Posted by: koolwine | August 21, 2010

Cuba: Waiting for Snow in Havana

Country: Cuba

Local Name: Cuba

Title: Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

Author: Carlos Eire (Cuban-American)

Published: 2003  Pages: 383

Acclaim: National Book Award Winner

Time Period: roughly 1950-1970

Summary: We interrupt your childhood to bring you a communist revolution.  As a result of Castro’s takeover, Carlo Eire and his brother lost their homeland and their privileged lives as a niños bitongas (“pampered boys”).  Eire shares stories of growing up in pre-Castro Cuba, his initial youthful confusion and obliviousness towards Castro’s dictatorship, and his humbling new life in America.

My opinion: Waiting for Snow in Havana is a lament for a ruined country and a childhood cut short.  The saying, “You can’t go home again” applies to all of us (except, perhaps, the current crop of college graduates), but Eire’s separation from his native country is more tragic, final and full of yearning than most.

One of the most memorable and humorous aspects of Eire’s memoir is that he primarily refers to his father as King Louie XVI and to his mother as Marie Antoinette, ostensibly because his father believed himself and his wife to have been these historical figures in a previous life, but also, I suspect, because the fear, hurt and betrayal of being sent parent-less at age eleven to a foreign country created a wicked attachment disorder in Eire.

Side note: Eire’s boundless hatred of Fidel Castro presents an intriguing difference of opinion from the Mirabal sisters in Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies, who saw Castro as an inspiring and heroic figure.

In my book (or how Cuba has affected me and maybe you, too):

Don’t know much about history
Having grown up during the Cold War, I knew that Cuba was the communist country led by the bearded, cigar-smoking Fidel Castro (one of the few foreign leaders who I could identify from a photo).

I remember studying the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis in high school history tests, but the two events never stuck with me.  The first just made me picture curly-tailed swine swimming in clear blue water, and the second I could never wrap my mind around because it seemed odd to me that a small tropical nation could threaten U.S. security.

To help myself finally get these events straight, I have reduced and simplified them.  Behold the conciseness of my History Haiku:

The Bay of Pigs
CIA-backed troops
failed to overthrow Castro.
Kennedy in shame.

Cuban Missile Crisis (in two parts)
Cubans, Soviets
Secretly building missiles
But war averted.

John F. Kennedy,
Khrushchev negotiated
dismantling the nukes.

No fly zone
Cuba is, I believe, the only country that I (as an American citizen) have never in my life been legally allowed to visit.  I always felt a little indignant about that restriction, and cheered on an acquaintance who traveled to Cuba despite the U.S. embargo.

Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Just a name, right?  Has nothing to do with country whatsoever, right?  Wrong.  This is what I found out:  Cuba’s grandfather emigrated from Barbados to Cuba in 1936 and married a woman who was later murdered for her Marcus Garvey-inspired Pan-African beliefs.  He later fulfilled a promise made on his wife’s deathbed that he would name his first son Cuba.  Cuba Gooding, Sr. then passed the name down to his own son, the movie star we know best for shouting, “Show me the money!”

Club music
I can’t remember how my husband and I came across the 1997 album Buena Vista Social Club, but its native Cuban tunes – inspired by the 1940s and 50s Havana club scene – appealed to us immediately.  With worldwide sales hitting eight million, Buena Vista Social Club is the best-selling Cuban album of all time.

Giddy up, giddy up 409
My husband and I love the tail fins and rounded steel curves of classic American cars.  If you’ve ever seen photos of Cuba, you’ve probably noticed that the country is chock-a-bloc with antique automobiles; studies estimate that approximately 60,000 pre-1960 American cars continue to be driven down Cuban roads.  Does Cuba offer a chance to take a spin in the car of your dreams?  Read what happened when a New York Times reporter’s sons attempted a road trip from Havana in a companion’s 1956 Chevy Bel Aire:

“The first thing the passengers noticed when they opened the trunk was five five-gallon cans of gas sloshing around where a spare tire should have rested. The car had no gas tank, and Ricardo had rigged a plastic siphon from a smaller tank under the dashboard. The four doors shared one outside handle, which was dutifully passed from door to door so each could be opened. …

The Chevy peaked at about 35 miles an hour. They stopped every five miles to suck gas into the siphon and feed the engine. … Then the most shredded of the four tires suddenly exploded…

Back on the road, a side window fell into the lap of a startled Juan Carlos. The car lacked windshield wipers, rear lights and bumpers, and none of the dashboard dials worked. … The clutch pedal fell through what was left of the floor. Often they had to push-start the car after a stop.”

A few bad men
The 1992 movie A Few Good Men revolves around a murder that took place at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo), Cuba.  This was the I first I’d heard of the military base, and I figured it would also be the last.  I certainly could never have guessed that ten years later Gitmo would become the site of  one of the world’s most controversial detention camps, used to interrogate and indefinitely hold hundreds of  U.S. “enemy combatants.”

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Responses

  1. I recall the Cuban Missle Crisis as though it was last Autumn. It was a warm Indian Summer day, the boys were in school, and I laid my head down on my couch to wait and listen and wait and listen…Amazing how generations to follow perceive it as history and my perception is the experience is an integral part of my life experiences. Particularly enjoyed your descriptions and observations.

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  2. […] Cuba: Waiting for Snow to Fall in Havana by Carlos Eire […]

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