Monday, January 19, 2015

Report from Cuba - 1

I'm dusting off my old blog.   field of vision -- what was I thinking when I gave it that name?    Please forgive the pretension.

On this MLK day, wanted to upload the short essay I wrote in response to the "homework" I was given by the U.S. Department of Treasury.  No kidding.    In order to get our visas in order to travel down to see the Havana Film Festival,  the Department of Treasury,  demanded that Al and I give some kind of presentation -- an essay or a talk would be fine -- about the Festival.

Of course -- after everything that's happened -- no one is going to check on us.  But I did write the essay as an exercise.   Eventually I'll get to it, and paste it here in sections (been trying, without success to get it published) , but now,  I just want to retrieve some memories and offer some impressions

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Background: We went down as independent travelers,  with an official mandate to see the film festival, and that information was included on just about every document we had to fill out.  So I wasn't surprised that when I walked through customs at the Jose Marti airport,  I was immediately button-holed by a government agent.  He was young and very handsome, and brought me to a quiet spot off to the side on the main floor.    Al -- my husband -- didn't see this little move, so for about fifteen minutes he was baffled about the location of his wife

I liked this agent -- he asked what my purpose was in visiting Cuba, and what I hoped to gain from it.  I told him I  wanted to get a sense of Cuban film, as well as LatinAmerican film in general.  He nodded, and filled in the gaps -- you want to learn about social problems, right?  And added some of his own biography.  He told me he was studying social work, and was interested in this too.  I had the feeling we could have talked for another hour,  but Al suddenly spotted me and came running over.  

 We left the airport, and tried to get our bearings,  though part of me was still back in New York.  We left December 4,  just a few days after the failure to indict the police officer in the killing of Eric Garner,  and everyone from our home city of New York was on edge.   

Much had changed since our first visit to Havana in 1997, but one thing remained stubbornly the same.  The broad, increasingly bustling avenues are still missing  news stands.   You still can’t find  any type of newspaper aside from the eight page (very unsatisfying) daily State publication, Granma.    And,  wending our way through the venerable old hotel, La Nacional, to log on to the internet,  and typing,  we found the page blocked. (We had hoped against hope.)  There were no other cyber-news sources.  

We arrived at our casa particulare (or home hostel)  and  turned on the television in our room to find that we couldn’t find much of anything there either.   There were about two seconds -- literally --  depicting a nighttime protest.  But no word on where it was taking place, the numbers, the daily pounding message of the protest.   You wouldn’t know there were thousands of people peaceably marching up 6th Avenue in New York City,  essentially taking over the streets.  The reason may have been diplomatic of course.  Cuba can’t have any journalists in the States, even if they wanted to, but they seem to have chosen not to show any of the other broadcast news shows available --  say, the BBC or Al Jazeera.  Isolation from the sweep of the day’s events felt complete and impenetrable.   That evening,  the gatekeepers had chosen an interesting alternative, however -- Stephen Vittoria’s 2012 documentary, Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal.  There we were on an old mattress in our room watching Cornell West and Amy Goodman!  It was a hard-hitting documentary about race in America.  But we desperately wanted the current situation.  

Today,  I think -- that might be a good film to revisit.  

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