This article is based on the author's 2 1/2-week stay in Cuba. Seven piece will follow.
While she was in Cuba, the government, as is customary, placed a car, driver, escort from the foreign ministry and translator at the reporter's disposal. She was free to use them or not which she did at her discretion. She also conducted several interviews alone, moved about freely and talked to anyone she wanted. Never once was any story or interview suggested to her. All of the interviews were arranged either by her or at her request.
A poet, he is one of Cuba's top intellectuals. He even looks like a portrait of Don Quixote, and more, is possessed of the Latin passion combined with the wit of a Cervantes. He knows it, of course. Very dashing, very gentlemanly, he has his love affairs with words as well as with women. An urbane Communist to say the least. He can smile and, in silden tones, easily convince an avid listener of the esthetic joys of his system, the crude vulgarities of capitalism, the vileness of imperialism.
But wait, An American reporter, Georgiaborn, poses a question. Isn't he guilty of double standards? How can it be that America's military intervention in Vietnam is evil, but Cuba's in Angola is acceptabled? Or how can the Soviets' support of corrupt countries is not? How does he explain poliatical prisoners, lack of freedom of travel, speech, press? After all, a rose is a rose is a rose?
The dazzling smile fades. The silken tones disappear. he is enraged. He trembles and shakes with passion and anger. He conjures up indefensible examples of American atrocities, stupidities, corruption. He finsihes his tirade and begins to pace and down. Finally he apologizes. He leaves.
The next day a beautiful bouquet of roses appears. With it is this note:
"A rose is a rose is a rose; a Georgia pench is a peach is a peach; and a Latin is a Latin is a Latin . . . no matter how intellectual. Hasta la vista, con carino."
An attitude of sexuality is a persuasive in Cuba as the presence of Fidel Castro. You can feel sex in the atmosphere, on the street, in conversation in people's actions. The [LINE ILLEGIBLE] time. And it necessarily colors their thinking. [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] without the old traditional cultural censorship. The women are openly involved.
This is why, to understand communism is Cuba, the difference in their political and ideological concepts, it helps to understand th mature of their sexuality.
And to understand Cuba it helps to understand Mohitos. They have these drinks in Cuba. They call them Mohitos. Rum. Soda, Sugar. Lime juice. A sprig of mint. Everyone drinks them.
It changes everything. Two or three Mohitos and you begin to understand. You begin to see more clearly. Yes, Cuba is a communist country. But laid back.
Very laid back.
The head of the Mental Hospital of Havana, Dr. Bernabe Ordaz, looks like the Mexican Bandito in every schlock Western movie you've ever seen. Fat, with wild drak beard, he blusters his way around his large hospital talking about the days as head doctor with Fidel in the Sierra Maestra before the revolution and showing off his stylish round-toed platform shoes he got in Jamaica.
"Why did I become a doctor?" he asks, then takes a long drag of his enormous cigar. "Well, I have to be honest. Cuba was a capitalist country. The men in the medical profession had the fastest cars and the prettiest women and they lived the best lives? In capitalism that was the way of thinking." He pauses, then grins agains. "Ah, but during socialism I was very lucky too. I consider my wife very, very beautiful and instead of a fast car I have this wonderful jeep.
The old Dupont mansion, "Xanadu," on the enormous estate at Varadero beach has been taken over by the government and turned into a restaurant. It is certainly the best restaurant at the Beach, though not nearly as good as some of the famour restaurants in Havana, Las Ruinas, Las Bodeguita del Medio, La Torre, El Emperador, La Terrassa. The Dupont mansion looks like a New England boy's school and still has the same furniture, the same blue velvet wall hangings inscribed with the poem "Xanadu" which have the house its name.
Upstairs, after a sumptuous lunch of lobster, pork, black beans, rice and fried platains, the standard Cuban fare, the former valet of the Duponts gives a tour of the house.
He is dressed formally in a dark suit and he solemnly recites his information, fact after fact, building what he obviously feels is a sordid picture of the excesses of capitalism, the vulgarity of extreme wealth.
The house of five years to build, it cost $1.7 million; the organ cost $112,000 to build. There were nine garages and 110 servants, he repeats as he moves from room to room. Finally, he nears the master suite, intoning all the while his lesson against money, dollars and pesos, numbers and figures swirling around his tongue.
"But wait," he says, "now you must see the most important thing." He rolls his eyes as he lead the way into the suite.
