Today’s Tim Talk provides mucho background on Ernest Hemingway, his work, and his status as an enduring cultural icon in Cuba. One of the takeaways for me is that Fidel was undoubtedly envious of Ernest’s beard. Or he should have been. Another is that some of EH’s novels are just terrible. However, his short stories about Cuba and its people possess indelible atmosphere, characters, and situations. For example, The Old Man and the Sea, which spends most of its time in the old fisherman’s head, may well be one of the most evocative depictions of the island. Hemingway’s exploits during World War II strain credulity in a cinematic way. He recruited a ragtag crew of hotshots to patrol the coast in search of German U-boats with the approval of the US Ambassador. Calling it a rogue outfit would be egregious underselling.
Afterwards, I retreat to my room at Ambos Mundos to take care of business and pay a visit to Room 511, EH’s room for seven years from 1932 to 1939. It’s light-filled and spacious, the perfect corner room.
Next up in the salon of the Hotel Florida, we have a guest, Nehanda Isoke Abiodun, a fugitive from American justice living in Cuba since 1990. She’s a wiry, animated African-American, who asks, right at the top, for a bottle of water and a shot of rum. She says she’s nervous talking about herself, but her story is mesmerizing. Raised in Harlem by a father in the Nation of Islam and a mother with an integrationist philosophy, she went to Columbia University and developed her own way of looking at the world. She’s born in 1950 like me, and experienced all the turbulence of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but for all intents and purposes, we were born in different countries.
Her chronology is hard to follow. She worked with the National Black Human Rights Coalition, and helped drug addicts recover through the Black Acupuncture Association of North America. And, because of her alleged involvement with Assata Shakur’s escape from prison in 1979 and other much murkier allegations, she was pursued by the FBI. This resulted in eight years underground, separation from her children, and eventual flight to Cuba. Nehanda’s sense of humor endears her to me. We are both sixty-six. Her favorite dance party happens on Wednesday night where only Motown and soul music are spun. I would dance with her all night.
The post-lunch pre-workshop speaker in Salon Florida is a Cuban science fiction writer, Michel Encinosa Fú. He offers a lot of insight into the writing life in Cuba and the publishing industry. The writers he most admires are the titans of 20th century American sci-fi. Ursula LeGuin is mentioned twice. His writing is very dark and often involves sexually fluid characters. He explains that the literary community in Cuba is quite small but growing, and becoming less and less insular, and publishers are less and less beholden to the government and/or status quo. I detect a yearning to be part of world literature.
Tonight’s another ‘Feed Yourself’ night. Dona and Tracy, her roomie, invite me to stroll along the Malecon. As the sun retreats, it throws its magic beams against the battlements opposite the harbor entry and turns them to gold. We fall into conversation with a Cuban foursome sitting on the parapet. America is good. Obama is great. The Cuban people are smart and beautiful and restless. Dona is my wife and Tracy (who is black) is our daughter. We are transparently full of shit, but everyone enjoys themselves. Trying to wend our way back to Habana Vieja, we find ourselves on the wrong side of the highway dodging De Sotos, then in the middle of a huge traffic circle with but one entrance/egress dodging soccer balls and martial artists. All the while, hunger gnaws. Tracy is getting peckish.
Down an unknown street, about to commit to dining at the hotel yet again, I see a sign for La Giraldilla, a paladar that my sister, Jane, recommended from her recent visit to Havana. A paladar is a private restaurant in someone’s home. Three long flights of stairs and we enter a small room with maybe six tables and one on each window balcony. Did we have a reservation? Oh, no. We sit gratefully and begin a lovely, tasty evening of gossiping and giggling.