Monday, December 17, 2007

Thoughts for the day to make up for a lack of blog entries...

If you're too open-minded, your brains will fall out.

Age is a very high price to pay for maturity.

Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, if he gets angry, he'll be a mile way - and barefoot.

Going to church doesn't make you a holy person any more than going to a garage makes you a mechanic.

Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

A closed mouth gathers no feet.

If you must choose between two evils, pick the one you've never tried before.

My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.

Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious.

It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.

I have found at my age going bra-less pulls all the wrinkles out of my face.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite government program.

If you look like your passport picture, you probably need the trip.

Always yield to temptation, because it may not pass your way again.

A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.

Eat well, stay fit, die anyway.

No husband has ever been shot while doing the dishes.

Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it.

It's amazing what you won't find if you don't look for it, especially if it's not there.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Soundoff on Impeachment!

If you're reading this (and I think this means you, Matt, as you're the only one who reads this regularly), you should sound off on The PI's editorial on impeachment. It's little less than a straw poll, but better than nothing:

http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/thebigblog/archives/126803.asp

Monday, November 12, 2007

Free Rice (for the world, not you!)

Though I have my doubts about the effectiveness of such a website, at least it makes me feel good and smart:

http://freerice.com

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What's that? Cuba's in the news again!?!

Today's daily rant is about NPR's story on Cuban dissident Oscar Biscet who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush. NPR claims that his views are "closely aligned with those of the president" but that's not a criteria for the award. Kind of like saying Halliburton's multi-billion dollar no-bid contracts are just "coincidence".

I consider myself an amateur Cuba-phile, have lived on the island, and barely heard of Biscet, so touting him as "Cuba's most high-profile dissident" doesn't mean much inside the country. Like Bush, though, he's at great odds with the rest of his own country. As an anti-abortion activist in a country that uses abortion as a primary means of birth control, a Christian in a country where few people wield that label (and fewer still who don't also infuse their Christian beliefs with a little Santeria) and a proponent of the Embargo.

Holy shit! This guy's in favor of the embargo? He's gotta be the only person inside Cuba who thinks the embargo is a good thing and working well. No wonder he's in prison.

I'm not an apologist for the Cuban government – they commit crimes just like any other government- but I do understand their line of thinking, which is "the US is waging a low-scale war against us, and we must respond in kind." The evidence of this war is hardly circumstantial, from the obvious (Bay of Pigs invasion, the bombing of a Cubana flight 455, and the 1999 hotel bombing in Havana); propaganda (Radio Martí,) antagonistic (Brothers to the Rescue fly-bys in the late 1990s); to instances that verge on paranoia if not for the hostility (a plague of insects that the Cuban government attributes to CIA clandestine warfare). Not to mention the unrelenting rhetoric from ten US presidents and counting calling for the downfall of Castro.

Any and all modern nations engaged in a war have clamped down on civil rights of their own population, for right or wrong, and the Cuban government is no difference. They think the US is at war with them, and we give them ample evidence to make such a conclusion.

Awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to one of the most extreme, a pro-Bush dissidents in one of the biggest anti-Bush countries in the whole anti-Bush world is just one of GW's many ways of saying "fuck you" to the rest of us.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I can't admit which movie I'm reviewing in this blog, you'll have to guess

A non-stop commercial disguised as a "movie" has little evidence of the
latter (plot, dialogue, character development, humor, reason, point)
and ample evidence of the former (I stopped counting at 37 different
corporate brands, but I think 150 is a good guess, plus a full-blown
Applebee's commercial in the middle). Critique the movie, highlighting
the plot holes, or writing another word (even to commend Sascha Baron
Cohen as the movie's only redeeming quality) is a waste of time. Quite
possibly the worst movie I've ever seen in my life. (Ps, curse IMDb!
They want my comment to take more than 10 lines. No, I tell you! This
movie is not worth ten lines! Please don't see it! It's horrible! If
you think this is funny, you are 13 years old. If you're not 13 years
old, you may have serious emotional and intellectual development issues
and I suggest seeing a doctor. There, is that ten?)

Monday, October 15, 2007

cartoon character

There's a sub today for Ms. Rody's math class. I've seen him before, and I think if there could be a real life 50 year-old version of Charlie Brown, he'd be it. Though he's not as insightful or sympathetic, and he wears very heavy, large dark-rimmed glasses that do nothing to help his shakes. I walked into the room for five minutes -buzzing like a beehive, I was greeted by one exceptionally energetic seventh-grader with a "YELP!" and then he hid under his desk. I stormed over to me and towered like Judgment until he was on the verge of tears. That's what I hate about this job, chastizing the merely overly energetic and being overly mean. So I escaped -my day stresses me out as is, I don't need to overload it more.

Monday, October 08, 2007

$576, a crowned tooth, and the world

Good Morning World,

So much for a weekly update, but then I remember: the only thing worse than not blogging at all is blogging about how little one blogs. So having said that, I have a purpose for today's blog, a new travel challenge:

Where can you go for $576 and dental care?

I went to the dentist last week for the first time since 1999, and I remember why I go so infrequently. After a superficial cleaning, tinkering and x-raying my pearly whites, the dentist came in for his three minute appearance. "That tooth there," he said, motioning to a molar, "that's cracked. If it splits, it'll be a root canal. You oughta put a crown on that."

A few minutes later I was looking at the projected costs: $576 plus tax. Luckily, I have "great" dental insurance, otherwise I'd be paying twice that much. Alas, the job that includes "great" dental insurance doesn't provide so much in dispendable cash. It'd be several months of Top Raman for me to pay that off.

Then again, I like to travel and nowadays, as my summer showed, look for "reasons" to travel. And what better reason to travel than to get your teeth taken care of!

A few months ago, an adult student of mine who'd arrived only six months earlier from Russia told me about his dental visit. "A thousand dollars for a crown!" He said in complete disbelief. "For a thousand dollars, I can go back to Vladivostock and have a crown put in there!" (We thought it out a bit more, and concluded that it'd be tight, a thousand dollars was a bit optimistic to get Vladivostock.)

Thus, my first thoughts when receiving the bill: how much is it in Canada? I know there are doctors and dentists in Vancouver who specialize in treating foreigners, charging sums ($100? $200?) that Canadians think outrageous Yanks a good bet. Same with Tijuana, though I have friends I can visit in Mexico City and just flew back from there for $220 -a round trip could easily be less than $550. Or I could go back to Cuba, though I couldn't get there for $550 even by a long stretch of the definition of "$550". And too bad my insurance is so good, I'd love to go to Vladivostock, have my teeth crowned and Vitaly (Hey Vitaly, email me! I might be in town...)

Usually, I've heard about these cases involving stingy retirees with boatloads of money and time traveling the world to get their dentures cleaned, but why not a young bloke like me? Afterall, if I have to spend $576 to have my teeth drilled on, I might as well enjoy the locale.

So I think that'll be my next travel assignment: go somewhere to have my tooth crowned and spend less than $550 doing it (I know the projected cost here was $576, but I have to save some money doing it). It'll take me a couple months (it's not urgent and I do have to work) but if you have any information on such trips, be sure to help out!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Best Things I've Read This Year So Far

It's time for my first annual, completely-random selected day of Best Things I've Read This Year So Far. Few of these things were published this year, and a few I even started last year but haven't finished until now.

Mark Jenkins, "Ghost Road", Outside Magazine sometime in 2004, republished in Best American Travel Writing 2005: not just a hell-of-an adventurous account of sneaking into Burma, but also an epiphanic summarization of the conflicts of traveling "off the beaten track".

Poe Ballantine, "501 Minutes to Christ", from The Sun Magazine, sometime in 2005: "Tom Waits in book form" chronicles the random meanderings from one skid row to another. I think he just had a collection under the same name published; I just finished Things I like about America, which is pretty much the same (though 501 is better).

Christopher K. Miller, "Literary Mary": I found this on an online writer's forum, and it's one of the most riveting, captivating short-stories I've ever read. It makes me want to throw down my pen and go back to harvesting pumpkins. (Luckily, I write with a computer). I don't know much about Chris, except he's received hand-written, hate-filled rejection letters from Glimmertrain. You may have to sign up to read it: http://www.writingforums.com/writers-workshop/72802-literary-mary.html

Sherman Alexie, "Ghost Dance", McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, March 2003, and not just because several scenes flash about Billings, MT. I've been meaning to ask if he's going to write a whole novel on this. Sherman, if you're reading this blog, can you finish this one book please? I liked it and it was a helluva lot better than Flight.

