CUBA LIBRO, Volume Two – May 1, 2017

By 7:30am, we’re on the march to join the giant rally in La Plaza de la Revolucion marking May Day, the first since the death of Fidel. The whole thing will be over by 9:30 in acknowledgement of this ‘heat-of-the-day’ business. Tim’s gathered a bunch of Bicitaxis out front, we pile in and off we go. It’s a wild ride over rutted and potholed streets. They drop us at some intersection and we follow Tim single-file up a street as a solid, blue-red-and-white wall of people stream toward us from the opposite direction. The speeches must be over. In an effort to get as close as we can to exactly what we don’t know, Nancy and I manage to get separated from the others. Our forward momentum is soon stymied, compelling us to submit to the forces striving to expel us from the plaza. The two of us bob along diagonally hoping to reach the other side of the massive egress and, what do you know, I see our group. Eventually, we begin to move away from La Plaza de la Revolucion, down a long, inclined boulevard. When it levels out, there’s the big blue stadium where the Industriales baseball team plays. Tim inquires, but there are no t-shirts for sale today, everything’s closed. We walk and walk and walk. Now here’s that heat-of-the-day thing everyone tries their best to avoid. Even walking beneath the arcades feels demoralizingly steamy. I seem to have developed a blister or a wound of some kind on my right foot, due to flip-flops. Tim finds a Bicitaxi for Elle and Teri. And sure enough, one for Sarah and me. It turns out we’re not very far from the Capitolio and home. I shower forever.

In a brief window of free time, I finish my comments on today’s workshop pieces, then visit the Parque Central lobby to address the possibility of posting again to my website. No availio.

At one o’clock we climb into Chinese Bus #5050 for a trip to Cojimar, where a truly excellent lunch meal awaits us at small restaurant called the Adiaco Café. The room is open to the elements at the sides, while every inch of surface is covered with names, dates, and sentiments of former diners. Brandon is assigned to add – Cuba Writers Program – to a prominent spot on the roof. Nimble boy. This meal may be the best so far. Rain makes good on its former threat. A tropical deluge commences, causing the streets to run deep with agua. We’re informed that if the first rain in May wets your face, you will have good luck for the rest of the year. After standing out there like a dork in a downpour, I damply take a seat next to Teri on the bus, believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Bernie Sanders. We then stop at La Terraza, where Hemingway had his own table, to have our workshops in a private downstairs dining room. French doors open onto the harbor of Cojimar and below us ebbs a sea of detritus – fronds, plastic bottles, dead chickens, coconuts. No adjectives. No adverbs.

This rainy and brainy endeavor behind us, we segue into afternoon playfulness at the beach – Playa del Este, seaside playground for Habaneros. I don’t go in the water, though it looks infinitely inviting. The beach is covered with boozy debris. Scribblers frolic in the ocean, buoyant as ever. One writer seems to have brought along an extra-large inflatable created in the image of a pink, frosted, fucking doughnut. She blows it up right in front of us.

Tim has organized a May Day picnic for us at the Fortress of La Cabana on the eastern side of the harbor entrance. From Havana, these fortifications look like an extension of El Morro, the iconic fort that guards the city. From our vantage point at La Cabana, Havana City stretches out before us, grey in the overcast with many identifiable landmarks. Cracks in the weather appear at the horizon and Havana glows with magnificence as the sun sets. Our group has pitched its metaphorical tent between two cannon on a parapet and shares two bottles of rum and some cigarillos. Because the obvious necessity of plastic glasses was overlooked, the rum must be poured into empty water bottles, where, for the life of me, it looks like the evil sputum of tobacco-chewers. Orelvis and Frank bring us pizza, which is floppy but savory, and salad, which must be eaten with ones’ fingers.

Here is the story behind La Cabana. In 1762 under threat from England, stupid Spain barricaded Havana harbor with its navy inside, the theory being that with a chain across the mouth of the harbor, the English could neither take the town or the Spanish fleet. The English simply sailed several miles to the east, landing at Cojimar, took the hill overlooking the Fortress of El Morro to the north, and mercilessly bombarded it until the Spanish surrendered. A year later, England traded Cuba back to Spain for Florida.

I believe I caught the tiny green flash that putatively occurs when the sun sinks below the ocean horizon, though I could be full of shit. During this fade-out we are shocked at the expulsion into the twilight of a giant black cloud from a generating plant further south. It evidently burns dirty Venezuelan oil, a gift from Hugo Chavez that keeps on giving. The city lights begin to adorn Havana in magic.

At nine o’clock every night, following some “rigmarole”, Tim’s word, a cannon is fired, symbolic of the restoration of Cuba to Spain. This rigmarole, which is called the ‘cañonazo’, consists of modest pageantry – first, three dudes, a torchbearer crying out in indecipherable Spanish and two companions in white uniforms, then a dozen ‘soldiers’ marching in formation around and around, then back and forth. A significant crowd has gathered on the battlement on either side of the cannon, but for a CUC, one can climb a set of stairs to an even better battlement that offers a panorama of the city and the ceremony. That’s what we do. There is a lot of smart phone-related nonsense from the assembled, which is deeply annoying in the dark of night. And, finally, after a great deal of measured rigmarole, the fuse is lit. One big boom. Good night.

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