Thursday, April 12, 2012

No Island is an Island Chapter 16: Right Before the Conversation Turns to Jose Marti

From there Machete drove us down surprisingly beachy looking streets. If I didn’t know better I could be in the Florida Keys, only the people looked less relaxed and it was so much quieter.

No hippies, no roars of cars, no jetskis, no trucks pulling boats, no tourists in rented convertibles driving slowly with their radios blaring. I notice what’s missing in Cuba, I see it almost more clearly than what’s actually here.

Mom tells me we are going to Milly’s house – the house my Mom’s little sister loves better than Tia Lourdes’ house, better than the dream house on Playa Alegre.

 We pull up to a white colonial house with a generous shady front porch. The fence in front of the house is locked. Machete honks the honk, honks and honks and honks it and I’m embarrassed but I sit quietly and roll with it.

Mom goes up to the fence and is ready to leave a package when a small lady – my age? younger? – comes out and invites us in.  Last year when Mom was visiting Cuba taking pictures of this house and met the people who lived there.  

Now that she’s returned we have presents for her, for her husband, for their son.

We take a quick tour through immaculate house.  The tall ceilings had molding and crownwork much like Tia Lourdes, but this young DIY couple painted and restored the art so vibrant yellow flowers grow off the wall and vines dance around corners. 

On our mini tour she shows me her son’s room and I can’t help but take a picture of his computer which looked just like Matthew Broderick’s in the 1983 movie, War Games.
She shows us her closet, the kitchen, the wall that separates what used to be the middle of the house (before The Revolution) from what is now another house and another house next to that.

Back outside the house she takes us up a twisting iron staircase.

 I can see the bay, I can see houses and fields.
There is Maria Conchita Alonzo’s house.
There is where Mila’s mom lived, there is where Sonya and her sister, who everyone just called Sonya’s sister, lived.

Machete sits on a white iron 4 person swing on the front porchwaiting for us.  The lovely lady with the immaculate house and the manicured lawn and the warm heart tells us we are welcome any time.

In a gesture of amazing thoughtfulness and hospitality She cuts a white rose from the bush in her yard, and hands it to me before reminding us to take some pictures.

 I dutifully stand in front of the house holding my rose and really really wanting anything to drink but most especially a diet coke with American Ice.

Hug, hug, kiss, kiss, kiss and she waves at us and we slide back into the van.
When the door is closed I ask very nicely if lunch is coming soon. 
Mom says yes, we are on our way to a hotel to eat and not three minutes later we pull up into a parking lot filled with antique cars, Asian imports and that Big EuroBus.

My Mom’s cousin excuses herself for a few minutes and I follow Mom into a Very Modern Building that was all new and shiny and angular and mirrored and nothing at all like other places I’d seen on the island.  We walk through an open windy lobby where I couldn’t quite tell if I was inside or outside and out past an empty quiet pool and out to a deck area that faced the bay. 

A sunburned man wearing a red cross t-shirt lets us choose whether to eat outside or inside.  We pick outside. There are about ten white plastic tables each surrounded by white plastic chairs. A black and white skinny cat with red and pink scabs and sours sulks and begs hungrily around the only customers we can see. 

A minute later Machete joins us. The Red Cross Shirt guy knows Machete greets him warmly. 
Mom and I get wine, Machete orders something like Sprite and we order a Sprite for the missing cousin.

Before we could order a man in a starched suit comes to join us. Mom greets him warmly then turns to introduce the husband of the nice lady whose house we just left, the house that my Aunt Milly loves.  I’m happy to meet him.

He  accepts Mom’s offer and joins us for lunch.
Then my cousin, the one with Abuela’s eyes, comes back and brings me something like diet coke, the closest thing to diet coke I’ve had since the airport in Miami.  Today’s journey has shown me a world with no quick mass produced conveniences.  I want to marvel at the simplicity of life on this island but I can’t. I wish them better. I wish them slurpees and poptarts and takeout Chinese and delivery pizza and easy fast cheap transportation to wherever they want to go.

The one page menu looks exactly the same as the one in our hotel. Sandwiches. Italian dishes.  Pizza.
The man in the red cross tshirt (which make me wonder  - is he also a lifeguard? Would that even be a good idea?) comes back to take our order my Mom dares me to order spaghetti.

I try.
He laughs. No.
No? I shake my head, this is crazy.  In America, if someone knew that there was a spaghetti shortage going on, someone – SOMEONE – would be hand rolling pasta, drying it and selling it to restaurants. 
We have no choice, all of us at the table, all five of us, order cheese pizza.

Before the food comes we order more drinks. We are thirsty and the glasses are so tiny, so incredibly tiny,  but I mentioned that before.
My Mom catches our new guest up about where she has taken me on our trip, what I’ve seen, and where we are still going.  He looks pleased.

I notice his tie is a bunch of cars, lots and lots of little cars.  I like that. I decide it's a sign, a good sign. 

Then, before the pizza comes and the conversation takes a steep turn into politics, international banking and immigration policy, I stop listening to the rapid Spanish that swirls around the table and notice there are now two lawless scrawny cats prowling for food.

Two very preppy very sunburnt guys take a table even closer to the bay. The wind whips their hair and almost blows their drinks away.

 I decide then that I could probably sit quietly in Cuba for a very long time and just watch the wind, the water, the people.  I could do it today, I could do it another day. Maybe it’s being with just my Mom, no kids, no work, no worrying about Abuelo or email or texting.

Or maybe, more likely, there is something tangible in Cuba that enchants people, and I’m falling deeper under her spell by the hour.