Finally, "Dating as a Jerry Bruckheimer Movie", though it's criminal to put it on this list as such blatant self-promotion. But hey, this IS my blog, afterall!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Waiting for the ferry outside of Clinton, WA.

Mark Jenkins wrote "Ghost Road" for Outside magazine in 2003, appearing later in the Best Travel Writing of 2004. I call it a pivotal piece in my writing development.

Poe Ballantine wrote "501 Minutes to Jesus" which appeared in the August 2005 edition of Sun Magazine. I'd also say that's a pivotal piece in my development as a wannabe writer. I'm now reading "Things I like About America", a collection of personal essays, and so far it's funny. I'm also reading "Cuba Diaries" and so far, I hate it. I can write a hundred antidotes to every anecdote conveyed in that piece. I think it's rather like "Before Night Falls": despite it's packaging as left-wing (with Cuba, everything is framed as either pro or contra revolution) packaging, it's really right-wing anti-revolution propaganda. A corresponding diary about living in the US with the same skewered point of view and "my experience reflects the absolute reality of the country" would never be published. But she's writing about Cuba, so it's gotta be true.

The line for the ferry is moving very, very slowly. Briana is driving. Trixie is navigating. I'm sitting in the back writing, noting how the stereo has blown out half of the back speakers as well as both up front. We need to get a new stereo and sell this one.

Now, back to that essay on Mexico.

Ideas to expound on, part 15

I had an idea or two about novelty books. One would read for a whole chapter:

But the book down.
Hey hey, PUT the BOOk DOWN.
Put the book down.
Hey hey
Put the book down!
Put! The! Book! Down!
Putthebookdown
Put the book down?
Put the book down;
Put the book "down"
"put" the book "down"
put the book down
hey hey, yeah baby, put the book down
repeat.

The book would be called something about self-deprecation and all that, how I'm humble but wanting to be a writer/artist, and how it calls me out to be things that I'm not, like egotistical and self-centered, etc etc. maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Failed Attempt to Write About Cuba, #6

I'm trying to write about Cuba.

I arrived a month ago and stayed for nine days.
Last night I dreamed of the mangoes, a humid sweat interrupted at dawn with the rooster next door. Shifting back to sleep, I awoke a few hours later with aching bones from the lumpy mattress and the neighbor blaring Orishas from his stereo, feet away from my ear.

I'm trying to tell people about Cuba, but I get swamped by the senses, the feelings. I get overwhelmed by the details. After all, this country is in many ways radically different than the US. For starters,

A socialist country, even a nominally one, under an embargo of the world's last (and crippling) superpower, is vastly different than the world's largest economy and perpetrator/enforcer of mass, hallow, consumerism.

Talking to people about Cuba back in the states, I find that their heads are filled with misinformation, propaganda, and weird assumptions.

Don't they hate Americans there?
No, I say. In all my travels (35 and counting, not including Liechtenstein) no one's ever viewed me as the enemy or "hated" me because of where I'm from. Of course, I make pains to blend in or at least learn something of where I'm traveling –I once knocked an old farmer outside of Saigon to the ground with laughter with my fledging phrases in Vietnamese.

It also helps –no, is essential- not to travel with any sort of "American #1" patriot attitude. It works well in the movies –shown to Americans, who return to mimic what they see- but not traveling. Especially in countries we've obliterated (short list of countries I've been to that have been blatantly obliterated by the US: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Germany, Japan; covertly obliterated: El Salvador, Guatemala; severely fucked with: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma… ok, now I'm just listing places)

Damn, this is completely tangential. Maybe I should put it on my blog…

Try this, it's for my environmental research

I'm a Conservation International Eco-warrior. What are you? Measure your ecological impact at <a href='http://www.conservation.org/ecofootprint'>www.conservation.org/ecofootprint!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Yet Another Blog!

I've sorted through all my Cuba notes and Cuba entries and put them under one, separate blog:

seattlecuba.blogspot.com

It reads like a diary (instead of a blog) and come to think of it, I need to write a conclusion. As I left it, I'm sitting in a teeny-boppers room in Mexico City with a hundred plastic dolls staring down at me. Funny, I thought the end would be something like that...

Monday, August 06, 2007

To All Those I've Met Along This Trip...

I'm back home after nearly five weeks on the road. It feels good, I'm glad to be back -the air is fresh (if overcast and cool) and the water drinkable.

Right now, the girlfriend and puppy have fallen into a nap on the couch next to me.

The plants in the garden have grown, some are bearing fruit and most have died.

My car runs.

Mom loaned us a flat screen TV.

I'm excited to catch the Simpson's Movie tonight.


I had an excellent journey that took me to four states, three countries, and two of the largest cities in the world (three if you count my two-hour layover in LA).


I didn't do a whole lot except for write and visit old friends, which was my exact goal. So thank all of you. I apologize for the impersonal mass letter, but I know I'll write you all individually soon.


For the rest of my summer I'm going (continue) to try getting some old stories published, as well as finish some new ones spurned by this trip (oh, what I didn't blog about the 12 year old Cuban's birthday party!).

I also want to finish some articles, at least one about Cuba and another about the future of travel based on the carbon emissions of my trip. (I wanted to come home overland, as air travel is a huge contributor to global warming, but due to some familiar factors I decided to fly.) I'll let you know if I have any success at all with any of this.


I'm also going to smooth out this blog and probably post the Cuban version on a separate one, uniquely chronicling my time in Havana. I cringe at the blatant self-promotion, but hey, it's America. To compensate, I'll blatantly promote my friend Joe Szwaja who's running for Seattle City Council and was recently endorsed by the local weekly The Stranger. Check him out at joeforcouncil.org, as I'll be spending a lot of time there, too.

And Montana.

And gardening.

And promoting sustainable development.

And sometime this summer, work will start again.

Argh!

It reminds me to start my new book, "Why We Work".

So much to do...


Thank you all! I swung from friend to friend like Tarzan on vines, rekindling old friendships and learning more about myself and our world. You are all great people and I thank you sincerely.


Until then...

Love,


Chris

Adriana and Natalia at the Frida Kahlo Museum

Mario and Me

Cheche Dancing with a Broom

Cheche getting her hair combed

Friday, August 03, 2007

Dear Dad

Viernes, 3 de Agosto, 2007

Chere papa,

Bienvenidos de Mexico, espero que todo esta bien contigo, "que te vayan bien" dicen los Mexicanos.

I had some free time today so I thought I'd write you a letter. I don't know if I told you about my blog, of if you read it, but I'll probably put this put there as well.

Chrislaroche..blgospot.com

I'm sitting in an artsy-alterno cafe in the hip part of town not far from Frida Kahlo's house. I decided not to go to Tuxpan, where I have other friends, as I learned that it's a 6 hour bus ride one way, and to go there today, come back tomorrow, and head out on Sunday would just be too much. Plus, my days here in el DF have been packed, and I could really use just hanging out. The decision was a tough one -I get the sense that in general, when a Mexican invites you to their home, the mean it with the utmost sincerity- but I just couldn't. It'll just make me come back down here sooner.

Everytime I come to Mexico, I'm impressed at the country and ashamed of mine, as the general consensus among the masses is that Mexico is... sweltering mass of teeming theives, or something of the sort. The friendliness of the people -here in the largest city in the world (I looked it up, and technically it's the "largest population of people, 8 million, under one mayor")- is shocking. My friend and host Adriana has absolutely no qualms of stopping and asking for directions -even from a police cop just after running a red light (it wasn't going to change, honestly). Did I tell you about New York? A mass of assholes, they could really learn something from Mexico City. And they're better drivers, too. Actually, that's been one of the main thoughts on my mind sense being here, how Mexicans are better Americans than Americans: they're politer, friendlier, more religious, better at raising kids and being a family. (They're also better cooks and thus consequentially, fatter. I would also joke that they're not as good as soccer players as us yanks, but I fear such joking, made even on the safety of my laptop in a cafe, would arouse violent reactions from passers-by).

Just to continue the list: the transit system is better (though traffic inconceivably horrific), the cars cleaner (LP gas-burning buses, for example), and thus the air is cleaner than many cities in the US.

Of course, I'm wearing rose-colored lenses and haven't seen the sea of slums, but come to think of it, I've seen less homeless than in Seattle. And no one drinks the water.

