nice thought – there was nothing to eat. The embargo was starving folks - this was still cold war territory. Somehow I managed to find a tomato or two and some butter and made due.

That week was an eye opener. I traveled from one end of Cuba to the other. I saw the sumptuous countryside from a van. Stopped in one town after another and met musicians. Jammed, sang, drank a bit and mostly got hugged a lot. Tourism filled a container with ice – plenty beer and Mexican Coca Colas all with the Olympic seal date undetermined. I remember arriving in Santiago De Cuba opening the van door and pouring the remains of the cola on pavement when suddenly a half dozen children arrive screaming and one girl hits the pavement as if she were going to lap up the stain. My heart nearly stopped. The kids were all over me with bright smiles and chatter. I was told bring Chick lets the children love Chick lets. I did just that. I had a box with me and passed around. Oh the smiles, the giggles the sweetness that permeated every molecule of life is something I’ll take with me into the next life.

Lido from Beaches Jazz gave me a pile of T shirts and hats, I had boxes of CDs all which found gracious hands for long keeping.

I’ve spent one week of my life living and sleeping on the street in my early twenties totally destitute and know exactly what that means – never again. I saw a nation so close to collapse yet invigorated and full of love and kindness after the soviets left who would struggle long and hard to make small change.

I returned in 2004 and 2006 to a country going through renovation. Deemed a heritage city Havana’s been given a face lift. Oh those buildings of supreme magnificence.

The embargo is still in place but visas are being distributed and slowly but slowly Cuba is opening up. This has to be the hardest shell to pry open.

Most travelers dream of a beach – baking in the sun. I dream of a veranda, cold drink and a view that smacks the senses silly and being near people.

I’m ready yes indeed!


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