Havana

Posted by Ellen

By New World standards, Havana is an old city; in 2019, it will be five hundred years old. To mark the anniversary, some new artworks and bits of sprucing up are already under way.

This work by Alberto Matamoros is a tribute to the barbers and hairdressers of the world; its title, I'm told, translates to something like "Cast in a Single Cut." The small shiny scissors mounted on the big black one denote donations from individual hairdressers and salons to fund the project; names of the donors are listed at the site. Clearly, contributions are still being sought; if you're interested, write to proyectoartecorte@gmail.com.

Arte Corte, the sponsoring organization, is a public-private hybrid, so far as we can tell, which has a Facebook page and undertakes projects such as playgrounds and festivals. From the looks of it, funding mechanisms for these sorts of projects under Castro are much the same as in the U.S.

Posted by Ellen

Near Havana, in a boat made of styrofoam blocks.

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The bride was beautiful, the bridegroom was grinning to beat the band, and when it came to throwing a party, the Cubans seriously schooled us Anglos.

Our new daughter--in-law is Yusleidy Zanetti, who goes by Julie. The newlyweds are living in Havana, where Julie was born and raised and where she met Joe a few years back, when he spent a semester in Cuba with a University of Alabama study-abroad program.

Everybody asks whether they'll stay in Havana, where Joe is now part of a tiny expat community, or try to move to the states. But that's a question for the future.

In the moment, Julie and Joe spent two days getting married. The first day was spent in a judicial building, dealing with paperwork and lawyers and then finally sitting down with a judge.

Sadly, we confess to knowing no Spanish. The judge had a lot to say, including numerous questions, to all of which Joe and Julie answered sí. Joe is fluent in Spanish, and Julie knows some English, more than most Cubans. They told us that the judge warned Joe that the decision to marry might be the most serious decision of his life–Was he really prepared to take such a step? He said . Then she turned to Julie and asked, "Are you sure you want to do this?" She said .

They exchanged rings and were pronounced husband and wife. We all cheered and clapped and hugged, and that was that.

In the judge's chamber along with the newlyweds were Julie's mother and grandmother, Joe's parents and two of his brothers, one of his aunts, and two friends of the couple, their best man and matron of honor.

Joe's last two brothers and his best friend from Alabama made it to Havana the next day, just in time for the big wedding celebration, with the white dress and the cake, the wine and the beer, the music and disco lights and dancing and singing and more dancing and more dancing.

There was also, of course, the traditional ride in a 1956 Thunderbird, through town and along the Malecón, Havana's seaside promenade, amidst cheers and honking horns.

And after that, there was the afterparty, back at the house, more dancing and more dancing.

And two families are now growing together, across barriers of language and culture and crazy, crazy politics. Nothing in Cuba is easy; this wedding was a major logistical feat that went off flawlessly, thanks entirely to Julie's organizational genius. And she and her family couldn't have been more welcoming to all of us goofy gringos. 

Now that Joe is married to a Cuban citizen, he has the legal right to work there. Most jobs in Cuba pay about $30 or $40 a month. Life for the newlyweds will be very different from life in America.

The poverty is profound. But the streets are safe; there are no guns, no crime. No school shootings. Families are close. The flowers are bright even in February, blue and yellow birds sing in cages in people's yards, the cars are beautiful and there aren't too many of them–no traffic jams. The sun is warm, the sea is all around. And everybody can dance.

Posted by Ellen

Until a couple of years ago, internet access in Cuba was a tightly restricted privilege; now, however, anybody can go online.

But two big obstacles remain. One is cost; a few minutes of wifi can eat up an entire day's pay for an average Cuban. Thus, although some people do use the web to check for news beyond official government reports, most internet activity in Cuba is focused on phone calls, often video calls, especially to friends and relatives abroad. 

The other obstacle to getting online is that wifi is not available in your living room; you have to go to a hotspot, which is often outdoors, in a park or plaza. So Cubans such as the Havanans in the photo above gather at hotspots around town with their phones and tablets.

In the evenings, when the tropical heat is letting up a bit, some hotspots get so crowded that the internet slows to to a crawl and may crash. The govvernment has promised to expand the wifi network and even bring it into people's homes, but little progress has been noted.

That's because of the American embargo, say Cuban officials. And they may be right.

Posted by Ellen

José Stein, our man in Havana, shares a street scene with us. "Random people," he says, "who've seen a lot of history."

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Joe, our man in Havana, is spending the spring semester in Cuba. He visited this bookstore the other day, where there were four people, five dogs, lots and lots of books, and on the floor near the left edge of the picture, a green and gold portable typewriter.

Posted by Ellen

Taekwon-Do tournament in Havana, Cuba.

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They really do like their baseball in Cuba.

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That's a pretty nice t-shirt that the guy in white shorts is wearing on this Havana street.

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Downtown Havana, Cuba, in 2009.