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
I remember in 1959 a few days after I reached
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 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
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
Guanabacoa and Cojima are on the same east side of
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
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
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.
"Las muchachas de La Habana
no tienen temor a Dios
se ven con los Ingleses
en los bocoyes de arroz"
(old Cuban rhyme)
'The women of
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
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
However, all this ended when these soldiers abandoned
Back to the 1950s
Wars came and went in
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
not showing him the proper respect. What ever Castro’s taking La Vigía and expelling Hemingway from
in 1959 Havana
Early in 1959, the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
As with many others of my class and time, most of my family fled to the
Larry Daley, copyright@1997, 2004, 2005, 2006