Cuban Diary Day 7: Music and Revolution

Friday, 13 May 2016

This morning Caridad woke up at 6 am, a repeat of all the other mornings, except that there was no water pooled on the bathroom floor: the repair was good! There is a slight smell of cigarette smoke again.

Today is Friday the 13th. We can wish that they do not celebrate this day in Cuba.

Down at breakfast, we chose eggs (boiled for Caridad, sunny-side up for Lazaro), toast (with  runny jelly), pastry that was almost soft, dates, juice, and two cups of coffee. The liquid is important.

We stopped at a gift shop in the lobby to buy two postcards, but between the cash reserves of the two gift shops, she could not make change for a 5 CUC note. The cards cost 1.40 CUC. It is hard for a tourist to come up with 1.40 CUC, since the smallest money they like to give us is a 3 CUC note, and usually it is a 5, 10, or 20 CUC note. We told her we would stop by later. She was disappointed, more for herself than for us, we think.

Back at the room, we turned on the TV to watch CNN for a few minutes. The top story was that Russia denied illegal doping at the last Olympics. This CNN seems to be only a subset of what we see, with no real news stories, only feature stories, e.g., lung disease in South Africa.

We waited for the bus on the hotel veranda, and when our guide appeared, got on the bus to wait in the AC.  Another of our group is sick this morning and will miss the day’s activities.

Our first stop was at the Museum of the Revolution. Each school child in Havana (perhaps in Cuba) is brought to visit this museum twice during their school years:  once before high school and once during high school. Here there are three floors devoted to telling the story of the revolution in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The beautiful interior of the rotunda is shown at left, above. On the right is a photograph of an enigmatic artwork on the first floor: a machete fed through a typewriter.

Los Cretinos (The Cretins), Museum of the Revolution

Around the corner from the typewriter/machete is a large famous mural, featuring Fulgencio Batista, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush. (We saw a parody of this mural in the artist’s workshop yesterday, except that the featured characters were Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, and a prostitute with AIDS on a horse.)

On the second floor is an impressive statue of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos riding a wave (photograph above left). On the right is a famous poster of Fidel Castro.

Map explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis

The coverage of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs was limited to one showcase about 6 feet wide by 7 feet tall.  Above is a map from the display.

The boat Gramma, on which Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and about 80 revolutionaries sailed from Mexico to Cuba in November, 1956, was not visible in its glass building behind the museum. Perhaps it was there, but the windows were all obscured.

Our next stop was at the Colibri recording company and Abdala Recording Studios, where recording, mixing, and mastering services are offered. Abdala is run by the Cuban Ministry of Culture.  Here there are 2 recording studies and associated rooms for creating CDs, DVD, and TV programs. We got to watch a group working on creating a recording from several tracks (base, metal, winds, and voice). The first track recorded is the base track, which is the bass, percussion, and piano. The other tracks are recorded to synchronize with the base track. Then we were shown the rooms and booths where the artists perform. Finally, we got to talk with the man who does the final editing on a recording, making the master copy. The guide there gave us a CD of Cuban music to keep.

Our next stop was lunch at the El Aljibe restaurant. We were served a salad of shredded cabbage and slivers of tomato and cucumber, sweet potato chips, rice, black beans, chicken, rolls, orange-flavored ice cream, and espresso. It was good. Two performers played and sang for us; we bought a CD from them, called Havanason.

After this, the bus returned to the hotel, where all but five got off. The rest of us were driven to Old Havana. The two of us finally found Sloppy Joe’s, another Ernest Hemingway hangout, nice but very different from Las Floriditas. It was very near where we were looking last night, but the fellow from last night’s restaurant had marked the wrong location on our map (one street away). After this, we walked back to La Floriditas, where another band was playing. This band was all male except for one woman who sang and collected tips; their music was nice, but not as good as the women last night. A few more pictures, and we walked back to the squares we had visited before, taking some good street pictures.

Along the way, we came upon a concert in the Plaza des Armas, which occurs only once a month.

Then we walked back to the taxi area and hired a fellow with a yellow 1955 Buick Roadmaster convertible to take us back to the hotel to blog and freshen up before dinner tonight.

U.S. Embassy

On the way to the hotel, we passed the US Embassy, as we have almost daily since arriving in Havana.  Missing from this photograph is the forest of approximately 150 flagpoles erected by the Cuban government to block, with their black flags,  a billboard on the top floors of the embassy that broadcast messages in 5-foot tall letters.  An example of the messages displayed is Abraham Lincoln’s words: “No man is good enough to govern another man without his consent.”  The flags and the billboard are not there now; the billboard was operational from Martin Luther King Day (January 16) of 2006 to June 2009. The flagpoles still stand.

We calculated how much money we will need to cover expenses before we leave Cuba tomorrow, and Lazaro exchanged enough US dollars to cover that. We don’t expect to eat tomorrow until we get to Tampa. We will leave the hotel at 6:15 am tomorrow, before the restaurant opens at 7. According to our guide, food choices at the airport include four options: ham and cheese sandwiches, ham sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, and cheese and ham sandwiches.  While our tour covers breakfast at the hotel, we do not expect to be sorry to miss it tomorrow.

We left on the bus at 7 pm for our farewell dinner at the Conde del Castillo Restaurant inside the 5 star (government-owned) Hotel Palacio del Marqués de San Felipe y Santiago de Bejucal. The restaurant is beautifully laid out in a private room that seats around 20 people at two large and one small table. We 15 (tour group members plus our tour guide and driver) were the only patrons. The meal consisted of a small salad, fish, vegetables, and rice, with ice cream and espresso for dessert. The fish was overcooked to the point that only the inner parts were edible and had little taste. The servers were pleasant, but service was very slow. There were several toasts to our guide and driver, who took excellent care of us during our stay.

Church and Monastery of St. Francis, Plaza de San Francisco

We left the restaurant after 9 pm, walked through the  Plaza de San Francisco to reach the bus, and were back at the hotel by 9:30, where we bought a 500mL bottle of water to tide us over until tomorrow. After packing and showers, we were in bed by 11 pm.

 Stay tuned for more of our Cuban diary. If you want to catch up on the first days, read:

Eight Days in Cuba: an Introduction

Cuban Diary Day 1: Arriving in Cuba

Cuban Diary Day 2: Squares of Old Havana

Cuban Diary Day 2: Views of Old Havana

Cuban Diary Day 3: Cigars, Salad and Salsa

Cuban Diary Day 3: Ernest Hemingway’s Finca Vigia

Cuban Diary Day 4: Religion, Restoration, and Revolution

Cuban Diary Day 5: Society, Art, and a Micro-brewery

Cuban Diary Day 6: Las Terrazas Eco-community

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