ANYWay, the other topic that's constantly at hand is: good Lord, this place is huge! It's hard to imagine a city of 8 million (or 20 million, as says Ricardo, my other co-host, in the greater area). I think I explained it to Adriana like this: though I know New York, LA, or San Francisco very little, I feel like I have a sense of direction there -i could be plopped down in the middle of either of those cities, and within five minutes figure out north from south and which way I want to go. Here... ha! Every time we've gone out, it's taken an hour driving, although we've gone less than 10 miles. When you look at the area I've covered on a map, it's a tiny spec. Unlike US cities, there's no pattern to streets -they grow and shrink randomly, turning from a major thorough-fare to a tiny alley in a matter of blocks. There are divisions and forks (and spoons and knives) in every road. It's a confusing mess, and the mass of people never, ever ends.

ANYway, I've finally found a cafe that has wifi and I'm using the most of the moment. It's been a while, but after a little warm-up like this, I remember the other stuff that I use to justify spending lots of time online for: sending out stories and articles to get published, working on my silly blog, some political work, etc etc. I should run off for now, but I'll try writing again soon (though I may not send it until I get home).

Hope you're doing well,

Love,

Yer Sun,

Christophe

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Anti-Havana

I am surrounded by pink.
A gaggle of Bratz, a dozen Barbies and a hunderd other dolls stare in my direction with empty eyes.
To my right, a metropolis of cheap perfumes in bright plastic bottles tops a dresser.
To my left, an ominous plan chest. Toys cover every available surface. Teenie bop idols plaster the door.
The bed is firm and I didn´t spend the night battling mosquitoes, nor did a four o´clock rooster make a drunken declarations to the neighborhood.
But you can´t drink the water and everything is served in styrofoam.

More on Mexico later...

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Thanks for clicking on the ads! Keep on clicking!

Now, back to my anti-capitalist rants...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rock n Roll, Compadre!

I am being a pig and drinking all the coffee, refilling each tiny cupette shot after shot.

I am constantly turning off the burning, which is left flaming and unattended despite a publicity campaign to get Cubans to conserve electricity. (They don't pay utility bills and sleep with the lights on and leave the gas burner flaming all day long, why should they conserve). For inexplicable reasons, Mario lights it again.

Mario is getting his head shaved. The shaver is a rocker, a spiked goatee the only hair on his head. His eyebrow ring matches those in his ears. On one leg he has a tattoo of an Indian chief, and on the other an elaborate death head figurine. On his shoulder is a black widow.
Cubans have very unoriginal tattoos.

Despite his appearance, the shaver is a jovial fellow and invites me to a heavy metal show the evening, a Cuban group, Hyptonsis. I politely say maybe. We get talking on acts that have played in Cuba: Audioslave, Air Supply, and the guy from Yes. Sepultura and Metallica want to play, and the Police are playing December 26, for free, in the Plaza de la Revolucion.

I think I'm coming back in December.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Ya estoy listo...

Last night was the anniversary of the Storming of the Moncada. Today is the battle against homesickness. I've been away a month, and I'm ready to head back. It's comforting to know I'll be back within two weeks, sooner if I figure out how to get home from Mexico City, sooner still if I give up my goal of reducing my carbon emissions by traveling overland. Write me if you'd like and let me know how you are, if anyone is actually reading my blog, post a comment.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Night before the Anniversary of the Start of the Revolution

I am drinking water straight from the tap. Thanks to my acupuncturist for the herbal cocktail, plus my liberal ingestion of Grapefruit Seed Extract, that made my stomach a steel trap resistant to the local bacteria. I hope it lasts through Mexico, as I'm out of tiny black beads.

I've returned from a festivity far away in Cotorro, the other side of Havana. Six of us piled into the back of a utility vehicle (a cross between a station wagon and a Geo metro), Alejandro, the Mexicano, the Mexicana, Quique, Mario and me. In the front sat the driver, a distant relative, and Alejandro's pregnant wife. The ride there was in silence. The celebration involved some chants and bowing. Then we drank.

It was some sort of birthday of a babalao who's been part of the ceremony for Kitty, the Mexicana. Not a regular birthday, and as I learned not a Santo birthday (as is Mario's tomorrow), but another birthday. Ifa? I'm not sure. It was interesting. Let's leave it at that.

Twenty or so people crammed into a tiny two-room flat on the outskirts of the city, and all of us, or at least the men and the expecting mother and the Mexicana, spilled out into the street afterwards. The conversations veered from religion to politics, to religion again. "Ya Basta!" said the young lawyer, son of another babaloa, "enough of this talk of religion and politics." We -him and I and the Mexicans, begin a list of music groups, and debate briefly on whether or not Jennifer Lopez is a singer.

I was singled out by a young man who addressed me in English -something that sends shivers down by spine, as it's the tell-tale sign of a jinitero, someone who wants something from me because I'm a foreigner. I was wrong, he later approached me and spoke in English -which he spoke like Spanish, garbled and twisted but intelligible. He left Cuba 11 years ago and came back to visit his mother. He produced his daughter, telling her in Spanish to speak to me in English. She took to the stage like a prima dona and cleared her voice: "Hello, My name is Samantha. I live in Atlanta and I'm 11 years old". I had a lengthy conversation with him and his wife about returning to the country, recounting my stand-off with the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and giving them the name and number of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

On the way back, Quique told us about studying in Odessa. I've figured out that there are generally two ways Cuba speak: the first, a normal Cuban accent, which is garbled and twisted and spoken rapidly; the second is just mumbled with as little effort as possible. Mario speaks the later, Quique a mix of the two. He speaks like marbles and rocks are tumbling from his mouth into a deep pool.

We returned to a cacophony of sounds: night one of a five day holiday, the night before 26 of July, when Fidel and Co. stormed the Moncada police station in Santiago, starting the second (or third?) revolution, though failing in the attack and losing many of his men to bullets and subsequent torture on the Isle of Pines (now know as the Isle of Young) before the survivors were exiled to Mexico, where they found an Argentine doctor and a boat named "Granma". Out the back of Mario's (or the front of Mario's, as he actually lives in the back of Olga's) is a long row of mid-sized apartment buildings, identical to the one Norona lives in. In anticipation of this day, all the windows were open and all stereos blasting, with a sizeable portion watching the Pan American games instead. There was also someone playing the flute amongst the chaos.

THE MEXICANS
have been a great benefit to my stay here. He's well-educated, thoughtful, interesting, well-traveled, a teacher. She is sweet and silent and being 18 and her first trip abroad, entailing an advanced and complicated ceremony in a mysterious and obscure religion, I can only imagine what's going on in her head. We've made a quick friendship like foreigners often do when traveling in a new country. They too are lost and confused (though not as much as me) by the Cuban's mumbled talk and heavy use of slang and African terms. I'm completely relieved talking to them, because I understand 95% of what they say, as opposed to 50% of most Cubans and 30% of what Mario says. We find it interesting that from the same language and the huge "hispanic/latino" label, there are far more similarities between us and with the Cubans

Those funny things we do in the capitalist world

Perhaps sensing my impending boredom, Mario sends me on a mission to accompany his daughter and her two friends to the food stand on 41st, where he and I went yesterday, to have a batido, cafe, some weird Cuban food. (Unlike the rest of Latin America, the streets of are not full of food stalls and people selling delicious, if not hygienically questionable, food bits. Instead, pocked here and there are what the Cubans call "cafeterias" but are for from the US definition of a cafeteria. It's a food stand, kind of, and the all sell variations of the same thing:
Cafe
soda
sweetened juice
batido
croqueta (a fried morsel of unknown origins)
roll with croqueta
roll with greasy ham
small tort
bar of ground peanuts and sugar
pizza -1 to 4 variations (cheese, onions, jam, tuna)
ice cream (2-4 flavors: vanilla, chocolate, mantecano (?) strawberries, coconut)

Those and perhaps a half dozen other items are the only thing I've ever seen in any cafeteria in all of Cuba. It makes eating dull, and accordingly, people munch their food standing (cafeterias are prohibited from providing chairs; they're often little more than a window to a house with a sign of what's served) with as much enthusiasm as one has when filling the car with gas.

Sometime today we're supposed to go to Cotorro -another part of Havana- for the Santo birthday of a hijado of Mario's. I asked him last night, and he replied "early". Even Freya chuckled at that, as "early" (pronto), has as much significance as "ahora" and "horrita": none.

**********************************************

Reynaldo the Whitie came over today. He looks vaguely like Harvey Keitel, though I may say that because they're roughly the same age and same color. He actually looks less like Harvey and more like a parrot. "I saw this thing on TV," he said, "and I'm not sure it was science fiction or what, but this guy used his computer to start another computer, and with that he was able to see into the other person's house. Is that for real?"

