Havana, had given me the impression—before I got to Havana, that it could be a mystery city, once visited—it gave what one might call: a luring spell to its people, its African culture mixed with its Spanish roots, South American style of living, its lively American spirit, and when I got there, it was all there, all of this, and then some.
The architecture of the city—for the most part, I noticed—remained at the pre-Cuban Revolutionary appearance (prior to 1959 that is) which was to its advantage I felt.
The Tropicana, where I stayed, a 1951 nightclub has its ‘if-s,’ like the nasty and buzzing little pests that seemed to be everywhere food was, the flies, and giant cockroaches, but then this is just part of Havana—complete, or what they call Old Havana anyhow, along with its pock-marked buildings from the salt and wind coming in from the sea, and the neglecting of the building per se—but its not a drawback it is if anything, a voice of the times for renovation.
One thing that stands out among many in this forbidden city for North Americans, is its glorious seafront, built by the Miami Mobsters of yesteryear (so I have heard); and rebuild I would imagine for the new European, and Asian tourists of the new contemporary generation and scene—the new millennium, you might say, and here I spent a lot of my time, and where this story I’m about to tell you took place. But we must not forget the old cars, they are everywhere, and the Cuban owners are quite proud of them: that is, their vintage Chevy’s, Buick’s, etc., they are all here, all princely painted and decorated. Having said that, we must go on to the drama, it awaits impatiently to jump out of the forbidden box.
(Interlude: I am not political, but it would seem to me, since we have made friends with every other country on the face of the earth, and even our enemies, Cuba for some odd reason, is kept at a distance as if it was the most deadly cobra on planet earth, to the most powerful country on planet earth, what kind of message are we emanating to the world, with such abnormal behavior, I would hate to analyze it as a professional psychologist, America would come up short on manners, if not on depth).
As I was about to say, my wife and I went to Havana, the summer of 2002, and became familiar with most of its inner city life, and seafront, and its most fabulous pre 1950-style houses and buildings, and aging Spanish architecture; the Plaza de Armas amongst them and the Cathedral, and all the paintings and pictures of ‘Che,’ a hero in Cuba, and to some degree throughout Central and South America, I have seen his picture in most every country beyond the North American boarders. Also, I should mention in passing, there are the remnants of Havana’s sin city, being renovated.
As we combed the inner city, we ended up at the seafront daily and nightly, and it did seem to me, this dock area, with its mounted canons, and heavy cemented walkways looking into the sea—was safer than the streets of New York City.
During one afternoon, on this particular day, an incident occurred, we noticed three young boys—ones’ my wife and I had noticed before, Carlos being the oldest of them, and possibly he was thirteen to fifteen years old. It was an extremely hot summer’s day. Carlos was slim with a hard muscular body, a nice looking lad—I throw in, over the railing that is—threw in some coins this day, as they dived from the dock area into the inlet waters, and brought them back up; a daring and entertaining feat for a cheap price—of course they owned the coins now: for the tourist, a momentary distraction from the hot sun, and perhaps a meal ticket for them.
They, and in particular, Carlos, were quite good at it, with puffed out biceps and triceps, and long solid forearms. He could stay under water over three minutes should someone have time him and I did once, and I saw this happen more than once in an afternoon. Possibly twenty-five coins I had thrown in this day, he and his friends gather them up like piranhas eating handfuls of lomo-beef. His two young friends, possibly ten and eleven years of age, gathered up one or two of the coins each time, and to him the rest; I would guess the diving point was perchance some fifteen-feet, where he had to dive from, into the Caribbean waters, and surely the waters were possibly fifteen to twenty feet deep, so he claimed.
Right about this time, came a suited gentleman, bronze faced, cigar held tight by his lips, sun glasses on, about five foot-ten (of European stock, I would guess, with a French accent), perhaps a good weight for his size; he stopped by my wife, to the side of my wife, I was closer to the dock, they were several feet behind me, and he saw Carlos splash into the water, coming up with the coins in his hand. He apparently knew right away what it was all about, so the look on his face indicated.
Then the gentleman pulled out several larger coins, they looked familiar, likened to old silver American dollars, for those once aging one-arm-bandits, the slot machines of yesteryear. Carlos had now come up from the bank onto the area we all were standing and watching from, his friends likewise.
“I’ll throw all these in,” said the stranger, “but only one of you boys can go for it?” It was kind of a statement-question I suppose, rhetorical or not, I couldn’t say—but no one answered him back, the boys and I, we all looked at the coins in his hand. No sooner had he said what he said, he threw the silver and one gold coin into the water, and Carlos jumped in after them, the gentleman who threw them: high and hard and quickly out to sea, then promptly turned about and walked away, as if he knew something that we didn’t know. He never looked back, not once, odd I thought, then I turned around to see how Carlos was doing, and I saw the back fin of a White Shark about one-hundred feet from the dock, I knew sometimes they came close, hid behind large stones, or in-between stones, or shadowy places, oftentimes harmless, other times not so harmless, but my guess was they’d not come in so close to the dock. Carlos was now under the water, how far under I couldn’t tell, but I could not see the shadow of his body moving about, the coins were heavy and so I assume he had to go deep to find them and gather them all together into one heap to bring up; hence, he had been down over two minutes in the cool of the deep. Then it was three minutes and then nearly four when I no longer could see the fin of the shark, and then his swimsuit appeared, emerged to the surface, nothing else. I turned about, and couldn’t see the stranger anymore, either...
Note: Written after visiting Havana with my wife Rosa, in 2002, written in St. Paul, Minnesota,
and reedited in Huancayo, Peru, 12-2010;, in 2-2011, again in Lima, Peru. (No: 126)