There, divided by a small hallway, are two master bedrooms. That of Irenee Dupont himslef, complete with a photograph of him playing golf on his private course, and that of Madame Dupont.
"You see," he says triumphantly, exposing once and for all the horrible retaliation to all who dare indulge in the evils of personal fortunes, "they did not even sleep in the same bed."
How do they cope, a Cuba is asked, with the plight of keeping up with the Rodriguez' in a communist society?
At first there is a blank stare. The the reply. "We don't have to worry about keeping up with the Rodriguez.' The Rodriguez' don't have any either."
The Riviera Hotel, Meyer Lansky's old mob-connected hotel, is now the best, most elegant hotel in Havana.The rooms, service, food are excellent. The Riveria is generally not for tourist groups but reserved for official delegations and distringuished guests of the government. Private Cuban citizens also come here just to spend the weekend.
"They want," explained a Cuban matter-of-factly, "to come and live like millionaires for a few days."
Most importantly the Riviera Hotel is the private preserve of honeymooners. The lobby of the hotel looks like Noah's Ark. Everyone in twos. People holding hands in the lobby, necking in the elevators, feeling each other up at the pool, moonign in the dining room, dancing cheek to cheek in the nightclub.
To a visitor, the enormous sign on the desk in the front lobby forbidding visitors in the rooms seemed to belie the obviously condoned, even encouraged, public display of affection of the guests. Why then, it was asked, are visitors not allowed in the rooms?"
"Oh that," replied a hotel manager. "That's not to prevent illicit sex. That's to keep out counter-revolutionaries."
They call it simply "El Codego."
There are many "codes" or laws in the Cuban constitution. But to the Cubans there is only one. The Family Code. El Codego.
It happened just a few years ago. It was Fidel's idea. It is very precise. The man has to help the woman with 50 per cent of all the housework and childcare. Otherwise she can take him to court.
In a macho Latin country yet.
"I can't stand it, I can't stand it," sobbed one Cuban during the session at the National Assembly when the Family Code was up for a vote. But as his friends consoled him, and his shoulders heaved with despair, he cast his vote in favor of it. "I hate the family code," he said. But if I don't vote for it my wife will accuse me of being a machista (male chauvinist pig) counter-revolutionary."
Two old peasants, a husband and wife, are discussing the Family Code with Fidel's brother Ramon, in the country.
Husband: "We feel very good about the Family Code."
Ramon: "All decent persons are in favor of the Family Code."
Wife: We both have the same rights. The time of slavery for women is now over."
Husband: "Now you can say women are directors of offices, banks, even taxi drivers."
Ramon: "Yes, they make beautiful taxi drivers."
(The two men laugh knowingly, patronizingly.)
(The wife stiffens.)
Wife: "Yes, I'ts true, everything, all the work is divided equally in our family. I clean 50 per cent and he dirties 50 per cent."
(The men's faces fall. She grins victorously.)
Wife: "But, I spend his salary 100 per cent."
Everyone in Cuba works, it seems. If you're a a mother you work at home and do outside volunteer work in the neighborhood meetings. If you are over 16 and out of school, you work. If you don't work you get sent to work campus. Where you work.
There is one exception. The Cabaltero de Paris. (The Gentlemen of Paris.)
He is in his 80s now. He is stooped and dirty, his hair is long and yellow gray, his nails are like claws. He sleeps on sheets of cardboard on the streets. He is known to everyone in Havana. Children grew up knowing him. He has never worked. He has always been a bum.
He changes his locations from time to time. Until a few weeks ago he hung out at the pizzaria near the University but he moved to a local park where some of the older retired people go. No one has ever bothered him. No one ever sent him to a work camp after the revolution. The story around town goes that after the triumph of the revolution some hardnose type suggested rounding him up and Castro said, "Leave him alone."
The actress stands in front of her fellow performers. She is nervous. But she manages to speak. "I want to say that I didn't learn my lines thoroughly before the opening," she says. "I want to apologize and to promise I will do better the next time."
The Cubans have his interesting new tradition.It is called autocriticism. They do it in the schools from the time they are very young. They do it in the canefields, in the factories, in the offices. Chorus girls do it, doctors do it, intellectuals do it, soldiers do it, waiters and truck drivers and hairdressers and Caninet rank officers do it. Usually once a week. It is mandatory.
It is group therapy. Each person stands up in front of the group and tells what he thinks his faults are, and his good points, then the group takes turns telling how they think the person could improve. This auto-criticism is supposed to create a more open, frank exchange of thoughts, emotions and ideas.
