Some days are just better than others. Very few are better than today.
After all of the busyness of the last few days, it was good to sleep in until 8:00am, when the phone in the hotel room rang. After the morning ritual, Bill and I had one of the nicest breakfasts I've ever had in a hotel, as the Hotel Habana Libre puts on quite a spread, including just about everything from fruit to made-to-order omelettes to really good ham to just about anything that could be put on the meters-long buffet. After finishing our breakfast at about 10:00, I stuffed a banana and several rolls into my backpack then took off for a day of adventures in the streets of Havana.
Almost immediately, I found myself engaging in lots of conversations with people on the street and found that my Spanish is, indeed, quite good enough to survive with. Very soon upon beginning my journey, I found myself chatting with Javier and his wife, Emilina. Javier works at the hotel where I'm staying and was excited to show me around several interesting parts of Havana. We toured the Afro-Cuban area which is wonderfully colorful and features street decorations made of recyled found materials. We stopped at an art gallery owned by the artist who is responsible for all of the murals and street decorations in the area and I bought a painting of Yemayá. After that, we went to a club and had a couple mojitos while we watched some dancers practice Santeria ritual dancing.
Once Javier, Emelina and I parted company, I made my way down toward the Capitol building, walking through the Barrio Chino, Havana's Chinatown, and through several extremely non-touristy areas before arriving at the Capitol and the lovely parks around it. From there, it was on to the birthplace of José Martí, the "George Washington" of Cuba and author of some of the best poetry in the Spanish language, including the famous poem/song, "Guantanamera." After visting Havana's old city and the train station, photographing the old city walls and a park full of steam locomotives, I made my way back to the ship. Back aboard Amistad, I found the ship's guitar and had my Sierra Leonean friend, Sam Yokie, shoot video while I sang the cynically humorous song "Battleship of Maine." Then, I had a cigar and took a siesta to escape the heat of the day. This IS Cuba, after all.
After my nap, I continued my journey, walking along the waterfront and chatting with people, telling them about Amistad's presence in the city and discussing the commonalities between the American and Cuban people and our common hope that our governments might find ways to move past a half century of enmity.
As I made my way along the Malecón, I came across a trumpet player sitting on the wall, playing "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess. I stopped to listen and to photograph him and he made the not-unexpected request for some money. Since I had already managed to spend all of my pesos, I gave him an Amistad wristband and told him how much I liked hearing him play Gershwin. That surprised him, as he had learned the song by listing to Louis Armstrong's recordings of it and didn't know the composer, but it opened the conversation to our musical tastes and I mentioned that I also played trumpet, which brought a huge smile to his face. It also brought his trumpet to my hands and I took my turn playing trumpet on the Malecón, choosing a Dixieland style arrangement of Just a Closer Walk with Thee. Sorry, I don't have any video of that, but I really wish I did!!!
Moving along, I found myself at the western ende of the Malecón, where I found the one thing that I had been looking for all day: the monument remembering the souls lost when the battleship USS Maine blew up in Havana harbor in 1898. Ironically, though the Spanish were accused of blowing up the Maine, and that was the official reason that the US began the Spanish-American war, it was later learned that the ship's destruction was most likely due to a faulty boiler. William Randolph Hearst, in the runup to the war told his photographer, "You supply the pictures. I'll supply the war." For me, when I "remember the Maine," it is a reminder of what happens when people allow the sabre-rattling media to lead in a rush to judgement, but I expect that that's a subject that requires its own post some other time.
When I get back to the US and a less glitchy internet connection, I'll add photos and video to this blog, so please be patient. It is midnight now and I've got to be up at 4:00 for the trip to the airport and home. Adios de Cuba.