Cuba

I spent an hour in the supermarket yesterday, and was struck again by the contrast with what we saw in Cuba. As I sipped an early afternoon cup of milky Starbucks coffee, it felt warm and cozy to be roaming the aisles, perusing the cold wall of yogurt selections, the stacks of canned goods, the rows of spices and condiments, the festival of colors in the produce section. The familiar environment and routine of grocery shopping helped numb the waves of distress I've been feeling since the election.

When we first arrived in Camagüey, our bus was stuck behind a truck unloading bags of sugar for a provechos (provisions) shop in a very narrow street. This gave our guide, Yanet, an opportunity to tell us about food distribution as we watched and waited.The system in Cuba is so different from ours, I'm not sure I've completely grasped how it works. Each neighborhood is supplied with basic goods according to the needs of the population: from the perspective of our commerce-based system, we would call it “rationing.” Healthy adults, for example, have less milk assigned to them so that children and pregnant women will get as much as they need.

One shop provides chicken, fish, dairy, and eggs (it has refrigeration); another has sugar, beans, rice, bread, spaghetti, and cooking oil. Provechos distributors are government run, and the people who work there receive salaries. There are also street vendors offering fruits and vegetables they have bought at a central market where farmers bring their produce. These are not assigned, and the sellers earn profits from them.

Education and health care are high priorities in Cuba. All Cubans are entitled to the health care they need and as much education as their abilities warrant. Despite the country's relatively low standard of living, these systems compare favorably with those in “developed” nations such as our own.

Those who attend university pay for it by spending two or three years in community service roles after they graduate. Sports (especially baseball) and the arts receive government support. The cost of attending games and performances is minimal, since players and artists receive salaries. In the short time we were there, we saw three dance companies in rehearsal, toured a music conservatory (high-school), visited numerous private galleries, and enjoyed live music at nearly every meal (well, except breakfast).

People in Cuba live more simply than we do; of course, the tropical climate helps. Also, being there raised my awareness of the cultural conditioning we have here to always want more. “Consumer confidence”counts as a measure of success in the context of the American economic system. Now it seems to me a euphemism for acquisitiveness. Because so many Americans are one health crisis away from losing everything, it makes sense that we would feel anxious about “stocking up.”

Yanet gave a little homily toward the end of our trip about how Cubans don't worry so much about what they don't have, but appreciate what they do have. I try to imagine what it must be like not to worry about health care, education, or shelter (all managed and distributed by the government). And I try to imagine how it could free my spirit to be relieved of wanting, saving, getting, and spending. If this kind of liberation is possible, I would much prefer it to the emotional numbness and fleeting pleasure of shopping!

 On our first morning, we were transported in a fleet of "bici-taxis" decorated by local artists to visit several galleries.

On our first morning, we were transported in a fleet of "bici-taxis" decorated by local artists to visit several galleries.

 There was one of Jiménez's sculptures in our hotel lobby, "Santa Maria," and we saw many other works by her around town.

There was one of Jiménez's sculptures in our hotel lobby, "Santa Maria," and we saw many other works by her around town.

 Conservatory of music housed in former leper hospital. Sounds of practicing, and there was a performance for us on strange bamboo instruments from Indonesia.

Conservatory of music housed in former leper hospital. Sounds of practicing, and there was a performance for us on strange bamboo instruments from Indonesia.

 A family of artists. Their home is also a gallery, not unusual.

A family of artists. Their home is also a gallery, not unusual.

 The hotel has an elevator :-)

The hotel has an elevator :-)

 Patriarch of the Casanova family of painters and potters, demonstrating his work on the wheel. Their home/studio has a courtyard chapel open to the community. Our host gave a little homily on the importance of love.

Patriarch of the Casanova family of painters and potters, demonstrating his work on the wheel. Their home/studio has a courtyard chapel open to the community. Our host gave a little homily on the importance of love.

 Casanovas' pet turtles sunning themselves under a tree

Casanovas' pet turtles sunning themselves under a tree

 We sang "Oklahoma" while riding in our carriage

We sang "Oklahoma" while riding in our carriage

 We paid a visit to the cottage of a retired worker, where we were served cane juice, cookies, & coffee

We paid a visit to the cottage of a retired worker, where we were served cane juice, cookies, & coffee

 Primary school across the way

Primary school across the way

 Breakfast room of our Camagūey hotel had stained glass featuring scenes of the city

Breakfast room of our Camagūey hotel had stained glass featuring scenes of the city

 Arriving at the hotel for her quinceañera (15th birthday party)

Arriving at the hotel for her quinceañera (15th birthday party)

 Rubik's cube of cucumber, watermelon, and cheese

Rubik's cube of cucumber, watermelon, and cheese

 Two Remedios neighborhoods compete during Las Parrandas festival, Christmas Eve. The artist we were visiting is a partisan of the rooster neighborhood (San Salvador), but has been engaged by the hawks (El Carmen) to design their light displays and floats this year. We were sworn to secrecy when we visited the warehouse where construction was happening.

Two Remedios neighborhoods compete during Las Parrandas festival, Christmas Eve. The artist we were visiting is a partisan of the rooster neighborhood (San Salvador), but has been engaged by the hawks (El Carmen) to design their light displays and floats this year. We were sworn to secrecy when we visited the warehouse where construction was happening.