It also keeps them clean.
All of the neighbors are gathered in their block for their first meeting with their block for their first meeting with their representative to the Assembly. The meeting is the beginning of the long awaited Poder Popular People's Power) where elected representatives meet with them to discuss their problems.
Problem number one seems to be the salesgirls at the local market with gossip and take coffee breaks while the people are standing in line.
"This has got to end," demanded one furious housewife. They discuss problems of water, of food, of security and other facets of their daily life. Occasionally the conversation gets political but something like: "Should Cuba be in Angola?" is not discussed. They seem not ready for that. Nevertheless the discussion is kept on a reasonably high level. Until, that is, one irate man stands up in the rear. "I have proof," he says, "that (Jose Gonzalez) has been trying to sleep with my wife."
There is a moment of silence and some grumbles. Finally someone stands up. "This," he says, "is hardly the time or place to discuss our personal problems."
Roberto Retamar is a distinguished Cuban poet and editor of Cuba's main literary magazine. It is published under the auspices of La Cas de Las Americas, Cuba's cultural center. It is early one Saturday morning and Retamar is sitting in the breezy reception room of the casa, sipping heavily sugeared Cuban tea and trying to explain why the revolution is so appealing to those living in Cuba. And why it is only a dissident's question to ask, "How far can I go in criticizing the revolution?"
"That is like asking, 'Up to what point can I be a counter-revoluntionary?" he explains patiently. "Let's look at it this way. Two people who are passionately in love don't ask each other, 'How far can we go, either emotionally or physically? But those who are watching them from outside might well ask 'How far do they go?"
"Well then. If you are in bed making loke then everything is magnificent and beautiful. But it fyou are the one looking through the keyhole it looks terrible. Two people sweating and rolling around and screaming and yelling.
'Then who is right? The person looking through the keyhole or the people making love? You are both right. You think you are seeing the same scene but in fact you are not. So. If you are making revolution you are in bed with history. If you are looking through the keyhole you miss a lot."
He pauses for a moment and grins a rather lascivious grin. "You know," he says. "Revolution can be very, very appealing."
A very pretty young Cuban mother is walking down the street with her small son. A well-dressed young Cuban man with long hair and fitted bell-bottomed trousers, appraoches her. He smiles at her then stoops to pat the child on the head.
"Vaya con dios, mi hijo. Go with my God, my son," he says, sweetly, softly.
The mother's eyes glisten with appreciation for the nice young man and his affectionate gesture.
"And I," he says suddenly, taking the young woman's arm by surprise, "I will go with your mother."
Another woman is walking down the street, swaying slightly as she walks a group of young Cuban men eye her and nudge each other. One of them steps up boldly and in a sing-song, slightly insolent voice cries out, "If you cook the way you walk I will marry uou tomorrow."
"The first piropo," (Cuban work for street compliment) was a very high class, well-educated piropo," explains one of Cuba's expert piropoists. "The last one, well, I am ashamed to say that is not a very well educated one. But nevertheless, it is acceptable because the woman is not with another man. You never give a piropo to a woman with another man. Unless of course it is a very old man. If you do, the man will be obliged to fight."
Why, he is asked, is it necessary to give a piropo to a woman at all? The response is an incredulous stare.
"Because," he replies finally, "she is there."
Cuban women were enormously how they look. They spend time and money in the beauty parlors on every corner and will stand in line for hours for eye shadow, the latest rage. They care so much they are even willing to consider abusing the system of free medical care for the masses.
"When I get to be 35," announces one Cuban woman, "I'm going to have a facelift. It's free here, you know."
A Cuban woman is walking down the street in her newest kneelength dress, having abandoned the barely out of style miniskirt. She is perfectly aware that only until recently, partly because Cuba has a shortage of materials, it was considered patriotic to wear miniskirts.
A couple of piropoists spot her sashaying proudly down the street, feeling very fashionable.
They are clearly disapproving of a the new lenghth covering up what appear to be a very pretty pair of legs.
As she walked by them, one of them hissed at her in a loud and condeming voice, "Counter-revolutionary!"
Two dancers were completing a very sensitive scene in a Cuban nightclub, the male holding the female aloft for their final number. He was particularly graceful in his movements, more so than his female partner.
"You see," whispered a Cuban male sarcastically. "Even our homesexuals work in Cuba."
The derisive laughter which followed indicated that everyone at the table felt the same disapproval as he did.
