Sunday, October 7, 2007

Cuban Shorts

Castro: Pimp my Ride

Diane Paul of Halifax, Canada and Fort Myers, FL weighs about 500 lbs. and her knees have exploded. She needs to have them replaced with artificial ones but no doctor will perform the operation in Canada or the U.S. unless she sheds at least half of her body weight. Undeterred, she has found another solution than dieting. She's going to Cuba to have the surgery done there. They are probably whittling her new knees even as I write. A Cuban with bone cancer recently had a broomstick inserted in his leg to bridge the gap created when the cancerous bone was removed. New bone is said to be spanning the length of the broomstick. There are surely enough cornices and other architectural elements scattered in the detritus of Havana to provide prostheses for Mrs. Paul's knees and any number of other bone replacements. The patient is looking forward to her operation if not with optimism at least with resignation: "If it's my time to go, it's my time to go." Of course, if that were really her mindset, she wouldn't be going to Cuba. She will be there for the next four weeks, convalescing at a hospital and at a spa. If she had spent 6 months there and lived on Cuban rations, she would have lost the requisite weight and been able to undergo the operation for free in Canada. Instead, she will pay $19,000 from her own pocket to get the '"Castro treatment," where the patient calls the shots and doctors do as they are instructed. If she lives, at least she won't be setting off any alarms at airports with her mahogony knees, although a 500 lb. woman will always doubtless receive undue attention.

Cuban Art at Ringling's

We had hoped that the Ringling Museum of Art would be hosting an exhibit of pre-Castro circus posters. That, at least, would have been a positive contribution to Cuban art. But no; nothing of the kind. Instead, it is presenting "its most ambitious undertaking yet to exhibit visual art within a cultural framework" and, needless to say, the Cuban Avant-Garde exhibit which opens today is their first project to benefit by this new contextual approach to exhibiting art. The exhibition, which consists of 58 contemporary works, was organized by the Samuel P. Harn Museum in Gainsville and the Ringling will be its second venue in a planned 3-year tour. The Ringling has supplemented the exhibit with its own virtual circus, consisting of live dance and musical performances, films, lectures and seminars. None of this supplementary material addresses the lack of artistic freedom in Cuba or of freedom itself. Instead, there will be lectures on Cuban dance, Cuba's natural beauty and Cuban boleros ("journeys into the dark, desperate pleasures of the city at night"). This is the ideal cultural apparatus to enhance the experience for apolitical dilettanti who see Cuba as a vast social laboratory with palm trees, dancing natives and tropical lasciviousness. The Cubans' Cuba, a crucible of the human spirit, where official art is not an anachronism delegated to some dark corner of a museum's basement but the mandate of the State, practiced at its sufferance and for its benefit, will be draped in black curtains and hidden from view.

Britain's "Woman in Havana"

Thirty years ago someone was keeping tabs on Castro's spies, not in the U.S., of course, but in Britain. Her name was Stella Rimington, a middle-ranking MI5 officer then who would one day become its Director General (chosen, we suspect, because she was not a homosexual male). Now retired, Dame Stella took an excursion to Cuba this month and shared her impressions with the readers of The London Times. It is a somewhat surrealistic experience which she recounts, "sitting in the sun, drinking cocktails and arguing [about Castro]," which she calls "one of the joys of a Cuban holiday." Arguing with whom? With herself, we suppose. Even her taxi driver admonished her from the first not to talk about Castro and other Cubans were no less reticent to broach the subject with her. They shouldn't have been since she is a true believer and the perfect vessel for Castroite propaganda. She even castigates herself for having ever thought that Cuba was a threat at the height of the Cold War; now, she writes, "it is difficult to see the threat." We suspect that it was difficult for her then, too. In what is undoubtedly the highest compliment that a Briton can pay to Fidel and "Che" Guevara, Rimington likens them to "Battle of Briton fighters with beards and cigars." She "cannot but reflect that the Revolution is the fun part," that is, the indiscriminate killing and the destruction of civil society." What comes next, she muses, is "the hard part." What came next, of course, was the institutionalization of the killing and destruction. Her other observations are almost as asinine.

The Castro Brothers in Houston, Texas (April 27-28, 1959)

In an article published in November of last year (which we missed then), the Houston Chronicle recalled Fidel and Raúl's overnight visit to that city in 1959 at the invitation of the Texas Jaycees. The newspaper reported at that time that Fidel "swept through Houston in glory bordering on pandemonium." While there he was cheered everywhere he went by a movable mob; parents dressed their children as rebels in his honor; the ranchers, in particular, embraced him as one of their own and on a tour of the Bar JF ranch he was presented with a prized quarter horse. Not even JFK received such a welcome when he visited Texas 4 years later, and Castro, besides, left on his own two feet.

While in Houston, the Castro brothers stayed at the elite (and segregated) Shamrock Hotel, the city's poshest, in contrast to his more publicized sojourn to New York, where he lodged at a hotel in Harlem. It was at the Shamrock that the most memorable event of the trip to Houston transpired, an epic confrontation between Fidel and Raúl, where obscenities were exchanged for hours. It is generally assumed that they were arguing about the course of the Revolution. It is just as likely that it was about a family matter, since, politically, any differences between them, then as now, are the product of the "good cop/bad cop" charade. When asked by reporters whether they had had a falling out, Raul answered "Absurd!" and Fidel "Never!"


Charlie Bravo said...

Ah, our dearest Stella....
I am sure the lady had gentlemen help her in Cuba with all of those vacuum cleaner sketches, and that in Britain, the lads at the MI5 are containing their laughter....
It's not only that the Cuban Intelligence Service was modeled both after the Mossad and the Stassi -by people from the KGB who admired the first and created the later- but also its adversaries seemed to have put aficionados in the Cuba Department, everywhere....

Vana said...


You had me at the broomstick, I didn't know if I should cry or laugh, but the mahogony knees sent me to the floor laughing