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Praying in Spanish

April 26

Met group in lobby. Went into lobby Starbucks for coffee and came out to find the group had left on shuttle to airport, my luggage sitting in the lobby. Tough group. Called Nevada on her cell and took next shuttle to terminal. Hour and a quarter in various lines, overweight luggage fee of $44, through security and hour and a half before our packed charter jet departs for Havana. The plane is filled with many Cubans and with other groups, including alumni from Yale and another, I think, from Stanford.

Photo thoughts. I’ll be shooting RAW and JPEG for the first time on this trip, having previously shot only the latter. RAW files are much larger than the compressed JPEG files, thus allowing more possibilities in modifying them. Also have a hyper drive I bought, which will allow me to copy photos from the camera to it. Nevada (and others) had been mortified to learn that previously I’d had no backup on trips. Most others back up on a laptop, but I’m too lazy to lug one on trips. It’s interesting that other makes (Olympus and Fuji) of the smaller Sony camera that I began using last Fall in China are now being used by several others on the trip, including Nevada. Clearly, they are the wave of the future, as others in the group are looking at them longingly.

The flight is 45 minutes, so we arrive around 11:30, multiple customs and baggage lines with waits, but no real hassles. We’re met at the airport by our guide, Laura, and workshop representative, Dustin, and, after changing some (Canadian) dollars I’d brought because of better exchange rates for CUCs (pronounced “kooks”), the Cuban money used by foreigners, for something less than a dollar/CUC, we board our comfortable air conditioned bus. Laura explains that the main problems in Cuba are economic, and Cubans do whatever they can to earn CUCs, which are much more valuable than the Cuban pesos which they are allocated to buy essentials. I need to learn more about this.

We ride to a large restaurant, called El Aljibe, at which we have a good enough lunch of chicken, rice and black beans while being entertained by four musicians, below, and Nevada.

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After lunch we have a bus ride to Revolutionary Square, which is aptly known as Revolutionary Parking Lot, opposite which a large wire sculpture of Che Guevara decorates a building, along with the famous words he wrote to Fidel, “Hasta la victoria, siempre,” or “until victory, forever.”

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From there we drive to the well-known Hotel Nacional, a nicely-preserved hotel from the 1930s, where one can see pictures of everyone famous who has visited there, including this unlikely combo of Betty Grable and Stan Musial. We walk around the hotel and grounds.

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Laura points out some landmarks and gives us some history about Jose Marti, the poet and revolutionary organizer against the Spanish in the late 19th century, who was killed in 1895 and remains a national hero, with a big statue in Revolutionary Square (as well, Laura points out, as one in Central Park in New York). There’s something nice that Carol would appreciate about an airport being named after a poet, even if it wasn’t his poetry that inspired the honor. We drive to a spot a few blocks from our hotel, since driving restrictions in old Havana, where we are located, prevent the bus from getting there. We have some help with the luggage and walk over cobbled streets in hot, but not unbearable, weather to the hotel, where a lively crowd is hanging out around the bar. We’re served a welcome drink in the lobby and our room keys are handed out for the ride up in the small, old-fashioned elevator. Our hotel, the Ambos Mundos, is not nearly as fancy as the Nacional, but it has a “real” feel to it that I like. The room is simple, but adequate, and we have an hour and a half to relax before a lobby meeting at 6. I am able to operate the hyper drive, thanks to the instruction I got last week from Nirajan, the Nepalese young man who graduated from Northwestern and has been staying with us. Unfortunately, we do not have internet at the hotel, so posting blogs will be a challenge.

Meeting with Dustin, Nevada and our Cuban photographer Jorge gives us information about the next few days, which sound jam-packed and fun. While waiting for the meeting, I may have taken the first interesting photos I’ve made all day from our second floor meeting room window, looking down at small kids on the street who are being entertained by a mime dressed all in black.

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Our whole group is going to a nearby restaurant for dinner, except me, because I’m going to Beth Shalom services. Dustin puts me in a taxi with directions and I arrive at the reform synagogue and am greeted in Yiddish by the shamas and seated behind an Israeli pilot and his wife, with whom I chat before the service starts. The service is led by a young man and women, and I’m able to follow in both Hebrew and Spanish (somewhat), though almost none of the melodies are familiar. It’s interesting to experience prayers translated into Spanish and to reflect on how this happens in languages around the world, where we all read the same Hebrew, but experience different takes on it in translation. There is a kiddush and meal afterwards, but I don’t stay, opting to head back to try to catch the end of dinner with the group.

Getting back is an adventure. I first flag down a 1940s Chevrolet taxi, in which I become the fifth passenger, lodged between the driver and another man in the front row. Eventually the other passengers all get out and I’m left in the front seat with the driver, loud music pulsing from the car’s rear speakers, as he shifts gears and moves the powerless steering wheel around. My driver doesn’t quite know where I’m going, but drops me off at the Capitol. There I negotiate with another taxi, who takes me to the Plaza de la Catedral, which is not far rom the restaurant. A young man kindly walks me the couple blocks to the restaurant, where I have a beer and bread and butter with the others, who are finishing off what they said was a very good dinner in the quite attractive Dona Eutimia restaurant.

After dinner, we walk around the area, which is very charming and I take what I think may be a couple pretty interesting photos. It will be fun to walk around this area in the daylight. I walk with Doug and Henry. The former is represented in several photo galleries, including one in Santa Fe, and I pick up some interesting ideas, including shooting black and white JPEGs and RAW color at the same time. Once again, everyone is more experienced than I am, which is great, if a trifle intimidating (or might be, if I were easily intimidated, which I’m not).

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Back at the hotel, I prepare for a welcome shower, except there’s no water. I’m told there will be in half an hour. We’ll see.

Water. Shower. Good. In fact, muy bueno.

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