"We don't put our homosexuals in work camps any more," he pointed out. "But we certainly don't let them teach in the schools."
Just then a comedian came out and began to regale the appreciative, delighted audience with a selection of particularly cruel homosexual jokes. When he was finished they gave him a standing ovation, whistling, clasping, cheering.
"We Cubans," explained one, "don't like homosexuals. They are counter-revolutionary."
Words mean very different thiings to Cubans than they do to us North Americans. What sounds like silly rhetoric to us has literal, functional meanings for them.
For instance, you don't say Senor, Senora, or Senorita any more. You say Companero or Companera. The literal translation is Companion. But it means comrade. Interestingly, the Cubans have preferred to keep the words connoting sexual differences rather than use the uni-sex word "camarada."
"Revolution" means simply their everyday life.
A "revolutionary" means anybody who lives in Cuba and likes it. "Counter-revolutionary" means anybody who opposes it. It has the connotations "un-American" had in the '50s.,
"Anarchy" means anyone who is trying to subvert the system. A Cuban woman, when it was suggested she play hooky from her office after a particularly hard week, replied in stunned surprise, "But I couldn't do that. That would be anarchy."
Inside the huge, ornate palace, cupids and rosebuds are painted on murals on the ceilings and on the delicate if shabby furniture. Gilt covers what there is that is not painted. Large bouquest of plastic roses decorate the entrance hallway which, at 7 on a Saturday night, is packed.
About 30 brides are crushed into the waiting area, dressed in nearly identical long white dresses and floppy red garden hats called pamelas. They have all been rented from the fashionable brides shop in Havan, "Novios."
The brides are surrounded by adoring friends and families and they chatter excitedly with their friends, waiting for their turn to be married. Off in various corners, are the nervous grooms. They all look about 10 years younger than the women they are about to marry. They also look sick. To a man. The room is very hot and from time to time the bridegrooms will pull out a handkerchief and mop their brows.
There are two staircases, one to go up and one to come down after they are married.
There is a man in shirtsleeves standing at the bottom of the stairs with a clipboard, shouting out the names of the couple who is to go next. When a name is called, the party ascends, goes to the appointed room and sits in front of a desk with a boared looking female lawyer.
The bride's friends circle around protectively. The bride looks very smug.
The groom's friends stand behind the women. They begin to snicker. He looks down. The perspiration begins to pour off his brow.
She takes out a hairbrush during the ceremony and begins to pour off his brow.
She takes out a hairbrush during the ceremony and begins to brush her hair.
THe lawyer is fixing her broken earring as she spouts off by heart the family code, concentrating on the part about sharing housework and child care 50 per cent. The bride finishes brushing her hair and smiles up at the bridegroom.
He turns pale.
It is Saturday night and the lines are beginning to form. Couples, hand in hand, wait patiently outside the little green house off a side street in Havans. Some lean against trees, some sit on the front porch of the house, arm in arm. Some just standing, necking.
A phone rings on the poch and someone answers it, then calls out a name. One of the couples squeeze each other and walk inside. The others move up in line.
They will emerge three hours later and pay the few pesos it costs them to go inside the government run "Posada" and make love. If they stayed longer they will pay more. By the hour. And of course, if they had drinks, that will be extra.
"What else can they do?" shrugged a Cuban man with a smile. The housing shortage is so bad here in Havana you know. They may be engaged and waiting for an apartment and have no place to screw. Or they may be living in one room with their children."
However, he added, "for those of us who want to have a little activity on the side, there are posadas in the countryside. Very elegant. Private garages. Private entraces.
"Even private windows for serving the Mohitos. But then, those aren't for everyone. They are more expensive. And, of course, you must have a car."
A long line of people is waiting, ration cards in hand, for a new shipment of items in their local store.
Since almost all consumer goods are rationed and there is no favoritism the line is filled with workers, mothers, government officials and even a cabinet miniter's wife.
In one section of the line three of four housewives are exchanging recipes and drinking coffee which they have brought with them. The Cuban coffee kiatch. Several of the women have their babies with them and are discussing child care. Several older people are gossiping and tittering about a young couple standing in line. A few men begin to toss a handball around to pass the time. A married man and a woman married to someone else, exchange furtively sexual glances. "We have," explained one Cuban, "a whole new way of life centered around the rationlines. It's what you might call 'queue culture.'"
The lines for "El Tiburson Sangriente" ("Jaws") are all around the block. At three theaters in Havana.