 Our hotel front door marks the border between the two rival neighborhoods

Our hotel front door marks the border between the two rival neighborhoods

 "Finca Luna"—farm lodging & restaurant

"Finca Luna"—farm lodging & restaurant

 Their cat, Felix

Their cat, Felix

 Musicians always welcomed guest participation

Musicians always welcomed guest participation

 Our guide, Yanet, on the bus

Our guide, Yanet, on the bus

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  We visited the home of a Santería priestess.  Urns, perhaps

We visited the home of a Santería priestess. Urns, perhaps

 Ceiling

Ceiling

 Holocaust museum in the foyer

Holocaust museum in the foyer

 Synagogue, also dance rehearsal space

Synagogue, also dance rehearsal space

  Lynn had many opportunities to play along with the acc  ordio  n she had brought with her to Cuba

Lynn had many opportunities to play along with the accordion she had brought with her to Cuba

 Staghorn ferns obviously like the Cuban climate 

Staghorn ferns obviously like the Cuban climate 

 View from our Hotel Nacional room

View from our Hotel Nacional room

 Public art in Old Havana—the barbers' neighborhood

Public art in Old Havana—the barbers' neighborhood

 An elders' day center

An elders' day center

 Carlos, relaxing on a play structure at the Barber's Park, said his mother gave him the shirt

Carlos, relaxing on a play structure at the Barber's Park, said his mother gave him the shirt

 Yanet telling us a story about this sculpture

Yanet telling us a story about this sculpture

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 We were asked not to take photos in the studio of Martha Jiménez, but in the courtyard she had a friendly cockatiel. 

We were asked not to take photos in the studio of Martha Jiménez, but in the courtyard she had a friendly cockatiel. 

 All the pieces in this studio were made of leather—tobacco leaf shapes with faces on them, sea-horses, humidors for cigars...

All the pieces in this studio were made of leather—tobacco leaf shapes with faces on them, sea-horses, humidors for cigars...

 These reminded us of the "Green Man"

These reminded us of the "Green Man"

 We saw this artist's cat faces in more than one mural (see below)

We saw this artist's cat faces in more than one mural (see below)

 They were proud of the 18th-century wall between them and their neighbor.

They were proud of the 18th-century wall between them and their neighbor.

 This is a "Tinajón de Camagūey," symbol of the town and the province—used to collect rain water draining off the roof

This is a "Tinajón de Camagūey," symbol of the town and the province—used to collect rain water draining off the roof

 Representing the living fence posts seen along the rural roads everywhere

Representing the living fence posts seen along the rural roads everywhere

 Jorge drove our conveyance at the King Ranch wearing a Millennium Falcon t-shirt 

Jorge drove our conveyance at the King Ranch wearing a Millennium Falcon t-shirt 

 Residents of the workers' village used to gather here to watch TV. Now, they have TVs in their homes.

Residents of the workers' village used to gather here to watch TV. Now, they have TVs in their homes.

 Her bathroom

Her bathroom

 Hens apparently like cane husks

Hens apparently like cane husks

 King Ranch Bed & Breakfast wing

King Ranch Bed & Breakfast wing

 A roadside rest stop

A roadside rest stop

 Artist's studio in Remedios

Artist's studio in Remedios

 Just a beautiful wall

Just a beautiful wall

 Visit to the "Driver's Cafe," where they did not have enough glassware to serve all of us, but we got rides in these amazing cars!

Visit to the "Driver's Cafe," where they did not have enough glassware to serve all of us, but we got rides in these amazing cars!

 Another roadside rest—some had ice cream, some had mojitos

Another roadside rest—some had ice cream, some had mojitos

 "The party exists only for the people and by the people."

"The party exists only for the people and by the people."

 Another family of artist-farmer-musician-entrepreneurs

Another family of artist-farmer-musician-entrepreneurs

 Coffee plants, a small zoo, sculptures, tropical landscape

Coffee plants, a small zoo, sculptures, tropical landscape

 One of a number of peafowl and a tinajón—though not in Camagūey

One of a number of peafowl and a tinajón—though not in Camagūey

 A very old baseball stadium, with young players at practice

A very old baseball stadium, with young players at practice

 View from resort hotel

View from resort hotel

 Havana

Havana

 Lunch in a lovely modernist courtyard, followed by music, dancing, and a game of dominoes 

Lunch in a lovely modernist courtyard, followed by music, dancing, and a game of dominoes 

 Beautiful stainless steel flatware

Beautiful stainless steel flatware

 More modernist architecture in this neighborhood

More modernist architecture in this neighborhood

 Aquarium in a Havana restaurant

Aquarium in a Havana restaurant

 Not everyone has a cell phone

Not everyone has a cell phone

 Dominoes in the middle of the street

Dominoes in the middle of the street

 Singing "Guantanamera" with the folks at the day center accompanied by Lynn on her accordion 

Singing "Guantanamera" with the folks at the day center accompanied by Lynn on her accordion 

 Very old city wall monument

Very old city wall monument

 Tall buildings close together provide shade 

Tall buildings close together provide shade 

 Wise women set up to offer advice on the plaza

Wise women set up to offer advice on the plaza

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 Campaign against domestic violence

Campaign against domestic violence

 Havana skyline, from the bus

Havana skyline, from the bus

 Saturday seems to be laundry day.

Saturday seems to be laundry day.

 Spent some time in the flea market on our last day in Havana

Spent some time in the flea market on our last day in Havana

 Just resting

Just resting

 Hotel Nacional lobby

Hotel Nacional lobby

 Hotel meeting room ceiling

Hotel meeting room ceiling

 Foyer of our farewell dinner restaurant

Foyer of our farewell dinner restaurant

 More lovely flatware

More lovely flatware

 Some of our new riends listening to the restaurant owner's story

Some of our new riends listening to the restaurant owner's story

 Very early call time the next morning for our flight back to Miami

Very early call time the next morning for our flight back to Miami