Traveling up and down the West Coast in August, friends, family, and strangers solicited my thoughts on Cuba. “It’s a wonderful country,” I tell them, “and if you’re willing to wait in line for half an hour or so, you can get a double-scoop ice cream cone on a hot, sticky day for less than a nickel.”
“No, no,” they clarify, “do you think that Fidel is still alive? Do you think that brother Raúl will be able to maintain the dictatorship once Castro passes on or will the island rebel? Will Cuban expats in Miami return to their country and reclaim their former private property? What about US policy? Are we meddling too much? Not enough?”
And so forth.
Following a new year’s resolution to reign in my sarcasm, I gave them my sincere, albeit uncertain, unimportant, and thoroughly boring, opinions to all of their questions. (My thoughts pretty much correspond to Costa Rican president, Oscar Arias’)
The best thing I’ve ever read about Cuba comes from Eduardo Galeano and it goes a little something like …
CHRONICLE OF THE CITY OF HAVANA
His parents had fled to the north. In those days, he and the revolution were both in their infancy. A quarter of a century later, Nelson Valdés traveled from Los Angeles to Havana to visit his homeland.
Every day at noon, Nelson would take the guagua, bus number 68, from the hotel entrance, to the José Martí Library. There he would read books on Cuba until nightfall.
One day at noon, guagua 68 screeched to a halt at an intersection. There were cries of protest at the tremendous jolt until the passengers saw why the bus driver had jammed on the brakes: a magnificent woman had just crossed the street.
“You’ll have to forgive me, gentlemen,” said the driver of guagua 68, and he got out. All the passengers applauded and wished him luck.
The bus driver swaggered along, in not hurry, and the passengers watched him approach the saucy female, who stood on the corner, leaning against the wall, licking an ice cream cone. From guagua 68, the passengers followed the darting motion of her tongue as it kissed the ice cream while the driver talked on and on with no apparent result, until all at once she laughed and glanced up at him. The driver gave the thumbs-up sign and the passengers burst into a hearty ovation.
But when the driver went into the ice cream parlor, the passengers began to get restless. And when he came out a bit later with an ice cream cone in each hand, panic spread among the masses.
They beeped the horn. Someone leaned on it with all his might and honked like a burglar alarm, but the bus driver, deaf, nonchalant, was glued to the delectable woman.
Then, from the back of guagua 68, a woman with the appearance of a huge cannon ball, and an air of authority, stepped forward. Without a word, she sat in the driver’s seat and put the engine in gear. Guagua 68 continued on its route, stopping at its customary stops, until the woman arrived at her own and got off. Another passenger took her place for a stretch, stopping at every bus stop, and then another, and another, and so guagua 68 continued on to the end of the line.
Nelson Valdés was the last one to get off. He had forgotten all about the library.