Saturday, April 7, 2012

No Island is an Island: Chapter 14: Monumental Discoveries

Without warning beyond “here it is” Machete turned the minivan through a heavy ironed gate into a park and there at the end of a lion-claw lined path was nothing you would expect.

Nothing I would expect.

Seriously, think, “I’m in Cuba, it’s the year 2012. I’m at a cemetery, what will I see? Hmmm…” and answer my question in your head before you even look further down this page.

I bet you think trees. You think statues. You think gardens. You think maybe a fountain and perhaps some flag poles.  
Right. Right. Right. 

That’s what I expected, that’s what I saw. 

But on top of that, there was something else, something my Liberal Arts education prepared me for because I recognize it.
There, in Cuba, like it was a totally normal place for her to be, was the Parthenon.

 I’m not sure what to do. It’s so quiet here, maybe no one knows who she is, maybe it’s a secret. Respectfully and also in shock by her massive size, I know right away I don’t want to go inside.  I don’t look through her massive windows, and instead pass laughingly and quickly under the porch and off to the graves more quickly than I wanted to but I had to. I was afraid to linger and admire and somehow give her away, to hug her democracy loving Doric columns and not let go.

How can she be here, I wonder, brazenly flaunting herself, the symbol of the height of achievement of classical Greece. Architecture tells stories, and this building says the people who paid for it admired Athens for her liberalism, beauty, balance.   

I just can’t believe no one told me about this.  

If I ever make it to California, I totally expect to see Sequoias so massive I can’t yet imagine. If I go to Paris I will see the Eiffel tower, and depending on where I stand it will look a lot like the one in Epcot, only it won’t be so close to Japan that you can hear the drums banging during five performances a day.

This was a good start, and for a few minutes I almost lost track of my obsession, that pattern I was seeing here and there.  I carried the flowers, Mom lead the way and our cousin with Abuela’s eyes followed us, taking care not to trip over the oak roots.  

The trees we passed between on the way to what we were looking for seemed ancient and trustworthy. Mom grabbed my hand and said shh, listen to the leaves and that’s when I heard them roaring overhead, swishing and twisting and smashing  into each other in the wind above. 

First we go to a big corner site, my great-grandfather’s site,  and look at the names. There it is, the symbol. And there, on that one. And on that one.   

I take a few pictures and my mom tells me that’s a great idea, to take pictures for our friends in the US whose family is buried here.  That’s not what I was doing but now I do that too. 

Flowers in hand, still, we walk far far away to a shaded end lot.

Here it is, Mom declares and she tears up. I try to take a picture but my iPhone is pointed towards me and I fumble and accidentally take a 3 second video tearfully repeating “Here?”

Mom lays the flowers down on the grave and hugs it a little. 

It’s her Abuelo, my Abuelo’s father, Tia Lourde’s father, a gentle and wonderful man.

It’s Abuela Emilita in there too, his wife, daughter of a lovely woman born in Spain whose favorite chair I was sitting on just yesterday.

We clear the dead leaves off the cement and take a few pictures.

A dry vine of yellow flowers climbs up the crypt a little; we try to fix it but we don't give it a drop of our precious water.

Mom explains that this is what Abuelo Vicente wanted, to be over here, in the shade, not crowded with his entire family.  I understand. 

What I didn’t understand was the dates. Not until then.  Abuelo’s father died in 1956.  The violence in Cienfuegos started September 5, 1957, and by 1961 Castro’s revolution had closed all private businesses (foreign and domestic) – banks, stores, insurance, restaurants, gas stations, everything. 
Now I get it. My poor Abuelo had to deal with losing so much – his home, his country, his business, his father – in a window of 5 years, all around the time he was the age I am now, the time when you feel like you’re finally getting somewhere in life.

And more, there, I see something that can’t be right. Abuelo’s mom died in the 1980s. The 1980s. I was in high school. I show Mom, is that right? And Mom nods.  For twenty years they wrote letters and sent pictures and waited for the revolution to end, for normal and regular travel between Cuba and the US to return, for families to come back together again.

Our cousin follows quietly. She helps Mom hunt for a crypt with fresh flowers where a family friend was buried only the week before. 

I see that symbol here, there and over there. It is in the ironwork surrounding that one, it is by the name on that one. 
A point comes where out of sheer concern for my iPhone battery and out of respect for the sights I have yet to see in my day that isn't even half over I turn off my iPhone.

Alone in the almost-empty cemetery I take the path that leads me to the monuments. First I am in front of tall painful monument to those who served in the Angola Conflict. I look around and something is missing. 

Across the path is the monument to those lost on the Cuban side of the Bay of Pigs. There, again, something is not where it is supposed to be, and I notice it, but I don't want to tell anyone, just in case it would embarass them and make me a bad guest.