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Notes from Havana

Suzanne Gardinier

1. Today the first rest in a long time: lolling on the bed in the
AC, thinking of sitting & laughing at dinner on the Plaza Vieja with
P & E their second night here, first lightning, then thunder,
then rain—of P passed out after dinner another night & RA in the
living room teaching E to salsa, & to flick a fan—

2. —& of the night we spent in Las Terrazas with P smiling over E &
I weeping over some movie on the TV—

3. —& of walking in the forest with L whose feet knew the
paths so he could look up to talk to the birds—who told us about the
plants (the mimosa that curls up when you touch it, the shaggy-barked
one they call the tourist tree because it peels like sunburned white
people) & shook mangos from the trees & guavas to eat like apples as
we walked—

4. —& how we passed the ruins of a coffee plantation, the ridges of
walls & the circular place where slaves and donkeys turned the wheel
to separate the bean skin from the bean—Para los esclavos, I said,
pouring a little precious water in the heat, For the slaves, & he said
Sí, porque tenían sed, Yes, because they were thirsty—

5. —& how he showed us the invasive marabú, Like English, I said,
smiling ruefully, like that thorny desert plant whose name I can’t
remember, the thicket of it Celia Sánchez hid clandestine fighters in,
how she wore a mariposa behind her ear, like a wild jasmine, & hid
messages there—

6. —& about the people who lived there fifty years ago, suspicious
of the Land Reform after the Revolution, because they’d been made
other promises before, & how they still call the 45 families who
agreed to the new plan first (each family with land the size of two
football fields, L said), whose houses are in the middle of the
hillside town, Los Valientes, the brave ones—the other families who
soon followed a little farther away—

7. —& about the community of Las Terrazas, L’s open-air café,
movies there at night, a library with computers & a sewing machine, a
school from preschool through secondary, a discoteca, the smell of
coffee & of soap & laundry on the line, In this way the people can
live, L said—

8. —& said that during the Special Period which was not so special
they put meat sauce on banana peels to eat

[How the backward complex of power & shame around hunger reminds me
of the complex of power & shame around rape: how the victims feel
shame & the perpetrators clean, when it should be the other way

9. How L laughing called the families who live a little farther from
the center los ateos, the atheists, the ones who didn’t believe

10. Before we left we waited on the breezy patio with a tree growing
through the middle of it (“When we built this place we respected the
trees,” L said, “We wrapped them up to protect them”) and
called M the neoyorquina Piñarena family chiropractor on my cell
phone & told her we were in her provincia—the joy in her astonished

11. Bridge graffiti on the way: Creo En Ti / I Believe In You