Sunday, July 09, 2006

30A CAT ESCAPES DEATH

30A THE CAT ESCAPES DEATH

Lionel I seem to remember Angelino who worked for you in Los Números. Do you remember a kid, Angelino’s son who stayed at your house at the time? He was about perhaps eight and he wanted me to kill that cat? Was his name William? Apparently fascinated by death as many kids those days William told me that the black cat had to be killed because it was feral, and was eating the family’s chickens. Foolishly because somehow I believed that kid, I fired a number, perhaps five, rounds at the cat. Firing instinctively from maybe about 25 yards in point and shoot style that little 0.38 caliber, Colt Cobra short barreled revolver, made noise and smacked hard inside my rigidly clenched fist; but the first one or two shots missed the running animal.

The cat was jumping over low spreading rhizomes of pangola grass I had planted. I corrected my aim and fired a little lower, hitting, making little spurts of muddied dust on the sharply sloping ground just below the running cat's legs. The sound of the shots was sharp and loud rising above the chaotic babble of running water.

Yet the cat fled unhurt, tail trailing in air, legs gathering and extending; it bounded towards and then jumped over that stream that flowed in a shallow rocky gully through your little steep pasture. The cat moved easily and fast; it cleared, as if flying, the pool where you filled your water cans with the mist liquid gathered from the clouds by the looming Peña Prieta crag above.

For the smallest of split seconds I could see, the arc of the cat’s gracefully extended body leaping over the water pouring into the pool. Beneath the cat the waters ran fast and narrow, down the mountain side rushing noisily between dun brown rocks. Here hurried waters cascaded into space to splash into the pool. Dazzles of silver shone with the eye-hurt of harsh specular llght reflected from the roiling chill metal tasting water. The more tranquil lower part of the pool was a dark mirror of the sky. Landing silently on the other side of the pool, amid the emerald of young growing coffee and the lighter green-yellows of interspaced corn and the wide leaves of malanga, the cat and its tail disappeared from view.

At that time in 1959, things were beginning to get very rough and unsettled. Since turning in my weapons to Comandante Almeida at Camp Nicaragua south of Havana when I left the victorious rebels that January, I had been weaponless. I felt naked without a weapon and was in reality dangerously defenseless since many enemies lurked in those uncertain times. And I in those days spent my time wandering the streets of Havana; Mother fed me at her apartment in Humbolt 7, and I stayed with Dad in the Concordia house. That house on Concordia street had once belonged to one of Great grandfather Calixto Garcia-Iñiguez sisters, Leonor I think, and with time and after grandfather Calixto Enamorado’s death became Grandmother’s.

I remember in 1959 a few days after I reached Havana and just after I resigned, and had shaved my beard. I was going to my mother’s and Enrique Sanz’ apartment to eat and was walking down that street that runs down from Infanta to the Malecon, one block east of Humbolt. Passing the memorial to the quarry where Jose Marti was imprisoned, now more than a century ago, as a teenager, my mind deep in thought of those past events, I saw something that really got my attention.

She, the beautiful voluptuous woman, was walking about one very long block down, heading on the north side of the street, the side closest to the sea, towards La Rampa and the Hotel National. She was swinging her hips as she walked, seemingly unconcerned that as far as I could see from there she was not wearing anything from the waist down, except her high heeled shoes.

I hurried and finally got a close look. To my great disappointment what she was wearing was a pair of tight fitting pink, tight-like pants, the first article of that type of clothing I had ever seen in my life. I said nothing and merely stared when I caught up with her. Yet well over 45 years later that memory of that first illusion of dreamlike, wanton, sexual license, liberty and freedom is still with me. A friend tells me now if she was on that street, she my “dream walking” was most probably a professional lady seeking prey.

Early in the War Against Batista

You remember that road that went to Cojima. You must know the house it was just north of the top of the hills. It is past where, after crossing the tree dotted, fence laced, flat, bucolic valley, and just after going past the traffic circle of the Via Blanca, the two lane macadam road rises up to cross the northern costal hills.

