Cuban Contradictions

Sam Ginsburg - Cuba - View from RoomThe view from my room is not very nice.  It’s an oddly shaped area, full of overgrown trees and crumbling buildings.  Since I am sure the people who live around there want me watching them hang up their laundry as much as I want them watching me get dressed (along with the possibility that I see the rooster that wakes me up every morning at 5am, in which case I would be unable to control my actions), I usually keep my curtains closed. The other day, when a fellow CLACS member noticed this, she peeked out the window and said, “Well, at least you won’t forget where you are.”

Although I don’t think I’d ever forget that I’m here, I’ve begun thinking about other things that could remind me of where I am.  What I’ve found is that some of the most “Cuban” things I’ve seen don’t seem Cuban at all.  Havana is a jarring place, a place where hotels sit next to inhabited ruins, where one Mercedes sticks out in a line of decrepit ladas, where three songs into a rumba show the backup singer busts out a flawless Lauren Hill impression and every single person in the audience knows the lyrics to the song.  Those experiences aren’t surprising anymore; they are Cuba.  On my way to meet friends the other day, I vainly made the conscious decision to not wear my Yankee’s cap, something that has barely left my head in the last three and a half weeks, in an attempt to not look so blatantly American.  This was ridiculous for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that there is absolutely nothing I could possibly do here to not look American here, especially when it comes to activities that include speaking or rhythmic movements.  Of course, when I finally got there, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw how many Cubans were wearing baseball caps, and how many of those caps said “New York” on them.  Havana is a place of contradictions that only seem that way when you think about them too much. 

Contradictions in general are what make things interesting.  In my research, for example, its been difficult explaining how someone can argue for freedom of expression in the early 60s but creative restraint in the early 70s, or how a writer can claim to have solidarity for the Latin American Revolution and then spend the first 50-or-so pages of a novel talking about drinking wine in a fancy restaurant in Paris.  These contradictions, while frustrating at times, have shown me the value of getting deeper into (though not over-thinking) these issues, of getting to the point where these contradictions don’t seem contradictory anymore.  It made sense to them at the time, so there has to be a way to make it make sense now.

During a huge rainstorm the other day, I took the time to look out my window and even take a couple pictures.  For the first time I noticed a small house with a cross on the front of the roof, like a little church hiding out among the scrap metal and leaves.  I still can’t decide if it seems out of place or right at home.

One response to “Cuban Contradictions

  1. Paul Ginsberg was kind enough to forward your blog. I was touched by your observations of the contradictions in modern Cuba, particularly your question about the cross being at home or out of place. I am writing a novel that takes place in Cuba in 1959/60 and have been struck by the modern perception of Vilma Espin as a leader of the feminist movement (friend of Hillary, etc) when she was in fact a killer and likely responsible for informing on Frank Pais. Have you run across her in your studies?
    Robert Harris

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