Yes, I said.

Aahh.. the things Cubans don't know about and how to explain it to them. For example, the phenomena of Internet imagery and webcams.

There have been lots of problems, I say, because people have cameras attached to their computers and they can see each other. Most people use this to talk to friends, but sometimes..." I struggle for the most accurate word, "people... do things in front of the camera and it's transmitted around the world. You can imagine what happens.

Reynaldo's eyes widened, "you mean like....?!?!"

"uh-huh" I say, "exactly..."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It's gonna be another scorcher

Wednesday 7/25/07 10:05am


My neck is stiff and I have a sort of blister in an extremely uncomfortable position.

Mario does his daily prayers, I do my daily journaling. Freya just sits there. There's a lot of sitting in Cuba, a lot of standing around, and I often wonder what these people are thinking. There faces are stoic, impossible to read, void of signs of frustration, though i imagine they're bored. Last time I was here, I was content with just sitting.

Last time I was hear, I realize, things were happening. I didn't meet Mario's brother Alejandro as he was making 'Ifa' in his part of his mother's house. There was a constant bustle of people both into Mario's for consultations and passed to to Alejandro's. It was a long, drawn-out ceremony that lasted several days and the main participate, a young man named Roberto who lives around the corner and a few blocks, spent most of his time in Mario pacing, asking questions. Most of the conversation included a casual abundance of Ifa-specific terms, terms that even my Cuban friends agree are a different language. So not only was I struggling to understand Cubans, I was struggling to under Cubans talking about concepts well beyond my area of knowledge.

Asking about it didn't help either. "What's 'Ifa'?" I asked a young friend of Mario's. "Ifa is... ifa" was the most i could get out of him.

Last night I finally made it to Casa de Noroña after a prolonged delay that I bitched about like a foreigner in an unposted blog post. It took all day to get there, first delayed by the heat, then again when it stayed hot, and then to see some of the ceremony, then to have a beer in honor of Cheché's birthday, then to wait for the fish vendor to come by and display the daily catch (Snapper, I think), and then... I don't know. We didn't leave until passed 7, just as thunder and lightening crept over the horizon, bringing an early darkness, and then a small contingent -me, Mario, his current wife, his ex wife, his daughter, her friend. I don't know why the ex came, but I suspect she was hanging out because it was Cheché's birthday. That's almost funny, as I try imagining my parents coming together for my birthday...

ANYway, we finally made it to Viazul, the tourist bus office where Mario's other daughter works, across the street from the zoo, over the hill from Noroña lives. I left them there and made the familiar walk through the rich part of town. (Once, in this same neighborhood, I passed a Alfa Romero -three feet high and spotless yellow- packed in a garage.)

The Noroñas, however, are the model communist familiar and would never own nor want a Alfa Romero (though they may settle for a Lada). And though they live in the rich part of town, they live in a mid-sized socialist apartment block (not the huge devastating ones that I once lived in, but something more compact and aesthetically pleasing). There place is among the quietest in town -facing a large park that winds along the river and a little view of the hill on the other side. It's peaceful and tranquil and sometimes I wonder why I don't invite myself over.

The Noroña's are well, and I probably don't invite myself over because though wonderful people, they're... kinda... boring. They live very content lives, working hard during the day and watching TV at night and overtures to do more with them were met with a sort of passionless agreement. "Oh yeah, sure, that'd be a good idea...".

I hadn't seen or heard them in over two years, mostly cause, being good commies, they avoid email. I asked them all, Alberto, Rosa, and young Alejandro, and they were blasé. I suspect it's because years ago the charismatic but arrogant leader of the Young Communists League Husan Perez denounced email and the internet as "tools of the devil".

So we watched the Pan-American games (there's a whole channel devoted to it), some wrestling and volleyball, interrupting the session with light talk. I told him how I found an expired subscription for bifocals that he gave me five years ago, and apologized, ashamed that I wasn't able to fill it. He walked into the other room and brought me out another prescription. Mom, dad, Briana, whoever's reading this who has prescription glasses, the prescription was written in April so I think we have two months to fill it. How difficult can it be?

Blah blah blah... that's my day and my warm-up exercises, on now to my suspense spy-thriller about telepathically communicating Cuban security agents who detect a plot to overthrow the country through an infestation of locus and pestilence.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

MIDNIGHT ENTRY

For the first time this trip, I had one of those cuban bus experiences: 10:30 at night (though it could've been midnight), packed to the hilt. Everything in Cuba -or at least all metal objects- look like they were made in my 7th grade metal shop class, both in quality of workmanship and also age of material. Thus this bus look like Lewis and Clark Jr Hi class of 86 welded it together as a class project.
The engine was right below us, and i swear it hadn't been oiled in the 21st century and any momeny now will explode, shooting pistols through the floor, as I'm sure they use a minimum of sheet metal and absolutely no firewall between us and the engine.

In there we packed, first 20, then 10, then 20 more, under flashes and thunder. By the time we reached the stop near home, it was pounding. To reach the exit, I had to swing past patrons like a money on bars. And don't get me going about the exhaust...

Dear Nate,

Dear Nate,

I take this time to thank you graciously for letting me use your laptop for this trip. Your generosity is paying off in spades, as good as I could have ever hoped. Thank you thank you thank you. When I'm a famous blogger, I'll pass on 20% of the credit to you. Thank you thank you thank you....

It's noon, to my dismay. We came back from a brief outing that took us to the next busy intersection, Avenida 41, to change money, drink some coffee and a batida (fruit blended in a... blender), before stopping by the argo-market near the house. This is an almost daily chore: going to the market to buy fresh veggies and, if i don't complain too much, meat. I turned up my nose to the pork ribs lying in the sun, and instead we got tiny, spotted eggs. I'm still trying to figure out what bird they're from, a "codonriz" (or is it codorniz?). Mario says it's "a small bird", but couldn't elaborate more. The eggs are pretty and I've eaten them in chocolate form, but not the real thing. If you speak Spanish and know what it is, please tell me. I'm also wondering how to say "beagle" and "pit bull", ie "my dog is a mix pit bull and beagle". And fish! All I can say is "salmon", "tiburon" and nor "pargo" (red snapper). If you know how to say halibut or any other form of fish, please share.

The sun was high and bright and unlike yesterday, which cooled quickly with clouds and light rain, is fierce and bright. I try hard not to look like a foreigner - I wear generic sandals and clothing and walk as slowly as everyone else. If I took off my shirt and bared my white, pasty skin, I'm sure I'd betray my origins, and now I also think I give myself away by squinting. Cubans don't squint, they're used to the sun and balk not at its intensity.

Last night I talked to a Mexican visiting Mario's brother to study Santeria. Right now, they're conducting a ceremony for his daughter. The Mexican, Israel, agreed that Cubans are very secretive about their religious practices, thus the dearth of books on the subject, so I'll refrain from saying more about it.

It was relieving talking to the Mexican -for over an hour we conversed and I understood 95%, and the rest I could infer from context.

I asked him the same question of every non-Cuban Latino I meet: when I lived here, my friends from Chile, Guatemala and Mexico opined that Cubans live easier than any other people in the world (or at least their respected homes, which is like the 50% or so who live in third-world nations). The Mexican didn't hesitate to concur. "Look," he said, "they leave the gas flaming all day long and sleep with the lights one. In Mexico, we have to pay for gas and electricity and converse it. Here, they don't and just waste it."

Ok, Nate, this wasn't really a letter to you except the beginning, but since you never use the Internet, I won't fret about it. I hope you're doing well and enjoying the cold and rain.

See you soon,

Me

Day 3... or is it 14?

I am eating eggs of unknown origin, an avocado from the neighboring tree, and rice colored with red beans. Beads of sweat drip from my pits. It's hot, I think, then I realize the gas burner is left on full frame. My new Mexican friend Israel said the Cubans leave it on cause they don't pay for it.

I ignore the two boys who'd entered the living room behind me until I hear yelping from Bruno the Lame Puppy. Polio, says the Mexican. In Mexico, says the Mexican, there are veterinarians, but when an animal gets sick, they say 'why bother, it's just an animal.
In America, say I the American, there are a people who pay a half year's salary to help their pets. Which is crazier?

The two boys behind are Piri (pronounced "Pe-de") the nephew, the son of Alejandro the Babaloa who right now is performing a ceremony for the Mexican's daughter with a troupe of other Babalaos. They wear white hats and have covered the doors in white sheets. Outside, two roosters lie bundled at the feet, two more chickens lie struggling in sacks.

