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"Notes from the Field": 
   Journal Entry # 1: 
Life at the Bar Monserrate  
 

Life at the Bar Monserrate:  Descending into Old Havana.
 

23 Dec. Ď95

Ice Cream Parlor
For once, no escorts for an entire evening!  Good to be on my own.  Eating an ice cream and cake that makes me feel like Iím at a birthday party.

Havana is so SENSUAL.  Not in a just ďgoodĒ sense.  The streets smell but sometimes they STINK.  The streets are crumbling, decaying, rotting.  But, unlike American cities, Havana has been doing this for CENTURIES.  It rots in style.  Old Havana gives new meaning to the word DECADENT.

Havana really is the safest city in the Western hemisphere.  I walk through the barrios, unescorted.  Other than the putas (prostitutes) grabbing at me, I am in no danger. This is in part due to the fact that Cuba happens to be a police state.  As police states go, it doesnít seem to be particularly heavy-handed.  For example, unlike Uganda, I donít see any machine guns on the street.  And, unlike LA (and most other American cities) there seems to be a basic respect between the cops and the people.

At night, there are large movements of police, at the brigade level.  Truckloads of blue-clad men, moving around the city.  IMPORTANT POINT: The failure of American policing may be in part due to the fact that the cops MOVE.  Cuban cops donít even walk a beat- they STAND STILL and let people walk past them.  This creates a relationship between citizen and police (for better or worse).  In America, the cops are largely anonymous, isolated in their air-conditioned cruisers while the bad guys rule the streets.

America is heading for a police state and is doing it wrong.  In Cuba, none of the bad guys have guns.  Part of Havanaís safety is that the men seem to be basically cooled out.  Too much sex.

Another part may be that race is simply not a problem here.  Whites have more, blacks have less, but no one seems to care about it.  So far I have detected no negative energy from anyone regarding race or color.  Pretty cool.  I donít feel like an American or like Iím ďblackĒ.  The only time I feel ďdifferentĒ is when I open my mouth.  I try to keep it shut most of the time.

ME & HEMINGWAY:
Went to his estate today, quite a pilgrimage.  Will people one day travel to MY estate because of the work I am doing? YOU BETCHA!

I KNOW why Hemingway loved Cuba.  He probably got away with murder here.

I wonder how many of the older white men here think theyíre Ernest Hemingway?  Interesting about the Hemingway Estate: he imported many of the plants and animals of Africa to his estate.  Why didnít he just live in Africa?  He may have been a wonderful writer, but he also had some serious psychological problems.  Anyone who lives with the heads of dead animals staring at him all day and night has to be pretty twisted.

BAR MONSERRATE:
On a corner across from a plaza open on two sides with roll up shutters.  Nice bar, lots of wood, friendly and reserved service, usually good music although right now doing rap.  Right now, watching the rain, drinking cafe con leche (they look at me a little strange when I donít order alcohol), watching the putas work (totally ignoring me: they think Iím Cuban!).

There is something about Old Havana which defies rational thought.  Night in Old Havana exists on the edge of a dream- it canít be thought about, but only experienced.  I move like a shadow in this city, like a part of the crumbling architecture, the puta vomiting n the street, the bright neon of a sign, reflected in the slick wetness of the rain-soaked streets.

When I get back to my world and read these words, I wonder if this will actually make sense.  Or, like a dream that Iíve written, will the words evoke the feelings of a dream remembered?

Night in Havana is hypnotic.  I need to get to see the rest of the country, to see if itís all like this.  One of the guidebooks talked about people being seduced by Havana for centuries.  SEDUCTION is the perfect word.  I feel like Iím being pulled into something almost against my will.  No, REGARDLESS of my will.  It is an incredibly  YIN feeling - like sinking into warm jello.

Itís cool tonight, clouds and rain for the past 24 hours have washed the fetid smell from the streets.

23 Dec. @ 2:15 PM   (Restaurant.)
 An artificial flower in fresh water on my table.  Thatís Havana.

@ 8:50 PM (Bar Monserrate)
Some of the usuals back: the serious pedophile with two new children under 10.  The black puta with long cornrows - with 2 new turistas.  The waiters are all different though.

Just took my hourís walk through the Havana night.  One of the guidebooks talked about people being seduced by Havana for centuries.  SEDUCTION is the perfect word.  I feel like Iím being pulled into something almost against my will.  No, REGARDLESS of my will.  It is an incredibly  YIN feeling - like sinking into warm jello.