Then the hupía ghosts had not yet come to haunted that traffic circle. General José Eleuterio Pedraza, who would reawakened as killer, angered and vengeful for his lost son—had not yet thrown the young dead men he would kill on that low, weedy grass, and unfinished, white painted raised concrete borders of that cruel cross road.

There the house stood; and still stands, high up on the seaward side of the scrubby hills that marked the northern limit of valley plain. To the south of the hills is the site of the ancient Taíno, or more precisely Siboney, village that became the old Spanish town of Guanabacoa. This town once, before the Spanish came, was a gathering of bohíos and caneys with thatched with pencas the great royal palm leaves, and sided with yaguas, the board-like giant palm petioles.

Guanabacoa once had a beaten earth batey or playing field where lewd Zemí idols stood and dirt roads that lead through forests to other Siboney towns, east and west of there. Canoa, great vessels we now call canoes, plied the seas from the little port of Cojima to the north and the great bay of Havana to the west. Nude skins glistening with sweat then rinsed with water, the inhabitants worked in their conucos fields, skillfully playing batos and danced the rhythms of delight in the batey and made much joy.

In los Escolapios we would recite the words of the song “Guanabacoa, la bella y sus murallas de guano” ‘Guanabacoa the beautiful and its walls of guano (yaguas)’.

In the 1950s the Guanabacoa’s older houses, were built of Spanish style iron window bars, bricks, stone and termite resistant forest hardwoods. They were separated from the streets by narrow well raised sidewalks that ran along the sides of the well paved, if not straight, streets. Now as the 21st century begins after almost 50 years of tyranny the place is far more run down. But then, in my teen years, the yellow and white logo painted milk vans, sometimes ran late, hurriedly passing the children going to school in the morning. Many of the children wore their school uniforms some boys wore striped shirts and black knit ties, and chino pants and most girls wore white blouse and blue or black pinafores.

Boys and girls who lived nearby, like the unfortunate Manzana boy and his little sister killed on just such a sidewalk by just such a milk truck, walked together or in separate groups to their separate schools. The older boys and girls in their teens eyed each other. The curved sided, buses passed by carrying the children who lived further out. From the sex segregated buses, the noise of the children voices reached the streets. These women smiled for then such foolishness was taken as harassment but as a sincere, if juvenile, complement. The school girls in other buses gossiped and giggled. And the buses swept on, the painted logos on each school’s vehicles defying and challenging their educational rivals.

The square towers of the churches and the Escolapios teaching order large church like chapel rose over the old red tiles, the new flat concrete, and the occasional galvanized metal roofs. Now the old stone convent cloisters of the order, the high yellow painted bulky school building, the gardens, and the museum, the playgrounds and the breathtaking beauty of the flowering framboyan (Delonix regia, syn. Poinciana regia) the Royal Poinciana, Flame of the Forest, Peacock flower-trees are all property of the state.

In an example of the eternal lack gratitude of man José Vázquez, Physical Education and Business instructor was charged with directing the Castro government’s take over the school. José Vázquez and the others who helped him in this task had been educated by the very same priests he had helped evict. Besides I still keep warm a grudge, now mellowed to old age amusement, because Vázquez would not let us do Judo leaps jumping head first rolling over the wooden horse in physical education class; although I give him that he did teach us how to climb a rope using our feet as well as hands.