The other boy is not from here, a stranger, and I quickly deduct a sort of veterinarian visiting from afar. Piri holds Bruno's head while the vet -a handsome, chiseled young lad wearing a brown beret of no religious significance, takes Bruno's hind leg and stabs it ungently with a syringe. They've been looking for someone to do this for a while now, even asking me after I arrived if I knew how to inject a dog. Vitamins, they say, a fleeting hope of relieving the polio. Bruno responds with muzzled yelps and peeing freely onto the tiled floor. The vet tracts the needle, Piri lets go, and it's done. the vet talks to Mario, though I understand little.

As the vet leaves, we finish eating and turn to the room, Cheche and her mother, her friend, Mario and me.

No one notices the urine on the floors, in due time it'll be mopped up with a rag. Bruno lies there like he has all day, like an old hound, except unlike a hound his head is up and erect and alert, watching the flies circle on and around him.

Now I'll try getting back online. I've been trying for two hours, since getting kicked off after sending one email and downloading one more (Harper's Weekly, pretty funny.) Since then the phone has been in use or the line has been busy or connected but dead. Right now, in this paragraph, it's the later, three minutes at 28.8 and exchanging a total of 34 bytes. This is too scientific to disclose.

Maybe I'm just not supposed to send email today.

We are sitting in the living room, taking turns with an Omron Model Hem-650 digital blood pressure monitoring device. Mine is 107 over 70, heart rate 74. Mario's is 124 over 80. His ex wife's is 114 over 78. No one can explain to us what these numbers means.

Now I have a connection...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Letter to M. Gibson Hartwell

Dear Gibson,

It was good seeing you way back when you came through town. Your band rocked and I hope your Missoula success spreads quickly throughout the country. Soon, instead of "I have a friend who once played with Colin Meloy of the Decemberists", I hope to be able to say, "my friend Gibson from Tom Catmull and the Bishops". Or is it Tim Catmull and the Clerics? Something like that.

Pardon me for using you as my second entry in an experiment of writing letters to friends as blog entries from Cuba, but I don't have an email and frankly what I share with you, want to share with everybody. As the blog says, I'm in Cuba and it's going spiffy. The music here saturates the
air (along with poorly combusted fuel and cigar smoke. Speaking of which, while I'm limiting myself to a two-a-day cigar habit (and even then not enhaling), I had my first experience of this trip of Exhaust OD. I was walking with my friend Mario and his daughter Cheche to her mother's house, when we came to the intersection of 100 and 51 in Marinao (which may be the equivalent of the intersection of 125th and Lake City in Seattle, but has no equivalent in Montana). Wait, I take that back, it's kinda like Malfunction Junction in Missoula, as it's the crossing of three major arteries, though better planned. However, all the cars, or trucks actually, old Soviet things and imported buses from Holland and gerry-rigged Chinese contraptions and everything robbed of their carborator, it was all abit overwhelming. I had one of those moments when I wanted to sneak into a hospital and borrow a geriatric's oxygen mask.

The junction is the same place where I've made one of my few discoveries of change since my last visit two and a half years ago: a state-owned restaurant. Then, the staff was surly and pissed to be interrupted from their meal. "What do you want?!" they growl, and when Mario answered, "Food", the look on their faces said, "why on earth should we give you food=E2=80=9D. They said all they had was chicken and beans, though they were eating friend platanos themselves (
bananas) and downing it with beer. They reluctantly took our order and it arrived twenty minutes later. Though we were the only customers in the place, i counted 10 staff.

NOW, must to my amazement, the waiters are friendly, greet you upon entering, and wear black ties. Options are printed on menus and the drink selection is on display (wines both red and white, as well as Cuban beer, though a placard kindly asks you to refrain from drinking rum out of bottles on the premises). I was shocked -surly staff who loathe -wait, are idiologically opposed to the concept of "serving" were trademarks not only of Cuba, but every other soviet state I'd been to (Russia, Poland, East Germany; the Chinese weren't much better, but the Vietnamese, Cambodians and Lao, for some reason, had it right). Perhaps this is a watershed change, perhaps just a signal phenomena, I won't be here long enough to find out.

And that, my old friend Gibson, concludes my letter to you. I hope sometime, eventually, you find it on my blog and enjoy it, and i haven't revealed any embarrassing truths about you like I did to my cousin.

Send my regards to the little lady and growing boy, and I hope to be out there sometime in August.

Your Friend,

Chris

Bruno the Puppy

7/23/07
8pm
I am sitting in my room. Smoke from the fried fish for dinner is filling in from the kitchen below. For the first time this trip, I am hungry, but food is on the way.

I am hiding from Bruno the Puppy. His condition is worsening, slowly. He is literally like a disabled child, stricken with polio or cerebral palsy or some other crippling disease, but he is only a dog and what do you do with a disabled dog? Mario found a medic on our evening stroll, who declared that he's not a veterinarian, but would look at him nonetheless. I understand less and less of this conversation and would rather not think about it. Bruno is a sweet puppy otherwise, and still when the cats past outside, he howls and scrambles his feet unsuccessfully, able to lift himself but more unable to resist the cats. As a result, mixed with his howl at the cats are yelps of pain. The cats stare at him, reveling in positions as torturers. I wonder how much it'll disturb me and I only pray that whatever happens, happens peacefully and after Sunday.

It reminds me of a much more absurd situation several years ago when I visited a friend's uncle in Santa Clara where behind the kitchen they kept a pig -a huge Chinese pig being fattened for a slaughter- and doberman pincher in some stage of a complicated pregnancy that may or may have not included a miscarriage, but did include an awful amount of blood. I'm not sure, we left as soon as we could, effectively ditching our hosts at the next town over, their insistence that we stay more and more overbearing. But that's another story for another time.

Re: Blog

Thanks, Matt! I'm glad someone is reading it!

Speaking of which, here's another entry:

7/22/07

The Unposted Blogpost

The next we saw Reynaldo, he was half a bottle of whiskey and half a beer on the top of the Cuban Caribbean Association, at a thatched rood bar, long lost of politics and conversing uniquely of his drink, with the occasional interjection of money. ?5 million dollars to find Osama,? he says, with a correction: ?no, five Billion...?
no, i say, 50 million
oh yeah, that's right, 50 million.

They make me eat pork. I make the mistake of saying it smells good, even though i don't eat it. My entire theory of ?theoretical vegetarianism? is put to test. I agree, it smells good, especially if you mistake it for roasting portabellos, and if forced, if your hosts have treated you, if it's lying there on the table with fried platanos and rice, it tastes good.
I held up a forkful and offered it to God, Orula, Ma'he'o, Allah, whoever is listen and will forgive me.
They made me eat pork.
I downed it with a second beer, then a third, mixed liberally with whiskey.
Anthony Bourdain the semi-famed traveling cook absconds vegetarians whenever possible, saying it's an affront to culture appreciation. I want to take my fork of pork and stick it in his eye.

After dinner, we descend to the dance hall. Before my eyes is something I've never witnessed before. The dance hall is busy, buzzing and alive. Everybody's dancing salsa. The average age is well passed 50, maybe even 60, my parent's age, whom I've never once seen dance to save their lives.

Among the crowd is a woman with humongous tits held within a tight orange tank top. Though her breasts are large, they barely protrude further than her bloated belly. If i strain my eyes, I can see her nipples outlined by sweat underneath a white bra. She is pacing between partners, unsatisfied with either. I notice her not only for her breasts, but also because she is amongst the youngest in the bunch, but still easily older that I.

Amongst her would-be suitors is a shrunken man hunched and making the rounds with the aid of a cane. Freya and I speculate his age. ?80?, she says. ?Really? I say 90? i say. Her stops the large-breasted orange bloused woman and for a moment they engage in lurid variations of salsa and obviously, he's reliving 70 year old fantasies. The woman, her back to him, his eyes transfixed on her derriere, looks at me and rolls her eyes.

Next to me is another woman, extremely tiny, much less than 5 foot and i imagine 85 pounds. She eyes me slyly while fending off a suitor -a tall, skinny man with a white cap who's pretending to be Ibrahim Ferrer. As I look around, I see half the men are tall and skinny and wearing white caps, wanting to be Ibrahimi Ferrer, Lord rest his soul. They dance, and flirt, before finally exchanging phone numbers. Ibrahim sees this as an opportunity, and the dance becomes hotter, heavier, with more gyrating. He spreads his legs and wiggles them with rapid fluctuation of his pelvis. I looks like a cross between a rabbit humping and a chicken walking. The woman blushes but she's unimpressed and from afar, i can read her lips: ?No, no, chico! I'm not into that!?

