Cuba— A Double Espresso at 4 PM

It was low season. Pre-hurricane. Labour day. It was a siesta afternoon. My girlfriend was sleeping and the extra pizza slices I’d eaten wouldn’t let me do the same. The bar was barren as the 2 Irish blokes I’d met were on their way to their rooms to sleep off the extra cervezas. I guess I was better off than they were. 

I ordered my double espresso. Vladimir took good care of me. I had paid him $20 upon the first day of arrival.  I read Bukowski and listened to the Gipsy Kings. Vlad had it really loud. 

“Did you go on the half-day excursion?”

“Yes,” I said. It had been appalling. 

Vlad looked away. He didn’t want to comment. “Did you know the Gipsy Kings are from Cuba?”

“No,” I said.

Vlad loved Cuba. You can see it in his eyes as he spoke to me of the anti-capitalist posters along the rural highway. 

He believed in the above, for it had been done. Che and Fidel had fought against the imperialists and won. “Again and again, ” he would often say. Vlad knew I was safe for him to express his views to. 

The trip was just a bad propaganda exercise. I couldn’t define what to call the group conducting  this other than rebels working with anti-Castro sympathizers on the outside. Don’t let my fancy terms fool you. This was no revolution or crime. It was just someone in charge of an excursion taking you to places to feel pity for the locals. And only later do you realize that almost everyone in it was a pseudo-thespian.  

“This is the beach for the locals,” the guide would say of a prickly pebble beach. Then one of the thespians, apparently with his wife and 2 kids, his feet in pain from the protruding rocks, said “this is where WE are allowed to swim.”

Then there was the farm with all the dangerous animals. I distinctly remember the humongous snake being put around my shoulder and then my neck, among other frightful animal shenanigans. I thanked Jose, the farmer. The guide said $5 for Jose would be worth $100 for us. I was shamed into handing it over. I didn’t doubt the truth of the statement. I just couldn’t bear the thought of the system falling apart because of such unethical activities. 

The last stop was Moron, the closest city to the resort. We were taken to the squalor and dirt of the city.  There was supposed to be a museum visit we “had no time for”. Squalor and propaganda were not part of the itinerary. I was getting irritated with Gustavo’s, the guide’s, fake smile. I couldn’t look him in the face anymore. 

He never took us to this part of town. 

In comparison,  this is good old Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Gimme the slums of Moron. Not because they look better, they look worse, but because I feel safer. Much safer. Poverty doesn’t define danger here. And the whole trip was a nadir-zenith example of socialism, not Marxism. 

The lady in the room next to ours stopped us to tell us about the trip. She was crying. Real tears rolling down her cheeks as if she had seen a family member die. What utter ignorance,  I thought. I tried to incorporate  the thespian and propaganda angles, but she just looked at me funny. Poor ignorant woman. 

Vlad sent me to Francisco (Frank) to buy my Habaneros. Frank worked at the resort but moonlighted as the illegal cigar seller and the pimp of the resort. The British were especially fond of him. Frank had the gift of the gab,  even in imperfect English. 

His den would be the back of the gym where he’d have CNN on high volume. This was the real CNN. There goes that myth. Especially with Euronews on the next post. “They suffer,” Frank would say. “They have to provide for their families. Some are just 19.” I recall prices starting at $10. I also recall Hans, a Welshman no less, having a companion all week long. I don’t know how much he’d paid. 

“Victimless crimes,” Vlad would say to defend his support for Frank, “the state encourages this. Think about it. They need to satisfy the tourists but keep the ideology intact.” Vlad slept well at night.