Guanabacoa and Cojimar’s History

Guanabacoa was a town known for its courage and history. This town was where in the eighteenth century, Don Pepe, Antonio Gomez, the Corregidor, the Magistrate, the Mayor of Guanabacoa. Over taxed and indolent Guanabacoa, and castle ringed city of Havana, that lived off the Spanish treasure fleet sat in the lazy sun of the summer of 1762 when bad news came, for this was during a time that we in the US call the French and Indian Wars,

Guanabacoa and Cojima are on the same east side of Havana Bay as the Morro Castle and initial work on the great Cabañas fort was suspended because of an epidemic of Yellow Fever. Suddenly Commodore George Kepple, the Earl of Albermarle, had appeared off Cojima on July 6th 1762, with perhaps 200 ships. First the massed cannon fire of perhaps thirty Ships of the Line and the faster frigates rapidly destroyed the little fort of Cojima. The English and North American Colonial armies of General Sir George Pocock and, Earl of Albemarle, landed and marched westward under the protection of the guns of the English Fleet. through dense thickets and hills towards Havana.

The survivors of the 400 Spanish troops of Colonel Carlo Caro were driven off, but regrouped and fought and fled and fought again. The narrow mouth of Havana harbor was blockaded by Admiral Pocock’s fleet. Cannons roared from El Morro as the English ships took heavy damage off Havana. Troops led by then English Lieutenant General Elliot went inland sufficiently far to take Guanabacoa.

However, Guanabacoa is a town famed for its courage and history. Don Jose Antonio Gómez Bujones, Regidor del Cabido (Mayor) de la Villa de Nuestra Asunción de Guanabacoa better known as Pepe Antonio, the Corregidor or Magistrate, lead his brave part-Spanish, but also part-Taíno horsemen until he died. Don Pepe died, but his men fought on, using pistols and machetes because muskets were in short supply, hitting and running like the African Boers would do well over a century later. Don Pepe's men, on their thin, fast, Arabian blooded horses attacked repeatedly taking heavy losses. And yet the attacks were repeated, Cuban mount’s long manes floating, and tails flying amid the gathering rains and mosquitoes of the fever season.

The English took the unfortified heights of la Cabaña above Havana harbor, and then attacked the Morro Castle below. British naval and Spanish castle cannons roared; a lightening hit a Spanish ship that rapidly exploded in Havana Harbor. The wall of Morro Castle were mined, and breached, stormed and fallen to English cannon, bayonet and British marines and red coats firing Brown Bess type muskets. Don Luis de Velasco a Spanish naval officer and leader of Spanish defense was mortally wounded in battle in his hotly defended Morro Castle. With the Morro captured the English used the eastern heights to attack the other castles around the bay, and attacked from land to the west. The battle was halted for a while so that all could honor the dying Don Luis.

Oscar Ros tells me our ancestor Señor Don (José) Antonio de Silva(s) y Ramírez de Arellano, who would become Marquis de Guisa also fought at the Morro Walls.

Havana surrendered. Inside the walls of Havana the English celebrated their victory; and it is recorded in merry rhymes that the young women of Havana shamelessly plied the victors with their willing flesh in the rice warehouses of the city.

"Las muchachas de La Habana

no tienen temor a Dios

se ven con los Ingleses

en los bocoyes de arroz"

(old Cuban rhyme)

translated:

'The women of Havana

fear not the wrath of G-d

they are seen with the English

among the great barrels of rice'

Inside the city angry, jealous cloaked men in suicidal rage stabbed English soldiers in the dark of night knowing they would be executed. The Earl of Albemarle ordered that all such executions would be carried out without allowing confessions to the condemned. Given access to the strategic points English and Dutch merchants ships brought the greatest prosperity.

Yet as the female mosquitoes sucked blood the sinful city simmered in a feast of lechery, greed and death. Yellow fever took the susceptible newcomers, and spared the inhabitants of the Cuba who had become immune in childhood.

After victory, Albermarle imposed severe tribute and ruled about a year while and large proportions of the invading force died of Yellow Fever. The people of Guanabacoa kept fighting long after the regular Spanish troops from Havana had surrendered; they were still fighting when the English left in what was now becoming a hornet’s nest of angry Spanish and Cuban colonials outside the city's gates.