The salsa is replaced by Bob Marley, No woman no cry remixed with an industrial yet disco beat. To my dismay, the crowd lines up in formation and begins the macarana.

The large breasted, tight tank topped woman has friends, one with frizzy hair.
Her breasts extend out almost as far as her stomach.
Her frizzy haired friend eyes me from afar.
For once, I'm not eyed for a being a foreigner with money, but because I'm the youngest one in the lot. By far.
She eyes me and i play shy. I am a shy boy, and i loathe being lusted for being a foreigner, or for being young.
Freya grabs me to dance. ?I'll teach you the congo? she says. It's fast paced and involved switching the hips. Most American salsa aficionados move the hips back and forth in a humping motion, a motion the Cubans find vulgar, if not amusing.
Congo is fast.
Frizzy hair continues eying me.
The song ends and we head to the bar.
Looking back, Frizzy Hair catches me looking for her. She gives me that international ?call me? signal, holding an imaginary phone to her head. I wave goodbye and she disappears.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Matt Dente [mailto:matt@mattdente.com]
> Sent: Monday, July 23, 2007 04:11 PM
> To: laroche@speakeasy.net
> Subject: Blog
>
> Hey Chris, just wanted to let you know I'm enjoying the blogging, keep it
> up!
>
> Have fun...
>
> Matt
>
> --
> Matt Dente Design
> www.mattdente.com
>

Marinao, la Habana

Havana, 7/22/07
11:15 am
I am smoking cigars, drinking a shot of sweetened espresso, and smearing my face with mango juice, the stringy remnants of I'll spend the next half hour picking from my teeth. Then we eat breakfast.

3:49 pm
Mario told me to put on long pants as we're going to some sort of club. So I did, the light-weight nylon ones with the removable legs that I only wear in Cuba, and have been waiting since. Another cliché of Cuba and third-world countries in general is the concept of time: Mario said, "Vamos", "We go" with no indication of when. To me, "we go" means put on your pants and with the same speed make for the door and head out. When I came down, he was still shirtless in his shorts. "Ok," he said, "let me wash then we'll go." That was at least a half hour ago and last i saw, he was watching the marathoners of the Pan-American Games.

I passed the time trying read a bilingual book of romantic-era Spanish authors -an absolutely horrible choice for someone with moderate to low reading comprehension as myself. Thus, I'm back up writing. I hope who ever receives the book considers it a nice present.

Earlier we stopped by the house of Reynaldo the Whitey, one of a handful of people who visited the house often during my last visit. Like everyone I'd seen again (Manogo the Drunk, Mario's brother, as well as his mother Olga and wife Freya) Reynaldo was surprised to see me. There aren't a lot of visitors around here, so each one is revered. Reynaldo came over later and we chatted... sort of. It was a one-way chat, with Reynaldo rambling and me adding in utterances of agreement. I understand few people, and though Reynaldo speaks clearer than most, I still only have a rough idea of what he was saying. To complicate the matter, it was politics and he was complaining, and if there's one thing worse than talking politics with someone you disagree with, it's with someone you disagree with who you also can't really understand. I thought he was complaining, predictably, about "the situation" here -he's white, relatively well off, and has family in California- when he said "and George Bush, bah! No one likes him!" it through me for a loop. When he talked about the increasing militarization and worsening economy, was he talking about in Cuba or the US? I'm not too sure...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

THAT NIGHT

Shhhh..... I'm in hiding!
I'm writing in the middle of an INCREDIBLE electrical storm.
After a short meander looking for cigars, Mario and I got caught in the rain. We hurried back soaking wet just in time for the show.
We poured ourselves the last of his aguardiente and sat upstairs opened the door and watched mother nature do her thing.
It was as phenomenal as it was intense, and at one point the lightening was so close, it lit my cigar and blacked out the town. It harked me back to childhood days and the fear of thunder.
Now it's starting to pass, Mario left me alone with only my laptop and a candle burning, and as the storm passes the dogs are beginning to bark, the only other sound aside from the falling rain and distant thunder.
Awesome... awesome...

DEAR CRAIG

DEAR CRAIG,

Sorry I couldn't call again before I left, but thanks for reminding me about your sister's birthday. Maybe she'll read this and warn you.

I can't but help think of the time you came to visit me in Seattle two and a half years ago, just before my last trip Cuba. You walked into my daylight basement abode with severe trepidation, carefully placing your steps, marveling at the uneven, mismatched carpet and eying the ceiling corners for cobwebs. "See that spider there?" you said. "My wife, she'd be out of here by now."
"What? Why?"
"Cause that spider alone."
And that was before you walked into the bedroom.

Greetings from Cuba. If you thought my apartment was bad, you wouldn't be comfortable here. There are stains on the wall and the ceiling has patches and the florescent light above by bed dangles from a next of wires (turning it off and on is done manually, by twisting the bulb). The floor is covered in fine dust and there are no spiders but tiny lizards, some of which change colors as they scurry across the wall into the exposed and unfinished light switch socket, some which are missing tales.

Yes, I think I warned you about this when you walked into my room -the first time you ever came to visit me in the 30 years we'd known each other, and if I publish this, I promise not to include any revelations on the deep secrets you revealed.

You had a similar reaction when I showed you photos of friends' houses in Cuba. "What's that?" you asked, much like I'd react to a loaded diaper. "That's the kitchen." I think you gagged.

Sigh... Cousin, I think is very clear: I'm much more adventurous than you.

The fan is missing the faceplate and the socket its plugged into is also exposed and thank god everything is made from cement so nothing will catch on fire. The only furniture in this two-room, rooftop addition is a bed (thankfully covered by two thin sheets. I'd seen Cuban beds before and they'd be better off sleeping on hay and I'd rather not actually see what I sleep on) and rickety But I have the whole apartment by myself (Mario's American friend, who I finally met in person the night before departing New York and lived here on and off for a few years, commissioned and had it built after the last of his multiple extended visits. He hasn't been back since it was finished, but hopes to return in the fall), Mario asks for permission before coming up the stairs (which I find a little odd, but not really since there are no doors either) and the bathroom has been recently finished and THAT, my friend, is a major source of comfort in itself (I won't start talking about the downstairs bathroom, as the sign of a bad travelogue is harping on about bathrooms, kitchens and other unsanitary aspects of other countries and I think I've done that enough already). But now I've been 15 hours and aside from a brief morning walk to the market, haven't left the place so I think I should set this computer down and do just that.

Nice writing you, cousin, hope the wife and kids are well and I'd remove that embarrassing revelation if I actually thought you'd read it. Serves you right for not emailing me more often.

Much love and peace, and send all that to the fam,

Your Cuz,

C

Havana, Day 1

I'm here and online! I'm nearly ecstatic that from this simple home, whose keeper's wife works at some sort of computer company (the details I will never understand in Spanish) and has full, complete access to the internet!

Sigh... it feels good to be able to communicate with the world. When I lived here, finding the internet was a daily battle and my coworkers and friends and I went through obscene extremes to connect. Now it isn't much easier, I just have the right connection.

I've been taking notes:

Havana morning 7/21/07

Good Morning and Bienvenidos.

Where to start? with the dawn barking roosters? the saddest puppy in the world? The complete lack of plastic or the new key lime paint and fully tiled bathroom?

Smell, I usually start with the smell, the first sensation that I've arrived in Cuba, one step off the plane. It's a heavy, humid mix of diesel and unrefined coal, mixed with tobacco. If you close your eyes, it smells like a campfire, or mesquite BBQ.

I got in late, as pointless, lame and undescriptive blog entries frustratingly banged away at the Cancun International Airport illustrate. It was passed 1:30 before I exited the Havana airport.

I slept well until the roosters, one of which lives right under my window. I'd swear he's in the room, but can't see him. The crowing started at dawn, as roosters do, and more impressive than the rooster alarm clock was after his turn, in the distance I could hear a chorus of roosters, hundreds of them from as far away as sound could travel. If it weren't for the one under my window, I'd think the whole thing impressive.

