Corazon de Cuba
|Matanzas has a number of attractions. It is Pedro's favorite town, but he is partial to it because he lives there. Even so, it is big enough to have a variety of cultural venues and a night life, yet small enough so people seem to recognize every other person as they walk down the street and there are a variety of attractions for the visitor, but it is not overrun by tourists, an understatement.|
over river going to town center.
Fishing with casting nets, along the river.
|In the center of town is Ediciones Vigia, a hand-made art book workshop using using collaged, repurposed materials and other creative techniques. The handmade books, with illustrations, graphics, unique bindings and covers are limited to a maximum 200 editions. They produce a variety of books for children and adults and also publishes a literary magazine. The internationally recognized creativity is curated by North American art museum. Vigía originally opened, in 1985, as a space for writers and artists to gather and discuss their work. The group began creating single-sheet flyers that advertised meeting times for interested artists, and eventually they evolved into a book publishing house.|
|The artists of Teatro Papalote has taken on a lot of challenges and persists. It is primarily a puppet theater, with the purpose to keeping alive Afro-Cuban folklore. When is was founded in 1962, it added some pride to what was in a very squalid and sordid section of the city. Beside in-house and traveling performances, it also hosts the biennial International Puppet Theater Workshop.|
|Not far away is the Catholic Cathedral. Its points of interest includes glass art, paintings and fine woodwork. When we were there local people filed in and out, generally crossing themselves and saying some prayers during their visit. It is generally an older crowd.|
|Our next stop was the old hotel. Clearly it had seen more elegant times. While the interior is a period piece, our purpose for visiting was to climb to the roof and survey the town and harbor.|
|Cuba has had an off again, on again policy towards the farmers markets. For now the markets are on again and they seem to be filled with plenty of variety and plenty of quantity of produce. Here is where you can get your tomatoes, bananas, melons, garlic, cabbage and the whole range of tubers that are part of the Cuban cuisine.|
|For contrast to the small rural school we visited earlier, we visited a larger urban school in Matanzas. Overall it had the same relaxed and organized environment. The students projected self-confidence and cheerfulness. As they went about their studies they seemed energetic and disciplined. Looking over their shoulders and reading some of the materials in the room, they seemed to be working at a high academic level. This of course would be consistence with Cuba's ability to develop its own biotech industry and produce professionals in all fields. Watching the staff, they seemed to genuinely enjoy each other and the students. It was a very warm and friendly environment.|
|On a knoll above Matanzas, is the Catalan-style, Ermita de Monserrate. It was built between 1871-75. It long ago ceased to function as a hermitage. In the interim it fell into great disrepair, and has since been restored and opened as a cultural venue. There is still an annual pilgrimage to the church, on December 8, which has religious roots.|
|If the weather and lighting are right, Ermita de Monserrate offers dual beautiful views of Matanzas city and bay, and the Yumuri Valley.|
Is is hard to list all of the credentials of Fernando Gonzalez: He has been a Catholic priest, studied western medicine, meditates several times a day, knows and teaches several martial arts, started the Centro Provincial para desarrollo de la Medicina Natural y Tranditional, is a licensed chiropractor and masseuse, is Cuba's foremost expert in the application of Eastern medicine, alternative therapy, traditional and natural medicine for pain management, and still teaches and practices much of this. He is a national treasure, and there is so much going to see at his house/studio that is like a museum.
|We could not help but be impressed that Cubans seemed to have such a sophisticated understanding of the relations between our countries. I wondered if Americans could be so discerning, so forgiving.|
One of the more interesting hours of
the year 2000 program, was one spent with a man, in his 60's, who had gone to the Sierra Maestra in
1957, in response to a
call to come join the revolution. He has his medals to prove it. Prior to joining the revolution he was one Cuba's
of hundreds of thousands poor peasant farmer. As he tells his story,
people who opposed the Batista dictatorship, and some whose only crime was being a
peasant, were being terrorized by the state's security apparatus. (Batista's government is
report to have killed 20,000 people in the years prior to the uprising.) To this day, and
despite the hardships and challenges of Cuba, he feels that he has been, is and will
be better off, than if there had not been a revolution.