However, all this ended when these soldiers abandoned Havana and their loves within a year. Within two decades this love/hate relationship of the women of Havana for English and US Colonial soldiers would damage the English cause severely during the US War of Independence. Since the “Women of Havana”, perhaps including some the same one’s who had lain with the invaders and then were abandoned, provided immense sums of money to help George Washington in his war against the English. And Cuban colonial men fought in battle against the prior invaders of Havana. I like to imagine that the women of Havana were angry, and sad, felt scorned and abandoned twenty years later they would contribute their massive riches to provide George Washington with gunpowder and to pay the French soldiers and sailors who aided him. The men, of course were angry at the English for seducing their women.

Back to the 1950s

Wars came and went in Cuba. Freedom came in 1902, and the people of the area worked and prospered. Troubles came and vicious cruelty young men were killed and bombs set even in children’s birthday parties. Joy burst out as Batista fell, in January 1959; Castro arrived freedom flickered, only to be drowned in the blood of executions and finally the flame of liberty was extinguished completely.

That house on the hill has its back turned on Guanabacoa to the south, for it is sited just over the hill only looking north to the seas, to the place, the cove among coral reefs, where

the English had landed. The house overlooks the little cove of Cojima, the fishermen's boats, the shining, blue green, shark filled, water to the far northern horizon and the little square stone castle almost surrounded by sea far below. For that fortification had been promptly rebuilt after English left—and now stands on a stone pier extending into the sea over the now dead coral reefs. ,

There was smell of sea, iodine and the faint odor of dead fish that barely reaches that high place.

Cojimar was the place where Ernest Hemingway long kept his boat and where his fishing guide lived. And Cojimar was be place where the fishermen would come to hate and riot against their leader on the house on the hill. A place, near where Bernard Shaw of CNN, standing on the dead coral reefs, would chronicle the fleeing rafters, the balseros, while all the time mispronouncing Cojima, as `Co-G-ima` until, sick of pompous ignorance, enraged Cuban exiles would phone in to demand he at least pronounce the name correctly.

Just below the crest of the hill that house stood, just where the black-top road—had left the rural pastures and fields of the valley. Now this road as it started going down the other side of the hills had acquired a little narrow side walk on the right, a few telephone poles, and a town look. The west entrance to the house, narrow and barred with iron, was to the side of a garage. The garage had its heavy opened descending door held open, held raised and ready. When Castro lived there, this garage housed a green heavy armored car with solid rubber tires, a 37 mm cannon and shielded machine gun blisters. It most probably was a Staghound, like those we had rebels had blown up on the highway north of Guisa.

Then, Orlando Rodriguez Puerta's men staying in a building back a little or above the garage guarded the house. The off duty men and those still recovering from their wounds-- wounds received when ambushed among the US style wooden houses at the Central America Sugar-mill on the hot Cauto plains of far Oriente province-- lay on double decker bunks in a long second story room.

One of the wounded still could not walk well from the three or more San Cristóbal bullets in his leg. He just lay there, still in pain, his leg useless. I watched as heavy bearded Armelio Mojena, commended in battle at Guisa and a captain now, only protested weakly remembering The Suicide as he was humiliated, accused of lack of heroics, by some slick city Comandante. Perhaps this was a test of obedience, for unrestrained ambition for power was definitely abroad in this land.

Another rebel, that would be “Machado”, who had been with us when we were part of Mojena's escopeteros, told me of this new sophisticated Havana girl he "had.” I asked him perhaps tactlessly about the pretty Güajirita he had left abandoned. His Güajirita, he thought, was too uneducated and unrefined, for him now.

That Güajirita had loved Machado deeply. She was the daughter of the house of the family who so selflessly cooked, cared and spied for us. The family lived on the hills behind El Sordo high on the north east bush and short grass covered hill above the mouth of that karst cave-ridden canyon where the Guisa River still ran fast, full, dark and cold. A river not yet diminished by the blazing sun of the lower foothills, not yet bled away by underground caves of the lower Guisa valleys, trying to reach the plains of the Cauto, and thus the sea.

