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"Cuba has gone "Euro" with the acquisition of French planes. The Soviet presence has about played out."
- Kirk Stephan

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Gaviota, the last cowgirl in Cuba
by Kirk Stephan, Iowa City, Iowa, USA, who travelled to Cuba
October 1999

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Cuba I become even more schitzy than usual when I visit Cuba; Comparing the resilience and vitality of the people with the shards of their ramshackle society is interesting at times and other times a heart-breaker. This last trip wasn't different, except for one new aspect..

December 1: The first inkling that things continued to change at an amazing pace was the absence of "smoke" in the passenger compartment as we took off from the airport in Cancun. I'd been used to getting some great photos of folks' faces amidst the air-conditioning steam that shot out of vents into the cabin just as the Russian jets of Cubana Airline would leave the runway. Alas, no more excitement here; Cuba has gone "Euro" with the acquisition of French planes. The Soviet presence has about played out. One thing about the flight stayed the same: the passengers all joined in applause for the pilot when we apparently had arrived safely on the tarmac (I'd believed last trip that this for the joy of reaching Cuba...not!).

Definitions from Cuba:
Mojito: Me and Earnest Hemmingway's favorite drink, rum and mint leaf.

Gaviota: First foreign(Colombian) TV series to be allowed in to Cuba. A super-soap, packed with emotional drivel, guaranteed to make women feel stranger than fiction, and each of them, from one end of the island to the other, know every detail and delight in telling a missed segment to the unfortunate one who may have been bathing or working at the moment. Of course all Cubans also know every word of the cutsy theme song and burst out huskily with it on the streets.

Jinatera:Cowgirl, much more about her later...

Harry and I are excited; coming up is to be the first official celebration of Christmas in more than 30 years, since the time Fidel cancelled it in favor of the sugar harvest, which is about the same time of year.

We land at the new Terminal 3 of Jose Marti Airport, which resembles 1950's Omaha (or Cheyrnobol) architecture, and yells the fact out that the government continues to neglect historic-continuity with the construction of its new "tourist-oriented" buildings. The efficiency was here though; we passed through Immigration & Customs in record time and were amused at seeing dozens of bomb-sniffing "guard dogs" wandering through the large rooms; they were Cocker Spaniels(!) "Look at the ferocious beasts! Aren't they the famed North American attack-spaniels?" (We bit our tongues a few weeks later when Fidel put German Shepards and Dobermans on most street corners, along with a huge police presence !).

Driving into town in a "tourist-taxi" (private taxis no longer are allowed near the terminal) was still like passing through a movie of post-war crumbling edifices, many buildings actually resembling bombed out ruins, except for the many high-rise hotels visible on various horizons. These are of every conceivable design, including Omaha, circa 1955, and don't blend well with the classic, and splendid original structures, which sadly don't seem to be being preserved .

A melancholy reality of this wierd planet is that the more oppressed people of the place produce the most compelling music. This nagged at me on that first trip when I was hearing the most live sounds imaginable, on the streets and in cabarets. Salsa and Son and Carnival were rampant, and, carrying around the ideals of my college youth, saw nothing of the negatives lurking around the corners. During the early 60's Cuba had captured our attention and applause while we were busy trying to figure out America, our own insane monolith. Most of us "anglos" resist growing up til the last minute, if then, and so I drug along my "appreciation" of the revolution for quite awhile that first trip, oblivious to any oppression, even though my Cuban friends were already trying to explain to me some "realities".

Remember that the primary reason for my first visiting the island was to confirm or deny what Carlos, the ex-patriot living in Honduras, had been arguing with me: "how bad is it, anyway?", (especially contrasted with the mournful vision we found in Central America).

Castro and capitalist tourism?

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