Asked about the legacy of Che, he gives an impassioned response in full voice. Che was the personification of the pure revolutionary soul. He gave every ounce of himself to building the new socialism in Cuba. He worked and volunteered day and night, week and weekend to lead by example, to show Cubans the way.
This could have turned into a revolutionary love fest, but it would not have been true to our impartial, non-political makeup. Members of the group asked tough, direct questions: How will Cuba be able to compete in the new world markets? What promise and opportunity does Cuba have to offer its youth in the coming years. What restrictions does Cuba put on emigration and tourist visas and why? And so on.
Our host held firm. The revolution did not need dismantling. It needed to be consolidated. He had been born rural peasants, with no hope of ever learning to read. The revolution had given them the opportunity to live with dignity like it had for millions of others. The State needed to find ways of improving health-care, education and social services for good of all the people. These were things that Batista had cruelly denied the people, and the revolution should not compromise them. Batista murdered people who dared object, just like his handlers, the American Mafia. He had witnessed these things, he said. In order to build the new phases of the revolution, highly trained young people would be needed, in the new biotechnology sectors, in computer technology, in the new agriculture. Travel and relocation to places like Canada was more a matter of expense. People were free to travel, even to emigrate, but given the present situation with the embargo, most people could simply not afford to do so.
Many other things were said in this hour-long conversation. But finally, as when our host said, “I am confident that the embargo will end because it is such a stupid policy”, the group applauded, in admiration of his determination, and to affirm the honest dialogue we had.
As he bade us a final farewell in the street, he said what we had heard others say throughout Cuba. Cubans, he said, did not hate Americans. He did not believe that the American people wanted the embargo. They had no reason to want it. The American government, he said, driven by Castro’s enemies in Miami, were to blame.
On a more recent program, we had a talk with three boys; mostly, covering school, sports and hobbies. Their strongest answer was their favorite sport was baseball. Each one got a baseball for their ordeal of answering question for 'elderly' foreigner. The balls were seen in use on the street later in the day.
|In a country where there is generally very little new residential construction, and that which there is, is quite modest, there is a curious cluster of large, new, residential building, with expansive view across the Bay of Matanzas, on the ridge along the bay, to the east of Matanzas. The discussion is, is this Cuban money or European money? The consensus seems to be that it came from aboard. This could include dual nationality families, or Cuban-European investors. There is not much support for the idea that it is Cuban-American money.|
railroad tracks runs behind one row of the houses. The trains are short, and
slow, so relatively quiet, but seem to pass several times a day.
Adding to the incongruity of the neighborhood, a man dressed in white, with a large white bag stuffed with hay, rode by on a mostly white horse.
|The details of the view across the Bahia de Matanzas are not quite as pristine as first impression: There is the port, a tank farm and factories.|
In the hills just south of town are the Bellemar Caves. From a small entrance, one descends below the surface to see those impressive series of chambers, galleries, and passages are filled with stalactites, stalagmites, helictite, columns, and dozens of other forms of mineral crystal formations. The longest stalagmite is 12m (40 ft) long. Less than one kilometer, of seven kilometers, of cave system is lighted and open to visitors. Unfortunately, visitors have done a lot of damage to the 300,000 year old structures in the cave.
|As impressive as the cave is, the real jaw dropping experience at the site is the 3D video in the small theater at the entrance. The video shows of parts of the cave system that only research geologist venture into. (None of these pictures are of that section). Don't be discouraged by the early minutes of the video which seems to disproportionate feature young female models. Eventually, some other geologist-types are mixed into the scenes, and more importantly, the cave scene become more and more impressive, and totally other-worldly. It will be one of the most mind boggling videos you ever see.|
|There is still a lot to see in the public section section of the cave: formations that resemble the Buddha, fossilized shells, and a formation that appears to be a face (inside red circle), that has an uncanny resemblance to one of the geologist/guides at the cave.|
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