The main house in Cojimar rose in tiers, perhaps three stories, to what I believe was a peaked roof. As I left I was told never to visit again. Lines had been drawn for the new powers to be I was not to be in those circle, but then I did not want to be.

This house is a place where Hemingway passed when he went from his house La Vigía in San Francisco de Paula to the south near the Central Highway. It was in La Vigía on the way to El Cotorro a place of famous mineral water springs owned by the Conde family where Hemingway wrote surrounded by trees and fertile ground. Unlike Cojimar the Vigía, this house of Hemingway is on fertile well watered land.

Why Hemingway did not stay or visit in La Vigía house for long after Castro came to power is not really a mystery. Castro and Hemingway are only known to have met once at that much touted fishing tournament. This is strange, after all Hemingway is a writer known for his very active partiality to left wing causes in Civil War Spain. There in Spain he traveled with Herbert Matthews, helping train the left wing republican forces, and writing propaganda for the left. If Phillip Knightley's book is to be believed, Hemingway deliberately distorted and covered up the crimes of left in his newspaper reports unethically, reserving the materials for his books, on courage and fear and, above all on, death.

Certainly a Hemingway's short piece --"the Denunciation' i think it is called-- suggests that Hemingway actively participated betraying victims to the dread execution purges of the communist hatchet man Andre Marty. He even sacrificing his friendship with John Dos Passos to do it. Yet that was the younger Hemingway in Spain in the 1930's, perhaps in Cuba of 1959 Hemingway was different.

Thus, despite the official Cuban government story of donation, La Vigía a house built on stories about ruthless gains from betrayed friends was taken from Hemingway by Castro an even more ruthless betrayer of friends. Perhaps that last betrayal of a betrayer, the loss of his beloved house help drive Hemingway to his death. Or was it remorse? Or was it just drink, his weight, premature aging and his dissatisfied sadness or his family history? Personally I think Hemingway’s falling out with Castro and fading of his prized property and liberal ideas was a major cause of Hemingway’s suicide.

Old gangsters send great gifts of flowers to their dead enemies. Why should Hemingway be any different than Camilo or the Che. Is the cult of Hemingway in Cuba, just tourist puff, or is it Castro's attempt to cover his gangster's guilt for punishing the always stiff necked Hemingway for

not showing him the proper respect. What ever Castro’s taking La Vigía and expelling Hemingway from Cuba and from the house and the places the writer loved is a cruel vengeance on a supporter, but then Castro says the revolution owes only to the dead. Today in Cuba disrespect for Castro is a legal crime, and all property belongs to the state.

Back to Havana in 1959

Early in 1959, the University of Havana, closed since the resistance to Batista, had not yet reopened. In the summer of 1957 did not know if my last exam, a retake of the fifth year chemistry course, had been successful. These courses were no-joke in the Lyceum level of the formal, strict and thorough secondary education of the late Cuban Republic's education system. Where I to be certified in chemistry that would complete fulfillment of the demanding fifth year of the Bachillerato Science Program required to enter Cuban Universities science studies. My Bachillerato studies were over, I had gone back to Oriente and before joining the rebels, in the troubled, the distracting last years of the Batista dictatorship

Dad had given me the money to buy that revolver from the Néstor and José Ruiz, former classmates at the Escolapios. The Ruiz brothers’ father owned a pawnshop in downtown Havana. I did not know that this was to be my last visit to Los Números.

After completing the revolution that Chemistry seemed eons ago in 1959, yet telescoped almost together in my memories today, I had returned to the Casa de Los Generales. There in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra I began to help dry, store and stack the coffee Lionel sent down from los Números. I stored the coffee in that enclosed part of the big almacén where we Lionel and I slept when younger.