Everything's good, little has changed. The room upstairs, the guest room financed by his pupil, is finished, though not much different than last time I was here. A tree in the back yard is new, lush and towering. The one next door is gone. The scrawny puppy on the roof has been replaced by the saddest puppy in the world. He a cocker-spaniel mix, and a month ago they say, he came down with an illness. I don't understand the word for the illness and probably wouldn't recognize it, but I understand that it affected his brain and I don't really want to understand more. Now he's bone skinny and staggers around desperately trying to place his feet firmly on the ground, and often not succeeding. His nervous system has been fried and he can do little more than lie there. This morning he staggered towards me, eyes full of dry tears, and I petted his head. It was like giving water to a man dying of thirst -he closed his eyes, sighed deeply, and rested his head on my thigh. I can pet a lame puppy, I think to myself, but also I start fearing contracting whatever illness left him this way. Maybe that's what this journal will be about, most slow decent into medical hell with cerebral meningitis. I will, obviously, keep you posted.

The neighbors have a new stereo, which from my room is played at a decent volume. I'm content with someone else choosing the soundtrack for my time here, but fear a litany of non-stop reggaton. So far, so good, just Eminem and salsa.

Mario went to the market this morning, a short trek a few blocks up the street. First we went to a bodega that sold cigars (one peso each) and rum. The employee was classic government store-clerk ennui, who fully demonstrated the pain involved with walking behind the counter and handing us a carton of cigars.
Outside on the ground, an old drunk sat in his own piss staring listlessly at the empty bottle in front of him.

The market was the same, and I noted the remarkable lack of plastic. Aside from plastic bags (jabas, which are guarded like currency) the only other form of plastic in the whole vegetable market was sacks of grain.

Everyone looks the same- old clothing, sweaty skin, slow staggering. It's very calm, very peaceful.

As predicted, my failure to find a conversion plug may prove to be a significant snafu.

**************************
afternoon

i couldn't stand it any more.
lying on my bed, it felt like my leg was cooking by the rays of the sun sneaking through the slats of the window.
I looked up -no sun in sight. It was the plain heat. When the fan wasn't on, everything was baking.
It's hot.
It's 3 in the afternoon.
I now know for certain that Cuba is in the eastern time zone.

**************************

4:15

The hour was spent fast forwarding through a collection of black market Jackie Chan and Jet Li DVDs that I brought over from a friend in the Philippines (thanks, C4, they'll get more use here than back home) looking for subtitles and soundtracks in Spanish. A couple were in French, a couple more in English, but the rest completely in Chinese. How will the Cubans ever understand Kung Fu if it's only in Chinese?

I have a slight headache and tightness in the temples. This could be from the spinal bendifida that I contracted from the Saddest Puppy in the World (soon this will become depressing), or it could just be a sign that I need to drink more water.

I hear thunder in the background, though the sun is hi and there's not a cloud in sight.

WATER
Every time I come to Cuba, I battle stomach illnesses. When I lived here, my naturopath gave me a bottle of wormwood tablets, and those seemed to do the trick. the last time I brought a bottle of Grapefruit Seed Extract and a box of Emergen-C packets; I squeeze 12 drops into a naglene of tap water and shake it around, and then add two packets of Emergen-C to offset the horrible taste. It's little more than hocus-pocus, but at least it keeps me from drinking straight from the tap.

Where is the thunder coming from?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Cancun Airport

Greetings from TGIF, Cancun Airport

Sad, isn't it? Not only is my first day abroad spent entirely in an airport, but the highlight is TGIF.
What is Mexico coming to?
Ok, a few observations: minutes ago, the Mexican women's national soccer team beat the US 3-2 in a stunning come-from-behind second-half rally. I'll need to wiki this to be sure, but as far as I remember, it's the first time las Mexicanas have beat the Gringas EVER.

On to more mundane things: should I expound on the significance of TGIF Mexico? Same crappy, fake interior, same retched '80s soundtrack as is those ridiculous striped jerseys (I can picture Office Space now with Jennifer Aniston working as Schlotzki's, "More Cheery Buttons!") but aside from the fact it's dead -as dead as it was two and a half years ago, last time I awaited for a delayed plane- and all the staff is watching the soccer matches (or several of them), I gotta wonder what they're thinking: "We wanted economic development, and you send us this shit?" No wonder they coined the phrase "grin-go" (Green Go).

My stomach's grumbling. My intestines are doomed. I'll try not spending a week blogging about my bowel movements, but I'm not promising anything.

As a second warning, I feel like my first few blogs will be complaining. I apologize in advance, it's all part of the process...

ON MY WAY TO CUBA

JULY 20, 2007

as I write this, in fact, on a Jet Blue flight to Cancun.
Maybe you got a text message from me sent early this morning.
Maybe I wrote you an email blatantly promoting my own little cyber corner of narcissism.
Maybe you stumbled on this blog while looking for people to email your silly scam to make money.
Whatever the reason, you're here. I'm here. I'm going to Cuba. Too bad you can't come with me, as it's going to be difficult to convey the smells and sounds of Cuba -not to mention the heat and humidity. You'll have to settle for my words and occasional photo.

FIRST, some logistics for you to keep track: I'm flying into Havana tonight, with a long layover in Cancun where I hope they have wifi (Andres, hay wifi en Cancun? el DF?). I'll be there for nine days, when I fly to Mexico City. After a little while there, I'm planning to come back overland to the US. How, where and when have yet to be decided.

A Few Words on SICKO

I saw Michael Moore's movie last week, and while he makes himself an easy target for his critics, you can't dispute the facts about the health care crisis in the US. You may, however, wonder about that segment filmed in Cuba.

I haven't done any research or seen any other information on that clip, but having lived in Cuba, I can attest to the health care in the country. While I doubt anyone could just walk into any pharmacy and find the exact inhaler needed (medicines are in short supplies and pharmacies infamously understocked), I'm sure it exists somewhere and that it costs three pesos (less than fifteen cents).

When I was first in Cuba for the International Student Festival, a group of Americans contracted pink eye. They were whisked away and spent the festival in quarantine with the full treatment, no bill ever produced. When I lived in Cuba I contracted tendinitis in my right hand, which kept me from working (typing on a laptop like I am right now). My boss didn't wonder when I'd be back to work nor pressure me to return early (much to the contrary, I tried persisting and typing even long after it became uncomfortable. This is due to my innate American trait of sacrificing self for your job, even if it made my condition worse, something no Cuba would do, nor people in most first-world countries). Finally, after trying to type with a pencil held between my thumb and forefinger, I gave in and went to the hospital. The diagnosis wasn't rocket science (a doctor looked at my hand and said "tendinitis") and the resulting daily acupuncture treatment was "not the quality I'd receive in the US" (six patients in room, doctor standing over me, cigarette dangling from his mouth, the smoke sometimes obscuring the points where the needles were to go; once, a nurse obviously in training on administering acupuncture, inserted the thing all the way to the hilt -a good two inches into my hand. "Um," I hesitated, "I don't think it's s'pozed to be so deep".
I never received a bill.

Of course, I don't think any American can just show up in Cuba and expect medical treatment like they do in Sicko, though it'd be a wonderful PR stunt if we could. There's supposedly a clinic near the embassy zone that charges a flat $25 per visit, but who would pay it except for Americans, who think $25 to visit the doctor is a good deal?

There are a lot of concepts that Americans in general just can't grasp, and free health care is one of them. Why not? We're the wealthiest nation in the history of world, we can set a man on the moon, you think a tiny project like free universal health care would be a no-brainer.

Ok, that's my rant.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Counting cities like sleeping sheep

Why am I writing right now?
Why am I blogging?
Why am I trying (vanely) to get published?
Why am I traveling?

I'm s'pozedly traveling to give me new fodder to write about. Problem is, I'm not nearly as proficient a writer as I'd like to be. PLUS, I'm having the unfortunate habit of visiting friends, who want to spend time with me, giving me less time to spend writing.
Silly, silly friends.
PLUS, um... I'm just writing essays without any substance.
and right now, I'm just writing as a warm up.

the laptop is on my lap, as the pull down table was uncomfortable. it's heating up quickly, giving me a slight tingling sensation in my testicles. Right now, the train is stopped along the Hudson. It's gray and murky. It's raining. the trees, shrubs and grass are very green.

It's taken me a long time to get on this train. I vented to my girlfriend about the follies of my side-trip to Plattsburgh, adding the caveat that it was good to see my old friend Paul and he was glad to see me to, but the trip... the trip... argh. What's worse, the gouge of the car rental, getting lost on the way there, the ensuing speeding ticket (reduced to a warning for having an outdated address on my license) or driving back and having to wade through Albany.

ALBANY

HELL ALBANY, WE HARDLY KNEW YA...

