Saturday, May 12, 2012

No Island is an Island: Chapter 26: A Capitalist Dance (A Little One)

Back in the chilly sparsely decorated hotel room we slipped back into our low thin beds.

This, I hadn't expected. The beds were about knee height. The mattresses thinner than some of my less dramatic Candie's platform shoes. Every night I thanked Mom for packing pillows for this trip.  Every night she told me we were going to give the pillows away, that they were treasures here.  I understood.

Sleep didn't come easily although every part of me was tired and almost satisfied.  I felt like I'd put a puzzle together but couldn't recognize what I was seeing in the picture. I think about flowers, about pirates, about colonial governements and Jose Marti speeches and somehow in that long walk back through history I fell asleep.

The next morning we woke up without alarms, completely awake, and thirsty and overly aware of having no water bottles, no diet coke, no mini-coffee maker.  Mom and I get dressed quickly and go downstairs for breakfast.  By this time I know and recognize all the waiters, they all know I want spaghetti, they all know I prefer cafecito to this industrial boiled coffee.  

This is the waiter with the newborn daughter, he brings me my coffee. And water with ice. I finish it quickly and he brings me another one. 

The breakfast buffet is the same as it has been every morning. Boiled meats. Cracked boiled eggs. Some mixture of vegetables that looked quite violent and aggressive.  Pitchers of strawberry yogurt drink, orange juice, pineapple juice, vanilla yogurt, cereals.  

There is a white robed cook standing ready to make eggs.  I order two of them, fried, on toast. Mom orders hers with ham.  We are almost alone in the formal, high ceilinged white table clothed dining room. I ask Mom where we are going today.  Back to Tia Lourdes' house, then to the airport she tells me. Then Miami.  

From that viewpoint, the day looks like it will be very short. 

After breakfast, someone wants to meet with Mom.  This is happening a lot, I'm very used to sharing my Mom when she's around; people need to ask her things, tell her things, see if she can solve things.  

Anyway, while she meets and talks I excuse myself to go up and finish packing. 

I fold my three shirts into a duffel bag.  I pack my sandals on top. My makeup bag is emptier and lays on top of that.  That's it, I'm done after five minutes. So I decide to straighten my hair.

 I hadn't seen many women in Cuba who look like they'd seen the better side of a Chi or good blowdry, so I'd been letting my hair dry curly and fall in the wind. 

Today I lingered in front of the mirror, deciding that no matter what I did - what I wore, how I spoke - the people here know I'm an American. I might as well go native and act like myself.  I wished very hard for my long peach dress, the one I can wear with heels or flats, that rubs against my skin in the wind like soft pajamas.

Then I remember that if I brought it, I might have someone admire it and ask where I got it with a longing look in their eye. And then I'd have to give it away, and as much as I love Cuba, I really really love my peach dress. 

At the point where I realized I was having longing romantic feelings for my inanimate clothing I decided to leave the room and find my Mom.

There, downstairs, at  a different table. Still talking. Still serious. I decide its time to buy something for the kids, something for my office, something from Cuba. 

In the Lobby there is a rack of postcards.  Three racks of postcards of Che.  Racks of boldly painted old American cars parked in front of aging neoclassical architecture.  There is art but no, I don't want to buy art.  I walk back across the patio area to the giftshop. There is a t-shirt that says in Spanish "someone went to Cuba and only bought me this t-shirt" and there are towels and tote bags and I don't want any of it.  

None of these things for sale really captures how close and how beautiful Cuba is. If I didn't know better and only looked at this gift shop I'd think that Cuba feels like old tired hotels on South Beach in the 1970s. Unairconditioned, stale, but hopeful.

Back at the table, Mom is standing up, hugging, shaking hands. I walk back with her to the room and we finish packing quickly. She tells me she likes my hair, and I tell her I appreciate it. She tells me I'm easy to travel with and I agree. 

We have time to walk for a little while before checking out, before going to Tia Lourdes's house.  I'm excited and follow her down the stairs and out the door to join the people on the streets. 

None of this was here the first time I came, she points out as we weave around small merchants opening their wares and setting them out for the day.

A lady sets up several vases of flowers to sell; a set of women who look like cousins lay out necklaces on their street cart.  Here is a cart full of carved wooden things. There is one with carved coconuts. After that is the one people are already standing around, the one with brightly colored jewelry and hair accessories.  I notice that no vendor is selling postcards of Che, but I don't dare blurt that out.  

I couldn't stop and take pictures for you, that would have been awkward, but I saw it and I can testify to it and even quietly did a little capitalism dance inside my head. 

Mom leads me into a huge old house that has  been converted to a restaurant in the front with rooms and rooms to spare still. This was her uncle's house, this big beautiful palace of a place. 

A waitress looks up from where she is seated and Mom tells her, no, we don't need anything. This used to be my uncle's place, we are just looking around, showing my daughter from America.

 The waitress looks a little alarmed, I think, like maybe the Americans are coming back to take over, take back their stuff.  She was wrong.  I take nothing -- not even a picture of the gorgeous tiles, the fountain, or the magical courtyard that I could have stayed in all day.  

That is theirs now, that belongs to Cuba, to these people here and now. 

I touch the walls as we walk out, silently promising to come back and stay longer next time.