My mind takes me back to our Mountains in Oriente

The hole, the amazingly round, deep and scary, above knee and below waist level, in the white concrete of the western wall was still there. As careless teenager I had dropped a single-shot, 16 gauge shotgun used to guard the coffee and to kill marauding chicken stealing guaraguao hawks. It was clear had thoughtlessly left a shell in the receiver, and the gun had gone off as the butt hit the hard polished concrete floor. A pellet, kissed me, grazed my knee, making a tiny scratch, the sound, the very loud sound in the enclosed room, and the lesson would not be forgotten; for I had learned to use but respect firearms.

While I worked with the coffee sacks I felt the relief the tension of studies over. Then I had thought as I had prepared for the last exams, who could study with all that death and violence around. Usually very diligent and successful in my learning, it had been then so difficult, so very difficult, to concentrate enough to study, thus after failing the regular formal chemistry exam at the Escolapios de La Víbora, I had retaken it, it must have been the summer of 1957, or was it 1956, at the Instituto de la Víbora.

I did not know whether I passed the exam or not, but Havana was far away, this place among the coffee sacks was home. In the full strength of my youth I rejoiced as I lifted and stacked the high piles of heavy 170-180 pound coffee sacks.

The sacks, recycled from brown sugar shipments, had been made in India from jute woven into burlap, had their own smell, a mixture of the musk of retting, with a trace of cane molasses that wet the sugar crystals and a collection of odors of sands dusts and soils from their far journeys. The place also had the faint, dusty, smell of the dried, black, rounded rumpled like raisins but far harder of the secadero dried, "green," that is dried but not roasted, coffee cherry berries.

The jute fibers were brown and the weave of the burlap was coarse rough and open. The sacks were scarred with even coarser fibers that had a cleaner look and sharper smell than retted jute. These are fibers of henequén sisal; they are bright, loose almost translucent fibers, as if the tail hair of a white mare, or a stallion. These fibers do not show the browning of jute since sisal has biochemical defenses against molds.

I remember the sensuality of driving the seven or eight inch long sturdy shining polished steel sack needle to darn and patch old sacks or to close full ones. The stainless steel needle trailed white sisal thread from the slot at one end and at the other the point with its bent, curved, flattened tip with a little ridge, a little spine in the middle leading to the sharp spear shaped flanged point, had working its way easily and without effort into the loose burlap of the sack.

After I pushed the needle in, and through, I let go. Then in a smooth movement I reached outward to re-grasp the needle by its shaft, my arm moving outwards, the fingers of my right hand pulling on the needle that dragged the sisal behind it.

As I working steadily repeated the motions, I watch as slowly the shining thread closed the sack ends. The dried coffee is now trapped held in by the sack’s now sealed “mouth.” A “boca de saco” sewn closed by loops holding furled burlap flaps, as if lips hushed to silence by clenched thin white fingers, or like the old bayonet slash wound I carry above my forehead that Dr. Bueno had once held closed with his fingers as he hurriedly staple-stitched it.

This pattern of untidy loops brings a memory and a quiet laugh as I recall the traditional Cuban very dirty story, about “lo cosió con alambre finito” that ends in the words "no era bonito", it was not well done, "pero era seguro", but it kept things safe.

I remember the way the heft of the sack felt as with a slight crunch the dried coffee berries gave way inside the sack to fit my right shoulder in the first step of the lift, how comfortable the sack felt on my shoulders as I started the lift, the heavy weight on my extended arms in the final lift to the top of the stack at the end of the day is all as clear in my memory as if it were yesterday.

My thoughts about that much too willing Taína girl and my lost opportunity are remembered too.

On return in January 1959, still in rebel uniform, still in Havana I had dropped by the Institute of the Vibora to check on my grades, but the Institute staff was reorganizing, and no-one there could not tell me a thing about my last grade, the last step before going to the University.

So I went back to Oriente Province and my family’s land in the mountains.

Arriving in Bayamo 1959, I had caught at meal at Céspedes house, and gone on to Guisa. Transport to the mountains was chaotic. I walked in the long miles from Guisa, and crossed the Guisa River in that beautiful, open almost treeless, U-profiled valley of which was almost Welsh or Irish in its greenness, tranquility, its lack of trees and short grassed pastures.