PLATTSBURGH

Plattsburgh was nice. It's like Mayberry, St. Paul, or that town in "Its a Wonderful Life". It was nice seeing Paul, Lucy, and there kid Niko. Otherwise, the highlight of Plattsburgh was...

BURLINGTON

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Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable

SORRY, BURLINGTON, YOU'RE NOT AS SPECIAL AS YOU THINK YOU ARE

Sitting outside the organic cafe off of church street reminded me of sitt=
ing outside of quality burrito in Olympia, or that Nepalese Bistro in Mad=
ison, or Bernice's in Missoula, or those Tibet shops in Boulder, or that =
pizza joint on Telegraph Road in Berkeley, or... or.... or....

I didn't see Ben or Jerry, nor Howard nor any Phish. Surprisingly, the =
dreadlocked hippies only sent one representative to greet us -shoeless, b=
raless and cute yet still a hippie- and she didn't even look us in the ey=
e.

Difference between west coast hippies and east coast hippies: west coaste=
rs say hello.

But Burlington was nice. I hate to hate it, but I kinda halfta- it stirs=
up all these old feelings and conflicts about trustafarians, the ivy tow=
er, liberal elitists and the disjunct between the various realities that =
make up the grand old US of A. But it was good being there -even if thei=
r thrift stores are mislabeled and close at four in the afternoon- and sl=
ightly like a Mecca. Nah, "Mecca" is sacreligious and disrespectful to I=
slam, so I have to say it's like visit to an iconic destination. They ha=
ve, after all, unlike Missoula, Boulder, Berkeley, or Madison, actually e=
lected a socialist to the Senate. Way to go, Burlington!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

TOPICS NEGLECTED BY MY LACKSIDASICAL WRITING HABIT

This whole thing about saving receipts to write off traveling expenses in the guise of "research" and "writing assignments" (a topic that also includes recent trips to las Vegas, Montana, and Portland, not to mention Minnesota, Cuba, and Mexico City)

The pros and cons of Amtrak

Listing all the places I've been on this trip just for the sake of having cities names all over my blog:
Minneapolis
St Paul
East Hampton
New York City
Syracuse
Pulaski
Plattsburgh
Burlington
Albany (though not by chance)

Why am I writing?

The end of travel.

My last hurrah: how I'm tiring of travel and battling homesickness.

Green travel: counting the carbon flood the atmosphere from your super-cheap Jet Blue flight to Cancun, and trying to offset it by taking the train the whole way back (yes, the whole way).

A blow-by-blow account of this trip.

Car Rentals: Always the most expensive and slowest option?

A critique of the public transportation system of Albany: three buses from the airport to downtown is not a viable system.

Wild Birds of the Hudson Valley, Adirondack Mountains and Lake Ontario.

Taking a Nap, or How to Take a Nap, or "The Idiot's Guide to Taking a Nap".

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Photos so far...


A long walk through the city

Briana in NYC

Phoenix in Minneapolis...

Phoenix and his mother Anne acting silly at night at an art gallery at the UM campus

Pulaski, NY

July 16, 2007

Pulaski, NY

Dear Self,

Greetings from Pulaski, which the locals mispronounce as "Pulasky", like "Blue Sky". We're at a ramshackle camp on the edge of a pond that feeds into a lake that leads to Lake Ontario and freedom (Canada). We arrived the day after the wedding when all the family was here- seven cousins, including the bride and groom, some kids, and my girlfriend's mother's boyfriend. The camp is next to abandoned and every cousin (age 30 to 16) remarked that they hadn't been here in seven years.

They say not to drink the water and that it reeks of sulfur, but I think it smells like sewage.

There's lots of food, and I'm looking forward to fasting in Cuba so I might as well fatten up now.

I have this grand idea that I need to practice writing every morning, I oughta write things for this silly blog, and I need to write letters to folks like I used to, so every morning I'm going to try writing a letter to someone and post it on my blog. This first one is to me cause I start out with a threat to kick my butt if I didn't write more, so here I go.

Syracuse was fine. They claimed it's surrounded by slums and use the word "ghetto" liberally, but I actually didn't see much to back it up. I did, however, see Lake Onondaga, the most polluted lake in the country! Health officials limit consumption of fish caught in the lake to one a month, but locals know better. Despite this status, nor evidence of large industrial polluters like those surrounding Lake Union, Lake Onondaga is brimming with summer activity, though they also say when it gets hot, the lake stinks like raw sewage.

Briana's mom is very nice and I met her once last summer when she came to visit and Briana kicked me out of the apartment and I had to sleep in my van for a week. (The top of Queen Anne is an excellent place for summer urban car camping, especially alongside the park next to the middle school and community center -there are plenty of trees and a strange vehicle -even a bright, hand-painted VW bus- doesn't stick out too much. Plus there are plenty of cafes to hang around in).

ANYway, looks like right now we're going to go on a little road trip to Old Forge. I'm s'pozed to go to Plattsburgh on Tuesday to visit my old friend Paul, but I haven't figured out how. Then I'm s'pozed to go back to NYC on Thursday but I haven't figured out how. Then I'm s'pozed to fly to Cancun and then to Cuba on Friday but I.... you get the point. Hope you're doing well, say hi to the misses, love, chris

Thursday, July 12, 2007

NYC, Day 2

Dear Diary,

I had a nice day today. First, Briana and I woke up at her friend Stacey's apartment in Queens. Then we decided to leave. We walked and got bagels (the lox spread is fihsy, the cinnamon walnut spread is divine). The we took the N to the B to the Museum of Natural History. It was nice, though it made me sad that all these things are now just "displays in a museum". The life-size blue whale is cool, though I wish they had a life-size great white shark, too. (Footnote: the life-size statue of the largest great white shark ever caught in Montauk, near East Hampton where I stayed, and setting for the book and movie "Jaws"? Missed it. Sigh. I Missed the statue of the largest Great White Shark ever caught, the root cause of all my maritime fear.
Sigh.)
ANYway, yeah, the Museum... meh. That's an advantage of being a west coaster -we have wildlife and interesting peoples and don't need to taxiderm them and erect them in diaramas... but that's just my overly opinionated, pessimistic self.
ANYway, then we wandered around the Upper West Side and stuffed our little faces with trendy Japanese cream puffs and soft-serve ice cream. THEN we walked through Strawberry Fields in Central Park, THEN we walked all the way down 8th Avenue from 60th to 20th, THEN we strolled through Chelsea to an art gallery, THEN we went to a poetry reading by some Buffaloites (which I learned are actually "Buffalonians"). THEN Briana and Stacey's friend Vicram joined us and we walked all the way to 28th and Lexington for Indian food (yum yum!) THEN we went to an after-reading party at my friend Chelsea's in the Lower East Village Side, THEN we took the train back to Queens.
It was a long New York Day. The weather was better, it's was clear and dry and not too warm.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

New York City

the name of this story is "8 million tragedies daily"
but i don't think that's quiet accurate,
as everyone has several tragedies a day
and there are far more than 8 million people.

the daily routine is of nightmare proportions:
the jolting radio haranguing you awake with the weather and the latest news
racing to work
guzzling your coffee (cheap, instant, watery)
gulping your breakfast (baked, fatty, sugar)
realizing you forgot your cellphone one block away
finding it when you've walked a half block back
swearing at everyone that's in your way
you're the center of the universe,
you're the reason the sun moves and the stars shine
and if they can't accept that, well, fuck them.
"fuck you" is the local greeting.
"Hey taxi, fuck you! you didn't let me go first"
"hey newspaper boy, fuck you! your paper sucks..."
"hey granny with a walker, fuck you! you're in my way.."

the day is slavery
making the world go around,
fill with smog, heat up and melt
everyone is angry and spinning like a top
maybe that could be my new title,
"8 Million Red-hot Tops Spinning Constantly with Rage"
The tasmanian devil was a new yorker
8 million tasmanian devils spinning contantly
rage
rage

after the day, the soulless zombies trudge home
turn on the news ("Blood! Guts! Outrage!")
the baseball game (rage disguised as sport "C'mon, fuckers!")
or feature blockbusters filmed near your home
with cooler explosions and friendlier cops than the ones you've ever encountered.
You eat frozen dinners, chinese take-out, or greek.
you drink Bud but not miller and when you splurge, you get a heineken.
you ass grows as you gorge and zone, surfing through 200 channels,
pausing briefly at the shark attacks, exploding cars, and bare tits on HBO.
It's like this every single day of your life and then you die.

Maybe it's just the weather- 95 degress, 95% humidity. I hope tomorrow is better.