Itís cool tonight, clouds and rain for the past 24 hours have washed the fetid smell from the streets.  Most of the putas are covered with pants and sweaters.

More Impressions:  Watch where you walk.  The streets and sidewalks of Havana are anything but uniform.  Bricks, cobblestone, even wood makes up the pavement.  Add to that piles of garbage, dog dung, potholes that would swallow a Volkswagen whole, wooden support beams holding up adjacent buildings, manholes with missing utility covers, main streets which abruptly have 2 - 3 steps without warning, streets with absolutely no illumination - walking in Havana is a real death defying experience.

25 Dec.  11:00 AM  (Merry Christmas)
Waiting for an incredible line at the Cubana office for a flight to Santiago.  Dozens of people waiting and only one woman working, lots of others standing around looking bored.  Why not?  Their jobs are secure, and itís not like we can go to another airline.  Bureaucracy, in any country, sucks.

Later, at the Jose Marti International Airport, while standing in line to get my plane to Santiago, I noticed a stray dog curled up in line, people stepping over him.  The dog at the airport counter was totally surreal; the ticket line looks like the 20th Century - the stray dog reminds me that Iím somewhere else.  My friend Ariel kicks the dog, who didnít budge.  Mostly everyone else, including counter people, didnít blink.

29 Dec Ď95 @ 11:15 PM
[After a three day trip to the far end of the island, Santiago de Cuba:] Well, back to where the world makes sense.  When I came into Old Havana, tears actually came to my eyes.

Monserrate is MY bar.  Few turistas - theyíre a block away at the Floridita, paying way too much for the bragging rights of saying that they were drinking from Hemingwayís watering hole.  They donít interact with Cubanos, not even the folks serving them drinks.  At the Monserrate, after running off a puta, the waiter treats her with utmost courtesy when she is invited to sit with a Euro customer. COOL.

Visually, Old Havanaís time is the night.  A combo of irregularity of street lighting creating strange shadows, buildings with odd angles, architecturally rich facades  (right now Iím looking at the corner of the building across from my bar, starting at the second floor, a huge limestone extravagance of carved limestone - fruits tumbling from a Horn of Plenty, a rolled cornice supporting a fleur-de-lis, from which streams carved ribbons and angels.  All on a corner of a building most people donít bother to look up at.  I think about the futility of the ď1% for ArtĒ projects around the US In Havana Viaje the art isnít tacked on - itís imbedded in.  Beauty is an integral part of existence.

The corner architecture is really beautiful: the rolled cornice, which starts as a square, gently curves down in a slope, ending the corner of the building not as a square but as a strange angle.  The entire street and sidewalk follows this pattern.  It would have been so much easier for the architect and mason to square the corner. So much more efficient, cost saving, etc.  But, a square corner would not have moved me.  Many times I have seen a forgotten stone angel staring at me from a park bench, or a classic Greek or Roman figure.

The pedophile just left, with his 2 black 10 year olds, while looking greedily at the six year old at the bar.  This guy could be the poster boy for ďLechers AnonymousĒ.

I havenít seen any real acts of anger between people.  A few days ago a mujer was shouting in the street, mad at the lack of public transportation: ďIs this why Jose Marti died?  For a revolution that canít operate a bus system?Ē  But acts of anger towards each other are rare.  People are constantly blowing their horns and cutting each other off in traffic, but no one gets angry.

As I was crossing the park near the Hotel Inglaterra, a saw a very loud group of men, all of them angrily shouting at each other.  Two of them were chest to chest, screaming into each otherís faces.  There was a crowd gathering.  I asked Ariel, ďwhatís that about?Ē  Ariel laughed and said, ďBaseball game.  Theyíre choosing sides.Ē  Given how serious Cubans are about baseball, that seemed understandable.

On the other hand, while real anger is rare, people donít smile a lot.  When something is funny they smile or laugh, but in just walking down the street, I would call their look DETERMINED.

Two cops are shaking down a young guy across the street, under the rolling cornice.  If his identity papers are not in order, heíll wind up spending up to three nights in prison, more if a serious offense.  Now theyíre leading him away, not a good sign.  There are no plea bargains, no defense attorneys, no halfway houses.

Peace,

Sharif
 
 
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