Letters & Opinion

Havana – In Plane Sight!

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Every morning during a week at Cuba’s Royalton Hotel along Havana’s scenic Malecon sea-wall, I’d look out of my window, coffee in hand, at the dawning of each new day beyond the historic Moro Castle and the giant-sized statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the entrance to the historic city’s main port.

During each break at the international media conference that I was attending at the hotel’s bottom floor, I’d also go to its transparent roadside lobby bar and give exclusive WhatsApp video glimpses to selected friends at home, not-as-much to entice jealousy, as to show how Cuba is so-much as steeped in the past as in its present.

Like everywhere else, hotel service matched the brand and staff stuck to house rules while also letting their service shine.

Daniela and Osmani represent the old and new multilingual and bi-racial forward-looking and upward-aiming professional middle-and-lower management and administrative staff dedicated to ensuring Cuba’s tourism offerings are no-less on-par than elsewhere.

But time came for me to leave – and then came those ‘Airbnb’ and private Bed-&-Breakfast (B&B) accommodations providing more-intimate-and-affordable-lodging and Rest & Relaxation (R&R) to visitors not wishing to sleep in hotel double-beds, drink and dine in sky-level bars and restaurants or dive daily into swimming pools.

With a week before my scheduled return flight and much uninvited down-time on my hands, I took my mum’s advice and turned my disappointment into a blessed opportunity for my first-ever holiday in 47 years on the job, to see Havana and meet old friends, relive old times and discover what’s new.

I stayed at a private downtown home where the hosts offered more than B&B, adding Lunch and Dinner (L&D), plus an always-tempting high-rise dosage of unrivalled Havana skyline scenery.

My hosts were both a-little-older than me and each spoke perfect English, one a retired language teacher, the other a multiplicity of beings wrapped-up in one human body.

Our generational age bracket being the common denominator, I also turned out to be more-than just-another guest – and they, much-more than two very-serene hosts.

Mr Host is so-many persons that I easily got lost remembering he’s a doctor, soldier, musician, airline pilot, writer – and an irresistible conversationalist.

We discovered we’ve both travelled to nearly every corner of the world, at different times and for different reasons — him more than me in many cases – our experiences providing an endless list of topics for good and rich discussion on social and political revolutions and evolutions over Time and History.

Like all Cuban citizens, Mr and Mrs Host have to take daily 63-years-long ‘cola’ (lines) for rationed items or to negotiate prices for scarce food items from sidewalk vendors or home-based family-type outlets, in a nation beleaguered by six decades of shortages sustained by US sanctions – and where (like everywhere else) beating the system is hard, but not impossible.

Evidence exists everywhere of accumulated effects of the age-old economic sanctions, commercial and trade blockades and unending direct efforts by its closest neighbour to choke Cuba into submission.

The US continues encouraging mass migration to its shores, while tightening border entry points used by refugee immigrants.

But increasing numbers of Cubans are also now quietly opting to return home from America – including by boat – after encountering earlier unknown harsh social realities in the Land of Opportunity, like: paying rent and utility bills, for health and education, sleeping hungry on cold sidewalks or thin mattresses on cold floors – and subjected to police and other societal abuse because of colour and/or nationality.

Returning home from my daily walks noting forced and enforced climate changes on Havana’s foreshores, backstreets and local homegrown sidewalk commercial outlets, negotiating prices with service providers driven by Dollars and Sense, I’d pick-up an ‘Everything Pizza’ for dinner at my favourite nearby outlet, with a reminder – with each sale – that I can also pay ‘in dollars…’

Pouring myself a hot ‘Cuba Libre’ or grasping an ice-cold ‘Buccaneero Max’ after reaching home, I’d ask the musician in Mr Host to treat me to a smothering display of his intimate engagements playing dramatic organ music from Bach and melodious piano from Chopin, on his electric piano.

Or, for the pilot in him to take me on “a flight to anywhere”, from his private runway-without-end, in the cockpit of any of his two light planes that never seem to land.

Or, I’d simply settle in Mrs Hostess’ airy sky-level glass-cased balcony garden for the doctor in her husband to apply a traditional hot-water treatment to a blood curdle on my lower right leg that I was told (at the hotel) was the result of “a Cuban mosquito bite…”

During those daily balcony healing sessions, the doctor and I would exchange on the differences between patented medicines for similar illness, or in treatments at hospitals and on battleground front lines, or effects of herbs and pills and differences between concocted natural potions and chemical portions.

Or, the bards in us would talk and laugh about the fights we face today researching and accessing the types of information we’d been sharing long-before internet ‘shares’ were even dreamed-of.

Whatever we did on any afternoon, Mr & Mrs Host were a perfect example of Cuban citizens who clearly accept that what they have is better than anything promised elsewhere that may attract others.

Like every aging couple, they often innocently slip into the seeming nothingness of inadvertently complaining about the slowing process of retrieving delayed memory, thanks only to their shared extra-large mass of more-than a century of accumulated knowledge.

Our talks helped refresh their English and they sharpened my Spanish in mutual experiences enjoyed each time.

I returned home a week later, certain that my new old mes amis much-prefer to continue living happy in their own airy bubble, than ever-having-to exchange any of Mr Host’s planes, or his 18-storey control-tower, for one-way tickets to anywhere.

Until, of course, we meet again!

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