"I've seen the movie three times," says one Cuba. "I can't decide whether it's more fun to watch the movie or more fun to stand in line."
Most Cubans seem to have a TV set. There is a lot of dull political programming on TV which they don't seem to watch. What they love are variety shows starring their favorite singer, Farah Maria, baseball games and old American movies with subtitles.
There are at least two movies on TV every night. Last week everybody was watching "Magnificent Obsession" with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson.
Debuntante parties have become very fashionable lately in Havana. Cuban girls come out at 15 and even many radical young girls celebrate that special birthday, if only to be taken out for dinner and a movie.
The most lavish recent coming out party was one several months ago at the Havana Libre, the old Havana-Hilton, which featured the debuntante in a long white dress, three orchestras, a lavish buffet, several photographers and 250 guests.
The mother was an eye doctor. The father, an engineer, the daughter was a member of the Young Communist League.
The party cost $4,800.
"We are trying to discourage this unfortunate new trend," sniffed one intellectual. "We feel it is counter-revolutionary."
"I cannot, will not," exclaimed a young Cuban woman, "move into my beautiful new apartment. I would rather live with my mother, my father, my brother, my husband, my child, my dog and cat in one house than live only two hours of water a day."
She's not the only one.
Water is a terrible problem. Throughout all Havana.In the old sections they have no running water at all and have to bring it in and sell it. Even in the best sections of the city, especially in the beautiful highrises off the Malecon (main shore drive) overlooking the ocean, there is water for only two hours a day.
This is an enormous hardship.The Cubans are cleanliness freaks. It is not uncommon for them to take six showers a day. Partly because of their extensive sexual activities, it has been suggested.
The Cubans cannot stand personal filth. And they hate people who smell bad because of not bathing.
In fact, many Cubans have an obvious distaste for the Russians.
"We love the Americans but we do not like their government," claimed one Cuban. "We love the Russian government but we cannot stand the people."
The Cubans have a word for somebody, regardless of nationaity, who smells bad.
The Argentina ambassador is having a small dinner. Just an informatl barbecue in his garden. The 29 or so guests are nearly all male. Most of them ministers or ambassadors from other Latin American countries in Havana for a sugar convention.
The dashing Dominican Republic ambassador to Britain, in a perfectly cut navy English blazer, is explaining about the Argentina embassy, a rather beautiful mansion. It had, it seems, belonged to his cousins before the revolution.
There was a general tragic nod as everyone agreed that things had certainly changed.
"For one thing," complained an ambassdor to his knowing companions, "there are no more prostitutes in Havana."
Another general tragic nod.
"Oh yes there are," piped up a big executive from Argentina. "But unfortunately there are very few and they won't take any money. They only want beautiful clothes or fancy appliances because they can't get them here. It's a terrible bore."
"All I can say," complained a prominent minister, "is that we've been here in Havana for a whole week and not one of us has scored."
George Lopez-Pimentel, the editor of Jeventud Rebelde, Havana's afternoon newspaper, has been discussing the revolution, the positive aspects of communism, for close to two hours in his large office in the Center of the City.
He is only 32 but he has held this respected position for six years. He sees he is not making much impression on his freedom of speech theme. He lights a Cuban cigarette, takes a sip of thick Cuban coffee and leans back in his chair and thinks for a minute.
"Let me explain it this way," he says finally. "Cubans are passionate. If you aren't passionate you can't have a revolution like ours.We don't like embargoes on love."
The catch, of course, is that there is no public outlet for dissenting thought. The newspapers are organs of the government as are the radio and television stations. In Cuba, there is no freedom of the press at all. Theyu will argue with you. They will say that they have freedom to eat and to be healthy and to be educated, things that not all Americans have. And things more important than freedom of the press.
Dissent and you are called "counter-revolutionary."
So in effect the government owns a part of their minds. They insist that is a freedom they will willingly sacrifice. And also the freedom to select their leaders. And the freedom to decide on what kind of life they will lead, and the freedom to travel, and the freedom to read what they want. And the freedom to see what films they want, and the freedom to think first about themselves and secondly about the state.
In Cuba, this article could never be printed. CAPTION:
Pictures 1, Scenes from Havan, by Rene Burri, Magnum Photos Inc., Picture 2, including entertainers at the Tropicana, by Joe Floyd; Picture 3, a family's Che Guevara portrait, by Rene Burri, Magnum Photos Inc.; Picture 4, and Las Ruinas restaurant. by Joe Floyd; Picture 5, no caption