|Paper||Canyon Country Zephyr|
|Rights||In Copyright (InC)|
|Rights Holder||Tonya Auden Stiles, Moab, Utah|
|Publisher||Digitized by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah|
|Paper||Canyon Country Zephyr|
QUE HORA £72 In Cuba, then is now. By Michelle Nijhuis The panel above my head read “ESCAPE ROPE INSIDE.” How reassuring. I'd just boarded the noon flight on Cubana Air, which promised to take me from Cancun to Havana, and I was having serious doubts. The flimsy seat creaked under my weight, and it was so humid inside the plane that the air conditioning steamed from the floor in white clouds of vapor. I started to look around for a seatbelt. Oh, well. If we crashed, at least the ocean was warm here, and in some ways the rickety plane was making me like Cuba already. the Havana airport, and when I I arrived safely, if a little unsteadily, at hailed a taxi, giddy with relief, the car that pulled up to the curb was a gleaming navy blue Rambler. As I climbed in and sank into the vast back seat, I was well on my way to a terminal case of nostalgia: It’s almost impossible not to romanticize Cuba, and I was immediately sucked in by the weird, lost-in-time charm of the place. I soon wondered if Cubans were looking for more than just a conversation starter ‘ DE aes eer page Ip yg : with a brave Cuban shouting “SENORES IMPERIALISTS! WE HAVE ABSOLUTEMENTE NO FEAR OF YOU!” Paintings of Che Guevara are everywhere, exhorting Cubans to keep fighting for victory over the gringos. And most sidewalk booksellers stock enough books about Fidel Castro to fill a small town's library, except one who asked us to bring him a copy of Henry Miller's Plexus if we ever came ba We walked around in a daze for days, trying to make sense of the contrast between shining Oldsmobile tailfins and banners reading VIVA LA REVOLUCION. One afternoon, my friend tried to find a way to send e-mail, a hopeless search that eventually took us to a large, empty student center. We asked in an office. “Oh no, I'm sorry,” a young man told us in solemn English. “Only members of our organization can use the computers.” What organization is that? “The Young Communists League,” he answered. Back on the street, we tried to remember the last time non-membership in the Communist Party was as Downtown Havana: Keeping the past alive is a necessity. when they stopped foreigners on the street, pointed to their own wrists and said ";Que hora es?"—what time is it? In Cuba, it’s a complicated question. Havana is a harbor city, and most of its citizens seem to spend their hot July evenings looking out to sea. They walk, talk and flirt (a national pastime) on the wide, seawaterpitted promenade called the Malecén, which winds along the waterfront from the suburbs to the decaying palaces of Old Havana. On weekend nights, young men ride by on one- speed bicycles with their elegant dates balancing sidesaddle on the rear racks. Many of the cars on the quiet streets, like the taxi I took from the airport, are American models from the 1950's, imported before the U.S. trade blockade. They're lovingly kept alive with Russian parts, a bit of elbow grease, and not a little Cuban ingenuity. One morning, we saw a man near the university bent over a bombed-out vintage car—no windows, no seats, no tires, and about six coats of peeling paint he was patiently removing with a blowtorch. As two of his friends looked on, he proudly opened the hood to show us the original engine, and told us that all the removable parts (like the seats) were in his apartment for safekeeping. Parts are hard to come by, he said, and a car left on the street is fair game. Even the billboards in the city are from another time. waiting for political change (“Things won't Most Havanans are eagerly get any ‘better for us,’ one man told us, “until—” and he paused, stroked an imaginary beard, and pointed to the clouds with a significant nod) but you wouldn't know it from the political slogans that are still part ot the city's landscape. One billboard on the Malecén shows a cartoon of a cringing Uncle Sam, a disadvantage. Sometimes, the fact that only ninety miles of ocean separate the Cuban coast and the Florida Keys seemed like a very good joke. “We only hear about your poverty and homelessness and crime,” a sidewalk vendor of medicinal plants said to me. (I didn't have a lot of trouble believing this: I'd just bought a Marxist journalist's handbook that agreed with him. There are terrible wonderful things, too. Like my home I live in a wide-open, quiet kind of defined objectivity as service to. the revolution.) I things about the States, I said. But there are some in Colorado, I tried to explain in my lousy Spanish. place. “Ah!” he says, nodding. “Como ‘Bailes con Lobos.'” Like ‘Dances with Wolves.’ Unfortunately, Kevin Costner knows no boundaries. We were surprised to find some signs of American culture, usually ferried over by relatives in Miami, or New Jersey, or Atlanta. American flag t-shirts. Nikes. Yankees baseball caps (this in a country where “Cuba Si, Yanqui No!” is often painted on walls). And American movies, showing in theatres around the city. But even these familar goods have an antique twist in Cuba. At movie theatres, ushers hand out squares of corrugated cardboard at the door. We were puzzled at first, but as the sweat started to pour down our faces we finally figured out that they're to be used as fans. Halfway through the movie, a huge chunk of the ceiling fell into the audience. Everybody jumped up, exclaiming, but when it was clear that no one was hurt we all sat down again and turned back to the movie, most people laughing and shaking their heads. “That's Cuba,” people said when we told the story later.