Lionel you know that part of the valley, down stream from shallow, laja rock bottomed, clear water pools of los Espejos. The valley down stream seemed closed to the south by the twisting steep, hole pocketed, white karst, walls of the last canyon on the Guisa, the canyon where the vast caves of Santa Barbara had served as refuge of bats, boas and Mambises, and less than an year before had protected Castro's headquarters during the action, the massive prolonged ambushes, at Guisa.

Climbing out on the south west side of the valley and not following any path I had tried to cross Los Llanos plateau too far north just south of Santa Barbara. However, after reaching the summit, the flat top of the Plateau, although the karst rock was flat, it was too pocketed with pot holes and blocked by trees, to cross. I tried, I tried hard, but I simply could not get across.

Turning back to the Camino Real, the old Royal Road, I crossed the Guisa River below the canyon. Going south on the smooth brown dirt of the Camino Real towards the mountains, with those first hills of the shallow open pass to the Guamá valley stream far to my west I walked past the guinea grass bunches and the shade trees of the Echevarria’s well kept pastures.

As the karst rocks of the Los Llanos Plateau rose south and east of the Echevarria’s pastures, to form the east bank of the river, behind the trees the old abandoned mining trucks of the old WWII manganese mine were hidden from by verdant vegetation view. Then after crossing the small boulder-field of the flood plain and the wide shallow ford, I had reached the north east open side of the northernmost ford of the Bayamo River.

The yellow-green lino water weed stretched along the river bottom extending in long streamers in the collection of the current. My feet felt cool and soothed in my boots as I splashed across the river. I reached the rain trees on the other side of the river, and walked on the smooth dirt, my feet and boots drying as I go.

Walking steadily south along that smooth road I passed, the ridge of high hills rising to my right. The road sank between the fields. I passed the fence on Royal Road above which Levarbo has seen the hanged man dance on the wire of the fence posts. I went past the baseball field to my right. Then immediately next door I passed the tree shaded batey known as La Casa de la Viuda de Agüero de Aguilera, the house of the widow of a man who’s last name could be roughly translated as Luck of the Eagle Master. In the middle of this batey stands the roofed, wood barred cage of the madman, stood in the center of the tall tree shaded batey compound.

I kept walking south towards the mountains between the living fence posts that lined the road; I continued through the Corojo, past Ruffino's shop to my left, the bakery and the tiny circular bleachers of the cockfighting arena. I waved to all I passed, for Uncle Calixto Lionel, the politician, in years past when running for office, had taught me that in the country it was important wave a greeting to all. For, if as Uncle Calixto Lionel explained if they know you they will note your recognition of them, if they do not know you it will not matter.

I reached the larger boulders of the flood plain again and crossed the clear fast waters of the Jigüe ford, the ford of the Taíno water demon, and reached the slight rise on the other side where Desiderio and his men hidden in the bushes had ambushed the Batista reinforcement and supply trucks. Perhaps it was Sosa's Blanco’s convoy, but it seems far more likely that it was lead by brave Lieutenant Blanco Navarro, who as was mentioned previously was wounded there.

At the rise, at Humberto Naranjo's house and his galvanized metal roofed precious wood cabinet shop, I turn left from the Camino Real and went on the road that crossed the old “madre vieja”, the dry alternate bed of the river, past that tall tree. Now I think, but do not remember clearly, if it was a Spanish Cedar, that was being saved for future furniture. I pass on my left the fine wood sawmill that belongs to my "honorary" uncle, my real second or third cousin, Antonio Jerónimo Jiménez.

Taking the road to Los Números from the Jigüey and the Cacaíto, at near the bottom of the slope two or three rebels, now police or soldiers, stopped me.

Some güajiros had called these rebel, now government, soldiers, because they, the güajiros, could see the gun tucked in its belly holster under my shirt. The soldiers recognized me and waved me on. To them I was still on their side, in my mind my loyalties were fast eroding.

