22 April 2017 | Havana, Cuba
On Sunday, we headed to Havana Vieja (Habana bieja) to find an alley called Callejon de Hamel’s, where Afrocubanos have made a community statement about their culture by creating art on the walls and in the small, dark storefronts. A few bars and a paladar are among the galleries.
On Sundays those who are part of this project come together from noon to 1430 to play music and dance for all comers. The tiny alley, one block long was filled with all manner of people, Cubanos, Afrocubanos, white tourists, Rastafarians, and on and on. During the introduction the project director during his announcement en español, welcomes friends from all nations and their “frienemies from the United States of America.”
After noon, the dance troupe arrived and the rumba music began. It had a strong, persistent African beat and the dancers were energetic in their renditions of rumba and African dance. Elaine was fortunate to have a ringside seat; I was in the sweaty crowd in which there was no “personal space.” After an hour, I had to look for relief on the street away from the din and claustrophobic crush.
Propaganda critical of the United States was easy to find. Taller Experimental de Grafica, a graphic arts museo in Havana Vieja, had beautiful, aggrandizing, depictions of Revolutionary leaders with plenty of anti-American rhetoric describing them. Reminiscences of US behaviors in Viet Nam and Iraq were plentiful, critical, and ghastly. Despite its location in the heart of the tourist section of Old Havana none of the rhetoric was translated from Spanish into any other language while many other postings were translated into English.
Elaine and I visited Hotel Nacional de Cuba; it’s a beautiful international hotel overlooking the sea from atop a hillside. During the Cuban missile crisis, the government built a network of tunnels and bunkers under the front lawn of this magnificent hotel. Those tunnels and bunkers are now a significant tourist attraction with lots of signage describing the Cuban Missle Crisis and the Russian/Cuban victory it represented over the United States.
I was in both the US Naval Reserve and high school when the crisis broke out and wasn’t called to active duty when my ship was, probably because of my school status. I must admit that I’ve learned more about the crisis since I’ve returned to the US and had open access to information than I’d ever known before. That the event still has currency in Cuban propaganda supports the view that this is a country still living in the 1950’s and ‘60’s.
Despite the official governmental stance on American relations, we all felt welcome among the people we met and encountered.