Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hustled on the Corner of Independence and the 19th of May, and the corner of 23 Hustled at the Corner of Independence and the 19th of May and the corner of 23 y 12 and the corner of Linea and the 13th of August, and every corner in Pinar del Rio and...

April 15, 2010
Hemingway Marina, Havana, Cuba

We watched a pair of  roadies unloaded the unmarked box truck onto the sound stage. Skin damaged by misuse of crystal meth or whatever roadies do these days these skinny boymen with bad skin, frames upholstered in nothing but sinew and bad skin worked in dirty black Tshirts emblazoned in white with the names of hard rock heroes or concert dates.. As they worked a fat guy in a pony tail and a dirty tee shirt two sizes too small fiddled with the mixer and amps.

Turning we almost stepped into a pair of cops. Belts and shoes shiny, hands on belts close to their holstered weapons. Somehow swaggering though they only stood on the corner, their bellies of a slightly greater circumference that the khaki shirts trying to constrain them. These guys were issuing a challenge to anyone who wanted to take them on.

Walking down the street we were approached by a young man, his hair slicked, his Tshirt clean, chin and chest extended, confidence exuding from every pore. "You need a taxi? Tickets to the Hotel?"

Am I in London, Toronto, New York, Miami, Nassau or Havana? There are constants in this world: roadies (rock band and helpers for our foreign readers), cops and scalpers/hustlers.

So what? Nothing. Just a thought.

In Cuba the "heroes of the revolucion", the war dead, are revered. Officially at least. Every elementary school, hospital, factory and public building revers some guy who died, usually in the revolution of 1959. Driving to Vinales yesterday I had to smile as we passed the "Che Guevara Chicken and Egg Farm". Would that be how I would wish to be remembered? .

Looking at the memorials it is apparently there were few if any Heroines of the Revolucion. Also there have been no heros in Cuba since 1959. Heroism stopped with Fidel's grand revolution and nothing achieved since has been deemed worthy of public appreciation.

I guess it would interfere with worship of Fidel.

Anyway there we were standing in the Plaza de la Revolucion, a plaza that exists in every Cuban village, town and city. Nearby is an enormous 200 foot statue deifying some long dead and now totally irrelevant pedagogue. We are on the corner of Independence Street and the 19th of May. It seems strange to us to name a street after a date of significance but it is far from unusual down here. We wonder what happens when the 19th of May intersects with the 29th of August.

The hustler approached with the standard Cuban pickup line: "Where you From?".  I answer in spite of myself.

The dance begins.  "Canada. Canada very good country. Canada very beautiful". Alerted instantly to the approach we deploy our defensive weapons without even a look at each other. We try denial. Ignoring these little barnacles in Havana rarely works but we always try it. We turn our heads away, refuse to answer his patter, change direction abruptly without warning. We cannot shake him. There is no relief.

We step up the alert level to Defcon 3. A touch of desperation sets in. We move towards another obviously tourist couple, stop for a minute and ask for directions. The theory here was that our little friend will realize we are not fertile soil for his particular pitch and will instead prey on the hapless couple whom we have engaged in brief discussion.

It fails. The remora has attached himself to us and now will feed.

He asks if we like Cuban music. Now remember this question is coming nearly 5 long minutes after his initial introduction of himself. We glare at him and ask "How much?"

There is no subtlety left in us and the remora really doesn't give a damn. He wants to sell us "very good dvd's. very good music. cuba music".

We try a new tactic. I figure I will bargain with the twerp so long and so hard he will at least think twice before he harasses another innocent tourist. Fat chance. In this planned economy there is nothing for anyone to do. Wasting his time is just entertainment. This little twerp has all day to annoy and harass us and make our day miserable. He will too.

We begin. He opens his backpack and displays 200 or 300 dvds of the "best" Cuban music. His price is $10 a disk.

Twenty minutes later I cannot take anymore. He has won. I am played out. At this precise moment I recall the tuna I caught last week and realize I know how he felt just as I pulled him on deck.

I just did not care anymore. I buy 2 dvd's for $8.

The failure of the planned economy in Cuba has produced a nation of people with no pride, no self respect. For a US dollar many or most will do almost anything. There is a booming trade in illicit cigars if you want to trust a guy who claims he works at the cigar factory and "steals" the really good ones to sell just to you.

At the marina women will clean your boat for $15 US. From what the guys on the dock tell me, who are visiting without wives, they clean everything in the boat. For some of the guys this is why they come to Havana, year after year.

Touring Pinar del Rio with friends the Budget Committee and I were beset by beggars on every corner and down every street. The begging is different than back home.  Here begging does not officially exist and the government will not tolerate its public appearance.  Instead you are approached with the standard line "Where you from?".  With this opener the questioner will walk with you half a block. He will give you one or two Pesos National (about $.08) and then expect to be "tipped" $10 CUC.  For nothing.  If you do not give him $10 the beggar will tell you to your face it is "not enough."  "That is nothing!!" he will yell at you.

This has happened to all the cruisers we know.  It has happened to us.

Finally in Pinar del Rio the press of we returned to the van we shared with 3 other couples and just sat there for protection. Like cattle running from mosquitoes we were ready to throw ourselves off a cliff.

When the Havana music man is out of sight I break his dvds into slivers and toss them.

Havana is beginning to wear on me.

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