I continued up the steep slope it was late and I now knew I would not reach Lionel’s house, that evening. I stayed overnight in a bed bud infested cot of a montuno who had befriended me. Yet when I got to Lionel’s place, I tried to help him at his work and his attempts to accommodate to the dreadful change, and there the cat would escape.

On my return, when I went away from the Lionel’s house, worried about my revolver’s accuracy. Once down from the mountains and arriving at El Jigüe Vega on the east side of the Bayamo river I headed towards the house where Antonio, his wife and several older female relatives including Dulce María lived and kept the local post office. I was hungry and they were always good for a meal.

There I showed my “uncle” Antonio Gerónimo the revolver. We never just called this “uncle” Antonio because he shared that name with Grand Uncle Antonio Ros who's much finer, elaborate, and infinitely tidier batey compound was barely two hundred yards away. I said the gun shot a little high and to the right. Antonio took the weapon and at a distance of perhaps 50 feet, and firing rapidly he shot at a small card, a playing card. When we waked to the target he showed me the group of bullet holes. I could see he had placed all bullets on the card.

“Yes, the gun shoots high and to the right”, said Antonio Gernonimo, while I thinking that I would never shoot that short barreled revolver so well just stared at the tight group of bullet holes on the card with amazement.

After greeting my Aunts and other female relatives and eating a good meal at Antonio Gerónimo's house I left going towards Guisa.

I do not know if these rebel friends, they must have been Desiderio Alarcón’s people, who stopped me as I started to climb the mountains to Lionel’s place and then let me pass, rebel again this time against Castro, only to die shot along with Sorí Marin or the Beatón brothers. Would they were be found unreliable too close to such as Camilo Cienfuegos and thus discretely purged by being sent to be ambushed and to die on the beach in the Dominican Republic, in the rain forests of South America, or the savannas of Africa.

While I had and still have relatives who fled to New Jersey, Venezuela and Florida, the only rebels I knew who would go to Florida, would be the Mexican who escaped, when sent on a mission of murder by Castro, and Victor Mora who after long years of imprisonment smuggled himself out during the Mariel Boat lift. And Raúl Hernández, MJ’s and my friend, who was not with the Castro forces but belonged to the Directorio, fought in the Bay of Pigs and was later ransomed. Raúl Hernández is dead; he died in Florida. Cruel Capitán Esteban Ventura Novo’s (the Capitan Segura of Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana”) blows had injured his brain and given him epilepsy and thus we all tolerated his odd political ideas. Ventura too went to Florida and died there after many years hated by most exiles.

Some others like Amelio Mojena and Universo Sánchez would accommodate themselves to the privileged upper strata of the regime and live to old age in the moderate comfort of those who the Cuban tyranny trusted in Cuba. I do not know the fate of some like Primitivo Tamayo, I do not know. Some say that many lost their minds to severe post traumatic stress syndrome, and some went to the Soviet Union for further training. Others like I left, survived and did well.

As to Guanabacoa, the Conde family who owned the bottling plant and the gardens at mineral springs of La Cotorra, the springs of the parrot are again in the news. As late as 2006, they were still trying the dangerous task of rescuing family members from Cuba.

As with many others of my class and time, most of my family fled to the US as did I and we would live free. Only Uncle Marcos, Levarbo and Aunt Muñeca and their daughters Titi and Elena stayed and suffered. Uncle Marcus moved to Guisa and raised a son Calixto which Nicea cared for. Levarbo and Muñeca are dead now; one of their daughters did jail time for stealing food to eat. The last time I remember Che el Grande was about 1959 he was making fun of me saying that the Dam on the Bayamo and Guamá Rivers had already been built; when I went to the edge of the cliff by the Casa de los Generales to look he just laughed, for in his mind he thought he had all the answers.

Larry Daley, copyright@1997, 2004, 2005, 2006

1 Comments:

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4:10 PM  

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